Part 3 out of 9
retirement he carries home, under a show of airy negligence, a heart
lacerated with envy, or depressed with disappointment; and immures
himself in his closet, that he may disencumber his memory at leisure,
review the progress of the day, state with accuracy his loss or gain of
reputation, and examine the causes of his failure or success?
Yet more remote from common conceptions are the numerous and restless
anxieties, by which female happiness is particularly disturbed. A
solitary philosopher would imagine ladies born with an exemption from
care and sorrow, lulled in perpetual quiet, and feasted with unmingled
pleasure; for what can interrupt the content of those, upon whom one age
has laboured after another to confer honours, and accumulate immunities;
those to whom rudeness is infamy, and insult is cowardice; whose eye
commands the brave, and whose smiles soften the severe; whom the sailor
travels to adorn, the soldier bleeds to defend, and the poet wears out
life to celebrate; who claim tribute from every art and science, and for
whom all who approach them endeavour to multiply delights, without
requiring from them any returns but willingness to be pleased?
Surely, among these favourites of nature, thus unacquainted with toil
and danger, felicity must have fixed her residence; they must know only
the changes of more vivid or more gentle joys: their life must always
move either to the slow or sprightly melody of the lyre of gladness;
they can never assemble but to pleasure, or retire but to peace.
Such would be the thoughts of every man who should hover at a distance
round the world, and know it only by conjecture and speculation. But
experience will soon discover how easily those are disgusted who have
been made nice by plenty and tender by indulgence. He will soon see to
how many dangers power is exposed which has no other guard than youth
and beauty, and how easily that tranquillity is molested which can only
be soothed with the songs of flattery. It is impossible to supply wants
as fast as an idle imagination may be able to form them, or to remove
all inconveniencies by which elegance refined into impatience may be
offended. None are so hard to please, as those whom satiety of pleasure
makes weary of themselves; nor any so readily provoked as those who have
been always courted with an emulation of civility.
There are, indeed, some strokes which the envy of fate aims immediately
at the fair. The mistress of Catullus wept for her sparrow many
centuries ago, and lapdogs will be sometimes sick in the present age.
The most fashionable brocade is subject to stains; a pinner, the pride
of Brussels, may be torn by a careless washer; a picture may drop from a
watch; or the triumph of a new suit may be interrupted on the first day
of its enjoyment, and all distinctions of dress unexpectedly obliterated
by a general mourning.
Such is the state of every age, every sex, and every condition: all have
their cares, either from nature or from folly: and whoever therefore
finds himself inclined to envy another, should remember that he knows
not the real condition which he desires to obtain, but is certain that
by indulging a vicious passion, he must lessen that happiness which he
thinks already too sparingly bestowed.
No. 129. TUESDAY, JUNE 11. 1751.
_--Nunc, O nunc, Daedale, dixit,
Materiam, qua sis ingeniosus, habes.
Possidet en terras, et possidet aequara, Minos:
Nec tellus nostrae, nec patet undo fugae.
Restat iter coelo: tentabimus ire.
Da veniam caepto, Jupiter alte, meo. OVID. Ar. Am. Lib. ii. 33_.
Now, Daedalus, behold, by fate assign'd,
A task proportion'd to thy mighty mind!
Unconquer'd bars on earth and sea withstand;
Thine, Minos, is the main, and thine the land.
The skies are open--let us try the skies:
Forgive, great Jove, the daring enterprize.
Moralists, like other writers, instead of casting their eyes abroad in
the living world, and endeavouring to form maxims of practice and new
hints of theory, content their curiosity with that secondary knowledge
which books afford, and think themselves entitled to reverence by a new
arrangement of an ancient system, or new illustration of established
principles[e]. The sage precepts of the first instructors of the world
are transmitted from age to age with little variation, and echoed from
one author to another, not perhaps without some loss of their original
force at every repercussion.
I know not whether any other reason than this idleness of imitation can
be assigned for that uniform and constant partiality, by which some
vices have hitherto escaped censure, and some virtues wanted
recommendation; nor can I discover why else we have been warned only
against part of our enemies, while the rest have been suffered to steal
upon us without notice; why the heart has on one side been doubly
fortified, and laid open on the other to the incursions of errour, and
the ravages of vice.
Among the favourite topicks of moral declamation, may be numbered the
miscarriages of imprudent boldness, and the folly of attempts beyond our
power. Every page of every philosopher is crowded with examples of
temerity that sunk under burdens which she laid upon herself, and called
out enemies to battle by whom she was destroyed.
Their remarks are too just to be disputed, and too salutary to be
rejected; but there is likewise some danger lest timorous prudence
should be inculcated, till courage and enterprise are wholly repressed,
and the mind congealed in perpetual inactivity by the fatal influence of
Every man should, indeed, carefully compare his force with his
undertaking; for though we ought not to live only for our own sakes, and
though therefore danger or difficulty should not be avoided merely
because we may expose ourselves to misery or disgrace; yet it may be
justly required of us, not to throw away our lives upon inadequate and
hopeless designs, since we might, by a just estimate of our abilities,
become more useful to mankind.
There is an irrational contempt of danger, which approaches nearly to
the folly, if not the guilt of suicide; there is a ridiculous
perseverance in impracticable schemes, which is justly punished with
ignominy and reproach. But in the wide regions of probability, which are
the proper province of prudence and election, there is always room to
deviate on either side of rectitude without rushing against apparent
absurdity; and according to the inclinations of nature, or the
impressions of precept, the daring and the cautious may move in
different directions without touching upon rashness or cowardice.
That there is a middle path which it is every man's duty to find, and to
keep, is unanimously confessed: but it is likewise acknowledged that
this middle path is so narrow, that it cannot easily be discovered, and
so little beaten, that there are no certain marks by which it can be
followed: the care, therefore, of all those who conduct others has been,
that whenever they decline into obliquities, they should tend towards
the side of safety.
It can, indeed, raise no wonder that temerity has been generally
censured; for it is one of the vices with which few can be charged, and
which therefore, great numbers are ready to condemn. It is the vice of
noble and generous minds, the exuberance of magnanimity, and the
ebullition of genius; and is therefore not regarded with much
tenderness, because it never flatters us by that appearance of softness
and imbecility which is commonly necessary to conciliate compassion. But
if the same attention had been applied to the search of arguments
against the folly of pre-supposing impossibilities, and anticipating
frustration, I know not whether many would not have been roused to
usefulness, who, having been taught to confound prudence with timidity,
never ventured to excel, lest they should unfortunately fail.
It is necessary to distinguish our own interest from that of others, and
that distinction will perhaps assist us in fixing the just limits of
caution and adventurousness. In an undertaking that involves the
happiness or the safety of many, we have certainly no right to hazard
more than is allowed by those who partake the danger; but where only
ourselves can suffer by miscarriage, we are not confined within such
narrow limits; and still less is the reproach of temerity, when numbers
will receive advantage by success, and only one be incommoded by
Men are generally willing to hear precepts by which ease is favoured;
and as no resentment is raised by general representations of human
folly, even in those who are most eminently jealous of comparative
reputation, we confess, without reluctance, that vain man is ignorant of
his own weakness, and therefore frequently presumes to attempt what he
can never accomplish; but it ought likewise to be remembered, that man
is no less ignorant of his own powers, and might perhaps have
accomplished a thousand designs, which the prejudices of cowardice
restrained him from attempting.
It is observed in the golden verses of Pythagoras, that "Power is never
far from necessity." The vigour of the human mind quickly appears, when
there is no longer any place for doubt and hesitation, when diffidence
is absorbed in the sense of danger, or overwhelmed by some resistless
passion. We then soon discover, that difficulty is, for the most part,
the daughter of idleness, that the obstacles with which our way seemed
to be obstructed were only phantoms, which we believed real, because we
durst not advance to a close examination; and we learn that it is
impossible to determine without experience how much constancy may
endure, or perseverance perform.
But whatever pleasure may be found in the review of distresses when art
or courage has surmounted them, few will be persuaded to wish that they
may be awakened by want, or terrour, to the conviction of their own
abilities. Every one should therefore endeavour to invigorate himself by
reason and reflection, and determine to exert the latent force that
nature may have reposed in him, before the hour of exigence comes upon
him, and compulsion shall torture him to diligence. It is below the
dignity of a reasonable being to owe that strength to necessity which
ought always to act at the call of choice, or to need any other motive
to industry than the desire of performing his duty.
Reflections that may drive away despair, cannot be wanting to him who
considers how much life is now advanced beyond the state of naked,
undisciplined, uninstructed nature. Whatever has been effected for
convenience or elegance, while it was yet unknown, was believed
impossible; and therefore would never have been attempted, had not some,
more daring than the rest, adventured to bid defiance to prejudice and
censure. Nor is there yet any reason to doubt that the same labour would
be rewarded with the same success. There are qualities in the products
of nature yet undiscovered, and combinations in the powers of art yet
untried. It is the duty of every man to endeavour that something may be
added by his industry to the hereditary aggregate of knowledge and
happiness. To add much can indeed be the lot of few, but to add
something, however little, every one may hope; and of every honest
endeavour, it is certain, that, however unsuccessful, it will be at last
[Footnote e: Johnson gained _his_ knowledge from actual experience. He
told Boswell that before he wrote the Rambler he had been running about
the world more than almost any body. Boswell's Life of Johnson, vol. i.
p. 196.; and vol. iii. pp. 20, 21.]
No. 130. SATURDAY, JUNE 15, 1751.
Non sic prata novo vere decentia
AEstatis calidtae dispoliat vapor:
Saevit solstitio cum medius dies;--
Ut fulgor teneris qui radiat genis
Momento rapitur! nullaque non dies
Formosi spolium corporis abstulit.
Res est forma fugax: quis sapiens bono
Confidat fragili? SENECA, Hippol. act. ii. 764.
Not faster in the summer's ray
The spring's frail beauty fades away,
Than anguish and decay consume
The smiling virgin's rosy bloom.
Some beauty's snatch'd each day, each hour;
For beauty is a fleeting flow'r:
Then how can wisdom e'er confide
In beauty's momentary pride? ELPHINSTON
TO THE RAMBLER.
You have very lately observed that in the numerous subdivisions of the
world, every class and order of mankind have joys and sorrows of their
own; we all feel hourly pain and pleasure from events which pass
unheeded before other eyes, but can scarcely communicate our perceptions
to minds pre-occupied by different objects, any more than the delight of
well-disposed colours or harmonious sounds can be imparted to such as
want the senses of hearing or of sight.
I am so strongly convinced of the justness of this remark, and have on
so many occasions discovered with how little attention pride looks upon
calamity of which she thinks herself not in danger, and indolence
listens to complaint when it is not echoed by her own remembrance, that
though I am about to lay the occurrences of my life before you, I
question whether you will condescend to peruse my narrative, or, without
the help of some female speculatists, to be able to understand it.
