Part 6 out of 9
I had, however, in time, surmounted the obstacles by which envy and
competition obstruct the first attempts of a new claimant, and saw my
opponents and censurers tacitly confessing their despair of success, by
courting my friendship and yielding to my influence. They who once
pursued me, were now satisfied to escape from me; and they who had
before thought me presumptuous in hoping to overtake them, had now their
utmost wish, if they were permitted, at no great distance, quietly to
My wants were not madly multiplied as my acquisitions increased, and the
time came, at length, when I thought myself enabled to gratify all
reasonable desires, and when, therefore, I resolved to enjoy that plenty
and serenity which I had been hitherto labouring to procure, to enjoy
them while I was yet neither crushed by age into infirmity, nor so
habituated to a particular manner of life as to be unqualified for new
studies or entertainments.
I now quitted my profession, and, to set myself at once free from all
importunities to resume it, changed my residence, and devoted the
remaining part of my time to quiet and amusement. Amidst innumerable
projects of pleasure, which restless idleness incited me to form, and of
which most, when they came to the moment of execution, were rejected for
others of no longer continuance, some accident revived in my imagination
the pleasing ideas of my native place. It was now in my power to visit
those from whom I had been so long absent, in such a manner as was
consistent with my former resolution, and I wondered how it could happen
that I had so long delayed my own happiness.
Full of the admiration which I should excite, and the homage which I
should receive, I dressed my servants in a more ostentatious livery,
purchased a magnificent chariot, and resolved to dazzle the inhabitants
of the little town with an unexpected blaze of greatness.
While the preparations that vanity required were made for my departure,
which, as workmen will not easily be hurried beyond their ordinary rate,
I thought very tedious, I solaced my impatience with imaging the various
censures that my appearance would produce; the hopes which some would
feel from my bounty; the terrour which my power would strike on others;
the awkward respect with which I should be accosted by timorous
officiousness; and the distant reverence with which others, less
familiar to splendour and dignity, would be contented to gaze upon me. I
deliberated a long time, whether I should immediately descend to a level
with my former acquaintances; or make my condescension more grateful by
a gentle transition from haughtiness and reserve. At length I determined
to forget some of my companions, till they discovered themselves by some
indubitable token, and to receive the congratulations of others upon my
good fortune with indifference, to shew that I always expected what I
had now obtained. The acclamations of the populace I purposed to reward
with six hogsheads of ale, and a roasted ox, and then recommend to them
to return to their work.
At last all the trappings of grandeur were fitted, and I began the
journey of triumph, which I could have wished to have ended in the same
moment; but my horses felt none of their master's ardour, and I was
shaken four days upon rugged roads. I then entered the town, and, having
graciously let fall the glasses, that my person might be seen, passed
slowly through the street. The noise of the wheels brought the
inhabitants to their doors, but I could not perceive that I was known by
them. At last I alighted, and my name, I suppose, was told by my
servants, for the barber stepped from the opposite house, and seized me
by the hand with honest joy in his countenance, which, according to the
rule that I had prescribed to myself, I repressed with a frigid
graciousness. The fellow, instead of sinking into dejection, turned away
with contempt, and left me to consider how the second salutation should
be received. The next fellow was better treated, for I soon found that I
must purchase by civility that regard which I had expected to enforce by
There was yet no smoke of bonfires, no harmony of bells, no shout of
crowds, nor riot of joy; the business of the day went forward as before;
and, after having ordered a splendid supper, which no man came to
partake, and which my chagrin hindered me from tasting, I went to bed,
where the vexation of disappointment overpowered the fatigue of my
journey, and kept me from sleep.
I rose so much humbled by those mortifications, as to inquire after the
present state of the town, and found that I had been absent too long to
obtain the triumph which had flattered my expectation. Of the friends
whose compliments I expected, some had long ago moved to distant
provinces, some had lost in the maladies of age all sense of another's
prosperity, and some had forgotten our former intimacy amidst care and
distresses. Of three whom I had resolved to punish for their former
offences by a longer continuance of neglect, one was, by his own
industry, raised above my scorn, and two were sheltered from it in the
grave. All those whom I loved, feared, or hated, all whose envy or whose
kindness I had hopes of contemplating with pleasure, were swept away,
and their place was filled by a new generation with other views and
other competitions; and among many proofs of the impotence of wealth, I
found that it conferred upon me very few distinctions in my native
I am, Sir, &c.
