That praises are without reason lavished on the dead, and that honors due only to excellence are paid to antiquity is a complaint likely to be always continued by those, who, being able to add nothing to truth, hope from the heresies of paradox; or those, who, being forced by disappointments upon consolatory expedients, are willing to hope from posterity what the present age refuses, and flatter themselves that the regard is yet denied by envy will be at last bestowed by time.
Antiquity, like every other quality that attracts the notice of mankind, has undoubtedly votaries that reverence it, not from reason but from prejudice. Some seem to admire indiscriminately whatever has been long preserved, without considering that time has sometimes cooperated with chance; all perhaps are more willing to honor past than present excellence; and the mind contemplates genius through the shades of age, as the eye survey's the sun through artificial opacity.
The great contention of criticism is to find the faults of the moderns and the beauties of the ancients. While an author is yet living, we rate his powers by his worst performance; and while he is dead, we estimate him by his best.
To works, however, of which the excellence is not absolute and definite, but gradual and comparative; to works not raised upon principles demonstrative and scientific, but appealing wholly to observation and experience, no other test can be applied than length of duration and continuance of esteem. What mankind have long possessed, they have often examined and compared; and if they persist to value the possession, it is because frequent comparisons have confirmed opinion in it's favor. As among the works of nature no man can call a river deep or a mountain without the knowledge of many mountains and many...