I was born a beauty. From the dawn of reason I had my regard turned
wholly upon myself, nor can recollect any thing earlier than praise and
admiration. My mother, whose face had luckily advanced her to a
condition above her birth, thought no evil so great as deformity. She
had not the power of imagining any other defect than a cloudy
complexion, or disproportionate features; and therefore contemplated me
as an assemblage of all that could raise envy or desire, and predicted
with triumphant fondness the extent of my conquests, and the number of
She never mentioned any of my young acquaintance before me, but to
remark how much they fell below my perfection; how one would have had a
fine face, but that her eyes were without lustre; how another struck the
sight at a distance, but wanted my hair and teeth at a nearer view;
another disgraced an elegant shape with a brown skin; some had short
fingers, and others dimples in a wrong place.
As she expected no happiness nor advantage but from beauty, she thought
nothing but beauty worthy of her care; and her maternal kindness was
chiefly exercised in contrivances to protect me from any accident that
might deface me with a scar, or stain me with a freckle: she never
thought me sufficiently shaded from the sun, or screened from the fire.
She was severe or indulgent with no other intention than the
preservation of my form; she excused me from work, lest I should learn
to hang down my head, or harden my finger with a needle; she snatched
away my book, because a young lady in the neighbourhood had made her
eyes red with reading by a candle; but she would scarcely suffer me to
eat, lest I should spoil my shape, nor to walk lest I should swell my
ancle with a sprain. At night I was accurately surveyed from head to
foot, lest I should have suffered any diminution of my charms in the
adventures of the day; and was never permitted to sleep, till I had
passed through the cosmetick discipline, part of which was a regular
lustration performed with bean-flower water and May-dews; my hair was
perfumed with variety of unguents, by some of which it was to be
thickened, and by others to be curled. The softness of my hands was
secured by medicated gloves, and my bosom rubbed with a pomade prepared
by my mother, of virtue to discuss pimples, and clear discolorations.
I was always called up early, because the morning air gives a freshness
to the cheeks; but I was placed behind a curtain in my mother's chamber,
because the neck is easily tanned by the rising sun. I was then dressed
with a thousand precautions, and again heard my own praises, and
triumphed in the compliments and prognostications of all that approached
My mother was not so much prepossessed with an opinion of my natural
excellencies as not to think some cultivation necessary to their
completion. She took care that I should want none of the accomplishments
included in female education, or considered necessary in fashionable
life. I was looked upon in my ninth year as the chief ornament of the
dancing-master's ball; and Mr. Ariet used to reproach his other scholars
with my performances on the harpsichord. At twelve I was remarkable for
playing my cards with great elegance of manner, and accuracy of
At last the time came when my mother thought me perfect in my exercises,
and qualified to display in the open world those accomplishments which
had yet only been discovered in select parties, or domestick assemblies.
Preparations were therefore made for my appearance on a publick night,
which she considered as the most important and critical moment of my
life. She cannot be charged with neglecting any means of recommendation,
or leaving any thing to chance which prudence could ascertain. Every
ornament was tried in every position, every friend was consulted about
the colour of my dress, and the mantua-makers were harassed with
directions and alterations.
At last the night arrived from which my future life was to be reckoned.
I was dressed and sent out to conquer, with a heart beating like that of
an old knight-errant at his first sally. Scholars have told me of a
Spartan matron, who, when she armed her son for battle, bade him bring
back his shield, or be brought upon it. My venerable parent dismissed me
to a field, in her opinion of equal glory, with a command to shew that I
was her daughter, and not to return without a lover.
I went, and was received like other pleasing novelties with a tumult of
applause. Every man who valued himself upon the graces of his person, or
the elegance of his address, crowded about me, and wit and splendour
contended for my notice. I was delightfully fatigued with incessant
civilities, which were made more pleasing by the apparent envy of those
whom my presence exposed to neglect, and returned with an attendant
equal in rank and wealth to my utmost wishes, and from this time stood
in the first rank of beauty, was followed by gazers in the Mall,
celebrated in the papers of the day, imitated by all who endeavoured to
rise into fashion, and censured by those whom age or disappointment
forced to retire.
My mother, who pleased herself with the hopes of seeing my exaltation,
dressed me with all the exuberance of finery; and when I represented to
her that a fortune might be expected proportionate to my appearance,
told me that she should scorn the reptile who could inquire after the
fortune of a girl like me. She advised me to prosecute my victories, and
time would certainly bring me a captive who might deserve the honour of
being enchained for ever.
My lovers were indeed so numerous, that I had no other care than that of
determining to whom I should seem to give the preference. But having
been steadily and industriously instructed to preserve my heart from any
impressions which might hinder me from consulting my interest, I acted
with less embarrassment, because my choice was regulated by principles
more clear and certain than the caprice of approbation. When I had
singled out one from the rest as more worthy of encouragement, I
proceeded in my measures by the rules of art; and yet when the ardour of
the first visits was spent, generally found a sudden declension of my
influence; I felt in myself the want of some power to diversify
amusement, and enliven conversation, and could not but suspect that my
mind failed in performing the promises of my face. This opinion was soon
confirmed by one of my lovers, who married Lavinia with less beauty and
fortune than mine, because he thought a wife ought to have qualities
which might make her amiable when her bloom was past.
The vanity of my mother would not suffer her to discover any defect in
one that had been formed by her instructions, and had all the excellence
which she herself could boast. She told me that nothing so much hindered
the advancement of women as literature and wit, which generally
frightened away those that could make the best settlements, and drew
about them a needy tribe of poets and philosophers, that filled their
heads with wild notions of content, and contemplation, and virtuous
obscurity. She therefore enjoined me to improve my minuet-step with a
new French dancing-master, and wait the event of the next birth-night.
I had now almost completed my nineteenth year: if my charms had lost any
of their softness, it was more than compensated by additional dignity;
and if the attractions of innocence were impaired, their place was
supplied by the arts of allurement. I was therefore preparing for a new
attack, without any abatement of my confidence, when, in the midst of my
hopes and schemes, I was seized by that dreadful malady which has so
often put a sudden end to the tyranny of beauty. I recovered my health
after a long confinement; but when I looked again on that face which had
been often flushed with transport at its own reflection, and saw all
that I had learned to value, all that I had endeavoured to improve, all
that had procured me honours or praises, irrecoverably destroyed, I sunk
at once into melancholy and despondence. My pain was not much consoled
or alleviated by my mother, who grieved that I had not lost my life
together with my beauty; and declared, that she thought a young woman
divested of her charms had nothing for which those who loved her could
desire to save her from the grave.
Having thus continued my relation to the period from which my life took
a new course, I shall conclude it in another letter, if, by publishing
this, you shew any regard for the correspondence of,
No. 131. TUESDAY, JUNE 18, 1751.
_--Fatis accede, Deisque,
Et cole felices, miseros fuge. sidera terrae
Ut distant, ut flamma mari, sic utile recto_. LUCAN. Lib. viii. 486.
[Transcriber's note: punctuation in original.]
Still follow where auspicious fates invite;
Caress the happy, and the wretched slight.
Sooner shall jarring elements unite,
Than truth with gain, than interest with right. F. LEWIS.
There is scarcely any sentiment in which, amidst the innumerable
varieties of inclination that nature or accident have scattered in the
world, we find greater numbers concurring, than in the wish for riches;
a wish, indeed, so prevalent that it may be considered as universal and
transcendental, as the desire in which all other desires are included,
and of which the various purposes which actuate mankind are only
subordinate species and different modifications.
Wealth is the general centre of inclination, the point to which all
minds preserve an invariable tendency, and from which they afterwards
diverge in numberless directions. Whatever is the remote or ultimate
design, the immediate care is to be rich; and in whatever enjoyment we
intend finally to acquiesce, we seldom consider it as attainable but by
the means of money. Of wealth therefore all unanimously confess the
value, nor is there any disagreement but about the use.
No desire can be formed which riches do not assist to gratify. He that
places his happiness in splendid equipage or numerous dependants, in
refined praise or popular acclamations, in the accumulation of
curiosities or the revels of luxury, in splendid edifices or wide
plantations, must still, either by birth or acquisition, possess riches.
They may be considered as the elemental principles of pleasure, which
may be combined with endless diversity; as the essential and necessary
substance, of which only the form is left to be adjusted by choice.
The necessity of riches being thus apparent, it is not wonderful that
almost every mind has been employed in endeavours to acquire them; that
multitudes have vied in arts by which life is furnished with
accommodations, and which therefore mankind may reasonably be expected
It had, indeed, been happy, if this predominant appetite had operated
only in concurrence with virtue, by influencing none but those who were
zealous to deserve what they were eager to possess, and had abilities to
improve their own fortunes by contributing to the ease or happiness of
others. To have riches and to have merit would then have been the same,
and success might reasonably have been considered as a proof of
But we do not find that any of the wishes of men keep a stated
proportion to their powers of attainment. Many envy and desire wealth,
who can never procure it by honest industry or useful knowledge. They
therefore turn their eyes about to examine what other methods can be
found of gaining that which none, however impotent or worthless, will be
content to want.
A little inquiry will discover that there are nearer ways to profit than
through the intricacies of art, or up the steeps of labour; what wisdom
and virtue scarcely receive at the close of life, as the recompense of
long toil and repeated efforts, is brought within the reach of subtilty
and dishonesty by more expeditious and compendious measures: the wealth
of credulity is an open prey to falsehood; and the possessions of
ignorance and imbecility are easily stolen away by the conveyances of
secret artifice, or seized by the gripe of unresisted violence.
It is likewise not hard to discover that riches always procure
protection for themselves, that they dazzle the eyes of inquiry, divert
the celerity of pursuit, or appease the ferocity of vengeance. When any
man is incontestably known to have large possessions, very few think it
requisite to inquire by what practices they were obtained; the
resentment of mankind rages only against the struggles of feeble and
timorous corruption, but when it has surmounted the first opposition, it
is afterwards supported by favour, and animated by applause.
The prospect of gaining speedily what is ardently desired, and the
certainty of obtaining by every accession of advantage an addition of
security, have so far prevailed upon the passions of mankind, that the
peace of life is destroyed by a general and incessant struggle for
riches. It is observed of gold, by an old epigrammatist, that "To have
it is to be in fear, and to want it is to be in sorrow." There is no
condition which is not disquieted either with the care of gaining or of
keeping money; and the race of man may be divided in a political
estimate between those who are practising fraud, and those who are
If we consider the present state of the world, it will be found, that
all confidence is lost among mankind, that no man ventures to act, where
money can be endangered upon the faith of another. It is impossible to
see the long scrolls in which every contract is included, with all their
appendages of seals and attestation, without wondering at the depravity
of those beings, who must be restrained from violation of promise by
such formal and publick evidences, and precluded from equivocation and
subterfuge by such punctilious minuteness. Among all the satires to
which folly and wickedness have given occasion, none is equally severe
with a bond or a settlement.
