--A DIGRESSION IN PRAISE OF DIGRESSIONS.
I have sometimes heard of an Iliad in a nut-shell, but it has been
my fortune to have much oftener seen a nut-shell in an Iliad. There
is no doubt that human life has received most wonderful advantages
from both; but to which of the two the world is chiefly indebted, I
shall leave among the curious as a problem worthy of their utmost
inquiry. For the invention of the latter, I think the commonwealth
of learning is chiefly obliged to the great modern improvement of
digressions. The late refinements in knowledge, running parallel to
those of diet in our nation, which among men of a judicious taste
are dressed up in various compounds, consisting in soups and olios,
fricassees and ragouts.
It is true there is a sort of morose, detracting, ill-bred people
who pretend utterly to disrelish these polite innovations. And as
to the similitude from diet, they allow the parallel, but are so
bold as to pronounce the example itself a corruption and degeneracy
of taste. They tell us that the fashion of jumbling fifty things
together in a dish was at first introduced in compliance to a
depraved and debauched appetite, as well as to a crazy constitution,
and to see a man hunting through an olio after the head and brains
of a goose, a widgeon, or a woodcock, is a sign he wants a stomach
and digestion for more substantial victuals.