No. 166. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19, 1751.
_Semper, eris pauper si pauper es, Aemiliane:
Dantur opes nullis nunc nisi divitibus_. MART. Lib. v. Ep. xxxi.
Once poor, my friend, still poor you must remain,
The rich alone have all the means of gain. EDW. CAVF.
[Transcriber's note: Difficult to make out in original--possibly CAVE?]
No complaint has been more frequently repeated in all ages than that of
the neglect of merit associated with poverty, and the difficulty with
which valuable or pleasing qualities force themselves into view, when
they are obscured by indigence. It has been long observed, that native
beauty has little power to charm without the ornaments which fortune
bestows, and that to want the favour of others is often sufficient to
hinder us from obtaining it.
Every day discovers that mankind are not yet convinced of their errour,
or that their conviction is without power to influence their conduct;
for poverty still continues to produce contempt, and still obstructs the
claims of kindred and of virtue. The eye of wealth is elevated towards
higher stations, and seldom descends to examine the actions of those who
are placed below the level of its notice, and who in distant regions and
lower situations are struggling with distress, or toiling for bread.
Among the multitudes overwhelmed with insuperable calamity, it is common
to find those whom a very little assistance would enable to support
themselves with decency, and who yet cannot obtain from near relations,
what they see hourly lavished in ostentation, luxury, or frolick.
There are natural reasons why poverty does not easily conciliate
affection. He that has been confined from his infancy to the
conversation of the lowest classes of mankind, must necessarily want
those accomplishments which are the usual means of attracting favour;
and though truth, fortitude, and probity, give an indisputable right to
reverence and kindness, they will not be distinguished by common eyes,
unless they are brightened by elegance of manners, but are cast aside
like unpolished gems, of which none but the artist knows the intrinsick
value, till their asperities are smoothed, and their incrustations
The grossness of vulgar habits obstructs the efficacy of virtue, as
impurity and harshness of style impair the force of reason, and rugged
numbers turn off the mind from artifice of disposition, and fertility of
invention. Few have strength of reason to over-rule the perceptions of
sense; and yet fewer have curiosity or benevolence to struggle long
against the first impression; he therefore who fails to please in his
salutation and address, is at once rejected, and never obtains an
opportunity of shewing his latent excellencies, or essential qualities.
It is, indeed, not easy to prescribe a successful manner of approach to
the distressed or necessitous, whose condition subjects every kind of
behaviour equally to miscarriage. He whose confidence of merit incites
him to meet, without any apparent sense of inferiority, the eyes of
those who flattered themselves with their own dignity, is considered as
an insolent leveller, impatient of the just prerogatives of rank and
wealth, eager to usurp the station to which he has no right, and to
confound the subordinations of society; and who would contribute to the
exaltation of that spirit which even want and calamity are not able to
restrain from rudeness and rebellion?
But no better success will commonly be found to attend servility and
dejection, which often give pride the confidence to treat them with
contempt. A request made with diffidence and timidity is easily denied,
because the petitioner himself seems to doubt its fitness.
Kindness is generally reciprocal; we are desirous of pleasing others,
because we receive pleasure from them; but by what means can the man
please, whose attention is engrossed by his distresses, and who has no
leisure to be officious; whose will is restrained by his necessities,
and who has no power to confer benefits; whose temper is perhaps
vitiated by misery, and whose understanding is impeded by ignorance?
It is yet a more offensive discouragement, that the same actions
performed by different hands produce different effects, and, instead of
rating the man by his performances, we rate too frequently the
performance by the man. It sometimes happens in the combinations of
life, that important services are performed by inferiors; but though
their zeal and activity may be paid by pecuniary rewards, they seldom
excite that flow of gratitude, or obtain that accumulation of
recompense, with which all think it their duty to acknowledge the favour
of those who descend to their assistance from a higher elevation. To be
obliged, is to be in some respect inferior to another[h]; and few
willingly indulge the memory of an action which raises one whom they
have always been accustomed to think below them, but satisfy themselves
with faint praise and penurious payment, and then drive it from their
own minds, and endeavour to conceal it from the knowledge of others.