Of the various arts by which riches may be obtained, the greater part
are at the first view irreconcileable with the laws of virtue; some are
openly flagitious, and practised not only in neglect, but in defiance of
faith and justice; and the rest are on every side so entangled with
dubious tendencies, and so beset with perpetual temptations, that very
few, even of those who are not yet abandoned, are able to preserve their
innocence, or can produce any other claim to pardon than that they
deviated from the right less than others, and have sooner and more
diligently endeavoured to return.
One of the chief characteristicks of the golden age, of the age in which
neither care nor danger had intruded on mankind, is the community of
possessions: strife and fraud were totally excluded, and every turbulent
passion was stilled by plenty and equality. Such were indeed happy
times, but such times can return no more. Community of possession must
include spontaneity of production; for what is obtained by labour will
be of right the property of him by whose labour it is gained. And while
a rightful claim to pleasure or to affluence must be procured either by
slow industry or uncertain hazard, there will always be multitudes whom
cowardice or impatience incite to more safe and more speedy methods, who
strive to pluck the fruit without cultivating the tree, and to share the
advantages of victory without partaking the danger of the battle. In
later ages, the conviction of the danger to which virtue is exposed
while the mind continues open to the influence of riches, has determined
many to vows of perpetual poverty; they have suppressed desire by
cutting off the possibility of gratification, and secured their peace by
destroying the enemy whom they had no hope of reducing to quiet
subjection. But, by debarring themselves from evil, they have rescinded
many opportunities of good; they have too often sunk into inactivity and
uselessness; and, though they have forborne to injure society, have not
fully paid their contributions to its happiness.
While riches are so necessary to present convenience, and so much more
easily obtained by crimes than virtues, the mind can only be secured
from yielding to the continual impulse of covetousness by the
preponderation of unchangeable and eternal motives. Gold will turn the
intellectual balance, when weighed only against reputation; but will be
light and ineffectual when the opposite scale is charged with justice,
veracity, and piety[f].
No. 132. SATURDAY, JUNE 22, 1751.
Turpibus ac pravis omnes sumus_.--JUV. Sat. xiv. 40.
The mind of mortals, in perverseness strong,
Imbibes with dire docility the wrong.
TO THE RAMBLER.
I was bred a scholar, and after the usual course of education, found it
necessary to employ for the support of life that learning which I had
almost exhausted my little fortune in acquiring. The lucrative
professions drew my regard with equal attraction; each presented ideas
which excited my curiosity, and each imposed duties which terrified my
There is no temper more unpropitious to interest than desultory
application and unlimited inquiry, by which the desires are held in a
perpetual equipoise, and the mind fluctuates between different purposes
without determination. I had books of every kind round me, among which I
divided my time as caprice or accident directed. I often spent the first
hours of the day, in considering to what study I should devote the rest,
and at last snatched up any author that lay upon the table, or perhaps
fled to a coffee-house for deliverance from the anxiety of irresolution,
and the gloominess of solitude.
Thus my little patrimony grew imperceptibly less, till I was roused from
my literary slumber by a creditor, whose importunity obliged me to
pacify him with so large a sum, that what remained was not sufficient to
support me more than eight months. I hope you will not reproach me with
avarice or cowardice, if I acknowledge that I now thought myself in
danger of distress, and obliged to endeavour after some certain
There have been heroes of negligence, who have laid the price of their
last acre in a drawer, and, without the least interruption of their
tranquillity, or abatement of their expenses, taken out one piece after
another, till there was no more remaining. But I was not born to such
dignity of imprudence, or such exaltation above the cares and
necessities of life; I therefore immediately engaged my friends to
procure me a little employment, which might set me free from the dread
of poverty, and afford me time to plan out some final scheme of lasting
My friends were struck with honest solicitude, and immediately promised
their endeavours for my extrication. They did not suffer their kindness
to languish by delay, but prosecuted their inquiries with such success,
that in less than a month I was perplexed with variety of offers and
contrariety of prospects.
I had however no time for long pauses of consideration; and therefore
soon resolved to accept the office of instructing a young nobleman in
the house of his father: I went to the seat at which the family then
happened to reside, was received with great politeness, and invited to
enter immediately on my charge. The terms offered were such as I should
willingly have accepted, though my fortune had allowed me greater
liberty of choice: the respect with which I was treated, flattered my
vanity; and perhaps the splendour of the apartments, and the luxury of
the table, were not wholly without their influence. I immediately
complied with the proposals, and received the young lord into my care.
Having no desire to gain more than I should truly deserve, I very
diligently prosecuted my undertaking, and had the satisfaction of
discovering in my pupil a flexible temper, a quick apprehension, and a
retentive memory. I did not much doubt that my care would, in time,
produce a wise and useful counsellor to the state, though my labours
were somewhat obstructed by want of authority, and the necessity of
complying with the freaks of negligence, and of waiting patiently for
the lucky moment of voluntary attention. To a man whose imagination was
filled with the dignity of knowledge, and to whom a studious life had
made all the common amusements insipid and contemptible, it was not very
easy to suppress his indignation, when he saw himself forsaken in the
midst of his lecture, for an opportunity to catch an insect, and found
his instructions debarred from access to the intellectual faculties, by
the memory of a childish frolick, or the desire of a new play-thing.
Those vexations would have recurred less frequently, had not his mamma,
by entreating at one time that he should be excused from a task as a
reward for some petty compliance, and withholding him from his book at
another, to gratify herself or her visitants with his vivacity, shewn
him that every thing was more pleasing and more important than
knowledge, and that study was to be endured rather than chosen, and was
only the business of those hours which pleasure left vacant, or
I thought it my duty to complain, in tender terms, of these frequent
avocations; but was answered, that rank and fortune might reasonably
hope for some indulgence; that the retardation of my pupil's progress
would not be imputed to any negligence or inability of mine; and that
with the success which satisfied every body else, I might surely satisfy
myself. I had now done my duty, and without more remonstrances continued
to inculcate my precepts whenever they could be heard, gained every day
new influence, and found that by degrees my scholar began to feel the
quick impulses of curiosity, and the honest ardour of studious ambition.
At length it was resolved to pass a winter in London. The lady had too
much fondness for her son to live five months without him, and too high
an opinion of his wit and learning to refuse her vanity the
gratification of exhibiting him to the publick. I remonstrated against
too early an acquaintance with cards and company; but, with a soft
contempt of my ignorance and pedantry, she said, that he had been
already confined too long to solitary study, and it was now time to shew
him the world; nothing was more a brand of meanness than bashful
timidity; gay freedom and elegant assurance were only to be gained by
mixed conversation, a frequent intercourse with strangers, and a timely
introduction to splendid assemblies; and she had more than once
observed, that his forwardness and complaisance began to desert him,
that he was silent when he had not something of consequence to say,
blushed whenever he happened to find himself mistaken, and hung down his
head in the presence of the ladies, without the readiness of reply, and
activity of officiousness, remarkable in young gentlemen that are bred
Again I found resistance hopeless, and again thought it proper to
comply. We entered the coach, and in four days were placed in the gayest
and most magnificent region of the town. My pupil, who had for several
years lived at a remote seat, was immediately dazzled with a thousand
beams of novelty and shew. His imagination was filled with the perpetual
tumult of pleasure that passed before him, and it was impossible to
allure him from the window, or to overpower by any charm of eloquence
the rattle of coaches, and the sounds which echoed from the doors in the
neighbourhood. In three days his attention, which he began to regain,
was disturbed by a rich suit, in which he was equipped for the reception
of company, and which, having been long accustomed to a plain dress, he
could not at first survey without ecstacy.
The arrival of the family was now formally notified; every hour of every
day brought more intimate or more distant acquaintances to the door; and
my pupil was indiscriminately introduced to all, that he might accustom
himself to change of faces, and be rid with speed of his rustick
diffidence. He soon endeared himself to his mother by the speedy
acquisition or recovery of her darling qualities; his eyes sparkle at a
numerous assembly, and his heart dances at the mention of a ball. He has
at once caught the infection of high life, and has no other test of
principles or actions than the quality of those to whom they are
ascribed. He begins already to look down on me with superiority, and
submits to one short lesson in a week, as an act of condescension rather
than obedience; for he is of opinion, that no tutor is properly
qualified who cannot speak French; and having formerly learned a few
familiar phrases from his sister's governess, he is every day soliciting
his mamma to procure him a foreign footman, that he may grow polite by
his conversation. I am not yet insulted, but find myself likely to
become soon a superfluous incumbrance, for my scholar has now no time
for science, or for virtue; and the lady yesterday declared him so much
the favourite of every company, that she was afraid he would not have an
hour in the day to dance and fence.
I am, &c.
[Footnote f: Johnson often conversed, as well as wrote, on riches. In
his conversations on the subject, amidst his often indulged laxity of
talk, there was ever a deep insight into the human heart. "All the
arguments," he once with keen satire remarked, "which are brought to
represent poverty as no evil, shew it to be evidently a great evil. You
never find people _labouring_ to convince you that you may live happily
upon a plentiful fortune. So you hear people talking how miserable a
king must be, and yet they all wish to be in his place." _Boswell_ vol.
i. p. 422.
When Simonides was asked whether it were better to be wise or rich, he
gave an answer in favour of wealth. "For," said he, "I always behold the
wise lingering at the gates of the wealthy." Aristot. Rhet. ii. 18.]
No. 133. TUESDAY, JUNE 25, 1751.
_Magna quidem, sacris quae dat praecepta libellis
Victrix fortune sapientia. Dicimus autem
Hos quoque felices, qui ferre incommoda vitae,
Nec jactare jugum, vita didicere magistra._ Juv. Sat. xiii. 19.
Let Stoicks ethicks' haughty rules advance
To combat fortune, and to conquer chance:
Yet happy those, though not so learn'd are thought,
Whom life instructs, who by experience taught,
For new to come from past misfortunes look,
Nor shake the yoke, which galls the more 'tis shook. CREECH.
TO THE RAMBLER.
You have shewn, by the publication of my letter, that you think the
life of Victoria not wholly unworthy of the notice of a philosopher: I
shall therefore continue my narrative, without any apology for
unimportance which you have dignified, or for inaccuracies which you are
When my life appeared to be no longer in danger, and as much of my
strength was recovered as enabled me to bear the agitation of a coach, I
was placed at a lodging in a neighbouring village, to which my mother
dismissed me with a faint embrace, having repeated her command not to
expose my face too soon to the sun or wind, and told me that with care I
might perhaps become tolerable again. The prospect of being tolerable
had very little power to elevate the imagination of one who had so long
been accustomed to praise and ecstacy; but it was some satisfaction to
be separated from my mother, who was incessantly ringing the knell of
departed beauty, and never entered my room without the whine of
condolence, or the growl of anger. She often wandered over my face, as
travellers over the ruins of a celebrated city, to note every place
which had once been remarkable for a happy feature. She condescended to
visit my retirement, but always left me more melancholy; for after a
thousand trifling inquiries about my diet, and a minute examination of
my looks, she generally concluded with a sigh, that I should never more
be fit to be seen.
At last I was permitted to return home, but found no great improvement
of my condition; for I was imprisoned in my chamber as a criminal, whose
appearance would disgrace my friends, and condemn me to be tortured into
new beauty. Every experiment which the officiousness of folly could
communicate, or the credulity of ignorance admit, was tried upon me.
