Part 5 out of 9
If the personages of the comick scene be allowed by Horace to raise
their language in the transports of anger to the turgid vehemence of
tragedy, the epistolary writer may likewise without censure comply with
the varieties of his matter. If great events are to be related, he may
with all the solemnity of an historian deduce them from their causes,
connect them with their concomitants, and trace them to their
consequences. If a disputed position is to be established, or a remote
principle to be investigated, he may detail his reasonings with all the
nicety of syllogistick method. If a menace is to be averted, or a
benefit implored, he may, without any violation of the edicts of
criticism, call every power of rhetorick to his assistance, and try
every inlet at which love or pity enters the heart.
Letters that have no other end than the entertainment of the
correspondents are more properly regulated by critical precepts, because
the matter and style are equally arbitrary, and rules are more
necessary, as there is a larger power of choice. In letters of this
kind, some conceive art graceful, and others think negligence amiable;
some model them by the sonnet, and will allow them no means of
delighting but the soft lapse of calm mellifluence; others adjust them
by the epigram, and expect pointed sentences and forcible periods. The
one party considers exemption from faults as the height of excellence,
the other looks upon neglect of excellence as the most disgusting fault;
one avoids censure, the other aspires to praise; one is always in danger
of insipidity, the other continually on the brink of affectation.
When the subject has no intrinsick dignity, it must necessarily owe its
attractions to artificial embellishments, and may catch at all
advantages which the art of writing can supply. He that, like Pliny,
sends his friend a portion for his daughter, will, without Pliny's
eloquence or address, find means of exciting gratitude, and securing
acceptance; but he that has no present to make but a garland, a riband,
or some petty curiosity, must endeavour to recommend it by his manner of
The purpose for which letters are written when no intelligence is
communicated, or business transacted, is to preserve in the minds of the
absent either love or esteem: to excite love we must impart pleasure,
and to raise esteem we must discover abilities. Pleasure will generally
be given, as abilities are displayed by scenes of imagery, points of
conceit, unexpected sallies, and artful compliments. Trifles always
require exuberance of ornament; the building which has no strength can
be valued only for the grace of its decorations. The pebble must be
polished with care, which hopes to be valued as a diamond; and words
ought surely to be laboured, when they are intended to stand for things.
No. 153. TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 1751
_Turba Remi? Sequitur Fortunam, ut semper, et odit
Damnatos_. JUV. Sat. x. 73.
The fickle crowd with fortune comes and goes;
Wealth still finds followers, and misfortune foes.
TO THE RAMBLER.
There are occasions on which all apology is rudeness. He that has an
unwelcome message to deliver, may give some proof of tenderness and
delicacy, by a ceremonial introduction and gradual discovery, because
the mind, upon which the weight of sorrow is to fall, gains time for the
collection of its powers; but nothing is more absurd than to delay the
communication of pleasure, to torment curiosity by impatience, and to
delude hope by anticipation.
I shall therefore forbear the arts by which correspondents generally
secure admission, for I have too long remarked the power of vanity, to
doubt that I shall be read by you with a disposition to approve, when I
declare that my narrative has no other tendency than to illustrate and
corroborate your own observations.
I was the second son of a gentleman, whose patrimony had been wasted by
a long succession of squanderers, till he was unable to support any of
his children, except his heir, in the hereditary dignity of idleness.
Being therefore obliged to employ that part of life in study which my
progenitors had devoted to the hawk and hound, I was in my eighteenth
year despatched to the university, without any rural honours. I had
never killed a single woodcock, nor partaken one triumph over a
At the university I continued to enlarge my acquisitions with little
envy of the noisy happiness which my elder brother had the fortune to
enjoy; and, having obtained my degree, retired to consider at leisure to
what profession I should confine that application which had hitherto
been dissipated in general knowledge. To deliberate upon a choice which
custom and honour forbid to be retracted, is certainly reasonable; yet
to let loose the attention equally to the advantages and inconveniencies
of every employment is not without danger; new motives are every moment
operating on every side; and mechanicks have long ago discovered, that
contrariety of equal attractions is equivalent to rest.
While I was thus trifling in uncertainty, an old adventurer, who had
been once the intimate friend of my father, arrived from the Indies with
a large fortune; which he had so much harassed himself in obtaining,
that sickness and infirmity left him no other desire than to die in his
native country. His wealth easily procured him an invitation to pass his
life with us; and, being incapable of any amusement but conversation, he
necessarily became familiarized to me, whom he found studious and
domestick. Pleased with an opportunity of imparting my knowledge, and
eager of any intelligence that might increase it, I delighted his
curiosity with historical narratives and explications of nature, and
gratified his vanity by inquiries after the products of distant
countries, and the customs of their inhabitants.
My brother saw how much I advanced in the favour of our guest, who,
being without heirs, was naturally expected to enrich the family of his
friend, but never attempted to alienate me, nor to ingratiate himself.
He was, indeed, little qualified to solicit the affection of a
traveller, for the remissness of his education had left him without any
rule of action but his present humour. He often forsook the old
gentleman in the midst of an adventure, because the horn sounded in the
court-yard, and would have lost an opportunity, not only of knowing the
history, but sharing the wealth of the mogul, for the trial of a new
pointer, or the sight of a horse-race.
It was therefore not long before our new friend declared his intention
of bequeathing to me the profits of his commerce, as the only man in the
family by whom he could expect them to be rationally enjoyed. This
distinction drew upon me the envy not only of my brother but my father.
As no man is willing to believe that he suffers by his own fault, they
imputed the preference which I had obtained to adulatory compliances, or
malignant calumnies. To no purpose did I call upon my patron to attest
my innocence, for who will believe what he wishes to be false? In the
heat of disappointment they forced their inmate by repeated insults to
depart from the house, and I was soon, by the same treatment, obliged to
He chose his residence in the confines of London, where rest,
tranquillity, and medicine, restored him to part of the health which he
had lost. I pleased myself with perceiving that I was not likely to
obtain the immediate possession of wealth which no labour of mine had
contributed to acquire; and that he, who had thus distinguished me,
might hope to end his life without a total frustration of those
blessings, which, whatever be their real value, he had sought with so
much diligence, and purchased with so many vicissitudes of danger and
He, indeed, left me no reason to repine at his recovery, for he was
willing to accustom me early to the use of money, and set apart for my
expenses such a revenue as I had scarcely dared to image. I can yet
congratulate myself that fortune has seen her golden cup once tasted
without inebriation. Neither my modesty nor prudence was overwhelmed by
affluence; my elevation was without insolence, and my expense without
profusion. Employing the influence which money always confers, to the
improvement of my understanding, I mingled in parties of gaiety, and in
conferences of learning, appeared in every place where instruction was
to be found, and imagined that, by ranging through all the diversities
of life, I had acquainted myself fully with human nature, and learned
all that was to be known of the ways of men.
It happened, however, that I soon discovered how much was wanted to the
completion of my knowledge, and found that, according to Seneca's
remark, I had hitherto seen the world but on one side. My patron's
confidence in his increase of strength tempted him to carelessness and
irregularity; he caught a fever by riding in the rain, of which he died
delirious on the third day. I buried him without any of the heir's
affected grief or secret exultation; then preparing to take a legal
possession of his fortune, I opened his closet, where I found a will,
made at his first arrival, by which my father was appointed the chief
inheritor, and nothing was left me but a legacy sufficient to support me
in the prosecution of my studies.
I had not yet found such charms in prosperity as to continue it by any
acts of forgery or injustice, and made haste to inform my father of the
riches which had been given him, not by the preference of kindness, but
by the delays of indolence and cowardice of age. The hungry family flew
like vultures on their prey, and soon made my disappointment publick, by
the tumult of their claims, and the splendour of their sorrow.
It was now my part to consider how I should repair the disappointment. I
could not but triumph in my long list of friends, which comprised almost
every name that power or knowledge entitled to eminence; and, in the
prospect of the innumerable roads to honour and preferment, which I had
laid open to myself by the wise use of temporary riches, I believed
nothing necessary but that I should continue that acquaintance to which
I had been so readily admitted, and which had hitherto been cultivated
on both sides with equal ardour.
Full of these expectations, I one morning ordered a chair, with an
intention to make my usual circle of morning visits. Where I first
stopped I saw two footmen lolling at the door, who told me without any
change of posture, or collection of countenance, that their master was
at home, and suffered me to open the inner door without assistance. I
found my friend standing, and, as I was tattling with my former freedom,
was formally entreated to sit down; but did not stay to be favoured with
any further condescensions.
My next experiment was made at the levee of a statesman, who received me
with an embrace of tenderness, that he might with more decency publish
my change of fortune to the sycophants about him. After he had enjoyed
the triumph of condolence, he turned to a wealthy stockjobber, and left
me exposed to the scorn of those who had lately courted my notice, and
solicited my interest.
I was then set down at the door of another, who, upon my entrance,
advised me, with great solemnity, to think of some settled provision for
life. I left him, and hurried away to an old friend, who professed
himself unsusceptible of any impressions from prosperity or misfortune,
and begged that he might see me when he was more at leisure.
Of sixty-seven doors, at which I knocked in the first week after my
appearance in a mourning dress, I was denied admission at forty-six; was
suffered at fourteen to wait in the outer room till business was
despatched; at four, was entertained with a few questions about the
weather; at one, heard the footman rated for bringing my name; and at
two was informed, in the flow of casual conversation, how much a man of
rank degrades himself by mean company.
My curiosity now led me to try what reception I should find among the
ladies; but I found that my patron had carried all my powers of pleasing
to the grave. I had formerly been celebrated as a wit, and not
perceiving any languor in my imagination, I essayed to revive that
gaiety which had hitherto broken out involuntarily before my sentences
were finished. My remarks were now heard with a steady countenance, and
if a girl happened to give way to habitual merriment, her forwardness
was repressed with a frown by her mother or her aunt.
Wherever I come I scatter infirmity and disease; every lady whom I meet
in the Mall is too weary to walk; all whom I entreat to sing are
troubled with colds: if I propose cards, they are afflicted with the
head-ach; [Transcriber's note: sic] if I invite them to the gardens,
they cannot bear a crowd.
All this might be endured; but there is a class of mortals who think my
understanding impaired with my fortune, exalt themselves to the dignity
of advice, and, whenever we happen to meet, presume to prescribe my
conduct, regulate my economy, and direct my pursuits. Another race,
equally impertinent and equally despicable, are every moment
recommending to me an attention to my interest, and think themselves
entitled, by their superior prudence, to reproach me if I speak or move
without regard to profit.
Such, Mr. Rambler, is the power of wealth, that it commands the ear of
greatness and the eye of beauty, gives spirit to the dull, and authority
to the timorous, and leaves him from whom it departs, without virtue and
without understanding, the sport of caprice, the scoff of insolence, the
slave of meanness, and the pupil of ignorance.
I am, &c.
No. 154. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 1751.
_--Tibi res antiquae laudis et artis
Ingredior, sanctos ausus recludere fontes_. VIR. Geo. ii. 174.
