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SERIES OF LETTERS,
ON THE FOLLOWING SUBJECTS:
ON DECISION OF CHARACTER.
HAS BEEN RENDERED LESS ACCEPTABLE TO
PERSONS OF CULTIVATED TASTE.
BY JOHN FOSTER.
THE FIFTH EDITION,
PRINTED FOR GALE, CURTIS, AND FENNER, PATERNOSTER-ROW,
PERHAPS it will be thought that pieces written so much in the manner of set compositions as the following, should not have been denominated Letters; it may therefore be proper to say, that they are so called because they were actually addressed to a friend. They were written however with the intention to print them, if, when they were finished, the writer could persuade himself that they deserved it; and the character of authors is too well known for any one to be surprized that he could persuade himself of this.
When he began these letters, his intention was to confine himself within such limits, that essays on twelve or fifteen subjects might have been comprised in a volume. But he soon found that an interesting subject could not be so fully unfolded as he wished, in such a narrow space. It appeared to him that many things which
would be excluded, as much belonged to the purpose of the essay as those which would be introduced.
It will not seem a very natural manner of commencing a course of letters to a friend, to enter formally on a subject, in the first sentence. In excuse for this abruptness it may be mentioned, that an introductory letter went before that which appears first in the series ; but as it was written in the presumption that a considerable variety of subjects would be treated in the compass of a moderate number of letters, it is omitted, as being less adapted to precede what is executed in a manner so different from the design.
When writing which has occupied a considerable length, and has been interrupted by considerable intervals of time, which is also on very different subjects, and was perhaps meditated under the influence of different circumstances, is at last all read over in one short space, this immediate succession and close comparison make the writer sensible of some things of which he was not aware in the slow separate stages of his progress. On thus bringing the following essays under one review, the writer perceives some reason to apprehend that the spirit of the third may appear so different from that of the second as to give an impression of something like inconsistency.
The second may seem to represent that a man may effect almost every thing, the third that he can effect scarcely any thing. The writer however persuades himself that the one does not assert the efficacy of human resolution and effort under the same conditions under which the other asserts their inefficacy; and that therefore there is no real contrariety between the principles of the two essays. From the evidence of history and familiar experience we know that under certain conditions, and within certain limits, (very contracted ones indeed,) an enlightened and resolute human spirit has great power, this greatness being relative, of course, to the measures of things within a small sphere ; while it is equally obvious that this enlightened and resolute spirit, disregarding these conditions, and attempting to extend its agency over a much wider sphere, shall find its power baffled and annihilated, till it draws back again within