Sometimes I was covered with emollients, by which it was expected that
all the scars would be filled, and my cheeks plumped up to their former
smoothness; and sometimes I was punished with artificial excoriations,
in hopes of gaining new graces with a new skin. The cosmetick science
was exhausted upon me; but who can repair the ruins of nature? My mother
was forced to give me rest at last, and abandon me to the fate of a
fallen toast, whose fortune she considered as a hopeless game, no longer
worthy of solicitude or attention.
The condition of a young woman who has never thought or heard of any
other excellence than beauty, and whom the sudden blast of disease
wrinkles in her bloom, is indeed sufficiently calamitous. She is at once
deprived of all that gave her eminence or power; of all that elated her
pride, or animated her activity; all that filled her days with pleasure,
and her nights with hope; all that gave gladness to the present hour, or
brightened her prospects of futurity. It is perhaps not in the power of
a man whose attention has been divided by diversity of pursuits, and who
has not been accustomed to derive from others much of his happiness, to
image to himself such helpless destitution, such dismal inanity. Every
object of pleasing contemplation is at once snatched away, and the soul
finds every receptacle of ideas empty, or filled only with the memory of
joys that can return no more. All is gloomy privation, or impotent
desire; the faculties of anticipation slumber in despondency, or the
powers of pleasure mutiny for employment.
I was so little able to find entertainment for myself, that I was forced
in a short time to venture abroad as the solitary savage is driven by
hunger from his cavern. I entered with all the humility of disgrace into
assemblies, where I had lately sparkled with gaiety, and towered with
triumph. I was not wholly without hope, that dejection had
misrepresented me to myself, and that the remains of my former face
might yet have some attraction and influence; but the first circle of
visits convinced me, that my reign was at an end; that life and death
were no longer in my hands; that I was no more to practise the glance of
command, or the frown of prohibition; to receive the tribute of sighs
and praises, or be soothed with the gentle murmurs of amorous timidity.
My opinion was now unheard, and my proposals were unregarded; the
narrowness of my knowledge, and the meanness of my sentiments, were
easily discovered, when the eyes were no longer engaged against the
judgment; and it was observed, by those who had formerly been charmed
with my vivacious loquacity, that my understanding was impaired as well
as my face, and that I was no longer qualified to fill a place in any
company but a party at cards.
It is scarcely to be imagined how soon the mind sinks to a level with
the condition. I, who had long considered all who approached me as
vassals condemned to regulate their pleasures by my eyes, and harass
their inventions for my entertainment, was in less than three weeks
reduced to receive a ticket with professions of obligation; to catch
with eagerness at a compliment; and to watch with all the anxiousness of
dependance, lest any little civility that was paid me should pass
Though the negligence of the men was not very pleasing when compared
with vows and adoration, yet it was far more supportable than the
insolence of my own sex. For the first ten months after my return into
the world, I never entered a single house in which the memory of my
downfall was not revived. At one place I was congratulated on my escape
with life; at another I heard of the benefits of early inoculation; by
some I have been told in express terms, that I am not yet without my
charms; others have whispered at my entrance, This is the celebrated
beauty. One told me of a wash that would smooth the skin; and another
offered me her chair that I might not front the light. Some soothed me
with the observation that none can tell how soon my case may be her own;
and some thought it proper to receive me with mournful tenderness,
formal condolence, and consolatory blandishments.
Thus was I every day harassed with all the stratagems of well-bred
malignity; yet insolence was more tolerable than solitude, and I
therefore persisted to keep my time at the doors of my acquaintance,
without gratifying them with any appearance of resentment or depression.
I expected that their exultation would in time vapour away; that the joy
of their superiority would end with its novelty; and that I should be
suffered to glide along in my present form among the nameless multitude,
whom nature never intended to excite envy or admiration, nor enabled to
delight the eye or inflame the heart.
This was naturally to be expected, and this I began to experience. But
when I was no longer agitated by the perpetual ardour of resistance, and
effort of perseverance, I found more sensibly the want of those
entertainments which had formerly delighted me; the day rose upon me
without an engagement; and the evening closed in its natural gloom,
without summoning me to a concert or a ball. None had any care to find
amusements for me, and I had no power of amusing myself. Idleness
exposed me to melancholy, and life began to languish in motionless
Misery and shame are nearly allied. It was not without many struggles
that I prevailed on myself to confess my uneasiness to Euphemia, the
only friend who had never pained me with comfort or with pity. I at last
laid my calamities before her, rather to ease my heart, than receive
assistance. "We must distinguish," said she, "my Victoria, those evils
which are imposed by Providence, from those to which we ourselves give
the power of hurting us. Of your calamity, a small part is the
infliction of Heaven, the rest is little more than the corrosion of idle
discontent. You have lost that which may indeed sometimes contribute to
happiness, but to which happiness is by no means inseparably annexed.
You have lost what the greater number of the human race never have
possessed; what those on whom it is bestowed for the most part possess
in vain; and what you, while it was yours, knew not how to use: you have
only lost early what the laws of nature forbid you to keep long, and
have lost it while your mind is yet flexible, and while you have time to
substitute more valuable and more durable excellencies. Consider
yourself, my Victoria, as a being born to know, to reason, and to act;
rise at once from your dream of melancholy to wisdom and to piety; you
will find that there are other charms than those of beauty, and other
joys than the praise of fools."
I am, Sir, &c.
No. 134. SATURDAY, JUNE 29, 1751.
_Quis scit an adjiciant hodiernae crastina summae
Tempora Dii superi?_ HOR. Lib. iv. Ode vii. 16.
Who knows if Heav'n, with ever-bounteous pow'r,
Shall add to-morrow to the present hour? FRANCIS.
I sat yesterday morning employed in deliberating on which, among the
various subjects that occurred to my imagination, I should bestow the
paper of to-day. After a short effort of meditation by which nothing was
determined, I grew every moment more irresolute, my ideas wandered from
the first intention, and I rather wished to think, than thought upon any
settled subject; till at last I was awakened from this dream of study by
a summons from the press; the time was now come for which I had been
thus negligently purposing to provide, and, however dubious or sluggish,
I was now necessitated to write.
Though to a writer whose design is so comprehensive and miscellaneous,
that he may accommodate himself with a topick from every scene of life,
or view of nature, it is no great aggravation of his task to be obliged
to a sudden composition; yet I could not forbear to reproach myself for
having so long neglected what was unavoidably to be done, and of which
every moment's idleness increased the difficulty. There was however some
pleasure in reflecting that I, who had only trifled till diligence was
necessary, might still congratulate myself upon my superiority to
multitudes, who have trifled till diligence is vain; who can by no
degree of activity or resolution recover the opportunities which have
slipped away; and who are condemned by their own carelessness to
hopeless calamity and barren sorrow.
The folly of allowing ourselves to delay what we know cannot be finally
escaped, is one of the general weaknesses, which, in spite of the
instruction of moralists, and the remonstrances of reason, prevail to a
greater or less degree in every mind; even they who most steadily
withstand it, find it, if not the most violent, the most pertinacious of
their passions, always renewing its attacks, and though often
vanquished, never destroyed.
It is indeed natural to have particular regard to the time present, and
to be most solicitous for that which is by its nearness enabled to make
the strongest impressions. When therefore any sharp pain is to be
suffered, or any formidable danger to be incurred, we can scarcely
exempt ourselves wholly from the seducements of imagination; we readily
believe that another day will bring some support or advantage which we
now want; and are easily persuaded, that the moment of necessity which
we desire never to arrive, is at a great distance from us.
Thus life is languished away in the gloom of anxiety, and consumed in
collecting resolutions which the next morning dissipates; in forming
purposes which we scarcely hope to keep, and reconciling ourselves to
our own cowardice by excuses, which, while we admit them, we know to be
absurd. Our firmness is by the continual contemplation of misery, hourly
impaired; every submission to our fear enlarges its dominion; we not
only waste that time in which the evil we dread might have been suffered
and surmounted, but even where procrastination produces no absolute
increase of our difficulties, make them less superable to ourselves by
habitual terrours. When evils cannot be avoided, it is wise to contract
the interval of expectation; to meet the mischiefs which will overtake
us if we fly; and suffer only their real malignity, without the
conflicts of doubt, and anguish of anticipation.
To act is far easier than to suffer; yet we every day see the progress
of life retarded by the _vis inertiae_, the mere repugnance to motion,
and find multitudes repining at the want of that which nothing but
idleness hinders them from enjoying. The case of Tantalus, in the region
of poetick punishment, was somewhat to be pitied, because the fruits
that hung about him retired from his hand; but what tenderness can be
claimed by those who, though perhaps they suffer the pains of Tantalus,
will never lift their hands for their own relief?
There is nothing more common among this torpid generation than murmurs
and complaints; murmurs at uneasiness which only vacancy and suspicion
expose them to feel, and complaints of distresses which it is in their
own power to remove. Laziness is commonly associated with timidity.
Either fear originally prohibits endeavours by infusing despair of
success; or the frequent failure of irresolute struggles, and the
constant desire of avoiding labour, impress by degrees false terrours on
the mind. But fear, whether natural or acquired, when once it has full
possession of the fancy, never fails to employ it upon visions of
calamity, such as, if they are not dissipated by useful employment, will
soon overcast it with horrours, and embitter life not only with those
miseries by which all earthly beings are really more or less tormented,
but with those which do not yet exist, and which can only be discerned
by the perspicacity of cowardice.
Among all who sacrifice future advantage to present inclination,
scarcely any gain so little as those that suffer themselves to freeze in
idleness. Others are corrupted by some enjoyment of more or less power
to gratify the passions; but to neglect our duties, merely to avoid the
labour of performing them, a labour which is always punctually rewarded,
is surely to sink under weak temptations. Idleness never can secure
tranquillity; the call of reason and of conscience will pierce the
closest pavilion of the sluggard, and though it may not have force to
drive him from his down, will be loud enough to hinder him from sleep.
Those moments which he cannot resolve to make useful, by devoting them
to the great business of his being, will still be usurped by powers that
will not leave them to his disposal; remorse and vexation will seize
upon them, and forbid him to enjoy what he is so desirous to
There are other causes of inactivity incident to more active faculties
and more acute discernment. He to whom many objects of pursuit arise at
the same time, will frequently hesitate between different desires, till
a rival has precluded him, or change his course as new attractions
prevail, and harass himself without advancing. He who sees different
ways to the same end, will, unless he watches carefully over his own
conduct, lay out too much of his attention upon the comparison of
probabilities, and the adjustment of expedients, and pause in the choice
of his road till some accident intercepts his journey. He whose
penetration extends to remote consequences, and who, whenever he applies
his attention to any design, discovers new prospects of advantage, and
possibilities of improvement, will not easily be persuaded that his
project is ripe for execution; but will superadd one contrivance to
another, endeavour to unite various purposes in one operation, multiply
complications, and refine niceties, till he is entangled in his own
scheme, and bewildered in the perplexity of various intentions. He that
resolves to unite all the beauties of situation in a new purchase, must
waste his life in roving to no purpose from province to province. He
that hopes in the same house to obtain every convenience, may draw plans
and study Palladio, but will never lay a stone. He will attempt a
treatise on some important subject, and amass materials, consult
authors, and study all the dependant and collateral parts of learning,
but never conclude himself qualified to write. He that has abilities to
conceive perfection, will not easily be content without it; and since
perfection cannot be reached, will lose the opportunity of doing well in
the vain hope of unattainable excellence.
