Going too long, is a cause of abortion, as effectual, though not so frequent, as going too short; and holds true especially in the labours of the brain. Well fare the heart of that noble Jesuit who first adventured to confess in print, that books must be suited to their several seasons, like dress, and diet, and diversions; and better fare our noble nation, for refining upon this among other French modes. I am living fast to see the time, when a book that misses its tide, shall be neglected, as the moon by day, or like mackerel a week after the season. No man hath more nicely observed: our climate, than the bookseller who bought the copy of this work; he knows to a tittle what subjects will best go off in a dry year, and which it is proper to expose foremost, when the weather-glass is fallen to much rain. When he had seen this treatise, and consulted his almanac upon it, he gave me to understand, that he had manifestly considered the two principal things, which were, the bulk and the subject; and found it would never take but after a long vacation, and then only in case it should happen to be a hard year for turnips. Upon which I desired to know, considering my urgent necessities, what he thought might be acceptable this month. He looked westward, and said, 'I doubt we shall have a fit of bad weather; however, if you could prepare some pretty little banter, (but not in verse), or a small treatise upon the —, it would run like wildfire. But, if it hold up, I have already hired an author to write something against Dr. Bentley, which, I am sure, will turn to account.
At length we agreed upon this expedient; that, when a customer comes for one of these, and desires in confidence to know the author, he will tell him very privately, as a friend, naming whichever of the wits shall happen to be that week in the vogue; and if Durfey's last play should be in course, I had as lieve he may be the person as Congreve. This I mention, because I am wonderfully well acquainted with the present relish of courteous readers; and have often observed, with singular pleasure, that a fly, driven from a honey-pot, will immediately, with very good appetite, alight, and finish his meal on ordure.
I have one word to say upon the subject of profound writers, who are grown very numerous of late; and I know very well, the judicious world is resolved to list me in that number. I conceive therefore, as to the business of being profound, that it is with writers as with wells; a person with good eyes may see to the bottom of the deepest, provided any water be there; and that often, when there is nothing in the world at the bottom, besides dryness and dirt, though it be but a yard and a half under ground, it shall pass, however, for wondrous deep, upon no wiser a reason, than because it is wondrous dark.
I am now trying an experiment very frequent among modern authors; which is to write upon nothing; when the subject is utterly exhausted, to let the pen still move on; by some called the ghost of wit, delighting to walk after the death of its body. And to say the truth, there seems to be no part of knowledge in fewer hands, than that of discerning when to have done. By the time that an author has writ out a book, he and his readers are become old acquaintance, and grow very loth to part; so that I have sometimes known it to be in writing, as in visiting, where the ceremony of taking leave has employed more time than; the whole conversation before. The conclusion of a treatise resembles the conclusion of human life, which hath sometimes been compared to the end of a feast; where few are satisfied to depart, ut plenus vitae conviva: for men will sit down after the fullest meal, though it be only to doze, or to sleep out the rest of the day. But, in this latter, I differ extremely from other writers; and shall be too proud, if, by all my labours, I can have anyways contributed to the repose of mankind, in times so turbulent and unquiet as these. Neither do I think such an employment so very alien from the office of a wit as some would suppose. For, among a very polite nation in Greece, there were the same temples built and consecrated, to Sleep and the Muses; between which two deities they believed the strictest friendship was established.
I have one concluding favour to request of my reader; that he will not expect to be equally diverted and informed by every line or every page of this discourse; but give some allowance to the author's spleen, and short fits or intervals of dulness, as well as his own; and lay it seriously to his z conscience, whether, if he were walking the streets in dirty weather, or a rainy day, he would allow it fair dealing, in folks at their ease from a window to critick his gait, and ridicule his dress at such a juncture.
In my disposure of employments of the brain, I have thought fit to make invention the master, and to give method and reason the office of its lackeys. The cause of this distribution was, from observing it my peculiar case, to be often under a temptation of being witty upon occasion, where I could be neither wise, nor sound, nor anything to the matter in hand. And I am too much a servant of the modern way, to neglect any such opportunities, whatever pains or improprieties I may be at, to introduce them. For I have observed, that, from a laborious collection of seven hundred and thirty-eight flowers, and shining hints of the best modern authors, digested with great reading into my book of commonplaces, I have not been able, after five years, to draw, hook, or force, into common conversation, any more than a dozen. Of which dozen, the one moiety failed of success, by being dropped among unsuitable company; and the other cost me so many strains, and traps, and ambages to introduce, that I at length resolved to give it over. Now, this disappointment, (to discover a secret,) I must own, gave me the first hint of setting up for an author; and I have since found, among some particular friends, that it is become a very general complaint, and has produced the same effects upon many others. For I have remarked, many a towardly word to be wholly neglected or despised in discourse, which hath passed very smoothly, with some consideration and esteem, after its preferment and sanction in print. But now, since, by the liberty and encouragement of the press, I am grown absolute master of the occasions and opportunities to expose the talents I have acquired, I already discover, that the issues of my observanda begin to grow too large for the receipts. Therefore, I shall here pause a while, till I find, by feeling the world's pulse and my own, that it will be of absolute necessity for us both, to resume my pen.
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