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A Critical Essay on Characteristic-Writings From his translation of The Moral Characters of Theophrastus (1725)   By: (1696-1769)

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The Augustan Reprint Society


A Critical Essay on Characteristic Writings

from his translation of

The Moral Characters of Theophrastus


With an Introduction by Alexander H. Chorney

Publication Number 33

Los Angeles William Andrews Clark Memorial Library University of California 1952


H. RICHARD ARCHER, Clark Memorial Library RICHARD C. BOYS, University of Michigan ROBERT S. KINSMAN, University of California, Los Angeles JOHN LOFTIS, University of California, Los Angeles


W. EARL BRITTON, University of Michigan


EMMETT L. AVERY, State College of Washington BENJAMIN BOYCE, Duke University LOUIS BREDVOLD, University of Michigan JAMES L. CLIFFORD, Columbia University ARTHUR FRIEDMAN, University of Chicago EDWARD NILES HOOKER, University of California, Los Angeles LOUIS A. LANDA, Princeton University SAMUEL H. MONK, University of Minnesota ERNEST MOSSNER, University of Texas JAMES SUTHERLAND, University College, London H.T. SWEDENBERG, JR., University of California, Los Angeles


EDNA C. DAVIS, Clark Memorial Library


Henry Gally's A Critical Essay on Characteristic Writings , here reprinted, is the introductory essay to his translation of The Moral Characters of Theophrastus (1725). Of Gally's life (1696 1769) little is known. Apparently his was a moderately successful ecclesiastical career: he was appointed in 1735 chaplain in ordinary to George II. His other published works consist of sermons, religious tracts, and an undistinguished treatise on the pronunciation of Greek.

His essay on the character, however, deserves attention because it is the first detailed and serious discussion by an Englishman of a literary kind immensely popular in its day. English writers before Gally had, of course, commented on the character. Overbury, for example, in "What A Character Is" ( Sir Thomas Overbury His Wife... 1616) had defined the character as "wit's descant on any plain song," and Brathwaite in his Dedication to Whimzies (1631) had written that character writers must shun affectation and prefer the "pith before the rind." Wye Saltonstall in the same year in his Dedicatory Epistle to Picturae Loquentes had required of a character "lively and exact Lineaments" and "fast and loose knots which the ingenious Reader may easily untie." These remarks, however, as also Flecknoe's "Of the Author's Idea of a Character" ( Enigmaticall Characters , 1658) and Ralph Johnson's "rules" for character writing in A Scholar's Guide from the Accidence to the University (1665), are fragmentary and oblique. Nor do either of the two English translations of Theophrastus before Gally the one a rendering of La Bruyère's French version,[1] and the other, Eustace Budgell's The Moral Characters of Theophrastus (1714) touch more than in passing on the nature of the character. Gally's essay, in which he claims to deduce his critical principles from the practice of Theophrastus, is both historically and intrinsically the most important work of its kind.

Section I of Gally's essay, thoroughly conventional in nature, is omitted here. In it Gally, following Casaubon,[2] theorizes that the character evolved out of Greek Old Comedy. The Augustans saw a close connection between drama and character writing. Congreve (Dedication to The Way of the World , 1700) thought that the comic dramatist Menander formed his characters on "the observations of Theophrastus, of whom he was a disciple," and Budgell, who termed Theophrastus the father of modern comedy, believed that if some of Theophrastus's characters "were well worked up, and brought upon the British theatre, they could not fail of Success... Continue reading book >>

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