The certainty that life cannot be long, and the probability that it will
be much shorter than nature allows, ought to awaken every man to the
active prosecution of whatever he is desirous to perform. It is true,
that no diligence can ascertain success; death may intercept the
swiftest career; but he who is cut off in the execution of an honest
undertaking, has at least the honour of falling in his rank, and has
fought the battle though he missed the victory.
No. 135. TUESDAY, JULY 2, 1751.
Coelum, non animum, mutant. HOR. Lib. i. Ep. xi. 27.
Place may be chang'd; but who can change his mind?
It is impossible to take a view on any side, or observe any of the
various classes that form the great community of the world, without
discovering the influence of example; and admitting with new conviction
the observation of Aristotle, that _man is an imitative being_. The
greater, far the greater number, follow the track which others have
beaten, without any curiosity after new discoveries, or ambition of
trusting themselves to their own conduct. And, of those who break the
ranks and disorder the uniformity of the march, most return in a short
time from their deviation, and prefer the equal and steady satisfaction
of security before the frolicks of caprice and the honours of adventure.
In questions difficult or dangerous it is indeed natural to repose upon
authority, and, when fear happens to predominate, upon the authority of
those whom we do not in general think wiser than ourselves. Very few
have abilities requisite for the discovery of abstruse truth; and of
those few some want leisure, and some resolution. But it is not so easy
to find the reason of the universal submission to precedent where every
man might safely judge for himself; where no irreparable loss can be
hazarded, nor any mischief of long continuance incurred. Vanity might be
expected to operate where the more powerful passions are not awakened;
the mere pleasure of acknowledging no superior might produce slight
singularities, or the hope of gaining some new degree of happiness
awaken the mind to invention or experiment.
If in any case the shackles of prescription could be wholly shaken off,
and the imagination left to act without control, on what occasion should
it be expected, but in the selection of lawful pleasure? Pleasure, of
which the essence is choice; which compulsion dissociates from every
thing to which nature has united it; and which owes not only its vigour
but its being to the smiles of liberty. Yet we see that the senses, as
well as the reason, are regulated by credulity; and that most will feel,
or say that they feel, the gratifications which others have taught them
At this time of universal migration, when almost every one, considerable
enough to attract regard, has retired, or is preparing with all the
earnestness of distress to retire, into the country; when nothing is to
be heard but the hopes of speedy departure, or the complaints of
involuntary delay; I have often been tempted to inquire what happiness
is to be gained, or what inconvenience to be avoided, by this stated
recession? Of the birds of passage, some follow the summer and some the
winter, because they live upon sustenance which only summer or winter
can supply; but of the annual flight of human rovers it is much harder
to assign the reason, because they do not appear either to find or seek
any thing which is not equally afforded by the town and country.
I believe that many of these fugitives may have heard of men whose
continual wish was for the quiet of retirement, who watched every
opportunity to steal away from observation, to forsake the crowd, and
delight themselves with _the society of solitude_. There is indeed
scarcely any writer who has not celebrated the happiness of rural
privacy, and delighted himself and his reader with the melody of birds,
the whisper of groves, and the murmur of rivulets; nor any man eminent
for extent of capacity, or greatness of exploits, that has not left
behind him some memorials of lonely wisdom, and silent dignity.
But almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those
whom we cannot resemble. Those who thus testified their weariness of
tumult and hurry, and hasted with so much eagerness to the leisure of
retreat, were either men overwhelmed with the pressure of difficult
employments, harassed with importunities, and distracted with
multiplicity; or men wholly engrossed by speculative sciences, who
having no other end of life but to learn and teach, found their searches
interrupted by the common commerce of civility, and their reasonings
disjointed by frequent interruptions. Such men might reasonably fly to
that ease and convenience which their condition allowed them to find
only in the country. The statesman who devoted the greater part of his
time to the publick, was desirous of keeping the remainder in his own
power. The general, ruffled with dangers, wearied with labours, and
stunned with acclamations, gladly snatched an interval of silence and
relaxation. The naturalist was unhappy where the works of Providence
were not always before him. The reasoner could adjust his systems only
where his mind was free from the intrusion of outward objects.
Such examples of solitude very few of those who are now hastening from
the town, have any pretensions to plead in their own justification,
since they cannot pretend either weariness of labour, or desire of
knowledge. They purpose nothing more than to quit one scene of idleness
for another, and after having trifled in publick, to sleep in secrecy.
The utmost that they can hope to gain is the change of ridiculousness to
obscurity, and the privilege of having fewer witnesses to a life of
folly. He who is not sufficiently important to be disturbed in his
pursuits, but spends all his hours according to his own inclination, and
has more hours than his mental faculties enable him to fill either with
enjoyment or desires, can have nothing to demand of shades and valleys.
As bravery is said to be a panoply, insignificancy is always a shelter.
There are, however, pleasures and advantages in a rural situation, which
are not confined to philosophers and heroes. The freshness of the air,
the verdure of the woods, the paint of the meadows, and the unexhausted
variety which summer scatters upon the earth, may easily give delight to
an unlearned spectator. It is not necessary that he who looks with
pleasure on the colours of a flower should study the principles of
vegetation, or that the Ptolemaick and Copernican system should be
compared before the light of the sun can gladden, or its warmth
invigorate. Novelty is itself a source of gratification; and Milton
justly observes, that to him who has been long pent up in cities, no
rural object can be presented, which will not delight or refresh some of
Yet even these easy pleasures are missed by the greater part of those
who waste their summer in the country. Should any man pursue his
acquaintances to their retreats, he would find few of them listening to
Philomel, loitering in woods, or plucking daisies, catching the healthy
gale of the morning, or watching the gentle coruscations of declining
day. Some will be discovered at a window by the road side, rejoicing
when a new cloud of dust gathers towards them, as at the approach of a
momentary supply of conversation, and a short relief from the
tediousness of unideal vacancy. Others are placed in the adjacent
villages, where they look only upon houses as in the rest of the year,
with no change of objects but what a remove to any new street in London
might have given them. The same set of acquaintances still settle
together, and the form of life is not otherwise diversified than by
doing the same things in a different place. They pay and receive visits
in the usual form, they frequent the walks in the morning, they deal
cards at night, they attend to the same tattle, and dance with the same
partners; nor can they, at their return to their former habitation,
congratulate themselves on any other advantage, than that they have
passed their time like others of the same rank; and have the same right
to talk of the happiness and beauty of the country, of happiness which
they never felt, and beauty which they never regarded.
To be able to procure its own entertainments, and to subsist upon its
own stock, is not the prerogative of every mind. There are indeed
understandings so fertile and comprehensive, that they can always feed
reflection with new supplies, and suffer nothing from the preclusion of
adventitious amusements; as some cities have within their own walls
enclosed ground enough to feed their inhabitants in a siege. But others
live only from day to day, and must be constantly enabled, by foreign
supplies, to keep out the encroachments of languor and stupidity. Such
could not indeed be blamed for hovering within reach of their usual
pleasure, more than any other animal for not quitting its native
element, were not their faculties contracted by their own fault. But let
not those who go into the country, merely because they dare not be left
alone at home, boast their love of nature, or their qualifications for
solitude; nor pretend that they receive instantaneous infusions of
wisdom from the Dryads, and are able, when they leave smoke and noise
behind, to act, or think, or reason for themselves.
No. 136. SATURDAY, JULY 6, 1751.
[Greek: Echthrus gar moi keimos, omos aidao pulusin,
Os ch eteron men keuthei eni phresin, allo de bazei.]
HOMER, [Greek: I'.] 313.
Who dares think one thing, and another tell,
My heart detests him as the gates of Hell. POPE.
The regard which they whose abilities are employed in the works of
imagination claim from the rest of mankind, arises in a great measure
from their influence on futurity. Rank may be conferred by princes, and
wealth bequeathed by misers or by robbers; but the honours of a lasting
name, and the veneration of distant ages, only the sons of learning have
the power of bestowing. While therefore it continues one of the
characteristicks of rational nature to decline oblivion, authors never
can be wholly overlooked in the search after happiness, nor become
contemptible but by their own fault.
The man who considers himself as constituted the ultimate judge of
disputable characters, and entrusted with the distribution of the last
terrestrial rewards of merit, ought to summon all his fortitude to the
support of his integrity, and resolve to discharge an office of such
dignity with the most vigilant caution and scrupulous justice. To
deliver examples to posterity, and to regulate the opinion of future
times, is no slight or trivial undertaking; nor is it easy to commit
more atrocious treason against the great republick of humanity, than by
falsifying its records and misguiding its decrees.
To scatter praise or blame without regard to justice, is to destroy the
distinction of good and evil. Many have no other test of actions than
general opinion; and all are so far influenced by a sense of reputation,
that they are often restrained by fear of reproach, and excited by hope
of honour, when other principles have lost their power; nor can any
species of prostitution promote general depravity more than that which
destroys the force of praise, by shewing that it may be acquired without
deserving it, and which, by setting free the active and ambitious from
the dread of infamy, lets loose the rapacity of power, and weakens the
only authority by which greatness is controlled.
Praise, like gold and diamonds, owes its value only to its scarcity. It
becomes cheap as it becomes vulgar, and will no longer raise
expectation, or animate enterprise. It is therefore not only necessary,
that wickedness, even when it is not safe to censure it, be denied
applause, but that goodness be commended only in proportion to its
degree; and that the garlands, due to the great benefactors of mankind,
be not suffered to fade upon the brow of him who can boast only petty
services and easy virtues.
Had these maxims been universally received, how much would have been
added to the task of dedication, the work on which all the power of
modern wit has been exhausted. How few of these initial panegyricks had
appeared, if the author had been obliged first to find a man of virtue,
then to distinguish the distinct species and degree of his desert, and
at last to pay him only the honours which he might justly claim. It is
much easier to learn the name of the last man whom chance has exalted to
wealth and power, to obtain by the intervention of some of his
domesticks the privilege of addressing him, or, in confidence of the
general acceptance of flattery, to venture on an address without any
previous solicitation; and after having heaped upon him all the virtues
to which philosophy had assigned a name, inform him how much more might
be truly said, did not the fear of giving pain to his modesty repress
the raptures of wonder and the zeal of veneration.
