BOOK XIV. CONTAINING TWO DAYS.
1. Chapter i. An essay...
An essay to prove that an author will write the better for having some
knowledge of the subject on which he writes.
As several gentlemen in these times, by the wonderful force of genius
only, without the least assistance of learning, perhaps, without being
well able to read, have made a considerable figure in the republic of
letters; the modern critics, I am told, have lately begun to assert,
that all kind of learning is entirely useless to a writer; and,
indeed, no other than a kind of fetters on the natural sprightliness
and activity of the imagination, which is thus weighed down, and
prevented from soaring to those high flights which otherwise it would
be able to reach.
This doctrine, I am afraid, is at present carried much too far: for
why should writing differ so much from all other arts? The nimbleness
of a dancing-master is not at all prejudiced by being taught to move;
nor doth any mechanic, I believe, exercise his tools the worse by
having learnt to use them. For my own part, I cannot conceive that
Homer or Virgil would have writ with more fire, if instead of being
masters of all the learning of their times, they had been as ignorant
as most of the authors of the present age. Nor do I believe that all
the imagination, fire, and judgment of Pitt, could have produced those
orations that have made the senate of England, in these our times, a
rival in eloquence to Greece and Rome, if he had not been so well read
in the writings of Demosthenes and Cicero, as to have transferred
their whole spirit into his speeches, and, with their spirit, their
I would not here be understood to insist on the same fund of learning
in any of my brethren, as Cicero persuades us is necessary to the
composition of an orator. On the contrary, very little reading is, I
conceive, necessary to the poet, less to the critic, and the least of
all to the politician. For the first, perhaps, Byshe's Art of Poetry,
and a few of our modern poets, may suffice; for the second, a moderate
heap of plays; and, for the last, an indifferent collection of