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drama of the Restoration, having effectually
superseded, in the estimation of most readers,
the grave, concise, and epigrammatic satires
in which the essayists of a former generation
had lashed the follies of mankind. From
this time forward, abstract sketches of
character became exceptional publications; and
a natural reaction tended to bury in obscurity
even those collections that had once been the
most popular. Many such merited no better
fate; and the copies of them that remain
preserve nothing of more value than a
description of surfaces that time has changed.
Written by triflers, they tell us how triflers
looked upon society two hundred years ago.
Others bear the stamp of a different currency,
and give the ring of a more genuine metal.
Some, and these of course form the smallest
class, bear the impress of minds at once
observant and profound; minds able to pierce
through the crust of fashions and usages,
down to the eternal truths of human nature,
and the motives that govern the heart of
man. Of all it may be said, even of the most
superficial examples, that this literature,
although it may be shallow, is seldom or
never tedious. A sentence may contain only
a truism; but then the truism is set in gold.
It is expressed in words so few and simple
that not one of them could be sparedso
precise and forcible that not one of them
could be changedwithout obscuring a meaning
as clear as the noonday light, or without
detriment to a style worthy of the translators
of the Bible. The principal writers of
character sketches lived in an age when prose
compositions were polished as Gray polished
his poetry; and when brevity and terseness
were deemed the first of literary merits.
They have left volumes of which the very
words are condensed paragraphs; and
essays that contain the materials of goodly

A full description of the character books,
even if the writer could enter into the spirit
of their brevity, and could wean himself from
the comparative diffuseness of these latter
days, would be too large a task to attempt
within the limits of this journal. One or
two of them, however, such as best illustrate
the whole, shall speak for themselves to
our readers. In the meanwhile, we will
assume the part of prologue, and will give
our heroes the benefit of a preliminary
flourish, as well as of an account of their
general tendency.

On casting a retrospective glance over
them all, it is impossible to avoid remarking
the gradual change in the distinctive feature
that is selected to isolate the subjects of each
essaythe gradual, but in time complete
change, in the principles of classification
adopted by successive authors. The most
ancient classify according to occupation, or
position in life: implying that, among their
contemporaries, these were the circumstances
by which people were most powerfully
influenced, whether in knowledge, in deportment,
in morals, or in habits of thought and
action. As it is incontestably true that the
two most opposite individuals to be found
among civilised humanity will present, when
fairly contrasted, more points of resemblance
than of diversity, so it is easy to conceive
that, in a primitive society, these points of
resemblance will be developed and brought
out amongst persons whose callings are
similar, whose gains or losses result from the
same circumstances, whose passions are
aroused or gratified by the same events. A
few centuries ago, the priest, the lawyer, the
physician, the courtier, not to mention
persons in humbler walks of life, each presented
certain unmistakeable signs of his calling,
signs approximating him to his brethren
in words and conduct, if not in actual
character. But, in process of time, as the
number of outward agencies brought to bear
upon mankind were increased by the diffusion
of knowledge, many influences unconnected
with his calling or station were admitted to
modify the character of the individual; and
the moral and intellectual qualities, instead
of being determined by position, broke
down the class barriers which position had
raised, and placed others in their stead.
Hence, in the present day, every profession,
or trade, is itself a microcosmcontaining
types of all the characters and peculiarities
that may be found in the larger world

It follows that the writers of character
sketches, who first arranged men according to
their occupation, and made this the link by
which the persons described in an essay were
bound together, and defined, and separated
from the rest of the human race, were
compelled, before long, to shift their ground, and
to base their distinctions upon predominating
qualities of heart or mind. There can be
little doubt that Chaucer intended the
pilgrims at the Tabard to be types, rather than
individual portraitures; or that he
endeavoured to accumulate upon each the outward
visible signs, and to interweave with the
tale of each the mental characteristics of the
class to which he or she belonged. And all
these pilgrims, with the single exception of
the wife of Bath, are introduced to us by
their callings, as if these alone were half
descriptions. In the earlier professed
character books, the same plan is pursued; and
the essays have for their subjects a bishop,
a judge, a knight, a lawyer, a soldier, a
physician, and so forth. Twenty years later,
we find the church disposed of under two
headsa grave divine, and a young raw
preacher; while the satirical description of
the professors of the healing art deals only
with a mere dull physician. Later still, the
moral qualities have it all their own way, the
calling is left unnoticed, and the essays relate
to a modest man, a mere complimental man,
a rash man, and the like. This is an

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