It may be always objected to the services of those who can be supposed
to want a reward, that they were produced not by kindness but interest;
they are, therefore, when they are no longer wanted, easily disregarded
as arts of insinuation, or stratagems of selfishness. Benefits which are
received as gifts from wealth, are exacted as debts from indigence; and
he that in a high station is celebrated for superfluous goodness, would
in a meaner condition have barely been confessed to have done his duty.
It is scarcely possible for the utmost benevolence to oblige, when
exerted under the disadvantages of great inferiority; for, by the
habitual arrogance of wealth, such expectations are commonly formed as
no zeal or industry can satisfy; and what regard can he hope, who has
done less than was demanded from him?
There are indeed kindnesses conferred which were never purchased by
precedent favours, and there is an affection not arising from gratitude
or gross interest, by which similar natures, are attracted to each
other, without prospect of any other advantage than the pleasure of
exchanging sentiments, and the hope of confirming their esteem of
themselves by the approbation of each other. But this spontaneous
fondness seldom rises at the sight of poverty, which every one regards
with habitual contempt, and of which the applause is no more courted by
vanity, than the countenance is solicited by ambition. The most generous
and disinterested friendship must be resolved at last into the love of
ourselves; he therefore whose reputation or dignity inclines us to
consider his esteem as a testimonial of desert, will always find our
hearts open to his endearments. We every day see men of eminence
followed with all the obsequiousness of dependance, and courted with all
the blandishments of flattery, by those who want nothing from them but
professions of regard, and who think themselves liberally rewarded by a
bow, a smile, or an embrace.
But those prejudices which every mind feels more or less in favour of
riches, ought, like other opinions, which only custom and example have
impressed upon us, to be in time subjected to reason. We must learn how
to separate the real character from extraneous adhesions and casual
circumstances, to consider closely him whom we are about to adopt or to
reject; to regard his inclinations as well as his actions; to trace out
those virtues which lie torpid in the heart for want of opportunity, and
those vices that lurk unseen by the absence of temptation; that when we
find worth faintly shooting in the shades of obscurity, we may let in
light and sunshine upon it, and ripen barren volition into efficacy and
[Footnote h: Sir Joshua Reynolds evinced great reach of mind and
intimate acquaintance with humanity, when he observed, on overhearing a
person condoling with some ladies on the death of one who had conferred
the greatest favours upon them, that at all events they were relieved
from the burden of gratitude.]
No. 167. TUESDAY, OCTOBER 22, 1751.
Candida perpetuo reside, Concordia, lecto,
Tamque pari semper sit Venus aequa jugo.
Diligat illa senem quondam: sed et ipsa marito,
Tum quoque cum fuerit, non videatur, anus. MART. Lib, w. xii. 7.
Their nuptial bed may smiling concord dress,
And Venus still the happy union bless!
Wrinkled with age, may mutual love and truth
To their dim eyes recal the bloom of youth. F. LEWIS.
TO THE RAMBLER.
It is not common to envy those with whom we cannot easily be placed in
comparison. Every man sees without malevolence the progress of another
in the tracks of life, which he has himself no desire to tread, and
hears, without inclination to cavils or contradiction, the renown of
those whose distance will not suffer them to draw the attention of
mankind from his own merit. The sailor never thinks it necessary to
contest the lawyer's abilities; nor would the Rambler, however jealous
of his reputation, be much disturbed by the success of rival wits at
Agra or Ispahan.
We do not therefore ascribe to you any superlative degree of virtue,
when we believe that we may inform you of our change of condition
without danger of malignant fascination; and that when you read of the
marriage of your correspondents Hymenaeus and Tranquilla, you will join
your wishes to those of their other friends for the happy event of an
union in which caprice and selfishness had so little part.
There is at least this reason why we should be less deceived in our
connubial hopes than many who enter into the same state, that we have
allowed our minds to form no unreasonable expectations, nor vitiated our
fancies in the soft hours of courtship, with visions of felicity which
human power cannot bestow, or of perfection which human virtue cannot
attain. That impartiality with which we endeavour to inspect the manners
of all whom we have known was never so much overpowered by our passion,
but that we discovered some faults and weaknesses in each other; and
joined our hands in conviction, that as there are advantages to be
enjoyed in marriage, there are inconveniencies likewise to be endured;
and that, together with confederate intellects and auxiliar virtues, we
must find different opinions and opposite inclinations.