For thee my tuneful accents will I raise,
And treat of arts disclos'd in ancient days;
Once more unlock for thee the sacred spring. DRYDEN.
The direction of Aristotle to those that study politicks, is first to
examine and understand what has been written by the ancients upon
government; then to cast their eyes round upon the world, and consider
by what causes the prosperity of communities is visibly influenced, and
why some are worse, and others better administered.
The same method must be pursued by him who hopes to become eminent in
any other part of knowledge. The first task is to search books, the next
to contemplate nature. He must first possess himself of the intellectual
treasures which the diligence of former ages has accumulated, and then
endeavour to increase them by his own collections.
The mental disease of the present generation, is impatience of study,
contempt of the great masters of ancient wisdom, and a disposition to
rely wholly upon unassisted genius and natural sagacity. The wits of
these happy days have discovered a way to fame, which the dull caution
of our laborious ancestors durst never attempt; they cut the knots of
sophistry which it was formerly the business of years to untie, solve
difficulties by sudden irradiations of intelligence, and comprehend long
processes of argument by immediate intuition.
Men who have flattered themselves into this opinion of their own
abilities, look down on all who waste their lives over books, as a race
of inferior beings, condemned by nature to perpetual pupilage, and
fruitlessly endeavouring to remedy their barrenness by incessant
cultivation, or succour their feebleness by subsidiary strength. They
presume that none would be more industrious than they, if they were not
more sensible of deficiencies; and readily conclude, that he who places
no confidence in his own powers, owes his modesty only to his weakness.
It is however certain, that no estimate is more in danger of erroneous
calculations than those by which a man computes the force of his own
genius. It generally happens at our entrance into the world, that, by
the natural attraction of similitude, we associate with men like
ourselves, young, sprightly, and ignorant, and rate our accomplishments
by comparison with theirs; when we have once obtained an acknowledged
superiority over our acquaintances, imagination and desire easily extend
it over the rest of mankind, and if no accident forces us into new
emulations, we grow old, and die in admiration of ourselves.
Vanity, thus confirmed in her dominion, readily listens to the voice of
idleness, and sooths the slumber of life with continual dreams of
excellence and greatness. A man, elated by confidence in his natural
vigour of fancy and sagacity of conjecture, soon concludes that he
already possesses whatever toil and inquiry can confer. He then listens
with eagerness to the wild objections which folly has raised against the
common means of improvement; talks of the dark chaos of indigested
knowledge; describes the mischievous effects of heterogeneous sciences
fermenting in the mind; relates the blunders of lettered ignorance;
expatiates on the heroick merit of those who deviate from prescription,
or shake off authority; and gives vent to the inflations of his heart by
declaring that he owes nothing to pedants and universities.
All these pretensions, however confident, are very often vain. The
laurels which superficial acuteness gains in triumphs over ignorance
unsupported by vivacity, are observed by Locke to be lost, whenever real
learning and rational diligence appear against her; the sallies of
gaiety are soon repressed by calm confidence; and the artifices of
subtilty are readily detected by those, who, having carefully studied
the question, are not easily confounded or surprised.
But, though the contemner of books had neither been deceived by others
nor himself, and was really born with a genius surpassing the ordinary
abilities of mankind; yet surely such gifts of Providence may be more
properly urged as incitements to labour, than encouragements to
negligence. He that neglects the culture of ground naturally fertile, is
more shamefully culpable, than he whose field would scarcely recompense
Cicero remarks, that not to know what has been transacted in former
times, is to continue always a child. If no use is made of the labours
of past ages, the world must remain always in the infancy of knowledge.
The discoveries of every man must terminate in his own advantage, and
the studies of every age be employed on questions which the past
generation had discussed and determined. We may with as little reproach
borrow science as manufactures from our ancestors; and it is as rational
to live in caves till our own hands have erected a palace, as to reject
all knowledge of architecture which our understandings will not supply.
To the strongest and quickest mind it is far easier to learn than to
invent. The principles of arithmetick and geometry may be comprehended
by a close attention in a few days; yet who can flatter himself that the
study of a long life would have enabled him to discover them, when he
sees them yet unknown to so many nations, whom he cannot suppose less
liberally endowed with natural reason, than the Grecians or Egyptians?
Every science was thus far advanced towards perfection, by the emulous
diligence of contemporary students, and the gradual discoveries of one
age improving on another. Sometimes unexpected flashes of instruction
were struck out by the fortuitous collision of happy incidents, or an
involuntary concurrence of ideas, in which the philosopher to whom they
happened had no other merit than that of knowing their value, and
transmitting, unclouded, to posterity, that light which had been kindled
by causes out of his power. The happiness of these casual illuminations
no man can promise to himself, because no endeavours can procure them;
and therefore whatever be our abilities or application, we must submit
to learn from others what perhaps would have lain hid for ever from
human penetration, had not some remote inquiry brought it to view; as
treasures are thrown up by the ploughman and the digger in the rude
exercise of their common occupations. The man whose genius qualifies him
for great undertakings, must at least be content to learn from books the
present state of human knowledge; that he may not ascribe to himself the
invention of arts generally known; weary his attention with experiments
of which the event has been long registered; and waste, in attempts
which have already succeeded or miscarried, that time which might have
been spent with usefulness and honour upon new undertakings.
But, though the study of books is necessary, it is not sufficient to
constitute literary eminence. He that wishes to be counted among the
benefactors of posterity, must add by his own toil to the acquisitions
of his ancestors, and secure his memory from neglect by some valuable
improvement. This can only be effected by looking out upon the wastes of
the intellectual world, and extending the power of learning over regions
yet undisciplined and barbarous; or by surveying more exactly our
ancient dominions, and driving ignorance from the fortresses and
retreats where she skulks undetected and undisturbed. Every science has
its difficulties, which yet call for solution before we attempt new
systems of knowledge; as every country has its forests and marshes,
which it would be wise to cultivate and drain, before distant colonies
are projected as a necessary discharge of the exuberance of inhabitants.
No man ever yet became great by imitation. Whatever hopes for the
veneration of mankind must have invention in the design or the
execution; either the effect must itself be new, or the means by which
it is produced. Either truths hitherto unknown must be discovered, or
those which are already known enforced by stronger evidence, facilitated
by clearer method, or elucidated by brighter illustrations.
Fame cannot spread wide or endure long that is not rooted in nature, and
matured by art. That which hopes to resist the blast of malignity, and
stand firm against the attacks of time, must contain in itself some
original principle of growth. The reputation which arises from the
detail or transposition of borrowed sentiments, may spread for awhile,
like ivy on the rind of antiquity, but will be torn away by accident or
contempt, and suffered to rot unheeded on the ground.
No. 155. TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 1751.
_--Steriles transmisimus annos,
Haec aevi mihi prima dies, haec limina vitae_. STAT. i. 362.
--Our barren years are past;
Be this of life the first, of sloth the last. ELPHINSTON.
No weakness of the human mind has more frequently incurred
animadversion, than the negligence with which men overlook their own
faults, however flagrant, and the easiness with which they pardon them,
however frequently repeated.
It seems generally believed, that as the eye cannot see itself, the mind
has no faculties by which it can contemplate its own state, and that
therefore we have not means of becoming acquainted with our real
characters; an opinion which, like innumerable other postulates, an
inquirer finds himself inclined to admit upon very little evidence,
because it affords a ready solution of many difficulties. It will
explain why the greatest abilities frequently fail to promote the
happiness of those who possess them; why those who can distinguish with
the utmost nicety the boundaries of vice and virtue, suffer them to be
confounded in their own conduct; why the active and vigilant resign
their affairs implicitly to the management of others; and why the
cautious and fearful make hourly approaches towards ruin, without one
sigh of solicitude or struggle for escape.
When a position teems thus with commodious consequences, who can without
regret confess it to be false? Yet it is certain that declaimers have
indulged a disposition to describe the dominion of the passions as
extended beyond the limits that nature assigned. Self-love is often
rather arrogant than blind; it does not hide our faults from ourselves,
but persuades us that they escape the notice of others, and disposes us
to resent censures lest we should confess them to be just. We are
secretly conscious of defects and vices, which we hope to conceal from
the publick eye, and please ourselves with innumerable impostures, by
which, in reality, nobody is deceived.
In proof of the dimness of our internal sight, or the general inability
of man to determine rightly concerning his own character, it is common
to urge the success of the most absurd and incredible flattery, and the
resentment always raised by advice, however soft, benevolent, and
reasonable. But flattery, if its operation be nearly examined, will be
found to owe its acceptance, not to our ignorance, but knowledge of our
failures, and to delight us rather as it consoles our wants than
displays our possessions. He that shall solicit the favour of his patron
by praising him for qualities which he can find in himself, will be
defeated by the more daring panegyrist who enriches him with
adscititious excellence. Just praise is only a debt, but flattery is a
present. The acknowledgment of those virtues on which conscience
congratulates us, is a tribute that we can at any time exact with
confidence; but the celebration of those which we only feign, or desire
without any vigorous endeavours to attain them, is received as a
confession of sovereignty over regions never conquered, as a favourable
decision of disputable claims, and is more welcome as it is more
Advice is offensive, not because it lays us open to unexpected regret,
or convicts us of any fault which had escaped our notice, but because it
shews us that we are known to others as well as to ourselves; and the
officious monitor is persecuted with hatred, not because his accusation
is false, but because he assumes that superiority which we are not
willing to grant him, and has dared to detect what we desired to
For this reason advice is commonly ineffectual. If those who follow the
call of their desires, without inquiry whither they are going, had
deviated ignorantly from the paths of wisdom, and were rushing upon
dangers unforeseen, they would readily listen to information that recals
them from their errours, and catch the first alarm by which destruction
or infamy is denounced. Few that wander in the wrong way mistake it for
the right, they only find it more smooth and flowery, and indulge their
own choice rather than approve it: therefore few are persuaded to quit
it by admonition or reproof, since it impresses no new conviction, nor
confers any powers of action or resistance. He that is gravely informed
how soon profusion will annihilate his fortune, hears with little
advantage what he knew before, and catches at the next occasion of
expense, because advice has no force to suppress his vanity. He that is
told how certainly intemperance will hurry him to the grave, runs with
his usual speed to a new course of luxury, because his reason is not
invigorated, nor his appetite weakened.
The mischief of flattery is, not that it persuades any man that he is
what he is not, but that it suppresses the influence of honest ambition,
by raising an opinion that honour may be gained without the toil of
merit; and the benefit of advice arises commonly not from any new light
imparted to the mind, but from the discovery which it affords of the
publick suffrages. He that could withstand conscience is frighted at
infamy, and shame prevails when reason is defeated.
As we all know our own faults, and know them commonly with many
aggravations which human perspicacity cannot discover, there is,
perhaps, no man, however hardened by impudence or dissipated by levity,
sheltered by hypocrisy or blasted by disgrace, who does not intend some
time to review his conduct, and to regulate the remainder of his life by
the laws of virtue. New temptations indeed attack him, new invitations
are offered by pleasure and interest, and the hour of reformation is
always delayed; every delay gives vice another opportunity of fortifying
itself by habit; and the change of manners, though sincerely intended
and rationally planned, is referred to the time when some craving
passion shall be fully gratified, or some powerful allurement cease its
Thus procrastination is accumulated on procrastination, and one
impediment succeeds another, till age shatters our resolution, or death
intercepts the project of amendment. Such is often the end of salutary
purposes, after they have long delighted the imagination, and appeased
that disquiet which every mind feels from known misconduct, when the
attention is not diverted by business or by pleasure.
