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history should likewise be interesting; and this is the quality, which chiefly distinguishes a writer of genius and eloquence.
To be interesting, a historian must preserve a medium between rapid recital and prolix detail. He should know, when to be concise, and when to enlarge. He should make a proper selection of circumstances. These give life, body, and coloring to his narration. They constitute, what is termed historical painting.
In all these virtues of narration, particularly in pic. turesque description, the antients eminently excel. Hence the pleasure of reading Thucydides, Livy, Sallust, and Tacitus. In historical painting there are great varieties. Livy and Tacitus paint in very different ways. The descriptions of Livy are full, plain, and natural ; those of Tacitus are fhort and bold. .
One embellishment, which the moderns have laid aside, was employed by the antients. They put ora tions into the mouths of celebrated personages. By these they diversified their history, and conveyed both moral and political instruction. Thucydides was the first, who adopted this method; and the orations, with which his history abounds, are valuable remains of antiquity. It it doubtful however, whether this embellishment should be allowed to the historian ; for they form a mixture, unnatural to history, of truth and fiction. The moderns are more chaste, when on great occasions
the historian delivers in his own person the sentiments, and reasonings of opposite parties.
Another fplendid embellishment of history is the de. lineation of characters. These are considered, as exhibitions of fine writing ; and hence the difficulty of excelling in this province. For characters may be too shining and labored. The accomplished historian a. voids here to dazzle too much. He is solicitous to give the resemblance in a style equally removed from meanness and affectation. He studies the grandeur of fimplicity.
Sound morality should always reign in history. 'A historian should ever show himself on the side of virtue. It is not however his province, to deliver moral instructions in a formal manner. He should excite indignation against the designing and the vicious; and by appeals to the pallions he will not only improve his reader, but take away from the natural coolness of his. torical narration.
In modern times historical genius has shone most in Italy. Acuteness, political fagacity, and wisdom are all conspicuous in Machiavel, Guicciardin, Davila, Bentivoglio, and Father Paul. In Great Britain history has been fashionable only a few years. For, though Clarendon and Burnet are considerable historians, they are inferior to Hume, Robertson, and Gibbon.
The inferior kinds of historical composition are an.
nals, memoirs, and lives. Annals are a collection of facts in Chronological order ; and the properties of an annalist are fidelity and distinctness. / Memoirs are a species of composition, in which an author pretends not to give a complete detail of facts, but only to record, what he himself knew, or was concerned in, or what ile lustrates the conduct of some person, or some transaction, which he chooses for his subject. It is not there-fore expected of such a writer, that he possess the same profound research, and those superior talents, which are requisite in a historian. It is chiefly required of him, that he be sprightly and intereiting. The French dur-ing two centuries have poured forth a flood of memoirs ;, the most of which are little more, than agreeable trifles. We must however except from this censure · the memoirs of the Cardinal de Retz, and those of the Duke of Sully. The former join to a lively narrative : great knowledge of human nature. The latter deserve: very particular praise. They approach to the useful-ness and dignity of legitimate history. They are full of virtue and good sense ; and are well calculated to: form both the heads and hearts of those, who are designed for public business and high stations in the world.
Biography is a very useful kind of composition ; less ftately, than history ; but perhaps not less instructive. It affords full opportunity of displaying the characters of eminent men, and of entering into a thorough acquaint
ance with them. In this kind of writing Plutarch excels; but his matter is better, than his manner; he has no peculiar beauty, nor elegance. His judgment and accuracy also are sometimes taxed. But he is a very humane writer, and fond of displaying great men in the gentle lights of retirement.
Before we conclude this subject, it is proper to ob ferve, that of late years a great improvement has been introduced into historical composition. More particular attention, than formerly, has been given to laws, customs, commerce, religion, literature, and to every thing, that shows the spirit and genius of nations. It is now conceived, that a historian ought to illustrate manners as well, as facts and events. Whatever dis. plays the state of mankind in different periods.;, whatever illustrates the progress of the human mind ; is more useful, than details of sieges and battles.
PHILOSOPHICAL WRITING AND DIA.
F Philofophy the professed design is instruction.. With the philosopher therefore style, form, and dress are inferior objects. But they must not be wholly nego lected. The same truths and reasonings, delivered with elegance, will strike more, than in a dull and dry manner
Beyond mere perspicuity the strictest precision and aceuracy are required in a philosophical writer ; and these qualities may be possessed without dryness. Philofophical writing admits a polished, neat, and elegant style. It admits the calm figures of speech; but rejects, whatever is florid and tumid. Plato and Cicero have left philofophical treatises, composed with much elegance and beauty. Seneca is too fond of an affected, brilliant, sparkling manner. Locke's Treatise on Human Understanding is a model of a clear and distinct philo. fophical style. In the writings of Shaftsbury on the other hand philosophy is dressed up with teo much ornament and finery.
Among the antients philofophical writing often afo fumed the form of dialogue. Plato is eminent for the beauty of his dialogues. In richness of imagination no philofophic writer, antient or modern, is equal to him.. His only fault is the excessive fertility of his imagina. tion, which fometimes obscures his judgment, and frequently carries him into allegory, fiction, enthusiasm, and the airy regions of mystical theology. Cicero's dialogues are not so fpirited and characteristical, as those of Plato. They are however agreeable, and well supported; and show us conversation, carried on among some principal persons of antient Rome with freedom, good breeding, and dignity. Of the light and humorous dialogue Lucian is a model ; and he has been imitated by several modern writers. Fontenelle bas write.