We however flatter ourselves, for who is not flattered by himself as
well as by others on the day of marriage? that we are eminently
qualified to give mutual pleasure. Our birth is without any such
remarkable disparity as can give either an opportunity of insulting the
other with pompous names and splendid alliances, or of calling in, upon
any domestick controversy, the overbearing assistance of powerful
relations. Our fortune was equally suitable, so that we meet without any
of those obligations, which always produce reproach or suspicion of
reproach, which, though they may be forgotten in the gaities of the
first month, no delicacy will always suppress, or of which the
suppression must be considered as a new favour, to be repaid by tameness
and submission, till gratitude takes the place of love, and the desire
of pleasing degenerates by degrees into the fear of offending.
The settlements caused no delay; for we did not trust our affairs to the
negociation of wretches, who would have paid their court by multiplying
stipulations. Tranquilla scorned to detain any part of her fortune from
him into whose hands she delivered up her person; and Hymenaeus thought
no act of baseness more criminal than his who enslaves his wife by her
own generosity, who by marrying without a jointure, condemns her to all
the dangers of accident and caprice, and at last boasts his liberality,
by granting what only the indiscretion of her kindness enabled him to
withhold. He therefore received on the common terms the portion which
any other woman might have brought him, and reserved all the exuberance
of acknowledgment for those excellencies which he has yet been able to
discover only in Tranquilla.
We did not pass the weeks of courtship like those who consider
themselves as taking the last draught of pleasure, and resolve not to
quit the bowl without a surfeit, or who know themselves about to set
happiness to hazard, and endeavour to lose their sense of danger in the
ebriety of perpetual amusement, and whirl round the gulph before they
sink. Hymenaeus often repeated a medical axiom, that _the succours of
sickness ought not to be wasted in health_. We know that however our
eyes may yet sparkle, and our hearts bound at the presence of each
other, the time of listlessness and satiety, of peevishness and
discontent, must come at last, in which we shall be driven for relief to
shows and recreations; that the uniformity of life must be sometimes
diversified, and the vacuities of conversation sometimes supplied. We
rejoice in the reflection that we have stores of novelty yet
unexhausted, which may be opened when repletion shall call for change,
and gratifications yet untasted, by which life, when it shall become
vapid or bitter, may be restored to its former sweetness and
sprightliness, and again irritate the appetite, and again sparkle in the
Our time will probably be less tasteless than that of those whom the
authority and avarice of parents unite almost without their consent in
their early years, before they have accumulated any fund of reflection,
or collected materials for mutual entertainment. Such we have often seen
rising in the morning to cards, and retiring in the afternoon to doze,
whose happiness was celebrated by their neighbours, because they
happened to grow rich by parsimony, and to be kept quiet in
insensibility, and agreed to eat and to sleep together.
We have both mingled with the world, and are therefore no strangers to
the faults and virtues, the designs and competitions, the hopes and
fears of our contemporaries. We have both amused our leisure with books,
and can therefore recount the events of former times, or cite the
dictates of ancient wisdom. Every occurrence furnishes us with some hint
which one or the other can improve, and if it should happen that memory
or imagination fail us, we can retire to no idle or unimproving
Though our characters, beheld at a distance, exhibit this general
resemblance, yet a nearer inspection discovers such a dissimilitude of
our habitudes and sentiments, as leaves each some peculiar advantages,
and affords that _concordia discors_, that suitable disagreement which
is always necessary to intellectual harmony. There may be a total
diversity of ideas which admits no participation of the same delight,
and there may likewise be such a conformity of notions as leaves neither
any thing to add to the decisions of the other. With such contrariety
there can be no peace, with such similarity there can be no pleasure.
Our reasonings, though often formed upon different views, terminate
generally in the same conclusion. Our thoughts, like rivulets issuing
from distant springs, are each impregnated in its course with various
mixtures, and tinged by infusions unknown to the other, yet, at last,
easily unite into one stream, and purify themselves by the gentle
effervescence of contrary qualities.
These benefits we receive in a greater degree as we converse without
reserve, because we have nothing to conceal. We have no debts to be paid
by imperceptible deductions from avowed expenses, no habits to be
indulged by the private subserviency of a favoured servant, no private
interviews with needy relations, no intelligence with spies placed upon
each other. We considered marriage as the most solemn league of
perpetual friendship, a state from which artifice and concealment are to
be banished for ever, and in which every act of dissimulation is a
breach of faith.