Nothing surely can be more unworthy of a reasonable nature, than to
continue in a state so opposite to real happiness, as that all the peace
of solitude, and felicity of meditation, must arise from resolutions of
forsaking it. Yet the world will often afford examples of men, who pass
months and years in a continual war with their own convictions, and are
daily dragged by habit, or betrayed by passion, into practices which
they closed and opened their eyes with purposes to avoid; purposes
which, though settled on conviction, the first impulse of momentary
desire totally overthrows.
The influence of custom is indeed such, that to conquer it will require
the utmost efforts of fortitude and virtue; nor can I think any man more
worthy of veneration and renown, than those who have burst the shackles
of habitual vice. This victory, however, has different degrees of glory
as of difficulty; it is more, heroick as the objects of guilty
gratification are more familiar, and the recurrence of solicitation more
frequent. He that, from experience of the folly of ambition, resigns his
offices, may set himself free at once from temptation to squander his
life in courts, because he cannot regain his former station. He who is
enslaved by an amorous passion, may quit his tyrant in disgust, and
absence will, without the help of reason, overcome by degrees the desire
of returning. But those appetites to which every place affords their
proper object, and which require no preparatory measures or gradual
advances, are more tenaciously adhesive; the wish is so near the
enjoyment, that compliance often precedes consideration, and, before the
powers of reason can be summoned, the time for employing them is past.
Indolence is therefore one of the vices from which those whom it once
infects are seldom reformed. Every other species of luxury operates upon
some appetite that is quickly satiated, and requires some concurrence of
art or accident which every place will not supply; but the desire of
ease acts equally at all hours, and the longer it is indulged is the
more increased. To do nothing is in every man's power; we can never want
an opportunity of omitting duties. The lapse to indolence is soft and
imperceptible, because it is only a mere cessation of activity; but the
return to diligence is difficult, because it implies a change from rest
to motion, from privation to reality:
--_Facilis descensus Averni:
Noctes atque dies patet atri junua ditis;
Sed revocare gradum, saperasque evadere ad auras,
Hoc opus, hic labor est_.--VIR. Aen. Lib. vi. 126.
The gates of Hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way;
But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labour lies. DRYDEN.
Of this vice, as of all others, every man who indulges it is conscious:
we all know our own state, if we could be induced to consider it, and it
might perhaps be useful to the conquest of all these ensnarers of the
mind, if, at certain stated days, life was reviewed. Many things
necessary are omitted, because we vainly imagine that they may be always
performed; and what cannot be done without pain will for ever be
delayed, if the time of doing it be left unsettled. No corruption is
great but by long negligence, which can scarcely prevail in a mind
regularly and frequently awakened by periodical remorse. He that thus
breaks his life into parts, will find in himself a desire to distinguish
every stage of his existence by some improvement, and delight himself
with the approach of the day of recollection, as of the time which is to
begin a new series of virtue and felicity.
No. 156. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 1751.
_Nunquam aliud Natura, aliud Sapientia dicit_. Juv. Sat. xiv. 321.
For Wisdom ever echoes Nature's voice.
Every government, say the politicians, is perpetually degenerating
towards corruption, from which it must be rescued at certain periods by
the resuscitation of its first principles, and the re-establishment of
its original constitution. Every animal body, according to the methodick
physicians, is, by the predominance of some exuberant quality,
continually declining towards disease and death, which must be obviated
by a seasonable reduction of the peccant humour to the just equipoise
which health requires.
In the same manner the studies of mankind, all at least which, not being
subject to rigorous demonstration, admit the influence of fancy and
caprice, are perpetually tending to errour and confusion. Of the great
principles of truth which the first speculatists discovered, the
simplicity is embarrassed by ambitious additions, or the evidence
obscured by inaccurate argumentation; and as they descend from one
succession of writers to another, like light transmitted from room to
room, they lose their strength and splendour, and fade at last in total
The systems of learning therefore must be sometimes reviewed,
complications analyzed into principles, and knowledge disentangled from
opinion. It is not always possible, without a close inspection, to
separate the genuine shoots of consequential reasoning, which grow out
of some radical postulate, from the branches which art has ingrafted on
it. The accidental prescriptions of authority, when time has procured
them veneration, are often confounded with the laws of nature, and those
rules are supposed coeval with reason, of which the first rise cannot be
Criticism has sometimes permitted fancy to dictate the laws by which
fancy ought to be restrained, and fallacy to perplex the principles by
which fallacy is to be detected; her superintendence of others has
betrayed her to negligence of herself; and, like the ancient Scythians,
by extending her conquests over distant regions, she has left her throne
vacant to her slaves.
Among the laws of which the desire of extending authority, or ardour of
promoting knowledge, has prompted the prescription, all which writers
have received, had not the same original right to our regard. Some are
to be considered as fundamental and indispensable, others only as useful
and convenient; some as dictated by reason and necessity, others as
enacted by despotick antiquity; some as invincibly supported by their
conformity to the order of nature and operations of the intellect;
others as formed by accident, or instituted by example, and therefore
always liable to dispute and alteration.
That many rules have been advanced without consulting nature or reason,
we cannot but suspect, when we find it peremptorily decreed by the
ancient masters, that only three speaking personages should appear at
once upon the stage; a law, which, as the variety and intricacy of
modern plays has made it impossible to be observed, we now violate
without scruple, and, as experience proves, without inconvenience.
The original of this precept was merely accidental. Tragedy was a
monody, or solitary song in honour of Bacchus, improved afterwards into
a dialogue by the addition of another speaker; but the ancients,
remembering that the tragedy was at first pronounced only by one, durst
not for some time venture beyond two; at last, when custom and impunity
had made them daring, they extended their liberty to the admission of
three, but restrained themselves by a critical edict from further
By what accident the number of acts was limited to five, I know not that
any author has informed us; but certainly it is not determined by any
necessity arising either from the nature of action, or propriety of
exhibition. An act is only the representation of such a part of the
business of the play as proceeds in an unbroken tenour, or without any
intermediate pause. Nothing is more evident than that of every real, and
by consequence of every dramatick action, the intervals may be more or
fewer than five; and indeed the rule is upon the English stage every day
broken in effect, without any other mischief than that which arises from
an absurd endeavour to observe it in appearance. Whenever the scene is
shifted the act ceases, since some time is necessarily supposed to
elapse while the personages of the drama change their place.
With no greater right to our obedience have the criticks confined the
dramatick action to a certain number of hours. Probability requires that
the time of action should approach somewhat nearly to that of
exhibition, and those plays will always be thought most happily
conducted which crowd the greatest, variety into the least space. But
since it will frequently happen that some delusion must be admitted, I
know not where the limits of imagination can be fixed. It is rarely
observed that minds, not prepossessed by mechanical criticism, feel any
offence from the extension of the intervals between the acts; nor can I
conceive it absurd or impossible, that he who can multiply three hours
into twelve or twenty-four, might imagine with equal ease a greater
I know not whether he that professes to regard no other laws than those
of nature, will not be inclined to receive tragi-comedy to his
protection, whom, however generally condemned, her own laurels have
hitherto shaded from the fulminations of criticism. For what is there in
the mingled drama which impartial reason can condemn? The connexion of
important with trivial incidents, since it is not only common but
perpetual in the world, may surely be allowed upon the stage, which
pretends only to be the mirror of life. The impropriety of suppressing
passions before we have raised them to the intended agitation, and of
diverting the expectation from an event which we keep suspended only to
raise it, may be speciously urged. But will not experience shew this
objection to be rather subtle than just? Is it not certain that the
tragick and comick affections have been moved alternately with equal
force, and that no plays have oftener filled the eye with tears, and the
breast with palpitation, than those which are variegated with interludes
I do not however think it safe to judge of works of genius merely by the
event. The resistless vicissitudes of the heart, this alternate
prevalence of merriment and solemnity, may sometimes be more properly
ascribed to the vigour of the writer than the justness of the design:
and, instead of vindicating tragi-comedy by the success of Shakspeare,
we ought, perhaps, to pay new honours to that transcendent and unbounded
genius that could preside over the passions in sport; who, to actuate
the affections, needed not the slow gradation of common means, but could
fill the heart with instantaneous jollity or sorrow, and vary our
disposition as he changed his scenes. Perhaps the effects even of
Shakspeare's poetry might have been yet greater, had he not counteracted
himself; and we might have been more interested in the distresses of his
heroes, had we not been so frequently diverted by the jokes of his
There are other rules more fixed and obligatory. It is necessary that of
every play the chief action should be single; for since a play
represents some transaction, through its regular maturation to its final
event, two actions equally important must evidently constitute two
As the design of tragedy is to instruct by moving the passions, it must
always have a hero, a personage apparently and incontestably superior to
the rest, upon whom the attention may be fixed, and the anxiety
suspended. For though, of two persons opposing each other with equal
abilities and equal virtue, the auditor will inevitably, in time, choose
his favourite, yet as that choice must be without any cogency of
conviction, the hopes or fears which it raises will be faint and
languid. Of two heroes acting in confederacy against a common enemy, the
virtues or dangers will give little emotion, because each claims our
concern with the same right, and the heart lies at rest between equal
It ought to be the first endeavour of a writer to distinguish nature
from custom; or that which is established because it is right, from that
which is right only because it is established; that he may neither
violate essential principles by a desire of novelty, nor debar himself
from the attainment of beauties within his view, by a needless fear of
breaking rules which no literary dictator had authority to enact.
No. 157. TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 1751.
Ginetai ae t' andras mega sinetai aed' oninaesi.]
HOM. Il. [Greek: O.] 44.
Shame greatly hurts or greatly helps mankind. ELPHINSTON.
TO THE RAMBLER.
Though one of your correspondents has presumed to mention with some
contempt that presence of attention and easiness of address, which the
polite have long agreed to celebrate and esteem, yet I cannot be
persuaded to think them unworthy of regard or cultivation; but am
inclined to believe that, as we seldom value rightly what we have never
known the misery of wanting, his judgment has been vitiated by his
happiness; and that a natural exuberance of assurance has hindered him
from discovering its excellence and use.