Nothing has so much degraded literature from its natural rank, as the
practice of indecent and promiscuous dedication; for what credit can he
expect who professes himself the hireling of vanity, however profligate,
and without shame or scruple, celebrates the worthless, dignifies the
mean, and gives to the corrupt, licentious, and oppressive, the
ornaments which ought only to add grace to truth, and loveliness to
innocence? Every other kind of adulation, however shameful, however
mischievous, is less detestable than the crime of counterfeiting
characters, and fixing the stamp of literary sanction upon the dross and
refuse of the world.
Yet I would not overwhelm the authors with the whole load of infamy, of
which part, perhaps the greater part, ought to fall upon their patrons.
If he that hires a bravo, partakes the guilt of murder, why should he
who bribes a flatterer, hope to be exempted from the shame of falsehood?
The unhappy dedicator is seldom without some motives which obstruct,
though not destroy, the liberty of choice; he is oppressed by miseries
which he hopes to relieve, or inflamed by ambition which he expects to
gratify. But the patron has no incitements equally violent; he can
receive only a short gratification, with which nothing but stupidity
could dispose him to be pleased. The real satisfaction which praise can
afford is by repeating aloud the whispers of conscience, and by shewing
us that we have not endeavoured to deserve well in vain. Every other
encomium is, to an intelligent mind, satire and reproach; the
celebration of those virtues which we feel ourselves to want, can only
impress a quicker sense of our own defects, and shew that we have not
yet satisfied the expectations of the world, by forcing us to observe
how much fiction must contribute to the completion of our character.
Yet sometimes the patron may claim indulgence; for it does not always
happen, that the encomiast has been much encouraged to his attempt. Many
a hapless author, when his book, and perhaps his dedication, was ready
for the press, has waited long before any one would pay the price of
prostitution, or consent to hear the praises destined to insure his name
against the casualties of time; and many a complaint has been vented
against the decline of learning, and neglect of genius, when either
parsimonious prudence has declined expense, or honest indignation
rejected falsehood. But if at last, after long inquiry and innumerable
disappointments, he find a lord willing to hear of his own eloquence and
taste, a statesman desirous of knowing how a friendly historian will
represent his conduct, or a lady delighted to leave to the world some
memorial of her wit and beauty, such weakness cannot be censured as an
instance of enormous depravity. The wisest man may, by a diligent
solicitor, be surprised in the hour of weakness, and persuaded to solace
vexation, or invigorate hope, with the musick of flattery.
To censure all dedications as adulatory and servile, would discover
rather envy than justice. Praise is the tribute of merit, and he that
has incontestably distinguished himself by any publick performance, has
a right to all the honours which the publick can bestow. To men thus
raised above the rest of the community, there is no need that the book
or its author should have any particular relation; that the patron is
known to deserve respect, is sufficient to vindicate him that pays it.
To the same regard from particular persons, private virtue and less
conspicuous excellence may be sometimes entitled. An author may with
great propriety inscribe his work to him by whose encouragement it was
undertaken, or by whose liberality he has been enabled to prosecute it,
and he may justly rejoice in his own fortitude that dares to rescue
merit from obscurity.
_Acribus exemplis videor te claudere: misce
Ergo aliquid nostris de moribus.--_
Thus much I will indulge thee for thy ease,
And mingle something of our times to please. Dryden, jun.
I know not whether greater relaxation may not he indulged, and whether
hope as well as gratitude may not unblamably produce a dedication; but
let the writer who pours out his praises only to propitiate power, or
attract the attention of greatness, be cautious lest his desire betray
him to exuberant eulogies. We are naturally more apt to please ourselves
with the future than the past, and while we luxuriate in expectation,
may be easily persuaded to purchase what we yet rate, only by
imagination, at a higher price than experience will warrant.
But no private views of personal regard can discharge any man from his
general obligations to virtue and to truth. It may happen in the various
combinations of life, that a good man may receive favours from one, who,
notwithstanding his accidental beneficence, cannot be justly proposed to
the imitation of others, and whom therefore he must find some other way
of rewarding than by public celebrations. Self-love has indeed many
powers of seducement; but it surely ought not to exalt any individual to
equality with the collective body of mankind, or persuade him that a
benefit conferred on him is equivalent to every other virtue. Yet many,
upon false principles of gratitude, have ventured to extol wretches,
whom all but their dependents numbered among the reproaches of the
species, and whom they would likewise have beheld with the same scorn,
had they not been hired to dishonest approbation.
To encourage merit with praise is the great business of literature; but
praise must lose its influence, by unjust or negligent distribution; and
he that impairs its value may be charged with misapplication of the
power that genius puts into his hands, and with squandering on guilt the
recompense of virtue.
No. 137. TUESDAY, JULY 9, 1751.
_Dum vitant stulti vitia, in contraria currunt_.
Hor. Lib. i. Sat. ii. 24.
--Whilst fools one vice condemn,
They run into the opposite extreme. CREECH.
That wonder is the effect of ignorance, has been often observed. The
awful stillness of attention, with which the mind is overspread at the
first view of an unexpected effect, ceases when we have leisure to
disentangle complications and investigate causes. Wonder is a pause of
reason, a sudden cessation of the mental progress, which lasts only
while the understanding is fixed upon some single idea, and is at an end
when it recovers force enough to divide the object into its parts, or
mark the intermediate gradations from the first agent to the last
It may be remarked with equal truth, that ignorance is often the effect
of wonder. It is common for those who have never accustomed themselves
to the labour of inquiry, nor invigorated their confidence by conquests
over difficulty, to sleep in the gloomy quiescence of astonishment,
without any effort to animate inquiry, or dispel obscurity. What they
cannot immediately conceive, they consider as too high to be reached, or
too extensive to be comprehended; they therefore content themselves with
the gaze of folly, forbear to attempt what they have no hopes of
performing, and resign the pleasure of rational contemplation to more
pertinacious study, or more active faculties.
Among the productions of mechanick art, many are of a form so different
from that of their first materials, and many consist of parts so
numerous and so nicely adapted to each other, that it is not possible to
view them without amazement. But when we enter the shops of artificers,
observe the various tools by which every operation is facilitated, and
trace the progress of a manufacture through the different hands, that,
in succession to each other, contribute to its perfection, we soon
discover that every single man has an easy task, and that the extremes,
however remote, of natural rudeness and artificial elegance, are joined
by a regular concatenation of effects, of which every one is introduced
by that which precedes it, and equally introduces that which is to
The same is the state of intellectual and manual performances. Long
calculations or complex diagrams affright the timorous and unexperienced
from a second view; but if we have skill sufficient to analyze them into
simple principles, it will be discovered that our fear was groundless.
_Divide and conquer_, is a principle equally just in science as in
policy. Complication is a species of confederacy, which, while it
continues united, bids defiance to the most active and vigorous
intellect; but of which every member is separately weak, and which may
therefore be quickly subdued, if it can once be broken.
The chief art of learning, as Locke has observed, is to attempt but
little at a time. The widest excursions of the mind are made by short
flights frequently repeated; the most lofty fabricks of science are
formed by the continued accumulation of single propositions.
It often happens, whatever be the cause, that impatience of labour, or
dread of miscarriage, seizes those who are most distinguished for
quickness of apprehension; and that they who might with greatest reason
promise themselves victory, are least willing to hazard the encounter.
This diffidence, where the attention is not laid asleep by laziness, or
dissipated by pleasures, can arise only from confused and general views,
such as negligence snatches in haste, or from the disappointment of the
first hopes formed by arrogance without reflection. To expect that the
intricacies of science will be pierced by a careless glance, or the
eminences of fame ascended without labour, is to expect a particular
privilege, a power denied to the rest of mankind; but to suppose that
the maze is inscrutable to diligence, or the heights inaccessible to
perseverance, is to submit tamely to the tyranny of fancy, and enchain
the mind in voluntary shackles.
It is the proper ambition of the heroes in literature to enlarge the
boundaries of knowledge by discovering and conquering new regions of the
intellectual world. To the success of such undertakings perhaps some
degree of fortuitous happiness is necessary, which no man can promise or
procure to himself; and therefore doubt and irresolution may be forgiven
in him that ventures into the unexplored abysses of truth, and attempts
to find his way through the fluctuations of uncertainty, and the
conflicts of contradiction. But when nothing more is required, than to
pursue a path already beaten, and to trample obstacles which others have
demolished, why should any man so much distrust his own intellect as to
imagine himself unequal to the attempt?
It were to be wished that they who devote their lives to study would at
once believe nothing too great for their attainment, and consider
nothing as too little for their regard; that they would extend their
notice alike to science and to life, and unite some knowledge of the
present world to their acquaintance with past ages and remote events.
Nothing has so much exposed men of learning to contempt and ridicule, as
their ignorance of things which are known to all but themselves. Those
who have been taught to consider the institutions of the schools, as
giving the last perfection to human abilities, are surprised to see men
wrinkled with study, yet wanting to be instructed in the minute
circumstances of propriety, or the necessary forms of daily transaction;
and quickly shake off their reverence for modes of education, which they
find to produce no ability above the rest of mankind.
"Books," says Bacon, "can never teach the use of books." The student
must learn by commerce with mankind to reduce his speculations to
practice, and accommodate his knowledge to the purposes of life.
It is too common for those who have been bred to scholastick
professions, and passed much of their time in academies where nothing
but learning confers honours, to disregard every other qualification,
and to imagine that they shall find mankind ready to pay homage to their
knowledge, and to crowd about them for instruction. They therefore step
out from their cells into the open world with all the confidence of
authority and dignity of importance; they look round about them at once
with ignorance and scorn on a race of beings to whom they are equally
unknown and equally contemptible, but whose manners they must imitate,
and with whose opinions they must comply, if they desire to pass their
time happily among them.
To lessen that disdain with which scholars are inclined to look on the
common business of the world, and the unwillingness with which they
condescend to learn what is not to be found in any system of philosophy,
it may be necessary to consider that though admiration is excited by
abstruse researches and remote discoveries, yet pleasure is not given,
nor affection conciliated, but by softer accomplishments, and qualities
more easily communicable to those about us. He that can only converse
upon questions, about which only a small part of mankind has knowledge
sufficient to make them curious, must lose his days in unsocial silence,
and live in the crowd of life without a companion. He that can only be
useful on great occasions, may die without exerting his abilities, and
stand a helpless spectator of a thousand vexations which fret away
happiness, and which nothing is required to remove but a little
dexterity of conduct and readiness of expedients.
No degree of knowledge attainable by man is able to set him above the
want of hourly assistance, or to extinguish the desire of fond
endearments, and tender officiousness; and therefore, no one should
think it unnecessary to learn those arts by which friendship may be
gained. Kindness is preserved by a constant reciprocation of benefits or
interchange of pleasures; but such benefits only can be bestowed, as
others are capable to receive, and such pleasures only imparted, as
others are qualified to enjoy.
By this descent from the pinnacles of art no honour will be lost; for
the condescensions of learning are always overpaid by gratitude. An
elevated genius employed in little things, appears, to use the simile of
Longinus, like the sun in his evening declination: he remits his
splendour but retains his magnitude, and pleases more though he dazzles
No. 138. SATURDAY, JULY 13, 1751.
