Whether the ensuing pages were really the dream or vision of some very pious and holy person; or whether they were really written in the other world, and sent back to this, which is the opinion of many (though I think too much inclining to superstition); or lastly, whether, as infinitely the greatest part imagine, they were really the production of some choice inhabitant of New Bethlehem, is not necessary nor easy to determine. It will be abundantly sufficient if I give the reader an account by what means they came into my possession. Mr. Robert Powney, stationer, who dwells opposite to Catherine-street in the Strand, a very honest man and of great gravity of countenance; who, among other excellent stationery commodities, is particularly eminent for his pens, which I am abundantly bound to acknowledge, as I owe to their peculiar goodness that my manuscripts have by any means been legible: this gentleman, I say, furnished me some time since with a bundle of those pens, wrapped up with great care and caution, in a very large sheet of paper full of characters, written as it seemed in a very bad hand. Now, I have a surprising curiosity to read everything which is almost illegible; partly perhaps from the sweet remembrance of the dear Scrawls, Skrawls, or Skrales (for the word is variously spelled), which I have in my youth received from that lovely part of the creation for which I have the tenderest regard; and partly from that temper of mind which makes men set an immense value on old manuscripts so effaced, bustoes so maimed, and pictures so black that no one can tell what to make of them. I therefore perused this sheet with wonderful application, and in about a day’s time discovered that I could not understand it. I immediately repaired to Mr. Powney, and inquired very eagerly whether he had not more of the same manuscript? He produced about one hundred pages, acquainting me that he had saved no more; but that the book was originally a huge folio, had been left in his garret by a gentleman who lodged there, and who had left him no other satisfaction for nine months’ lodging. He proceeded to inform me that the manuscript had been hawked about (as he phrased it) among all the booksellers, who refused to meddle; some alleged that they could not read, others that they could not understand it. Some would haze it to be an atheistical book, and some that it was a libel on the government; for one or other of which reasons they all refused to print it. That it had been likewise shown to the R— l Society, but they shook their heads, saying, there was nothing in it wonderful enough for them. That, hearing the gentleman was gone to the West–Indies, and believing it to be good for nothing else, he had used it as waste paper. He said I was welcome to what remained, and he was heartily sorry for what was missing, as I seemed to set some value on it.
I desired him much to name a price: but he would receive no consideration farther than the payment of a small bill I owed him, which at that time he said he looked on as so much money given him.
I presently communicated this manuscript to my friend parson Abraham Adams, who, after a long and careful perusal, returned it me with his opinion that there was more in it than at first appeared; that the author seemed not entirely unacquainted with the writings of Plato; but he wished he had quoted him sometimes in his margin, that I might be sure (said he) he had read him in the original: for nothing, continued the parson, is commoner than for men now-a-days to pretend to have read Greek authors, who have met with them only in translations, and cannot conjugate a verb in mi.
To deliver my own sentiments on the occasion, I think the author discovers a philosophical turn of thinking, with some little knowledge of the world, and no very inadequate value of it. There are some indeed who, from the vivacity of their temper and the happiness of their station, are willing to consider its blessings as more substantial, and the whole to be a scene of more consequence than it is here represented: but, without controverting their opinions at present, the number of wise and good men who have thought with our author are sufficient to keep him in countenance: nor can this be attended with any ill inference, since he everywhere teaches this moral: That the greatest and truest happiness which this world affords, is to be found only in the possession of goodness and virtue; a doctrine which, as it is undoubtedly true, so hath it so noble and practical a tendency, that it can never be too often or too strongly inculcated on the minds of men.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08