This felicity, whether bestowed by constitution, or obtained by early
habitudes, I can scarcely contemplate without envy. I was bred under a
man of learning in the country, who inculcated nothing but the dignity
of knowledge, and the happiness of virtue. By frequency of admonition,
and confidence of assertion, he prevailed upon me to believe, that the
splendour of literature would always attract reverence, if not darkened
by corruption. I therefore pursued my studies with incessant industry,
and avoided every thing which I had been taught to consider either as
vicious or tending to vice, because I regarded guilt and reproach as
inseparably united, and thought a tainted reputation the greatest
At the university, I found no reason for changing my opinion; for though
many among my fellow-students took the opportunity of a more remiss
discipline to gratify their passions; yet virtue preserved her natural
superiority, and those who ventured to neglect, were not suffered to
insult her. The ambition of petty accomplishments found its way into the
receptacles of learning, but was observed to seize commonly on those who
either neglected the sciences or could not attain them; and I was
therefore confirmed in the doctrines of my old master, and thought
nothing worthy of my care but the means of gaining or imparting
This purity of manners, and intenseness of application, soon extended my
renown, and I was applauded by those, whose opinion I then thought
unlikely to deceive me, as a young man that gave uncommon hopes of
future eminence. My performances in time reached my native province, and
my relations congratulated themselves upon the new honours that were
added to their family.
I returned home covered with academical laurels, and fraught with
criticism and philosophy. The wit and the scholar excited curiosity, and
my acquaintance was solicited by innumerable invitations. To please will
always be the wish of benevolence, to be admired must be the constant
aim of ambition; and I therefore considered myself as about to receive
the reward of my honest labours, and to find the efficacy of learning
and of virtue.
The third day after my arrival I dined at the house of a gentleman who
had summoned a multitude of his friends to the annual celebration of his
wedding-day. I set forward with great exultation, and thought myself
happy that I had an opportunity of displaying my knowledge to so
numerous an assembly. I felt no sense of my own insufficiency, till,
going up stairs to the dining-room, I heard the mingled roar of
obstreperous merriment. I was, however, disgusted rather than terrified,
and went forward without dejection. The whole company rose at my
entrance; but when I saw so many eyes fixed at once upon me, I was
blasted with a sudden imbecility, I was quelled by some nameless power
which I found impossible to be resisted. My sight was dazzled, my cheeks
glowed, my perceptions were confounded; I was harassed by the multitude
of eager salutations, and returned the common civilities with hesitation
and impropriety; the sense of my own blunders increased my confusion,
and, before the exchange of ceremonies allowed me to sit down, I was
ready to sink under the oppression of surprise; my voice grew weak, and
my knees trembled.
The assembly then resumed their places, and I sat with my eyes fixed
upon the ground. To the questions of curiosity, or the appeals of
complaisance, I could seldom answer but with negative monosyllables, or
professions of ignorance; for the subjects on which they conversed, were
such as are seldom discussed in books, and were therefore out of my
range of knowledge. At length an old clergyman, who rightly conjectured
the reason of my conciseness, relieved me by some questions about the
present state of natural knowledge, and engaged me, by an appearance of
doubt and opposition, in the explication and defence of the Newtonian
The consciousness of my own abilities roused me from depression, and
long familiarity with my subject enabled me to discourse with ease and
volubility; but, however I might please myself, I found very little
added by my demonstrations to the satisfaction of the company; and my
antagonist, who knew the laws of conversation too well to detain their
attention long upon an unpleasing topick, after he had commended my
acuteness and comprehension, dismissed the controversy, and resigned me
to my former insignificance and perplexity.
After dinner, I received from the ladies, who had heard that I was a
wit, an invitation to the tea-table. I congratulated myself upon an
opportunity to escape from the company, whose gaiety began to be
tumultuous, and among whom several hints had been dropped of the
uselessness of universities, the folly of book-learning, and the
awkwardness of scholars. To the ladies, therefore, I flew, as to a
refuge from clamour, insult, and rusticity; but found my heart sink as I
approached their apartment, and was again disconcerted by the ceremonies
of entrance, and confounded by the necessity of encountering so many
eyes at once.
When I sat down I considered that, something pretty was always said to
ladies, and resolved to recover my credit by some elegant observation or
graceful compliment. I applied myself to the recollection of all that I
had read or heard in praise of beauty, and endeavoured to accommodate
some classical compliment to the present occasion. I sunk into profound
meditation, revolved the characters of the heroines of old, considered
whatever the poets have sung in their praise, and, after having borrowed
and invented, chosen and rejected a thousand sentiments, which, if I had
uttered them, would not have been understood, I was awakened from my
dream of learned gallantry, by the servant who distributed the tea.
There are not many situations more incessantly uneasy than that in which
the man is placed who is watching an opportunity to speak, without
courage to take it when it is offered, and who, though he resolves to
give a specimen of his abilities, always finds some reason or other for
delaying it to the next minute. I was ashamed of silence, yet could find
nothing to say of elegance or importance equal to my wishes. The ladies,
afraid of my learning, thought themselves not qualified to propose any
subject of prattle to a man so famous for dispute, and there was nothing
on either side but impatience and vexation.
In this conflict of shame, as I was re-assembling my scattered
sentiments, and, resolving to force my imagination to some sprightly
sally, had just found a very happy compliment, by too much attention to
my own meditations, I suffered the saucer to drop from my hand. The cup
was broken, the lap-dog was scalded, a brocaded petticoat was stained,
and the whole assembly was thrown into disorder. I now considered all
hopes of reputation at an end, and while they were consoling and
assisting one another, stole away in silence.
The misadventures of this unhappy day are not yet at an end; I am afraid
of meeting the meanest of them that triumphed over me in this state of
stupidity and contempt, and feel the same terrours encroaching upon my
heart at the sight of those who have once impressed them. Shame, above
any other passion, propagates itself. Before those who have seen me
confused, I can never appear without new confusion, and the remembrance
of the weakness which I formerly discovered, hinders me from acting or
speaking with my natural force.
But is this misery, Mr. Rambler, never to cease; have I spent my life in
study only to become the sport of the ignorant, and debarred myself from
all the common enjoyments of youth to collect ideas which must sleep in
silence, and form opinions which I must not divulge? Inform me, dear
Sir, by what means I may rescue my faculties from these shackles of
cowardice, how I may rise to a level with my fellow-beings, recall
myself from this langour of involuntary subjection to the free exertion
of my intellects, and add to the power of reasoning the liberty of
I am, Sir, &c.
No. 158. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 1751.
Grammatici certunt, et adhuc sub judice lis est. HOR. Ar. Poet. 78.
--Criticks yet contend,
And of their vain disputings find no end. FRANCIS.
Criticism, though dignified from the earliest ages by the labours of men
eminent for knowledge and sagacity, and, since the revival of polite
literature, the favourite study of European scholars, has not yet
attained the certainty and stability of science. The rules hitherto
received are seldom drawn from any settled principle or self-evident
postulate, or adapted to the natural and invariable constitution of
things; but will be found, upon examination, the arbitrary edicts of
legislators, authorised only by themselves, who, out of various means by
which the same end may be attained, selected such as happened to occur
to their own reflection, and then, by a law which idleness and timidity
were too willing to obey, prohibited new experiments of wit, restrained
fancy from the indulgence of her innate inclination to hazard and
adventure, and condemned all future flights of genius to pursue the path
of the Meonian eagle.
This authority may be more justly opposed, as it is apparently derived
from them whom they endeavour to control; for we owe few of the rules of
writing to the acuteness of criticks, who have generally no other merit
than that, having read the works of great authors with attention, they
have observed the arrangement of their matter, or the graces of their
expression, and then expected honour and reverence for precepts which
they never could have invented; so that practice has introduced rules,
rather than rules have directed practice.
For this reason the laws of every species of writing have been settled
by the ideas of him who first raised it to reputation, without inquiry
whether his performances were not yet susceptible of improvement. The
excellencies and faults of celebrated writers have been equally
recommended to posterity; and, so far has blind reverence prevailed,
that even the number of their books has been thought worthy of
The imagination of the first authors of lyrick poetry was vehement and
rapid, and their knowledge various and extensive. Living in an age when
science had been little cultivated, and when the minds of their
auditors, not being accustomed to accurate inspection, were easily
dazzled by glaring ideas, they applied themselves to instruct, rather by
short sentences and striking thoughts, than by regular argumentation;
and, finding attention more successfully excited by sudden sallies and
unexpected exclamations, than by the more artful and placid beauties of
methodical deduction, they loosed their genius to its own course, passed
from one sentiment to another without expressing the intermediate ideas,
and roved at large over the ideal world with such lightness and agility,
that their footsteps are scarcely to be traced.
From this accidental peculiarity of the ancient writers the criticks
deduce the rules of lyrick poetry, which they have set free from all the
laws by which other compositions are confined, and allow to neglect the
niceties of transition, to start into remote digressions, and to wander
without restraint from one scene of imagery to another.
A writer of later times has, by the vivacity of his essays, reconciled
mankind to the same licentiousness in short dissertations; and he
therefore who wants skill to form a plan, or diligence to pursue it,
needs only entitle his performance an essay, to acquire the right of
heaping together the collections of half his life without order,
coherence, or propriety.
In writing, as in life, faults are endured without disgust when they are
associated with transcendent merit, and may be sometimes recommended to
weak judgments by the lustre which they obtain from their union with
excellence; but it is the business of those who presume to superintend
the taste or morals of mankind, to separate delusive combinations and
distinguish that which may be praised from that which can only be
excused. As vices never promote happiness, though, when overpowered by
more active and more numerous virtues, they cannot totally destroy it;
so confusion and irregularity produce no beauty, though they cannot
always obstruct the brightness of genius and learning. To proceed from
one truth to another, and connect distant propositions by regular
consequences, is the great prerogative of man. Independent and
unconnected sentiments flashing upon the mind in quick succession, may,
for a time, delight by their novelty, but they differ from systematical
reasoning, as single notes from harmony, as glances of lightning from
the radiance of the sun.
When rules are thus drawn, rather from precedents than reason, there is
danger not only from the faults of an author, but from the errours of
those who criticise his works; since they may often mislead their pupils
by false representations, as the Ciceronians of the sixteenth century
were betrayed into barbarisms by corrupt copies of their darling writer.
It is established at present, that the proemial lines of a poem, in
which the general subject is proposed, must be void of glitter and
embellishment. "The first lines of Paradise Lost," says Addison, "are
perhaps as plain, simple, and unadorned, as any of the whole poem, in
which particular the author has conformed himself to the example of
Homer, and the precept of Horace."
This observation seems to have been made by an implicit adoption of the
common opinion, without consideration either of the precept or example.
Had Horace been consulted, he would have been found to direct only what
should be comprised in the proposition, not how it should be expressed;
and to have commended Homer in opposition to a meaner poet, not for the
gradual elevation of his diction, but the judicious expansion of his
plan; for displaying unpromised events, not for producing unexpected
--Specivsa dehinc miracula prouiat;
Antiphaten, Scyllamque, et cum Cyclope Charybdim. Hon. Ar. Poet. 146.
But from a cloud of smoke he breaks to light,
And pours his specious miracles to sight;
Antiphates his hideous feast devours,
Charybdis barks, and Polyphemus roars. FRANCIS.
If the exordial verses of Homer be compared with the rest of the poem,
they will not appear remarkable for plainness or simplicity, but rather
eminently adorned and illuminated:
Andra moi ennepe, Mousa, polutropon, os mala polla
Plagchthae, epei Troiaes ieron ptoliethron eperse;
Pollon d anthropon iden astea, kai noon egno;
Polla d og en pontps pathen algea on kata thumon,
Arnumenos aen te psuchaen kai noston etairon;
All oud os etarous errusato, iemenos per;
Auton gar spheteraesin atasthaliaesin olonto.
