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LETTER IV. I. That there is in Hiftory fufficient authenticity to
render it ufcful, notwithflanding all objections to the contrary.
II. Of the Method and due reftriftions to be obferved in the ftudy
of it. Whether the letter I now begin to write will be long or
fhort, I know not: but I find my memory is refrefhed, my
imagination warmed, and matter flows in fo raft upon me, that I
have not time to prefs it clofe. Since, therefore, you have
provoked me to write, you mud be content to take what follows. I
have obferved already, that we are apt naturally to apply to
ourfelves what has happened to other men, and that examples take
their force from hence; as well thofe which hiftory, as thofe which
experience, offers to our reflection. What we do not believe to
have happened, therefore, we mall not thus apply: and for want of
the fame application, fuch examples will not have the fame effect.
Ancient hiftory, fuch ancient hiftory as I have defcribed, is quite
unfit, therefore, in this refpedt, to anfwer the ends that every
reafonable man fhould propofe to him- felf in this ftudy; becaufe
fuch ancient hiftory will never gain fufficient credit with any
reafonable man. A tale well told, or a comedy or a tragedy well
wrought up, may have a momentary effect upon the mind, by heating
the ima- x..' gination.gination, furprifing the judgment, and
affecting . ftrongly the paflions. The Athenians are faid to have
been tranfported into a kind of martial phrenfy, by the
reprefentation of a tragedy of JEfchylus, and to have marched under
this influence from the theatre to the plains of Marathon. Thefe
momentary impreffions might be managed, for aught I know, in fuch
manner as to contribute a little, by frequent repetitions of them,
towards maintaining a kind of habitual contempt of f...
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