A Letter Addressed to the Abbe Raynal, on the Affairs of North America, in Which the Mistakes in the


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Page 1

"In the course of his travels," says he, "the translator happily
succeeded in obtaining a copy of this exquisite little piece, which
has not yet made its appearance from any press. He publishes a French
edition, in favour of those who will feel its eloquent reasoning more
forcibly in its native language, at the same time with the following
translation of it; in which he has been desirous, perhaps in vain,
that all the warmth, the grace, the strength, the dignity of the
original should not be lost. And he flatters himself, that the
indulgence of the illustrious historian will not be wanting to a man,
who, of his own motion, has taken the liberty to give this composition
to the public, only from a strong persuasion, that this momentous
argument will be useful, in a critical conjecture, to that country
which he loves with an ardour that can be exceeded only by the nobler
flame which burns in the bosom of the philanthropic author, for the
freedom and happiness of all the countries upon earth."

This plausibility of setting off a dishonourable action, may pass for
patriotism and sound principles with those who do not enter into its
demerits, and whose interest is not injured, nor their happiness
affected thereby. But it is more than probable, notwithstanding the
declarations it contains, that the copy was obtained for the sake of
profiting by the sale of a new and popular work, and that the
professions are but a garb to the fraud.

It may with propriety be remarked, that in all countries where
literature is protected, and it never can flourish where it is not,
the works of an author are his legal property; and to treat letters in
any other light than this, is to banish them from the country, or
strangle them in the birth.--The embezzlement from the Abbe Raynal
was, it is true, committed by one country upon another, and therefore
shews no defect in the laws of either. But it is nevertheless a breach
of civil manners and literary justice; neither can it be any apology,
that because the countries are at war, literature shall be entitled
to depredation.[1]

But the forestalling the Abbe's publication by London editions, both
in French and English, and thereby not only defrauding him, and
throwing an expensive publication on his hands, by anticipating the
sale, are only the smaller injuries which such conduct may occasion. A
man's opinions, whether written or in thought, are his own until he
pleases to publish them himself; and it is adding cruelty to injustice
to make him the author of what future reflection or better information
might occasion him to suppress or amend. There are declarations and
sentiments in the Abbe's piece, which, for my own part, I did not
expect to find, and such as himself, on a revisal, might have seen
occasion to change, but the anticipated piracy effectually prevented
him the opportunity, and precipitated him into difficulties, which,
had it not been for such ungenerous fraud, might not have happened.

This mode of making an author appear before his time, will appear
still more ungenerous, when we consider how exceedingly few men there
are in any country who can at once, and without the aid of reflection
and revisal, combine warm passions with a cool temper, and the full
expansion of imagination with the natural and necessary gravity of
judgment, so as to be rightly balanced within themselves, and to make
a reader feel, and understand justly at the same time. To call three
powers of the mind into action at once, in a manner that neither shall
interrupt, and that each shall aid and vigorate the other, is a talent
very rarely possessed.

It often happens, that the weight of an argument is lost by the wit of
setting it off, or the judgment disordered by an intemperate
irritation of the passions: yet a certain degree of animation must be
felt by the writer, and raised in the reader, in order to interest the
attention; and a sufficient scope given to the imagination, to enable
it to create in the mind a sight of the persons, characters, and
circumstances of the subject; for without these, the judgment will
feel little or no excitement to office, and its determinations will be
cold, sluggish, and imperfect. But if either or both of the two former
are raised too high, or heated too much, the judgment will be jostled
from his seat, and the whole matter, however important in itself, will
diminish into a pantomime of the mind, in which we create images that
promote no other purpose than amusement.

The Abbe's writings bear evident marks of that extension and rapidness
of thinking and quickness of sensation which of all others require
revisal, and the more particularly so when applied to the living
characters of nations or individuals in a state of war. The least
misinformation or misconception leads to some wrong conclusion and an
error believed becomes the progenitor of others. And as the Abbe has
suffered some inconveniences in France, by mistating certain
circumstances of the war and the characters of the parties therein, it
becomes some apology for him, that those errors were precipitated into
the world by the avarice of an ungenerous enemy.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Wed 26th Jan 2022, 21:10