Naepioi, oi kata bous uperionos Aeelioio
Aesthion; autar o toisin apheileto vostimon aemao;
Ton amothen ge, thea, thugater Dios, eipe kai eamin.]
The man, for wisdom's various arts renown'd,
Long exercised in woes, O muse! resound.
Who, when his arms had wrought the destin'd fall
Of sacred Troy, and raz'd her heav'n-built wall,
Wandering from clime to clime, observant stray'd,
The manners noted, and their states survey'd.
On stormy seas unnumber'd toils he bore,
Safe with his friends to gain his natal shore:
Vain toils! their impious folly dar'd to prey
On herds devoted to the god of day;
The god vindictive doom'd them never more
(Ah! men unbless'd) to touch that natal shore.
O snatch some portion of these acts from fate,
Celestial muse! and to our world relate. POPE.
The first verses of the Iliad are in like manner particularly splendid,
and the proposition of the Aeneid closes with dignity and magnificence
not often to be found even in the poetry of Virgil.
The intent of the introduction is to raise expectation, and suspend it;
something therefore must be discovered, and something concealed; and the
poet, while the fertility of his invention is yet unknown, may properly
recommend himself by the grace of his language.
He that reveals too much, or promises too little; he that never
irritates the intellectual appetite, or that immediately satiates it,
equally defeats his own purpose. It is necessary to the pleasure of the
reader, that the events should not be anticipated, and how then can his
attention be invited, but by grandeur of expression?
No. 159. TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 1751.
_Sunt verba et voces, quibus hunc lenire dolorem
Possis, et magnuum morbi deponere partem_. HOR. Ep. Lib. i. 34.
The power of words, and soothing sounds, appease
The raging pain, and lessen the disease. FRANCIS.
The imbecility with which Verecundulus complains that the presence of a
numerous assembly freezes his faculties, is particularly incident to the
studious part of mankind, whose education necessarily secludes them in
their earlier years from mingled converse, till, at their dismission
from schools and academies, they plunge at once into the tumult of the
world, and, coming forth from the gloom of solitude, are overpowered by
the blaze of publick life.
It is, perhaps, kindly provided by nature, that as the feathers and
strength of a bird grow together, and her wings are not completed till
she is able to fly, so some proportion should be preserved in the human
kind between judgment and courage; the precipitation of inexperience is
therefore restrained by shame, and we remain shackled by timidity, till
we have learned to speak and act with propriety. I believe few can
review the days of their youth without recollecting temptations, which
shame, rather than virtue, enabled them to resist; and opinions which,
however erroneous in their principles, and dangerous in their
consequences, they have panted to advance at the hazard of contempt and
hatred, when they found themselves irresistibly depressed by a languid
anxiety, which seized them at the moment of utterance, and still
gathered strength from their endeavours to resist it.
It generally happens that assurance keeps an even pace with ability, and
the fear of miscarriage, which hinders Our first attempts, is gradually
dissipated as our skill advances towards certainty of success. That
bashfulness, therefore, which prevents disgrace, that short and
temporary shame which secures us from the danger of lasting reproach,
cannot be properly counted among our misfortunes.
Bashfulness, however it may incommode for a moment, scarcely ever
produces evils of long continuance; it may flush the cheek, flutter in
the heart, deject the eyes, and enchain the tongue, but its mischiefs
soon pass off without remembrance. It may sometimes exclude pleasure,
but seldom opens any avenue to sorrow or remorse. It is observed
somewhere that _few have repented of having forborne to speak_.
To excite opposition, and inflame malevolence, is the unhappy privilege
of courage made arrogant by consciousness of strength. No man finds in
himself any inclination to attack or oppose him who confesses his
superiority by blushing in his presence. Qualities exerted with apparent
fearfulness, receive applause from every voice, and support from every
hand. Diffidence may check resolution and obstruct performance, but
compensates its embarrassments by more important advantages; it
conciliates the proud, and softens the severe, averts envy from
excellence, and censure from miscarriage.
It may indeed happen that knowledge and virtue remain too long congealed
by this frigorifick power, as the principles of vegetation are sometimes
obstructed by lingering frosts. He that enters late into a public
station, though with all the abilities requisite to the discharge of his
duty, will find his powers at first impeded by a timidity which he
himself knows to be vicious, and must struggle long against dejection
and reluctance, before he obtains the full command of his own attention,
and adds the gracefulness of ease to the dignity of merit.
For this disease of the mind I know not whether any remedies of much
efficacy can be found. To advise a man unaccustomed to the eyes of
multitudes to mount a tribunal without perturbation, to tell him whose
life was passed in the shades of contemplation, that he must not be
disconcerted or perplexed in receiving and returning the compliments of
a splendid assembly, is to advise an inhabitant of Brasil or Sumatra not
to shiver at an English winter, or him who has always lived upon a plain
to look from a precipice without emotion. It is to suppose custom
instantaneously controllable by reason, and to endeavour to communicate,
by precept, that which only time and habit can bestow.
He that hopes by philosophy and contemplation alone to fortify himself
against that awe which all, at their first appearance on the stage of
life, must feel from the spectators, will, at the hour of need, be
mocked by his resolution; and I doubt whether the preservatives which
Plato relates Alcibiades to have received from Socrates, when he was
about to speak in publick, proved sufficient to secure him from the
Yet, as the effects of time may by art and industry be accelerated or
retarded, it cannot be improper to consider how this troublesome
instinct may be opposed when it exceeds its just proportion, and instead
of repressing petulance and temerity, silences eloquence, and
debilitates force; since, though it cannot be hoped that anxiety should
be immediately dissipated, it may be at least somewhat abated; and the
passions will operate with less violence, when reason rises against
them, than while she either slumbers in neutrality, or, mistaking her
interest, lends them her assistance.
No cause more frequently produces bashfulness than too high an opinion
of our own importance. He that imagines an assembly filled with his
merit, panting with expectation, and hushed with attention, easily
terrifies himself with the dread of disappointing them, and strains his
imagination in pursuit of something that may vindicate the veracity of
fame, and shew that his reputation was not gained by chance. He
considers that what he shall say or do will never be forgotten; that
renown or infamy is suspended upon every syllable, and that nothing
ought to fall from him which will not bear the test of time. Under such
solicitude, who can wonder that the mind is overwhelmed, and, by
struggling with attempts above her strength, quickly sinks into
languishment and despondency?
The most useful medicines are often unpleasing to the taste. Those who
are oppressed by their own reputation, will, perhaps, not be comforted
by hearing that their cares are unnecessary. But the truth is, that no
man is much regarded by the rest of the world. He that considers how
little he dwells upon the condition of others, will learn how little the
attention of others is attracted by himself. While we see multitudes
passing before us, of whom, perhaps, not one appears to deserve our
notice, or excite our sympathy, we should remember, that we likewise are
lost in the same throng; that the eye which happens to glance upon us is
turned in a moment on him that follows us, and that the utmost which we
can reasonably hope or fear is, to fill a vacant hour with prattle, and
No. 160. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 1751
--Inter se convenit ursis. JUV. Sat. xv. 164.
Beasts of each kind their fellows spare;
Bear lives in amity with bear.
"The world," says Locke, "has people of all sorts." As in the general
hurry produced by the superfluities of some, and necessities of others,
no man needs to stand still for want of employment, so in the
innumerable gradations of ability, and endless varieties of study and
inclination, no employment can be vacant for want of a man qualified to
Such is probably the natural state of the universe; but it is so much
deformed by interest and passion, that the benefit of this adaptation of
men to things is not always perceived. The folly or indigence of those
who set their services to sale, inclines them to boast of qualifications
which they do not possess, and attempt business which they do not
understand; and they who have the power of assigning to others the task
of life, are seldom honest or seldom happy in their nomination. Patrons
are corrupted by avarice, cheated by credulity, or overpowered by
resistless solicitation. They are sometimes too strongly influenced by
honest prejudices of friendship, or the prevalence of virtuous
compassion. For, whatever cool reason may direct, it is not easy for a
man of tender and scrupulous goodness to overlook the immediate effect
of his own actions, by turning his eyes upon remoter consequences, and
to do that which must give present pain, for the sake of obviating evil
yet unfelt, or securing advantage in time to come. What is distant is in
itself obscure, and, when we have no wish to see it, easily escapes our
notice, or takes such a form as desire or imagination bestows upon it.
Every man might, for the same reason, in the multitudes that swarm about
him, find some kindred mind with which he could unite in confidence and
friendship; yet we see many straggling single about the world, unhappy
for want of an associate, and pining with the necessity of confining
their sentiments to their own bosoms.
This inconvenience arises, in like manner, from struggles of the will
against the understanding. It is not often difficult to find a suitable
companion, if every man would be content with such as he is qualified to
please. But if vanity tempts him to forsake his rank, and post himself
among those with whom no common interest or mutual pleasure can ever
unite him, he must always live in a state of unsocial separation,
without tenderness and without trust.
There are many natures which can never approach within a certain
distance, and which, when any irregular motive impels them towards
contact, seem to start back from each other by some invincible
repulsion. There are others which immediately cohere whenever they come
into the reach of mutual attraction, and with very little formality of
preparation mingle intimately as soon as they meet. Every man, whom
either business or curiosity has thrown at large into the world, will
recollect many instances of fondness and dislike, which have forced
themselves upon him without the intervention of his judgment; of
dispositions to court some and avoid others, when he could assign no
reason for the preference, or none adequate to the violence of his
passions; of influence that acted instantaneously upon his mind, and
which no arguments or persuasions could ever overcome.
Among those with whom time and intercourse have made us familiar, we
feel our affections divided in different proportions without much regard
to moral or intellectual merit. Every man knows some whom he cannot
induce himself to trust, though he has no reason to suspect that they
would betray him; those to whom he cannot complain, though he never
observed them to want compassion; those in whose presence he never can
be gay, though excited by invitations to mirth and freedom; and those
from whom he cannot be content to receive instruction, though they never
insulted his ignorance by contempt or ostentation.
That much regard is to be had to those instincts of kindness and
dislike, or that reason should blindly follow them, I am far from
intending to inculcate: it is very certain, that by indulgence we may
give them strength which they have not from nature, and almost every
example of ingratitude and treachery proves, that by obeying them we may
commit our happiness to those who are very unworthy of so great a trust.
But it may deserve to be remarked, that since few contend much with
their inclinations, it is generally vain to solicit the good-will of
those whom we perceive thus involuntarily alienated from us; neither
knowledge nor virtue will reconcile antipathy, and though officiousness
may be for a time admitted, and diligence applauded, they will at last
be dismissed with coldness, or discouraged by neglect.
