L O I T E R E R.
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L O I T E R E R.
SATURDAY, March 6, 1790.
THE Love of Novelty is a passion so inherent in human nature, that a Periodical Writer will seldom be long a favourite with the Public, who does not take care to introduce a variety of subjects into his work, and mix as much as possible the Utile with the Dulce. — For though it be true that particular persons are by disposition and habit best pleased with a particular style of writing, yet this is far from being universally the case. There are hours in which the giddy and the young may be inclined to seriousness and attention, while the old and grave will sometimes wish to relax from the toil of deep study, and indulge themselves with the gaiety of Ridicule or the wanderings of Fiction. For this reason we may observe, that the most celebrated Periodical Writers have been particularly careful to diversify their subjects as much as possible, and have ranged all the habitable parts of the globe to furnish such a variety of mental food, as may pique the cloyed appetite of the Literary Epicure.
The ingenious Mr. Bickerstaff, (who may be styled the Homer of this kind of writing) was so convinced of this truth, that he often introduced many different materials into the same Lucubration, and a paper beginning on literary or moral subjects, sometimes ends with the victories of the Duke of Marlborough.
The Spectator also, by the introduction of Will Honeycomb, Sir Andrew Freeport, and the inimitable Sir Roger de Coverley, has successfully endeavoured to diversify and enliven his work. — Few readers have not been amused with the alternate labours of Mr. Village and Mr. Town in the Connoisseur, and the various characters and conversations of Humphraville, Fleetwood, &c. &c. have greatly contributed to the merit and the reputation of the Mirrour. — Should it be remarked by our readers, that we have been rather deficient in the article of Variety, and instead of introducing new characters, or displaying them in different lights, (have run over the same dull round of subjects) we will beg them to remember, that our situation precludes us from those lively and amusing characters which develop themselves in so many interesting conversations in the above-mentioned works; while from any grave or serious disquisitions, we fear most of our Readers would turn with disgust. — As there are however some who do not expect a Periodical Writer always to “set the table in a roar,” I cannot deny myself the pleasure of relating a sort of colloquial criticism on the times, which passed the other day in a conversation between Dr. Villars, Mr. Sensitive, and myself.
With the different traits of character which mark my two friends, I have already made the Public acquainted in my 30th Number, and shall only add, that a longer and more intimate acquaintance has at once justified and increased the good opinion I then entertained of them. With S —— in particular I have lately been in the habit of passing much of my time; and during those mornings which the uncommon mildness of the season made it almost a crime to waste by the fire side of a dusty room, or amidst the cloisters of a gloomy quadrangle, it has been our custom to stroll into the country, and amuse ourselves either with the objects which presented themselves in our rambles, or remarks on the books which we had lately read, or the people with whom we had lately conversed. In these longer excursions indeed the age of the Doctor will not suffer him to accompany us, his walks having been for some time confined to the Parks, Headington-Hill, or some other of the Oxford environs; at some of which he is generally to be seen once a day, if the weather is fine. Returning the other morning from one of our walks rather earlier than usual, we met our good old Friend, who was just going to take his, and gladly accepted his invitation to turn back and accompany him to Joe Pullen’s Tree, which, since the fall of his old acquaintance, the Magdalen Oak, has become a great favourite with him. As soon as we had reached this elevated station, and cast our eyes over the well-known view, a general silence took place for some minutes. — It was indeed a day for meditation: The Sun emerging by fits from the grey fleckered clouds which overspread the whole atmosphere, illuminating the projecting points of Magdalen and Merton Towers, and shot its lengthened gleams across the pastures and meads, which extend themselves in a long level to the north of the City, while the woody hills of Wytham rising boldly from behind a flat country, threw over the whole back ground a broad mass of dark shadows, broken only here and there by a white sail, whose almost imperceptible motion just marked the various turns and winding of the river. — After we had continued gazing some time at the scene before us, in a sort of reverie, which was rather encouraged than interrupted by the mellow sound of a distant bell, the Doctor at last broke silence — “There is something, said the old Man, wonderfully soothing to the human mind in the sight of places where the earlier part of life has been spent, where many joys and many sorrows have been known, where Knowledge has been acquired, and Friendships formed, and the performance of future years planned and projected. — At least I never looked at the grey towers and antiquated buildings before us, without the immediate recollection of a thousand little incidents and occurrences of my past life, which produce that kind of melancholy, which in the words of the Poet, is “pleasing and mournful to the Soul.”
