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UPON UNFORTUNATE MERIT.
Every age seems to have its favorite pursuits, which serve to amuse the idle, and relieve the attention of the industrious. Happy the man who is born excellent in the pursuit in vogue, and whose genius seems adapted to the times in which he livos. How many do we see, who might have excelled in arts or sciences, and who seem furnished with talents equal to the greatest discoveries, had the road not been already beaten by their predecessors, and nothing left for them except trifles to discover, while others of very moderate abilities become famous, because happening to be first in the reigning pursuit.
Thus, at the renewal of letters in Europe, the taste was not to compose new books, but to comment on the old ones. not to be expected that new books should be written, when there were so many of the ancients, either not known or not understood. It was not reasonable to attempt new conquests, while they had such an extensive region lying waste for want of cultiFation. At that period, criticism and erudition were the reigning studies of the times; and he who had only an inventive genius, might have languished in hopeless obscurity. When the writers of antiquity were sufficiently explained and known, the learned set about imitating them: hence proceeded the number of Latin orators, poets, and historians in the reigns of Clement the Seventh and Alexander the Sixth. This passion for antiquity lasted for many years, to the utter exclusion of every other pursuit, till some began to find, that those works which were imitated from nature, were more like the writings of antiquity, than even those written in express imitation. It was then modern language began to be cultivated with assiduity, and our poets and orators poured forth their wonders upon the world.
As writers become more numerous, it is natural for readers to become more indolent; whence must necessarily arise a desire of attaining knowledge with the greatest possible ease. No science or art offers its instructions and amusements in so obvious a manner as statuary and painting. Hence we see, that a desire, of cultivating those arts generally attends the decline of science. Thus, the finest statues and the most beautiful paintings of antiquity preceded but a little the absolute decay of every other science. The statues of Antoninus, Commodus, and their contem poraries, are the finest productions of the chisel, and appeared but just before learning was destroyed by tomment, criticism. and barbarous invasions.
What happened in Rome may probably be the case with us at home. Our nobility are now more solicitous in patronizing painters and sculptors than those of any other polite profession; and from the lord, who has his gallery, down to the 'prentice, who has his two-penny copper-plate, all are admirers of this art. The great, by their caresses, seem insensible to all other merit but that of the pencil ; and the vulgar buy every book rather from the excellence of the sculptor than the writer.
How happy were it now, if men of real excellence in that profession were to arise! Were the painters of Italy now to appear, who once wandered like beggars from one city to another, and produce their almost breathing figures, what rewards might they not expect! But many of them lived without rewards, and therefore rewards alone will never produce their equals. We have often found the great exert themselves not only without promotion, but in spite of opposition. We have often found them flourishing, like medicinal plants, in a region of savageness and barbarity, their excellence unknown, and their virtues unheeded.
They who have seen the paintings of Caravagio are sensible of the surprising impression they make; bold, swelling, terrible
to the last degree; all seems animated, and speaks him among the foremost of his profession ; yet this man's fortune and his fame seemed ever in opposition to each other.
Unknowing how to flatter the great, he was driven from city to city in the utmost indigence, and might truly be said to paint for his bread. Having one day insulted a person of distinction, who refused to pay him all the respect which he thought his due, he was obliged to leave Rome, and travel on foot, his usual method of going his journeys down into the country, without either money or friends to subsist him.
After he had travelled in this manner as long as his strength would permit, faint with famine and fatigue, he at last called at an obscure inn by the way-side. The host knew, by the appearance of his guest, bis indifferent circumstances, and refused to furnish him a dinner without previous payment. As Caravagio was entirely destitute of money, he took down the innkeeper's sign, and painted it anew for his dinner.
Thus refreshed, he proceeded on his journey, and left the innkeeper not quite satisfied with this method of payment. Some company of distinction, however, coming soon after, and struck with the beauty of the new sign, bought it at an advanced price, and astonished the innkeeper with their generosity; he was resolved, therefore, to get as many signs as possible drawn by the same artist, as he found he could sell them to good advantage; and accordingly set out after Caravagio, in order to bring him back. It was nightfall before he came up to the place where the unfortunate Caravagio lay dead by the road side, overcome by fatigue, resentment, and despair
No. VI.-SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 1759
As few subjects are more interesting to society, so few have been more frequently written upon, than the education of youth. Yet is it not a little surprising, that it should have been treated almost by all in a declamatory manner? They have insisted largely on the advantages that result from it, both to the individual and to society, and have expatiated in the praise of what none have ever been so hardy as to call in question.
Instead of giving us fine, but empty harangues upon this subject; instead of indulging each his particular and whimsical systems, it had been much better if the writers on this subject had treated it in a more scientific manner, repressed all the sallies of imagination, and given us the result of their observations with didactic simplicity. Upon this subject, the smallest errors are of the most dangerous consequence; and the author should venture the imputation of stupidity upon a topic, where his slightest deviations may tend to injure the rising generation.
I shall, therefore, throw out a few thoughts upon this subject, which have not been attended to by others, and shall dismiss all attempts to please, while I study only instruction.
The manner in which our youth of London are at present educated is, some in free schools in the city, but the far greater number in boarding schools about town. The parent justly consults the health of his child, and finds an education in the country tends to promote this much more than a continuance in
[This forms No VII. of the “ Essays” published in 1765; and that Goldsmith placed some value upon it, may be inferred from the following introductory note, printed on that occasion:
“This treatise was published before Rousseau's Emilius: if there be a similitude in any one instance, it is hoped the author of the present essay will not be deemed a plagiarist."
town. Thus far they are right; if there were a possibility of having even our free schools kept a little out of town, it would certainly conduce to the health and vigor of perhaps the mind, as well as of the body. It may be thought whimsical, but it is truth; I have found by experience, that they who have spent all their lives in cities, contract not only an effeminacy of habit, but even of thinking
But when I have said, that the boarding schools are preferable to free schools, as being in the country, this is certainly the only advantage I can allow them, otherwise it is impossible to conceive the ignorance of those who take apon them the important trust of education. Is any man unfit for any of the professions ; he finds his last resource in setting up school. Do any become bankrupts in trade; they still set up a boarding school, and drive a trade this way, when all others fail : nay,
I have been told of butchers and barbers, who have turned schoolmasters; and, more surprising still, made fortunes in their new profession
Could we think ourselves in a country of civilized people; could it be conceived that we have any regard for posterity, when such are permitted to take the charge of the morals, genius, and health of those dear little pledges, who may one day be the guardians of the liberties of Europe, and who may serve as the honor and bulwark of their aged parents? The care of our children, is it below the state? is it fit to indulge the caprice of the ignorant with the disposal of their children in this particular? For the state to take the charge of all its children, as in Persia or Sparta, might at present be inconvenient; but, surely, with grcat ease it might cast an eye to their instructors. Of all members of society, I do not know a more useful, or a more honorable one, than a schoolmaster; at the same time that I do not see any more generally despised, or whose talents are so ill rewarded