Letters on England HTML version

23. On The Regard That Ought To Be Shown To Men Of
Neither the English nor any other people have foundations established in favour
of the polite arts like those in France. There are Universities in most countries,
but it is in France only that we meet with so beneficial an encouragement for
astronomy and all parts of the mathematics, for physic, for researches into
antiquity, for painting, sculpture, and architecture. Louis XIV. has immortalised
his name by these several foundations, and this immortality did not cost him two
hundred thousand livres a year.
I must confess that one of the things I very much wonder at is, that as the
Parliament of Great Britain have promised a reward of 20,000 pounds sterling to
any person who may discover the longitude, they should never have once
thought to imitate Louis XIV. in his munificence with regard to the arts and
Merit, indeed, meets in England with rewards of another kind, which redound
more to the honour of the nation. The English have so great a veneration for
exalted talents, that a man of merit in their country is always sure of making his
fortune. Mr. Addison in France would have been elected a member of one of the
academies, and, by the credit of some women, might have obtained a yearly
pension of twelve hundred livres, or else might have been imprisoned in the
Bastile, upon pretence that certain strokes in his tragedy of Cato had been
discovered which glanced at the porter of some man in power. Mr. Addison was
raised to the post of Secretary of State in England. Sir Isaac Newton was made
Master of the Royal Mint. Mr. Congreve had a considerable employment. Mr.
Prior was Plenipotentiary. Dr. Swift is Dean of St. Patrick in Dublin, and is more
revered in Ireland than the Primate himself. The religion which Mr. Pope
professes excludes him, indeed, from preferments of every kind, but then it did
not prevent his gaining two hundred thousand livres by his excellent translation of
Homer. I myself saw a long time in France the author of Rhadamistus ready to
perish for hunger. And the son of one of the greatest men our country ever gave
birth to, and who was beginning to run the noble career which his father had set
him, would have been reduced to the extremes of misery had he not been
patronised by Monsieur Fagon.
But the circumstance which mostly encourages the arts in England is the great
veneration which is paid them. The picture of the Prime Minister hangs over the
chimney of his own closet, but I have seen that of Mr. Pope in twenty noblemen's
houses. Sir Isaac Newton was revered in his lifetime, and had a due respect paid
to him after his death; the greatest men in the nation disputing who should have
the honour of holding up his pall. Go into Westminster Abbey, and you will find
that what raises the admiration of the spectator is not the mausoleums of the