Some have indeed an occult power of stealing upon the affections, of
exciting universal benevolence, and disposing every heart to fondness
and friendship. But this is a felicity granted only to the favourites of
nature. The greater part of mankind find a different reception from
different dispositions; they sometimes obtain unexpected caresses from
those whom they never flattered with uncommon regard, and sometimes
exhaust all their arts of pleasing without effect. To these it is
necessary to look round, and attempt every breast in which they find
virtue sufficient for the foundation of friendship; to enter into the
crowd, and try whom chance will offer to their notice, till they fix on
some temper congenial to their own, as the magnet rolled in the dust
collects the fragments of its kindred metal from a thousand particles of
Every man must have remarked the facility with which the kindness of
others is sometimes gained by those to whom he never could have imparted
his own. We are by our occupations, education, and habits of life,
divided almost into different species, which regard one another, for the
most part, with scorn and malignity. Each of these classes of the human
race has desires, fears, and conversation, vexations and merriment
peculiar to itself; cares which another cannot feel; pleasures which he
cannot partake; and modes of expressing every sensation which he cannot
understand. That frolick which shakes one man with laughter, will
convulse another with indignation; the strain of jocularity which in one
place obtains treats and patronage, would in another be heard with
indifference, and in a third with abhorrence.
To raise esteem we must benefit others, to procure love we must please
them. Aristotle observes, that old men do not readily form friendships,
because they are not easily susceptible of pleasure. He that can
contribute to the hilarity of the vacant hour, or partake with equal
gust the favourite amusement; he whose mind is employed on the same
objects, and who therefore never harasses the understanding with
unaccustomed ideas, will be welcomed with ardour, and left with regret,
unless he destroys those recommendations by faults with which peace and
security cannot consist.
It were happy, if, in forming friendships, virtue could concur with
pleasure; but the greatest part of human gratifications approach so
nearly to vice, that few who make the delight of others their rule of
conduct, can avoid disingenuous compliances; yet certainly he that
suffers himself to be driven or allured from virtue, mistakes his own
interest, since he gains succour by means, for which his friend, if ever
he becomes wise, must scorn him, and for which at last he must scorn
No. 161. TUESDAY, OCTOBER 1, 1751.
[Greek: Oiae gar phullon geneae, toiaede kai Andron.]
HOM. Il. [Greek: T.]
Frail as the leaves that quiver on the sprays,
Like them man flourishes, like them decays.
You have formerly observed that curiosity often terminates in barren
knowledge, and that the mind is prompted to study and inquiry rather by
the uneasiness of ignorance, than the hope of profit. Nothing can be of
less importance to any present interest, than the fortune of those who
have been long lost in the grave, and from whom nothing now can be hoped
or feared. Yet, to rouse the zeal of a true antiquary, little more is
necessary than to mention a name which mankind have conspired to forget;
he will make his way to remote scenes of action through obscurity and
contradiction, as Tully sought amidst bushes and brambles the tomb of
It is not easy to discover how it concerns him that gathers the produce,
or receives the rent of an estate, to know through what families the
land has passed, who is registered in the Conqueror's survey as its
possessor, how often it has been forfeited by treason, or how often sold
by prodigality. The power or wealth of the present inhabitants of a
country cannot be much increased by an inquiry after the names of those
barbarians, who destroyed one another twenty centuries ago, in contests
for the shelter of woods, or convenience of pasturage. Yet we see that
no man can be at rest in the enjoyment of a new purchase till he has
learned the history of his grounds from the ancient inhabitants of the
parish, and that no nation omits to record the actions of their
ancestors, however bloody, savage, and rapacious.
The same disposition, as different opportunities call it forth,
discovers itself in great or little things. I have always thought it
unworthy of a wise man to slumber in total inactivity, only because he
happens to have no employment equal to his ambition or genius; it is
therefore my custom to apply my attention to the objects before me, and
as I cannot think any place wholly unworthy of notice that affords a
habitation to a man of letters, I have collected the history and
antiquities of the several garrets in which I have resided.
Quantulacunque estis, vos ego magna voco.
How small to others, but how great to me!
Many of these narratives my industry has been able to extend to a
considerable length; but the woman with whom I now lodge has lived only
eighteen months in the house, and can give no account of its ancient
revolutions; the plaisterer having, at her entrance, obliterated, by his
white-wash, all the smoky memorials which former tenants had left upon
the ceiling, and perhaps drawn the veil of oblivion over politicians,
philosophers, and poets.
When I first, cheapened my lodgings, the landlady told me, that she
hoped I was not an author, for the lodgers on the first floor had
stipulated that the upper rooms should not be occupied by a noisy trade.
I very readily promised to give no disturbance to her family, and soon
despatched a bargain on the usual terms.
I had not slept many nights in my new apartment before I began to
inquire after my predecessors, and found my landlady, whose imagination
is filled chiefly with her own affairs, very ready to give me
Curiosity, like all other desires, produces pain as wel as pleasure.
Before she began her narrative, I had heated my head with expectations
of adventures and discoveries, of elegance in disguise, and learning in
distress; and was somewhat mortified when I heard that the first tenant
was a tailor, of whom nothing was remembered but that he complained of
his room for want of light; and, after having lodged in it a month, and
paid only a week's rent, pawned a piece of cloth which he was trusted,
to cut out, and was forced to make a precipitate retreat from this
quarter of the town.
The next was a young woman newly arrived from the country, who lived for
five weeks with great regularity, and became by frequent treats very
much the favourite of the family, but at last received visits so
frequently from a cousin in Cheapside, that she brought the reputation
of the house into danger, and was therefore dismissed with good advice.
The room then stood empty for a fortnight; my landlady began to think
that she had judged hardly, and often wished for such another lodger. At
last, an elderly man of a grave aspect read the bill, and bargained for
the room at the very first price that was asked. He lived in close
retirement, seldom went out till evening, and then returned early,
sometimes cheerful, and at other times dejected. It was remarkable, that
whatever he purchased, he never had small money in his pocket; and,
though cool and temperate on other occasions, was always vehement and
stormy, till he received his change. He paid his rent with great
exactness, and seldom failed once a week to requite my landlady's
civility with a supper. At last, such is the fate of human felicity, the
house was alarmed at midnight by the constable, who demanded to search
the garrets. My landlady assuring him that he had mistaken the door,
conducted him up stairs, where he found the tools of a coiner; but the
tenant had crawled along the roof to an empty house, and escaped; much
to the joy of my landlady, who declares him a very honest man, and
wonders why any body should be hanged for making money when such numbers
are in want of it. She however confesses that she shall, for the future,
always question the character of those who take her garret without
beating down the price.
The bill was then placed again in the window, and the poor woman was
teased for seven weeks by innumerable passengers, who obliged her to
climb with them every hour up five stories, and then disliked the
prospect, hated the noise of a publick street, thought the stairs
narrow, objected to a low ceiling, required the walls to be hung with
fresher paper, asked questions about the neighbourhood, could not think
of living so far from their acquaintance, wished the windows had looked
to the south rather than the west, told how the door and chimney might
have been better disposed, bid her half the price that she asked, or
promised to give her earnest the next day, and came no more.
At last, a short meagre man, in a tarnished waistcoat, desired to see
the garret, and when he had stipulated for two long shelves, and a
larger table, hired it at a low rate. When the affair was completed, he
looked round him with great satisfaction, and repeated some words which
the woman did not understand. In two days he brought a great box of
books, took possession of his room, and lived very inoffensively, except
that he frequently disturbed the inhabitants of the next floor by
unseasonable noises. He was generally in bed at noon, but from evening
to midnight he sometimes talked aloud with great vehemence, sometimes
stamped as in rage, sometimes threw down his poker, then clattered his
chairs, then sat down in deep thought, and again burst out into loud
vociferations; sometimes he would sigh as oppressed with misery, and
sometimes shaked with convulsive laughter. When he encountered any of
the family, he gave way or bowed, but rarely spoke, except that as he
went up stairs he often repeated,
[Greek:--Hos hupertata domata naiei].
This habitant th' aerial regions boast;
hard words, to which his neighbours listened so often, that they learned
them without understanding them. What was his employment she did not
venture to ask him, but at last heard a printer's boy inquire for the
My landlady was very often advised to beware of this strange man, who,
though he was quiet for the present, might perhaps become outrageous in
the hot months; but, as she was punctually paid, she could not find any
sufficient reason for dismissing him, till one night he convinced her,
by setting fire to his curtains, that it was not safe to have an author
for her inmate.
She had then for six weeks a succession of tenants, who left the house
on Saturday, and, instead of paying their rent, stormed at their
landlady. At last she took in two sisters, one of whom had spent her
little fortune in procuring remedies for a lingering disease, and was
now supported and attended by the other: she climbed with difficulty to
the apartment, where she languished eight weeks without impatience, or
lamentation, except for the expense and fatigue which her sister
suffered, and then calmly and contentedly expired. The sister followed
her to the grave, paid the few debts which they had contracted, wiped
away the tears of useless sorrow, and, returning to the business of
common life, resigned to me the vacant habitation.
Such, Mr. Rambler, are the changes which have happened in the narrow
space where my present fortune has fixed my residence. So true it is
that amusement and instruction are always at hand for those who have
skill and willingness to find them; and, so just is the observation of
Juvenal, that a single house will shew whatever is done or suffered in
I am, Sir, &c.
No. 162. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 5, 1751.
Orbus es, et locuples, et Bruto consule natus,
Esse tibi veras credis amicitias?
Sunt verae: sed quas juvenis, quas pauper habebas:
Qui novus est, mortem diligit ille tuam. MART. Lib. xi. Ep. 44.
What! old, and rich, and childless too,
And yet believe your friends are true?
Truth might perhaps to those belong,
To those who lov'd you poor and young;
But, trust me, for the new you have,
They'll love you dearly--in your grave. F. LEWIS.
One of the complaints uttered by Milton's Samson, in the anguish of
blindness, is, that he shall pass his life under the direction of
others; that he cannot regulate his conduct by his own knowledge, but
must lie at the mercy of those who undertake to guide him.
There is no state more contrary to the dignity of wisdom than perpetual
and unlimited dependance, in which the understanding lies useless, and
every motion is received from external impulse. Reason is the great
distinction of human nature, the faculty by which we approach to some
degree of association with celestial intelligences; but as the
excellence of every power appears only in its operations, not to have
reason, and to have it useless and unemployed, is nearly the same.
Such is the weakness of man, that the essence of things is seldom so
much regarded as external and accidental appendages. A small variation
of trifling circumstances, a slight change of form by an artificial
dress, or a casual difference of appearance, by a new light and
situation, will conciliate affection or excite abhorrence, and determine
us to pursue or to avoid. Every man considers a necessity of compliance
with any will but his own, as the lowest state of ignominy and meanness;
few are so far lost in cowardice or negligence, as not to rouse at the
first insult of tyranny, and exert all their force against him who
usurps their property, or invades any privilege of speech or action. Yet
we see often those who never wanted spirit to repel encroachment or
oppose violence, at last, by a gradual relaxation of vigilance,
delivering up, without capitulation, the fortress which they defended
against assault, and laying down unbidden the weapons which they grasp
the harder for every attempt to wrest them from their hands. Men eminent
for spirit and wisdom often resign themselves to voluntary pupilage, and
suffer their lives to be modelled by officious ignorance, and their
choice to be regulated by presumptuous stupidity.
