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SELECTION FROM THE SPECTATOR, &c.
IT is equally true of books as of their authors, that one generation passeth away and another cometh. Whoever has lived long enough to compare one race of men with that which has preceded it, will have observed a change, not only in the tastes and habitudes of common life, but in the fashion of their studies, and their course of general reading. Books influence manners; and manners, in return, influence the taste for books.
Books make a silent and gradual, but a sure change in our ideas and opinions; and as new authors are continually taking possession of the public mind, and old ones falling into disuse, new associations insensibly take place, and shed their influence unperceived over our taste, our
manners, and our morals. If, for instance, the parent of the last age would put Fenelon into the hands of his child, and the parent of the present day would give him Berquin; cach with a view of impressing the same general sentiments of piety and benevolence: yet their offspring will be pupils of a different school, and their moral ideas will have some shades of difference. This new infusion of taste and moral sentiment acts in its turn upon the relish for books; and thus the fame of writers is exposed, to continual fluctuation. Nor does this remark apply only to those ephemeral pubEcations, which, either from the nature of the subject or the mediocrity of its execution, live their day, and are then buried in oblivion; but to books that have been the favourites of the public, and the very glass by which its noble. youth did dress themselves.' Books that were in every one's hands, and that have contributed to form our relish for literature itself; these are laid aside, as philosophy opens new veins of thought, or fashion and caprice direct the taste of the public into a different channel. It is true, indeed, that a work of the first excellence cannot perish. It will continue to be respected as a classic: but it will
no longer be the book which every one who reads is expected to be acquainted with, to which allusions are often made, and readily understood in conversation; it loses the precious privilege of occupying the minds of youth in short, it is withdrawn from the parlour-window, and laid upon the shelf in honourable repose. It ceases to be current coin, but is preserved like a medal in the cabinets of the curious.
This revolution the Spectators, with the other sets of papers by the same hands, appear to the Editor to have undergone. When those were young who now are old, no books were so. popular, particularly with the female sex. They were the favourite volumes in a young lady's library; and probably the very first that, after the Bible, she would have thought of purchasing. Sir Roger de Coverley and the other characters of the club were familiar in our mouths as household names;' and every little circumstance related of them remained indelibly, engraven on our memories. From the papers of Addison we imbibed our first relish for wit; from his criticisms we formed our first standard of taste; and from his delineations we drew our first ideas of manners.
requires little attention to be convinced that th is now far from being the case. It is not difficult to meet with those among the rising generation who have only seen here and there an occas sional paper of a publication once so generally diffused; and it now and then happens that a story from the Tatler is produced as new, in polite company, without detection. Various causes have contributed to this change. When these periodical papers were first published, the plan itself was new. It has since been adopted: by various writers with more or less success, till the frame-work is worn out, or, if the reader please, till the canvass of the panorama is become threadbare. Style has also been purified and refined. Criticism has become more
profound. Essay-writing has beer largely cultivated. Moral sentiments of weight and im portance have become trite from frequent repe tition. The talent also of composition is thore common than it was a century ago; and many things which were then first said have since. been better said. Add to this, that much of the wit and lively satire of these papers has been employed on subjects of a temporary nature, and has consequently lost much of its salt, and pungency. We are no longer interested in the
contest between the opera and the puppet-show. We can only guess how much of truth and how much of invention is contained in the account of the Mohawks; and we are less struck with the whimsical effect of party-patching, when the mode itself is forgotten amidst newer inventions of capricious ornament, and more modern exhibitions of fashionable folly.
It is also to be considered, that the more ef ficacious these pieces have been, and no doubt they have had considerable effect, in refining the taste and correcting the manners of society, the sooner will they be thrown by as antiquated or useless. Thus, the very success of • a book may hasten the period of its being forgotten; and the completion of an author's purpose may turn out to be the ruin of his fame. Addison was himself aware of this cause of a diminution of popularity, and says, in one of his essays, that those papers which attack the follies of the day, will, in process of time, become like old plate; the weight will remain, but the fashion will be lost.
It must however be acknowledged, that a great part of these compositions do by no means stand upon so high a ground of merit as to have any strong claim upon the notice of