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kind, than if it were exhibited in
paper, and placed in opposition to the clear and easy style of an author generally understood.
To this argument, formidable as it was, swered, after a short pause, that, with all proper deference to the great sagacity and advanced age of the objector, I could not but conceive that his position confuted itself, and that a reader of the Gazetteer, being by his own confession accustomed to encounter difficulties, and search for meaning where it was not easily to be found, must be better prepared than
other man for the perusal of these ambiguous expressions. And that, besides, the explication of this stone, being a task which nothing could surmount but the most acute penetration joined with indefatigable patience, seemed in reality reserved for those who have given proofs of both in the highest degree, by reading and understanding the Gazetteer.
This answer satisfied every one but the objector, who, with an obstinacy not very uncommon, adhered to his own opinion, though he could not defend it: and not being able to make any reply, attempted to laugh away my argument, but found the rest of my friends so little disposed to jest upon this important question, that he was forced to restrain his mirth, and content himself with a sullen and contemptuous silence.
Another of my friends, whom I had assembled on this occasion, having owned the solidity of my answer to the first objection, offered a second, which in his opinion could not be so easily defeated.
“ I have observed,” says he, “that the essays in the Gazetteer, though written on very important subjects by the ablest hands which ambition can incite, friendship engage, or money procure, have never, though circulated through the kingdom with the utmost application, had any remarkable influence upon the people. I know many
persons of no common capacity, that hold it sufficient to peruse
four times a year; and others who receive them regularly, and, without looking upon them, treasure them under ground for the benefit of posterity. So that the inscription may, by being inserted there, sink once more into darkness and oblivion, instead of informing the age, and assisting our present ministry in the regulation of their measures.”
Another observed, that nothing was more unreasonable than my hope, that any remarks or elucidations would be drawn up by that fraternity, since their own employments do not allow
leisure for such attempts. Every one knows that panegyrick is in its own nature no easy task, and that to defend is much more difficult than to attack; consider then, says he, what industry, what assiduity it must require, to praise and vindicate a ministry like ours.
It was hinted by another, that an inscription which had no relation to any particular set of men amongst us, but was composed many ages before the parties, which now divide the nation, had a being, could not be so properly conveyed to the world by means of a paper dedicated to political debates.
Another to whom I had communicated my
own observations in a more private manner, and who had inserted some of his own arguments, declared it as his opinion, that they were, though very controvertible and unsatisfactory, yet too valuable to be lost; and that though to insert the inscription in a paper of which such numbers are daily distributed at the expence of the pụblick, would doubtless be very agreeable to the generous design of the author, yet he hoped that as all the students, either of politicks or antiquities, would receive both pleasure and improvement from the dissertation with which it is accompanied, none of them would regret to pay for so agreeable an entertainment.
It cannot be wondered that I have yielded at last to such weighty reasons, and such insinuating compliments, and chosen to gratify at once the inclination of friends and the vanity of an author. Yet I should think I had very imperfectly discharged my duty to my country, did I not warn all whom either interest or curiosity shall incite to the perusal of this treatise, not to lay any stress upon my explications.
How a more complete and indisputable interpretation may be obtained, it is not easy to say. This will, I suppose, be readily granted, that it is not to be expected from any single hand, but from the joint enquiries and united labours of a numerous society of able men, instituted by authority, selected with great discernment and impartiality, and supported at the charge of the nation.
I am very far from apprehending that any proposal for the attainment of so desirable an end, will be rejected by this inquisitive and enlight
ened age, and shall therefore lay before the publick the project which I have formed and matured by long consideration, for the institution of a society of commentators upon this inscription.
I humbly propose, that thirty of the most distinguished genius be chosen for this employment, half from the inns of court, and half from the army, and be incorporated into a society for five years, under the name of the Society of COMMENTATORS.
That great undertakings can only be executed by a great number of hands, is too evident to require any proof; and I am afraid all that read this scheme will think that it is chiefly defective in this respect, and that when they reflect how many commissaries were thought necessary at Seville, and that even their negociations entirely miscarried, probably for want of more associates, they will conclude that I have proposed impossibilities, and that the ends of the institution will be defeated by an injudicious and ill-timed frugality.
But if it be considered, how well the persons I recommend must have been qualified by their education and profession for the provinces assigned them, the objection will grow less weighty than it appears. It is well known to be the constant study of the lawyers to discover in acts of parliament, meanings which escaped the committees that drew them up, and the senates that passed them into laws, and to explain wills into a sense wholly contrary to the intention of the testator. How easily may an adept in these admirable and useful arts, penetrate into the most hidden import of this prediction ? A man accustomed to satisfy himself with the obvious and natural meaning of a sentence, does not easily shake off his habit; but a true-bred lawyer never contents himself with one sense, when there is another to be found.
Nor will the beneficial consequences of this scheme terminate in the explication of this monument; they will extend much farther: for the commentators having sharpened and improved their sagacity by this long and difficult course of study, will, when they return into publick life, be of wonderful service to the government, in examining pamphlets, songs, and journals, and in drawing up informations, indictments, and instructions for special juries. They will be wonderfully fitted for the posts of Attorney and Solicitor General, but will excel above all, as licensérs for the stage.
The gentlemen of the army will equally adorn the province to which I have assigned them, of setting the discoveries and sentiments of their associates in a clear and agreeable light. The lawyers are well known to be very happy in expressing their ideas, being for the most part able to make themselves understood by none but their own fraternity. But the geniuses of the army have sufficient opportunities, by their free access to the levee and the toilet, their constant attendance on balls and assemblies, and that abundant leisure which they enjoy beyond any other body of men, to acquaint themselves with every new word and prevailing mode of expression, and to attain the utmost nicety and most polished prettiness of language.
It will be necessary, that during their atten