This unresisting acquiescence in the determination of others, may be the
consequence of application to some study remote from the beaten track of
life, some employment which does not allow leisure for sufficient
inspection of those petty affairs, by which nature has decreed a great
part of our duration to be filled. To a mind thus withdrawn from common
objects, it is more eligible to repose on the prudence of another, than
to be exposed every moment to slight interruptions. The submission which
such confidence requires, is paid without pain, because it implies no
confession of inferiority. The business from which we withdraw our
cognizance, is not above our abilities, but below our notice. We please
our pride with the effects of our influence thus weakly exerted, and
fancy ourselves placed in a higher orb, for which we regulate
subordinate agents by a slight and distant superintendance. But,
whatever vanity or abstraction may suggest, no man can safely do that by
others which might be done by himself; he that indulges negligence will
quickly become ignorant of his own affairs; and he that trusts without
reserve will at last be deceived.
It is, however, impossible but that, as the attention tends strongly
towards one thing, it must retire from another; and he that omits the
care of domestick business, because he is engrossed by inquiries of more
importance to mankind, has, at least, the merit of suffering in a good
cause. But there are many who can plead no such extenuation of their
folly; who shake off the burden of their situation, not that they may
soar with less incumbrance to the heights of knowledge or virtue, but
that they may loiter at ease and sleep in quiet; and who select for
friendship and confidence not the faithful and the virtuous, but the
soft, the civil, and compliant.
This openness to flattery is the common disgrace of declining life. When
men feel weakness increasing on them, they naturally desire to rest from
the struggles of contradiction, the fatigue of reasoning, the anxiety of
circumspection; when they are hourly tormented with pains and diseases,
they are unable to bear any new disturbance, and consider all opposition
as an addition to misery, of which they feel already more than they can
patiently endure. Thus desirous of peace, and thus fearful of pain, the
old man seldom inquires after any other qualities in those whom he
caresses, than quickness in conjecturing his desires, activity in
supplying his wants, dexterity in intercepting complaints before they
approach near enough to disturb him, flexibility to his present humour,
submission to hasty petulance, and attention to wearisome narrations. By
these arts alone many have been able to defeat the claims of kindred and
of merit, and to enrich themselves with presents and legacies.
Thrasybulus inherited a large fortune, and augmented it by the revenues
of several lucrative employments, which he discharged with honour and
dexterity. He was at last wise enough to consider, that life should not
be devoted wholly to accumulation, and therefore retiring to his estate,
applied himself to the education of his children, and the cultivation of
He passed several years in this pleasing amusement, and saw his care
amply recompensed; his daughters were celebrated for modesty and
elegance, and his sons for learning, prudence, and spirit. In time the
eagerness with which the neighbouring gentlemen courted his alliance,
obliged him to resign his daughters to other families; the vivacity and
curiosity of his sons hurried them out of rural privacy into the open
world, from whence they had not soon an inclination to return. This,
however, he had always hoped; he pleased himself with the success of his
schemes, and felt no inconvenience from solitude till an apoplexy
deprived him of his wife.
Thrasybulus had now no companion; and the maladies of increasing years
having taken from him much of the power of procuring amusement for
himself, he thought it necessary to procure some inferior friend, who
might ease him of his economical solicitudes, and divert him by cheerful
conversation. All these qualities he soon recollected in Vafer, a clerk
in one of the offices over which he had formerly presided. Vafer was
invited to visit his old patron, and being by his station acquainted
with the present modes of life, and by constant practice dexterous in
business, entertained him with so many novelties, and so readily
disentangled his affairs, that he was desired to resign his clerkship,
and accept a liberal salary in the house of Thrasybulus.
Vafer, having always lived in a state of dependance, was well versed in
the arts by which favour is obtained, and could, without repugnance or
hesitation, accommodate himself to every caprice, and echo every
opinion. He never doubted but to be convinced, nor attempted opposition
but to flatter Thrasybulus with the pleasure of a victory. By this
practice he found his way into his patron's heart, and, having first
made himself agreeable, soon became important. His insidious diligence,
by which the laziness of age was gratified, engrossed the management of
affairs; and his petty offices of civility, and occasional
intercessions, persuaded the tenants to consider him as their friend and
benefactor, and to entreat his enforcement of their representations of
hard years, and his countenance to petitions for abatement of rent.
Thrasybulus had now banqueted on flattery, till he could no longer bear
the harshness of remonstrance or the insipidity of truth. All
contrariety to his own opinion shocked him like a violation of some
natural right, and all recommendation of his affairs to his own
inspection was dreaded by him as a summons to torture. His children were
alarmed by the sudden riches of Vafer, but their complaints were heard
by their father with impatience, as the result of a conspiracy against
his quiet, and a design to condemn him, for their own advantage, to
groan out his last hours in perplexity and drudgery. The daughters
retired with tears in their eyes, but the son continued his
importunities till he found his inheritance hazarded by his obstinacy.
Vafer triumphed over all their efforts, and, continuing to confirm
himself in authority, at the death of his master, purchased an estate,
and bade defiance to inquiry and justice.
No. 163. TUESDAY, OCTOBER 8, 1751.
Mitte superba pati fastidia, spemque caducam
Despice; vive tibi, nam moriere tibi. SENECA.
Bow to no patron's insolence; rely
On no frail hopes, in freedom live and die. F. LEWIS.
None of the cruelties exercised by wealth and power upon indigence and
dependance is more mischievous in its consequences, or more frequently
practised with wanton negligence, than the encouragement of expectations
which are never to be gratified, and the elation and depression of the
heart by needless vicissitudes of hope and disappointment.
Every man is rich or poor, according to the proportion between his
desires and enjoyments; any enlargement of wishes is therefore equally
destructive to happiness with the diminution of possession; and he that
teaches another to long for what he never shall obtain, is no less an
enemy to his quiet, than if he had robbed him of part of his patrimony.
But representations thus refined exhibit no adequate idea of the guilt
of pretended friendship; of artifices by which followers are attracted
only to decorate the retinue of pomp, and swell the shout of popularity,
and to be dismissed with contempt and ignominy, when their leader has
succeeded or miscarried, when he is sick of show, and weary of noise.
While a man infatuated with the promises of greatness, wastes his hours
and days in attendance and solicitation, the honest opportunities of
improving his condition pass by without his notice; he neglects to
cultivate his own barren soil, because he expects every moment to be
placed in regions of spontaneous fertility, and is seldom roused from
his delusion, but by the gripe of distress which he cannot resist, and
the sense of evils which cannot be remedied.
The punishment of Tantalus in the infernal regions affords a just image
of hungry servility, flattered with the approach of advantage, doomed to
lose it before it comes into his reach, always within a few days of
felicity, and always sinking back to his former wants:
Kai maen Tantalon eiseidon, chalep alge echonta,
Estaot en limnae hae de proseplaze geneio.
Steuto de dipsaon, pieein d ouk eichen elesthai.
Ossaki gar kupsei ho geron pieein meneainon,
Tossach hudor apolesket anabrochen. amphi de possi
Gaia melaina phaneske katazaenaske de daimon,
Dendrea d hupsipeteala katakoeathen chee kaopon
Onchnai, kai roiai, kai maeleai aglaokarpoi,
Sukai te glukeoai, kai elaiai taelethoosai.
Ton opot ithusei o geoon epi cheosi masasthai,
Tasd anemos riptaske poti nephea skioenta.]
HOM. Od. [Greek: A'.] 581.
"I saw," says Homer's Ulysses, "the severe punishment of Tantalus. In a
lake, whose waters approached to his lips, he stood burning with thirst,
without the power to drink. Whenever he inclined his head to the stream,
some deity commanded it to be dry, and the dark earth appeared at his
feet. Around him lofty trees spread their fruits to view; the pear, the
pomegranate and the apple, the green olive and the luscious fig quivered
before him, which, whenever he extended his hand to seize them, were
snatched by the winds into clouds and obscurity."
This image of misery was perhaps originally suggested to some poet by
the conduct of his patron, by the daily contemplation of splendour which
he never must partake, by fruitless attempts to catch at interdicted
happiness, and by the sudden evanescence of his reward, when he thought
his labours almost at an end. To groan with poverty, when all about him
was opulence, riot, and superfluity, and to find the favours which he
had long been encouraged to hope, and had long endeavoured to deserve,
squandered at last on nameless ignorance, was to thirst with water
flowing before him, and to see the fruits, to which his hunger was
hastening, scattered by the wind. Nor can my correspondent, whatever he
may have suffered, express with more justness or force the vexations of
TO THE RAMBLER.
I am one of those mortals who have been courted and envied as the
favourites of the great. Having often gained the prize of composition at
the university, I began to hope that I should obtain the same
distinction in every other place, and determined to forsake the
profession to which I was destined by my parents, and in which the
interest of my family would have procured me a very advantageous
settlement. The pride of wit fluttered in my heart, and when I prepared
to leave the college, nothing entered my imagination but honours,
caresses, and rewards, riches without labour, and luxury without
I however delayed my departure for a time, to finish the performance by
which I was to draw the first notice of mankind upon me. When it was
completed I hurried to London, and considered every moment that passed
before its publication, as lost in a kind of neutral existence, and cut
off from the golden hours of happiness and fame. The piece was at last
printed and disseminated by a rapid sale; I wandered from one place of
concourse to another, feasted from morning to night on the repetition of
my own praises, and enjoyed the various conjectures of criticks, the
mistaken candour of my friends, and the impotent malice of my enemies.
Some had read the manuscript, and rectified its inaccuracies; others had
seen it in a state so imperfect, that they could not forbear to wonder
at its present excellence; some had conversed with the author at the
coffeehouse; and others gave hints that they had lent him money.
I knew that no performance is so favourably read as that of a writer who
suppresses his name, and therefore resolved to remain concealed, till
those by whom literary reputation is established had given their
suffrages too publickly to retract them. At length my bookseller
informed me that Aurantius, the standing patron of merit, had sent
inquiries after me, and invited me to his acquaintance.
The time which I had long expected was now arrived. I went to Aurantius
with a beating heart, for I looked upon our interview as the critical
moment of my destiny. I was received with civilities which my academick
rudeness made me unable to repay; but when I had recovered from my
confusion, I prosecuted the conversation with such liveliness and
propriety, that I confirmed my new friend in his esteem of my abilities,
and was dismissed with the utmost ardour of profession, and raptures of
I was soon summoned to dine with Aurantius, who had assembled the most
judicious of his friends to partake of the entertainment. Again I
exerted my powers of sentiment and expression, and again found every eye
sparkling with delight, and every tongue silent with attention. I now
became familiar at the table of Aurantius, but could never, in his most
private or jocund hours, obtain more from him than general declarations
of esteem, or endearments of tenderness, which included no particular
promise, and therefore conferred no claim. This frigid reserve somewhat
disgusted me, and when he complained of three days absence, I took care
to inform him with how much importunity of kindness I had been detained
by his rival Pollio.