The impetuous vivacity of youth, and that ardour of desire, which the
first sight of pleasure naturally produces, have long ceased to hurry us
into irregularity and vehemence; and experience has shewn us that few
gratifications are too valuable to be sacrificed to complaisance.
We have thought it convenient to rest from the fatigue of pleasure, and
now only continue that course of life into which we had before entered,
confirmed in our choice by mutual approbation, supported in our
resolution by mutual encouragement, and assisted in our efforts by
Such, Mr. Rambler, is our prospect of life, a prospect which, as it is
beheld with more attention, seems to open more extensive happiness, and
spreads, by degrees, into the boundless regions of eternity. But if all
our prudence has been vain, and we are doomed to give one instance more
of the uncertainty of human discernment, we shall comfort ourselves
amidst our disappointments, that we were not betrayed but by such
delusions as caution could not escape, since we sought happiness only in
the arms of virtue.
We are, Sir,
Your humble Servants,
No. 168. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 26, 1751.
Frons prima multos: rara mens intelligit,
Quod interiore condidit cura angulo_. PHAEDRUS, Lib. iv. Fab. i. 5.
The tinsel glitter, and the specious mien,
Delude the most; few pry behind the scene.
It has been observed by Boileau, that "a mean or common thought
expressed in pompous diction, generally pleases more than a new or noble
sentiment delivered in low and vulgar language; because the number is
greater of those whom custom has enabled to judge of words, than whom
study has qualified to examine things." This solution might satisfy, if
such only were offended with meanness of expression as are unable to
distinguish propriety of thought, and to separate propositions or images
from the vehicles by which they are conveyed to the understanding. But
this kind of disgust is by no means confined to the ignorant or
superficial; it operates uniformly and universally upon readers of all
classes; every man, however profound or abstracted, perceives himself
irresistibly alienated by low terms; they who profess the most zealous
adherence to truth are forced to admit that she owes part of her charms
to her ornaments; and loses much of her power over the soul, when she
appears disgraced by a dress uncouth or ill-adjusted.
We are all offended by low terms, but are not disgusted alike by the
same compositions, because we do not all agree to censure the same terms
as low. No word is naturally or intrinsically meaner than another; our
opinion therefore of words, as of other things arbitrarily and
capriciously established, depends wholly upon accident and custom. The
cottager thinks those apartments splendid and spacious, which an
inhabitant of palaces will despise for their inelegance; and to him who
has passed most of his hours with the delicate and polite, many
expressions will seem sordid, which another, equally acute, may hear
without offence; but a mean term never fails to displease him to whom it
appears mean, as poverty is certainly and invariably despised, though he
who is poor in the eyes of some, may, by others, be envied for his
Words become low by the occasions to which they are applied, or the
general character of them who use them; and the disgust which they
produce, arises from the revival of those images with which they are
commonly united. Thus if, in the most solemn discourse, a phrase happens
to occur which has been successfully employed in some ludicrous
narrative, the gravest auditor finds it difficult to refrain from
laughter, when they who are not prepossessed by the same accidental
association, are utterly unable to guess the reason of his merriment.
Words which convey ideas of dignity in one age, are banished from
elegant writing or conversation in another, because they are in time
debased by vulgar mouths, and can be no longer heard without the
involuntary recollection of unpleasing images.
When Macbeth is confirming himself in the horrid purpose of stabbing his
king, he breaks out amidst his emotions into a wish natural to a
--Come, thick night!
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes;
Nor heav'n peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry, Hold! hold!--
In this passage is exerted all the force of poetry; that force which
calls new powers into being, which embodies sentiment, and animates
matter: yet, perhaps, scarce any man now peruses it without some
disturbance of his attention from the counteraction of the words to the
ideas. What can be more dreadful than to implore the presence of night,
invested, not in common obscurity, but in the smoke of hell? Yet the
efficacy of this invocation is destroyed by the insertion of an epithet
now seldom heard but in the stable, and _dun_ night may come or go
without any other notice than contempt.