To you, my friend, replied Sensitive, I have no doubt but the Contemplation of the scene before us must give the most pleasing recollection, since it must remind you of the attainment of Knowledge, the acquisition of Friends, and the display of Benevolence; but you must pardon me if I suspect that to the far greater part of those, who have received their education at Oxford, a sight of that place (at a more advanced age) would raise ideas which would be rather mournful than pleasant to the Soul,” — Scarce had he uttered this sarcasm (and before the Doctor’s Benevolence could furnish him with an apology for the age,) when a large party of very dashing Men rode by, mounted on cropt ponies, and followed by no inconsiderable number of Tarriers of all sorts, sizes, and colours: and as they did not ride very fast, and talked very loud, we easily discovered that the object of this grand cavalcade had been a Badger-baiting on Bullingdon-Green: in the event of which combat they seemed greatly interested, and were settling the merits of their different Dogs with great clamour, and not without some altercation. There, continued Sensitive, whose spleen was now raised to the highest Pitch, There is a specimen of the manner in which the present Members of the University spend their time. What delightful sensations now must the prospect of Oxford give them some few years hence! — How soothing must be the recollection, how endearing the remembrance of Rows in the High-Street, Races on Port Meadow, and Schemes to Town! — What mental Luxury must they feel, when the companions and associates of their former exploits rise up to their view, and their imagination is bewildered amidst an interesting catalogue of Grooms and Blackguards, Hunters, Ponies, and Tarriers!
“I cannot (returned Sensitive after a pause, and in a more serious but not less earnest manner) read the glorious list of eminent men, who, by long and unremitted study, have qualified themselves, at the University, for the honourable employments which they afterwards merited and obtained, without a painful conviction of the inferiority of the present age, and the probable further degeneracy of the next. — For the streams of knowledge and science must soon cease to be copious or pure, when their source is thus suffered to be obscured by mud, and choaked with weeds; and miserable must be the condition of those children, whose fathers can teach them nothing which it is not a misfortune to know. — I shall be told perhaps, that like most satyrists I over-shoot the mark; that it is unfair to attack a large collective body for the behaviour of a few individuals; and that there are many who pursue their studies in peace and quietness unhurt by the example or the ridicule of the idle and the dissipated. — I hope it is so — I think indeed I know a few, and I am willing to believe there are yet more, who merit that description; this however only proves that the genius and abilities of some men are superior to every obstacle, nor can they be well quoted to support the credit of the present age, since every period has produced some learned men, and the eighth and ninth Century themselves can boast an Alfred and a Bede. — Nor am I quite satisfied with the conduct of those few, whom I am willing to exempt from the general accusation of ignorance in any thing good, arid inattention to every thing serious. — They pursue learning indeed with steadiness and sometimes with ardour; but they pursue it only for their own pleasure or their own profit; they have totally lost that literary enthusiasm, which vents itself in the diffusion of Science, and rejoices to propagate what it knows. — You think I am refining too much. — I will therefore bring one proof, by which my argument will stand or fall. — Every one knows that in the last Century nothing was more common, than for Students in any Science, when tolerable proficients themselves, to read voluntary lectures to those Members of the University, who chose to attend, and we are told that the Lecturer’s Audience on these occasions was such as to be highly creditable both to him, and to themselves. — Now I do not think it would be very easy to persuade any of our modern Professors to impart their knowledge without being paid for it, and if they did, I should fear from the thinness of their audience they might soon be denominated Wall Lectures.”