Aurantius now considered his honour as endangered by the desertion of a
wit, and, lest I should have an inclination to wander, told me that I
could never find a friend more constant and zealous than himself; that
indeed he had made no promises, because he hoped to surprise me with
advancement, but had been silently promoting my interest, and should
continue his good offices, unless he found the kindness of others more
If you, Mr. Rambler, have ever ventured your philosophy within the
attraction of greatness, you know the force of such language introduced
with a smile of gracious tenderness, and impressed at the conclusion
with an air of solemn sincerity. From that instant I gave myself up
wholly to Aurantius, and, as he immediately resumed his former gaiety,
expected every morning a summons to some employment of dignity and
profit. One month succeeded another, and, in defiance of appearances, I
still fancied myself nearer to my wishes, and continued to dream of
success, and wake to disappointment. At last the failure of my little
fortune compelled me to abate the finery which I hitherto thought
necessary to the company with whom I associated, and the rank to which I
should be raised. Aurantius, from the moment in which he discovered my
poverty, considered me as fully in his power, and afterwards rather
permitted my attendance than invited it; thought himself at liberty to
refuse my visits, whenever he had other amusements within reach, and
often suffered me to wait, without pretending any necessary business.
When I was admitted to his table, if any man of rank equal to his own
was present, he took occasion to mention my writings, and commend my
ingenuity, by which he intended to apologize for the confusion of
distinctions, and the improper assortment of his company; and often
called upon me to entertain his friends with my productions, as a
sportsman delights the squires of his neighbourhood with the curvets of
his horse, or the obedience of his spaniels.
To complete my mortification, it was his practice to impose tasks upon
me, by requiring me to write upon such subjects as he thought
susceptible of ornament and illustration. With these extorted
performances he was little satisfied, because he rarely found in them
the ideas which his own imagination had suggested, and which he
therefore thought more natural than mine.
When the pale of ceremony is broken, rudeness and insult soon enter the
breach. He now found that he might safely harass me with vexation, that
he had fixed the shackles of patronage upon me, and that I could neither
resist him nor escape. At last, in the eighth year of my servitude, when
the clamour of creditors was vehement, and my necessity known to be
extreme, he offered me a small office, but hinted his expectation, that
I should marry a young woman with whom he had been acquainted.
I was not so far depressed by my calamities as to comply with this
proposal; but, knowing that complaints and expostulations would but
gratify his insolence, I turned away with that contempt with which I
shall never want spirit to treat the wretch who can outgo the guilt of a
robber without the temptation of his profit, and who lures the credulous
and thoughtless to maintain the show of his levee, and the mirth of his
table, at the expense of honour, happiness, and life.
I am, Sir, &c.
No. 164. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12, 1751.
_--Vitium, Gaure, Catonis habes_. MART. Lib. ii. Ep. lxxxix. 2.
Gaurus pretends to Cato's fame;
And proves--by Cato's vice, his claim.
Distinction is so pleasing to the pride of man, that a great part of the
pain and pleasure of life arises from the gratification or
disappointment of an incessant wish for superiority, from the success or
miscarriage of secret competitions, from victories and defeats, of
which, though they appear to us of great importance, in reality none are
conscious except ourselves.
Proportionate to the prevalence of this love of praise is the variety of
means by which its attainment is attempted. Every man however hopeless
his pretensions may appear to all but himself, has some project by which
he hopes to rise to reputation; some art by which he imagines that the
notice of the world will be attracted; some quality, good or bad, which
discriminates him from the common herd of mortals, and by which others
maybe persuaded to love, or compelled to fear him. The ascents of
honour, however steep, never appear inaccessible; he that despairs to
scale the precipices by which learning and valour have conducted their
favourites, discovers some by-bath, or easier acclivity, which, though
it cannot bring him to the summit, will yet enable him to overlook those
with whom he is now contending for eminence; and we seldom require more
to the happiness of the present hour, than to surpass him that stands
next before us.
As the greater part of human kind speak and act wholly by imitation,
most of those who aspire to honour and applause propose to themselves
some example which serves as the model of their conduct, and the limit
of their hopes. Almost every man, if closely examined, will be found to
have enlisted himself under some leader whom he expects to conduct him
to renown; to have some hero or other, living or dead, in his view,
whose character he endeavours to assume, and whose performances he
labours to equal.
When the original is well chosen, and judiciously copied, the imitator
often arrives at excellence, which he could never have attained without
direction; for few are formed with abilities to discover new
possibilities of excellence, and to distinguish themselves by means
never tried before.
But folly and idleness often contrive to gratify pride at a cheaper
rate: not the qualities which are most illustrious, but those which are
of easiest attainment, are selected for imitation; and the honours and
rewards which publick gratitude has paid to the benefactors of mankind,
are expected by wretches who can only imitate them in their vices and
defects, or adopt some petty singularities of which those from whom they
are borrowed were secretly ashamed.
No man rises to such a height as to become conspicuous, but he is on one
side censured by undiscerning malice, which reproaches him for his best
actions, and slanders his apparent and incontestable excellencies; and
idolized on the other by ignorant admiration, which exalts his faults
and follies into virtues. It may be observed, that he by whose intimacy
his acquaintances imagine themselves dignified, generally diffuses among
them his mien and his habits; and indeed, without more vigilance than is
generally applied to the regulation of the minuter parts of behaviour,
it is not easy, when we converse much with one whose general character
excites our veneration, to escape all contagion of his peculiarities,
even when we do not deliberately think them worthy of our notice, and
when they would have excited laughter or disgust, had they not been
protected by their alliance to nobler qualities, and accidentally
consorted with knowledge or with virtue.
The faults of a man loved or honoured, sometimes steal secretly and
imperceptibly upon the wise and virtuous, but, by injudicious fondness
or thoughtless vanity, are adopted with design. There is scarce any
failing of mind or body, any errour of opinion, or depravity of
practice, which instead of producing shame and discontent, its natural
effects, has not at one time or other gladdened vanity with the hopes of
praise, and been displayed with ostentatious industry by those who
sought kindred minds among the wits or heroes, and could prove their
relation only by similitude of deformity.
In consequence of this perverse ambition, every habit which reason
condemns may be indulged and avowed. When a man is upbraided with his
faults, he may indeed be pardoned if he endeavours to run for shelter to
some celebrated name; but it is not to be suffered that, from the
retreats to which he fled from infamy, he should issue again with the
confidence of conquests, and call upon mankind for praise. Yet we see
men that waste their patrimony in luxury, destroy their health with
debauchery, and enervate their minds with idleness, because there have
been some whom luxury never could sink into contempt, nor idleness
hinder from the praise of genius.
This general inclination of mankind to copy characters in the gross, and
the force which the recommendation of illustrious examples adds to the
allurements of vice, ought to be considered by all whose character
excludes them from the shades of secrecy, as incitements to scrupulous
caution and universal purity of manners. No man, however enslaved to his
appetites, or hurried by his passions, can, while he preserves his
intellects unimpaired, please himself with promoting the corruption of
others. He whose merit has enlarged his influence, would surely wish to
exert it for the benefit of mankind. Yet such will be the effect of his
reputation, while he suffers himself to indulge in any favourite fault,
that they who have no hope to reach his excellence will catch at his
failings, and his virtues will be cited to justify the copiers of his
It is particularly the duty of those who consign illustrious names to
posterity, to take care lest their readers be misled by ambiguous
examples. That writer may be justly condemned as an enemy to goodness,
who suffers fondness or interest to confound right with wrong, or to
shelter the faults which even the wisest and the best have committed
from that ignominy which guilt ought always to suffer, and with which it
should be more deeply stigmatized when dignified by its neighbourhood to
uncommon worth, since we shall be in danger of beholding it without
abhorrence, unless its turpitude be laid open, and the eye secured from
the deception of surrounding splendour.
No. 165. TUESDAY, OCTOBER 15, 1751.
[Greek: Aen neos, alla penaes nun gaeron, plousios eimi
O monos ek panton oiktros en amphoterois,
Os tote men chraesthai dunamaen, hopot oud' en eichon.
Nun d' opote chraesthai mae dunamai, tot echo.] ANTIPHILUS.
Young was I once and poor, now rich and old;
A harder case than mine was never told;
Blest with the power to use them--I had none;
Loaded with _riches_ now, the power is gone. F. LEWIS.
TO THE RAMBLER.
The writers who have undertaken the unpromising task of moderating
desire, exert all the power of their eloquence, to shew that happiness
is not the lot of man, and have, by many arguments and examples, proved
the instability of every condition by which envy or ambition are
excited. They have set before our eyes all the calamities to which we
are exposed from the frailty of nature, the influence of accident, or
the stratagems of malice; they have terrified greatness with
conspiracies, and riches with anxieties, wit with criticism, and beauty
All the force of reason, and all the charms of language, are indeed
necessary to support positions which every man hears with a wish to
confute them. Truth finds an easy entrance into the mind when she is
introduced by desire, and attended by pleasure; but when she intrudes
uncalled, and brings only fear and sorrow in her train, the passes of
the intellect are barred against her by prejudice and passion; if she
sometimes forces her way by the batteries of argument, she seldom long
keeps possession of her conquests, but is ejected by some favoured
enemy, or at best obtains only a nominal sovereignty, without influence
and without authority.
That life is short we are all convinced, and yet suffer not that
conviction to repress our projects or limit our expectations; that life
is miserable we all feel, and yet we believe that the time is near when
we shall feel it no longer. But to hope happiness and immortality is
equally vain. Our state may indeed be more or less embittered as our
duration may be more or less contracted; yet the utmost felicity which
we can ever attain will be little better than alleviation of misery, and
we shall always feel more pain from our wants than pleasure from our
enjoyments. The incident which I am going to relate will shew, that to
destroy the effect of all our success, it is not necessary that any
signal calamity should fall upon us, that we should be harassed by
implacable persecution, or excruciated by irremediable pains: the
brightest hours of prosperity have their clouds, and the stream of life,
if it is not ruffled by obstructions, will grow putrid by stagnation.
My father, resolving not to imitate the folly of his ancestors, who had
hitherto left the younger sons encumbrances on the eldest, destined me
to a lucrative profession; and I, being careful to lose no opportunity
of improvement, was, at the usual time in which young men enter the
world, well qualified for the exercise of the business which I had
My eagerness to distinguish myself in publick, and my impatience of the
narrow scheme of life to which my indigence confined me, did not suffer
me to continue long in the town where I was born. I went away as from a
place of confinement, with a resolution to return no more, till I should
be able to dazzle with my splendour those who now looked upon me with
contempt, to reward those who had paid honours to my dawning merit, and
to shew all who had suffered me to glide by them unknown and neglected,
how much they mistook their interest in omitting to propitiate a genius
Such were my intentions when I sallied forth into the unknown world, in
quest of riches and honours, which I expected to procure in a very short
time; for what could withhold them from industry and knowledge? He that
indulges hope will always be disappointed. Reputation I very soon
obtained; but as merit is much more cheaply acknowledged than rewarded,
I did not find myself yet enriched in proportion to my celebrity.