Astronomy; or, American Exceptionalism


By the wondrous discoveries of the improved telescopes of modern times, we ascertain that upwards of several hundred millions of stars exist, that are invisible to the naked eye—the nearest of which is millions of millions of’miles from the Earth; and as we have every reason to suppose that every one of this inconceivable number of worlds is peopled like our own, a consideration of this fact—and that we are undoubtedly as superior to these beings, as we are to the rest of mankind—is calculated to fill the mind of the American with a due sense of his own importance in the scale of animated creation.

——”Squibob,” Lectures on Astronomy.



That sentences in Authors, like haires in an horse-taile, concurre in one roote of beauty and strength, but being pluckt out one by one, serve only for springes and snares.

——John Donne, “Newes from the Very Countrey.”

The True Art of Genteel Writing


As History receives a great portion of its dignity and importance, not from the magnitude of those events which it records, but from the rank and consequence of the personages that figure in the great drama of the world, so in like manner doth every work of fiction depend upon the same cause for its interest. Every word and action of a legitimate monarch; for instance, is matter of infinite moment, not only to the present age, but to posterity; and it is consequently carefully recorded in books of history. If he takes a ride, or goes to church, it is considered, especially the latter event, such a rarity that nothing will do but it must be set down in the chronicles.

Hence the vast advantages accruing to an author from a discreet choice of his characters, whose actions, provided they are persons of a proper rank, may be both vulgar and insignificant, without either tiring or disgusting the reader. The hero, provided he is right royal, or even noble, may turn his palace into a brothel, or commit the most paltry meannesses, without losing his character; and the heroine, if of sufficient rank, may, by virtue of her prerogative, swear like a fishwoman, without being thought in the least vulgar. The most delicate and virtuous female, properly imbued with a taste for the extempore historical novel, does not mind being introduced, by a popular author, into the company of strumpets, pimps, and their dignified employers, whose titles and patents of nobility give them the privilege of doing things that would disgrace the vulgar, who, poor souls, have no way of becoming tolerably respectable, but by conforming to the common decencies of life. So also, a Buckingham, a Rochester, or a Sir Charles Sedley, or any other distinguished person, historically witty, may be made by an author as coarse, flat, and vulgar in his conversations, as the said author himself, who puts the words into his mouth, and, ten to one, the reader will think he is banqueting on the quintessence of refined wit and humour. Not to multiply particular instances, we may lay it down as a general rule, that the dignity of actions, tho refinement of morals, and the sharpness of wit, is exactly in proportion to the rank and quality of the characters to whom they appertain.

——James K. Paulding, Koningsmarke, Book Fourth, Chapter I.