_O tantum libeat mecum tibi sordida rura,
Atque humiles habitare casas, et figere cervos_. VIRG. EC. ii 28.
With me retire, and leave the pomp of courts
For humble cottages and rural sports.
TO THE RAMBLER.
Though the contempt with which you have treated the annual migrations of
the gay and busy part of mankind is justified by daily observation;
since most of those who leave the town, neither vary their
entertainments nor enlarge their notions; yet I suppose you do not
intend to represent the practice itself as ridiculous, or to declare
that he whose condition puts the distribution of his time into his own
power may not properly divide it between the town and country.
That the country, and only the country, displays the inexhaustible
varieties of nature, and supplies the philosophical mind with matter for
admiration and inquiry, never was denied; but my curiosity is very
little attracted by the colour of a flower, the anatomy of an insect, or
the structure of a nest; I am generally employed upon human manners, and
therefore fill up the months of rural leisure with remarks on those who
live within the circle of my notice. If writers would more frequently
visit those regions of negligence and liberty, they might diversify
their representations, and multiply their images, for in the country are
original characters chiefly to be found. In cities, and yet more in
courts, the minute discriminations which distinguish one from another
are for the most part effaced, the peculiarities of temper and opinion
are gradually worn away by promiscuous converse, as angular bodies and
uneven surfaces lose their points and asperities by frequent attrition
against one another, and approach by degrees to uniform rotundity. The
prevalence of fashion, the influence of example, the desire of applause,
and the dread of censure, obstruct the natural tendencies of the mind,
and check the fancy in its first efforts to break forth into experiments
Few inclinations are so strong as to grow up into habits, when they must
struggle with the constant opposition of settled forms and established
customs. But in the country every man is a separate and independent
being: solitude flatters irregularity with hopes of secrecy; and wealth,
removed from the mortification of comparison, and the awe of equality,
swells into contemptuous confidence, and sets blame and laughter at
defiance; the impulses of nature act unrestrained, and the disposition
dares to shew itself in its true form, without any disguise of
hypocrisy, or decorations of elegance. Every one indulges the full
enjoyment of his own choice, and talks and lives with no other view than
to please himself, without inquiring how far he deviates from the
general practice, or considering others as entitled to any account of
his sentiments or actions. If he builds or demolishes, opens or
encloses, deluges or drains, it is not his care what may be the opinion
of those who are skilled in perspective or architecture, it is
sufficient that he has no landlord to controul him, and that none has
any right to examine in what projects the lord of the manour spends his
own money on his own grounds.
For this reason it is not very common to want subjects for rural
conversation. Almost every man is daily doing something which produces
merriment, wonder, or resentment, among his neighbours. This utter
exemption from restraint leaves every anomalous quality to operate in
its full extent, and suffers the natural character to diffuse itself to
every part of life. The pride which, under the check of publick
observation, would have been only vented among servants and domesticks,
becomes in a country baronet the torment of a province, and instead of
terminating in the destruction of China-ware and glasses, ruins tenants,
dispossesses cottagers, and harasses villages with actions of trespass
and bills of indictment.
It frequently happens that, even without violent passions, or enormous
corruption, the freedom and laxity of a rustick life produces remarkable
particularities of conduct or manner. In the province where I now
reside, we have one lady eminent for wearing a gown always of the same
cut and colour; another for shaking hands with those that visit her; and
a third for unshaken resolution never to let tea or coffee enter her
But of all the female characters which this place affords, I have found
none so worthy of attention as that of Mrs. Busy, a widow, who lost her
husband in her thirtieth year, and has since passed her time at the
manour-house in the government of her children, and the management of
Mrs. Busy was married at eighteen from a boarding-school, where she had
passed her time like other young ladies, in needle-work, with a few
intervals of dancing and reading. When she became a bride she spent one
winter with her husband in town, where, having no idea of any
conversation beyond the formalities of a visit, she found nothing to
engage her passions: and when she had been one night at court, and two
at an opera, and seen the Monument, the Tombs, and the Tower, she
concluded that London had nothing more to shew, and wondered that when
women had once seen the world, they could not be content to stay at
home. She therefore went willingly to the ancient seat, and for some
years studied housewifery under Mr. Busy's mother, with so much
assiduity, that the old lady, when she died, bequeathed her a
caudle-cup, a soup-dish, two beakers, and a chest of table-linen spun
Mr. Busy, finding the economical qualities of his lady, resigned his
affairs wholly into her hands, and devoted his life to his pointers and
his hounds. He never visited his estates but to destroy the partridges
or foxes; and often committed such devastations in the rage of pleasure,
that some of his tenants refused to hold their lands at the usual rent.
Their landlady persuaded them to be satisfied, and entreated her husband
to dismiss his dogs, with many exact calculations of the ale drunk by
his companions, and corn consumed by the horses, and remonstrances
against the insolence of the huntsman, and the frauds of the groom. The
huntsman was too necessary to his happiness to be discarded; and he had
still continued to ravage his own estate, had he not caught a cold and a
fever by shooting mallards in the fens. His fever was followed by a
consumption, which in a few months brought him to the grave.
Mrs. Busy was too much an economist to feel either joy or sorrow at his
death. She received the compliments and consolations of her neighbours
in a dark room, out of which she stole privately every night and morning
to see the cows milked; and after a few days declared that she thought a
widow might employ herself better than in nursing grief; and that, for
her part, she was resolved that the fortunes of her children should not
be impaired by her neglect.
She therefore immediately applied herself to the reformation of abuses.
She gave away the dogs, discharged the servants of the kennel and
stable, and sent the horses to the next fair, but rated at so high a
price that they returned unsold. She was resolved to have nothing idle
about her, and ordered them to be employed in common drudgery. They lost
their sleekness and grace, and were soon purchased at half the value.
She soon disencumbered herself from her weeds, and put on a riding-hood,
a coarse apron, and short petticoats, and has turned a large manour into
a farm, of which she takes the management wholly upon herself. She rises
before the sun to order the horses to their gears, and sees them well
rubbed down at their return from work; she attends the dairy morning and
evening, and watches when a calf falls that it may be carefully nursed;
she walks out among the sheep at noon, counts the lambs, and observes
the fences, and, where she finds a gap, stops it with a bush till it can
be better mended. In harvest she rides a-field in the waggon, and is
very liberal of her ale from a wooden bottle. At her leisure hours she
looks goose eggs, airs the wool-room, and turns the cheese.
When respect or curiosity brings visitants to her house, she entertains
them with prognosticks of a scarcity of wheat, or a rot among the sheep,
and always thinks herself privileged to dismiss them, when she is to see
the hogs fed, or to count her poultry on the roost.
The only things neglected about her are her children, whom she has
taught nothing but the lowest household duties. In my last visit I met
Miss Busy carrying grains to a sick cow, and was entertained with the
accomplishments of her eldest son, a youth of such early maturity, that
though he is only sixteen, she can trust him to sell corn in the market.
Her younger daughter, who is eminent for her beauty, though somewhat
tanned in making hay, was busy in pouring out ale to the ploughmen, that
every one might have an equal share.
I could not but look with pity on this young family, doomed by the
absurd prudence of their mother to ignorance and meanness: but when I
recommended a more elegant education, was answered, that she never saw
bookish or finical people grow rich, and that she was good for nothing
herself till she had forgotten the nicety of the boarding-school.
I am, Yours, &c.
No. 139. TUESDAY, JULY 16, 1751
--_Sit quod vis simplex duntanat et unum_. Hor. Art. Poet. 23.
Let ev'ry piece be simple and be one.
It is required by Aristotle to the perfection of a tragedy, and is
equally necessary to every other species of regular composition, that it
should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. "The beginning," says he,
"is that which hath nothing necessarily previous, but to which that
which follows is naturally consequent; the end, on the contrary, is that
which by necessity, or, at least, according to the common course of
things, succeeds something else, but which implies nothing consequent to
itself; the middle is connected on one side to something that naturally
goes before, and on the other to something that naturally follows it."
Such is the rule laid down by this great critick, for the disposition of
the different parts of a well-constituted fable. It must begin where it
may be made intelligible without introduction; and end where the mind is
left in repose, without expectation of any further event. The
intermediate passages must join the last effect to the first cause, by a
regular and unbroken concatenation; nothing must be, therefore,
inserted, which does not apparently arise from something foregoing, and
properly make way for something that succeeds it.
This precept is to be understood in its rigour only with respect to
great and essential events, and cannot be extended in the same force to
minuter circumstances and arbitrary decorations, which yet are more
happy, as they contribute more to the main design; for it is always a
proof of extensive thought and accurate circumspection, to promote
various purposes by the same act; and the idea of an ornament admits
use, though it seems to exclude necessity.
Whoever purposes, as it is expressed by Milton, _to build the lofty
rhyme_, must acquaint himself with this law of poetical architecture,
and take care that his edifice be solid as well as beautiful; that
nothing stand single or independent, so as that it may be taken away
without injuring the rest; but that, from the foundation to the
pinnacles, one part rest firm upon another.
The regular and consequential distribution is among common authors
frequently neglected; but the failures of those, whose example can have
no influence, may be safely overlooked, nor is it of much use to recall
obscure and unguarded names to memory for the sake of sporting with
their infamy. But if there is any writer whose genius can embellish
impropriety, and whose authority can make errour venerable, his works
are the proper objects of critical inquisition. To expunge faults where
there are no excellencies is a task equally useless with that of the
chymist, who employs the arts of separation and refinement upon ore in
which no precious metal is contained to reward his operations.
The tragedy of Samson Agonistes has been celebrated as the second work
of the great author of Paradise Lost, and opposed, with all the
confidence of triumph, to the dramatick performances of other nations.
It contains, indeed, just sentiments, maxims of wisdom, and oracles of
piety, and many passages written with the ancient spirit of choral
poetry, in which there is a just and pleasing mixture of Seneca's moral
declamation, with the wild enthusiasm of the Greek writers. It is,
therefore, worthy of examination, whether a performance thus illuminated
with genius, and enriched with learning, is composed according to the
indispensable laws of Aristotelian criticism: and, omitting, at present,
all other considerations, whether it exhibits a beginning, a middle, and
The beginning is undoubtedly beautiful and proper, opening with a
graceful abruptness, and proceeding naturally to a mournful recital of
facts necessary to be known:
_Samson_. A little onward lend thy guiding hand
To these dark steps, a little further on;
For yonder bank hath choice of sun and shade:
There I am wont to sit, when any chance
Relieves me from my task of servile toil,
Daily in the common prison else enjoin'd me.--
O, wherefore was my birth from Heav'n foretold
Twice by an Angel?--
Why was my breeding order'd and prescrib'd,
As of a person separate to God,
Design'd for great exploits; if I must die
Betray'd, captiv'd, and both my eyes put out?--
Whom have I to complain of but myself?
Who this high gift of strength committed to me,
In what part lodg'd, how easily bereft me,
Under the seal of silence could not keep:
But weakly to a woman must reveal it.