Having pronounced this bitter Philippic, he looked round with the triumphant air of a man, who does not think his arguments very readily answered. The Doctor however was not so easily convinced, but after a moment’s pause, answered him as nearly as I can recollect in these words. “Charles, I have often observed, that of all men I ever knew, you have the happiest talent for seeing every thing in the worst light; what sort of satisfaction you may derive from it, know not. I shall only say that if I thought as ill of the present age as you do, short as is the time which I have to spend in it, I should wish that little less. — With regard to the young men who have just past us, and to all others of the same turn, it may fairly be said, that in all probability they would have spent their time equally ill, if not worse, in any other place or situation, and their conduct can therefore little affect the credit of the University, or indeed of any one in it, but themselves. Still less can the Reputation of Oxford suffer from the discontinuance of a custom, which ceased only from the time that the liberality of our benefactors rendered all voluntary undertakings of that kind unnecessary, by the establishment of regular and perpetual Lectures on every branch of Science. Unless therefore you have some better proofs to offer, I am afraid we must give up the pleasing idea of the degeneracy of the present age, and fairly allow ourselves to be much about as good, and much about as wise, as our forefathers. —— What say you my friend,” turning to me, while the smile of conscious benevolence brightened his countenance, “let us have your opinion on this subject.” “Most certainly, I replied, and I give it you the more willingly, because it agrees with your own, or if in any thing I differ, it is in thinking that the dissipation, which Sensitive complains of is rather owing to the conduct of the Old than the Young. If they whose business it is to direct the studies, promote the improvement, and watch over the manners of young men, will impart their instructions with pedantry, assert their dignity with petulance, reproach with illiberality, and punish from caprice; in short, do every thing which can disgust those, whose affection they ought to conciliate; no wonder if the lively and spirited minds of Youth incline them to pay small attention to pursuits, which have had such unpleasant effect of the manners of their Professors. — Scarce any office demands so many different requisites in those who would fill it properly, as that of a College Tutor, and in none perhaps is propriety of Choice so little attended to. — The Tutor of a College goes off to a Living, dies of an Apoplexy, or is otherwise provided for; a Successor must be found; and as few who have better prospects chuse to undertake so disagreeable an office, the society is sometimes under the necessity of appointing a person, who is no further qualified for it than by the possession of a little classical, or mathematical information. With this slender stock of knowledge, and without any acquaintance with the World or any insight into Characters, He enters on his office with more Zeal than Discretion, asserts his own opinions with arrogance and maintains them with obstinacy, calls Contradiction, Contumacy, and Reply, Pertness, and deals out his Jobations, Impositions, and Confinements, to every ill-fated Junior who is daring enough to oppose his sentiments, or doubt his opinions. The consequence of this is perfectly natural. He treats his Pupils as Boys, and they think him a Brute. From that moment all his power of doing good ceases; for we learn nothing from him, who has forfeited our confidence. Such is the Portrait of what Tutors too often are, might I be indulged in pointing out what they should be, very different would be the Character I should sketch. I would draw him modest in his disposition, mild in his temper, gentle and insinuating in his address; scarce less a man of the world than a man of letters. His Classic Knowledge (though far above mediocrity) should be the least of his acquirements; General Knowledge should be his forte, and the application of it to general purposes his aim. He should not only improve those under his care in his publick lectures, but should endeavour at least to direct them in their private studies; He should encourage them to read, and teach them to read with taste; He should” —— “Enough, my dear Friend, (exclaimed Sensitive) you need say no more, I am already convinced that no man ever yet was fit to be Tutor of a College.” “Not so, (I answered with warmth) I doubt not but there are, and have been many, such; I am sure I know one to whom every part of the Portrait bears a striking resemblance: And who, should he see this description, (and see it he probably will) will I hope, neither blush at the commendation, or question the sincerity of one who wishes it was in his power to give more extensive and permanent marks of gratitude for many happy hours past in his company, the remembrance of which will last when this paper is forgotten.”
As this Work will soon be concluded, such of our Correspondents who may be inclined to favour us with any farther Contributions, are requested to do so as early s possible; and we should esteem it an additional obligation, if they would make us acquainted with their names, that we may have it in our power to thank them in our last number.
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