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requires little attention to be convinced that 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 occa 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 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 more 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
the present age. In the Tatlers there is a great
This being the case, it has been thought that a Selection from the Tatlers, Spectators, and Guardians, comprising all those papers in which the peculiar spirit and excellence of these works chiefly resides, might be no unacceptable present to the world in general, and par
ticularly to young people of both sexes, who may not happen to possess the originals, and who, if they did, would want a guide, in so miscellaneous a work, to direct them to what is best worth their notice. Let it not be imagined that such a Selection is presumptuously intended to supersede the original volumes; they must always find their place in a well-furnished library but the generality of readers, of whose various occupations the cultivation of literature makes only a part, (and of this class are nearly all women, and most men who are not devoted to professional studies,) may perhaps be well content to have some of the most beautiful compositions in our language presented to them, without being obliged to lose their own time in separating them from a mass of uninteresting matter. The French are very fond of extracting what they call l'esprit d'un auteur, which may be translated the essence of a writer. In this, which may be compared to the essential oils of plants, resides the genuine and distinguishing flavour of an author's wit; but it commonly bears a very small proportion to his bulk. Whole libraries might by this process be distilled down to a few pocket volumes; as a single phial of attar of roses contains
the precious product of many acres.
an admirable chymist in this way.
We are apt
to lament the waste he has made among the productions of antient genius: but it is probable, if we had an opportunity of inspecting them, we should find that, in reality, nearly all are preserved to us that are most worth preservation; and that what has perished is chiefly made up of the residuum of science, and the caput mortuum of literature. It is true, indeed, that there is a light in which papers that describe the manners and little incidents of the day, rise in value as their contents become more obsolete. With what curiosity should we peruse a Roman newspaper, or a critique upon Roscius, or a conversatione at the toilette of Aspasia! To an antiquary the Spectators are already a great source of information, and five hundred years hence will be invaluable; though it must be observed, some discernment is necessary to separate the playful exaggerations of humour from the real facts on which they are grounded.
It may be proper to preface this Selection with some account of the original publications. The Tatler was undertaken by sir Richard Steele, under the fictitious name of Isaac Bickerstaff; which he assumed, as he tells us