His soliloquy is interrupted by a chorus or company of men of his own
tribe, who condole his miseries, extenuate his fault, and conclude with
a solemn vindication of divine justice. So that at the conclusion of the
first act there is no design laid, no discovery made, nor any
disposition formed towards the consequent event.
In the second act, Manoah, the father of Samson, comes to seek his son,
and, being shewn him by the chorus, breaks out into lamentations of his
misery, and comparisons of his present with his former state,
representing to him the ignominy which his religion suffers, by the
festival this day celebrated in honour of Dagon, to whom the idolaters
ascribed his overthrow.
Enough, and more, the burthen of that fault;
Bitterly hast thou paid, and still art paying
That rigid score. A worse thing yet remains,
This day the Philistines a popular feast
Here celebrate in Gaza; and proclaim
Great pomp, and sacrifice, and praises loud
To Dagon, as their God who hath deliver'd
Thee, Samson, bound and blind, into their hands,
Them out of thine, who slew'st them many a slain.
Samson, touched with this reproach, makes a reply equally penitential
and pious, which his father considers as the effusion of prophetick
_Samson_.--He, be sure,
Will not connive, or linger, thus provok'd,
But will arise and his great name assert:
Dagon must stoop, and shall ere long receive
Such a discomfit, as shall quite despoil him
Of all these boasted trophies won on me.
_Manoah_. With cause this hope relieves thee, and these words
I as a prophecy receive; for God,
Nothing more certain, will not long defer
To vindicate the glory of his name.
This part of the dialogue, as it might tend to animate or exasperate
Samson, cannot, I think, be censured as wholly superfluous; but the
succeeding dispute, in which Samson contends to die, and which his
father breaks off, that he may go to solicit his release, is only
valuable for its own beauties, and has no tendency to introduce any
thing that follows it.
The next event of the drama is the arrival of Dalila, with all her
graces, artifices, and allurements. This produces a dialogue, in a very
high degree elegant and instructive, from which she retires, after she
has exhausted her persuasions, and is no more seen nor heard of; nor has
her visit any effect but that of raising the character of Samson.
In the fourth act enters Harapha, the giant of Gath, whose name had
never been mentioned before, and who has now no other motive of coming,
than to see the man whose strength and actions are so loudly celebrated:
_Haraph_.--Much I have heard
Of thy prodigious might and feats perform'd,
Incredible to me, in this displeas'd,
That I was never present in the place
Of those encounters, where we might have tried
Each other's force in camp or listed fields;
And now am come to see of whom such noise
Hath walk'd about, and each limb to survey,
If thy appearance answer loud report.
Samson challenges him to the combat; and, after an interchange of
reproaches, elevated by repeated defiance on one side, and imbittered by
contemptuous insults on the other, Harapha retires; we then hear it
determined by Samson, and the chorus, that no consequence good or bad
will proceed from their interview:
_Chorus_. He will directly to the lords, I fear,
And with malicious counsel stir them up
Some way or other yet farther to afflict thee.
_Sams_. He must allege some cause, and offer'd fight
Will not dare mention, lest a question rise
Whether he durst accept the offer or not;
And, that he durst not, plain enough appear'd.
At last, in the fifth act, appears a messenger from the lords assembled
at the festival of Dagon, with a summons by which Samson is required to
come and entertain them with some proof of his strength. Samson, after a
short expostulation, dismisses him with a firm and resolute refusal;
but, during the absence of the messenger, having a while defended the
propriety of his conduct, he at last declares himself moved by a secret
impulse to comply, and utters some dark presages of a great event to be
brought to pass by his agency, under the direction of Providence:
_Sams_. Be of good courage, I begin to feel
Some rousing motions in me, which dispose
To something extraordinary my thoughts.
I with this messenger will go along,
Nothing to do, be sure, that may dishonour
Our Law, or stain my vow of Nazarite.
If there be aught of presage in the mind,
This day will be remarkable in my life
By some great act, or of my days the last.
While Samson is conducted off by the messenger, his father returns with
hopes of success in his solicitation, upon which he confers with the
chorus till their dialogue is interrupted, first by a shout of triumph,
and afterwards by screams of horrour and agony. As they stand
deliberating where they shall be secure, a man who had been present at
the show enters, and relates how Samson, having prevailed on his guide
to suffer him to lean against the main pillars of the theatrical
edifice, tore down the roof upon the spectators and himself:
--Those two massy pillars,
With horrible convulsion, to and fro
He tugg'd, he shook, till down they came, and drew
The whole roof after them, with burst of thunder
Upon the heads of all who sat beneath--
Samson, with these immixt, inevitably
Pull'd down the same destruction on himself.
This is undoubtedly a just and regular catastrophe, and the poem,
therefore, has a beginning and an end which Aristotle himself could not
have disapproved; but it must be allowed to want a middle, since nothing
passes between the first act and the last, that either hastens or delays
the death of Samson. The whole drama, if its superfluities were cut off,
would scarcely fill a single act; yet this is the tragedy which
ignorance has admired, and bigotry applauded.
No. 140. SATURDAY, JULY 20, 1751.
--_Quis tam Lucili fautor inepte est,
Ut non hoc fateatur?_ HOR. Lib. i. Sat. x. 2.
What doating bigot, to his faults so blind,
As not to grant me this, can Milton find?
It is common, says Bacon, to desire the end without enduring the means.
Every member of society feels and acknowledges the necessity of
detecting crimes, yet scarce any degree of virtue or reputation is able
to secure an informer from publick hatred. The learned world has always
admitted the usefulness of critical disquisitions, yet he that attempts
to show, however modestly, the failures of a celebrated writer, shall
surely irritate his admirers, and incur the imputation of envy,
captiousness, and malignity.
With this danger full in my view, I shall proceed to examine the
sentiments of Milton's tragedy, which, though much less liable to
censure than the disposition of his plan, are, like those of other
writers, sometimes exposed to just exceptions for want of care, or want
Sentiments are proper and improper as they consist more or less with the
character and circumstances of the person to whom they are attributed,
with the rules of the composition in which they are found, or with the
settled and unalterable nature of things.
It is common among the tragick poets to introduce their persons alluding
to events or opinions, of which they could not possibly have any
knowledge. The barbarians of remote or newly discovered regions often
display their skill in European learning. The god of love is mentioned
in Tamerlane with all the familiarity of a Roman epigrammatist; and a
late writer has put Harvey's doctrine of the circulation of the blood
into the mouth of a Turkish statesman, who lived near two centuries
before it was known even to philosophers or anatomists.
Milton's learning, which acquainted him with the manners of the ancient
eastern nations, and his invention, which required no assistance from
the common cant of poetry, have preserved him from frequent outrages of
local or chronological propriety. Yet he has mentioned Chalybean steel,
of which it is not very likely that his chorus should have heard, and
has made Alp the general name of a mountain, in a region where the Alps
could scarcely be known:
No medicinal liquor can assuage,
Nor breath of cooling air from snowy Alp.
He has taught Samson the tales of Circe, and the Syrens, at which he
apparently hints in his colloquy with Dalila:
--I know thy trains,
Though dearly to my cost, thy gins, and toils;
Thy fair _enchanted cup_, and _warbling charms_
No more on me have pow'r.
But the grossest errour of this kind is the solemn introduction of the
Phoenix in the last scene; which is faulty, not only as it is
incongruous to the personage to whom it is ascribed, but as it is so
evidently contrary to reason and nature, that it ought never to be
mentioned but as a fable in any serious poem:
--Virtue giv'n for lost,
Deprest, and overthrown, as seem'd,
Like that self-begotten bird
In the Arabian woods embost,
That no second knows nor third,
And lay ere while a holocaust,
From out her ashy womb now teem'd,
Revives, reflourishes, then vigorous most
When most unactive deem'd,
And though her body die, her fame survives
A secular bird, ages of lives.
Another species of impropriety is the unsuitableness of thoughts to the
general character of the poem. The seriousness and solemnity of tragedy
necessarily reject all pointed or epigrammatical expressions, all remote
conceits and opposition of ideas. Samson's complaint is therefore too
elaborate to be natural:
As in the land of darkness, yet in light,
To live a life half dead, a living death,
And bury'd; but, O yet more miserable!
Myself, my sepulchre, a moving grave,
Buried, yet not exempt,
By privilege of death and burial,
From worst of other evils, pains and wrongs.
All allusions to low and trivial objects, with which contempt is usually
associated, are doubtless unsuitable to a species of composition which
ought to be always awful, though not always magnificent. The remark
therefore of the chorus on good or bad news seems to want elevation:
_Manoah_. A little stay will bring some notice hither.
_Chor_. Of good _or_ bad so great, of bad the sooner;
For evil news _rides post_, while good news _baits_.
But of all meanness that has least to plead which is produced by mere
verbal conceits, which, depending only upon sounds, lose their existence
by the change of a syllable. Of this kind is the following dialogue:
_Chor_. But had we best retire? I see a _storm_.
_Sams_. Fair days have oft contracted wind and rain.
_Chor_. But this another kind of tempest brings.
_Sams_. Be less abstruse, my riddling days are past.
_Chor_. Look now for no enchanting voice, nor fear
The bait of honied words; a rougher tongue
Draws hitherward; I know him by his stride,
The giant _Harapha_.--
And yet more despicable are the lines in which Manoah's paternal
kindness is commended by the chorus:
Fathers are wont to _lay up_ for their sons,
Thou for thy son art bent to _lay out_ all.
Samson's complaint of the inconveniencies of imprisonment is not wholly
without verbal quaintness:
--I, a prisoner chain'd, scarce freely draw
The air, imprison'd also, close and damp.
From the sentiments we may properly descend to the consideration of the
language, which, in imitation of the ancients, is through the whole
dialogue remarkably simple and unadorned, seldom heightened by epithets,
or varied by figures; yet sometimes metaphors find admission, even where
their consistency is not accurately preserved. Thus Samson confounds
loquacity with a shipwreck:
How could I once look up, or heave the head,
Who, like a foolish _pilot_, have _shipwreck'd_
My _vessel_ trusted to me from above,
Gloriously _rigg'd_; and for a word, a tear,
Fool! have _divulg'd_ the _secret gift_ of God
To a deceitful woman?--
And the chorus talks of adding fuel to flame in a report:
He's gone, and who knows how he may _report_
Thy _words_, by _adding fuel to the flame_?
The versification is in the dialogue much more smooth and harmonious,
than in the parts allotted to the chorus, which are often so harsh and
dissonant, as scarce to preserve, whether the lines end with or without
rhymes, any appearance of metrical regularity:
Or do my eyes misrepresent? Can this be he,
That heroic, that renown'd,
Irresistible Samson? whom unarm'd
No strength of man, or fiercest wild beast, could withstand;
Who tore the lion, as the lion tears the kid.
Since I have thus pointed out the faults of Milton, critical integrity
requires that I should endeavour to display his excellencies, though
they will not easily be discovered in short quotations, because they
consist in the justness of diffuse reasonings, or in the contexture and