If we start into raptures when some hero of the Iliad tells us that
[Greek: doru mainetai], his lance rages with eagerness to destroy; if we
are alarmed at the terrour of the soldiers commanded by Caesar to hew
down the sacred grove, who dreaded, says Lucan, lest the axe aimed at
the oak should fly back upon the striker:
--_Si robora sacra ferirent,
In sua credebaut redituras membra secures_;
None dares with impious steel the grove to rend,
Lest on himself the destin'd stroke descend;
we cannot surely but sympathise with the horrours of a wretch about to
murder his master, his friend, his benefactor, who suspects that the
weapon will refuse its office, and start back from the breast which he
is preparing to violate. Yet this sentiment is weakened by the name of
an instrument used by butchers and cooks in the meanest employments: we
do not immediately conceive that any crime of importance is to be
committed with a _knife_; or who does not, at last, from the long habit
of connecting a knife with sordid offices, feel aversion rather than
Macbeth proceeds to wish, in the madness of guilt, that the inspection
of heaven may be intercepted, and that he may, in the involutions of
infernal darkness, escape the eye of Providence. This is the utmost
extravagance of determined wickedness; yet this is so debased by two
unfortunate words, that while I endeavour to impress on my reader the
energy of the sentiment, I can scarce check my risibility, when the
expression forces itself upon my mind; for who, without some relaxation
of his gravity, can hear of the avengers of guilt _peeping through a
These imperfections of diction are less obvious to the reader, as he is
less acquainted with common usages; they are therefore wholly
imperceptible to a foreigner, who learns our language from books, and
will strike a solitary academick less forcibly than a modish lady.
Among the numerous requisites that must concur to complete an author,
few are of more importance than an early entrance into the living world.
The seeds of knowledge may be planted in solitude, but must be
cultivated in publick. Argumentation may be taught in colleges, and
theories formed in retirement; but the artifice of embellishment, and
the powers of attraction, can be gained only by general converse.
An acquaintance with prevailing customs and fashionable elegance is
necessary likewise for other purposes. The injury that grand imagery
suffers from unsuitable language, personal merit may fear from rudeness
and indelicacy. When the success of AEneas depended on the favour of the
queen upon whose coasts he was driven, his celestial protectress thought
him not sufficiently secured against rejection by his piety or bravery,
but decorated him for the interview with preternatural beauty. Whoever
desires, for his writings or himself, what none can reasonably contemn,
the favour of mankind, must add grace to strength, and make his thoughts
agreeable as well as useful. Many complain of neglect who never tried to
attract regard. It cannot be expected that the patrons of science or
virtue should be solicitous to discover excellencies, which they who
possess them shade and disguise. Few have abilities so much needed by
the rest of the world as to be caressed on their own terms; and he that
will not condescend to recommend himself by external embellishments,
must submit to the fate of just sentiment meanly expressed, and be
ridiculed and forgotten before he is understood.
No. 169. TUESDAY, OCTOBER 29, 1751.
_Nec pluteum caedit, nec demorsos sapit ungues_. PER. Sat. i. 106.
No blood from bitten nails those poems drew;
But churn'd, like spittle, from the lips they flew. DRYDEN.
Natural historians assert, that whatever is formed for long duration
arrives slowly to its maturity. Thus the firmest timber is of tardy
growth, and animals generally exceed each other in longevity, in
proportion to the time between their conception and their birth.
The same observation may be extended to the offspring of the mind. Hasty
compositions, however they please at first by flowery luxuriance, and
spread in the sunshine of temporary favour, can seldom endure the change
of seasons, but perish at the first blast of criticism, or frost of
neglect. When Apelles was reproached with the paucity of his
productions, and the incessant attention with which he retouched his
pieces, he condescended to make no other answer than that _he painted
No vanity can more justly incur contempt and indignation than that which
boasts of negligence and hurry. For who can bear with patience the
writer who claims such superiority to the rest of his species, as to
imagine mankind are at leisure for attention to his extemporary sallies,
and that posterity will reposite his casual effusions among the
treasures of ancient wisdom?
Men have sometimes appeared of such transcendent abilities, that their
slightest and most cursory performances excel all that labour and study
can enable meaner intellects to compose; as there are regions of which
the spontaneous products cannot be equalled in other soils by care and
culture. But it is no less dangerous for any man to place himself in
this rank of understanding, and fancy that he is born to be illustrious
without labour, than to omit the cares of husbandry, and expect from his
ground the blossoms of Arabia.
The greatest part of those who congratulate themselves upon their
intellectual dignity, and usurp the privileges of genius, are men whom
only themselves would ever have marked out as enriched by uncommon
liberalities of nature, or entitled to veneration and immortality on
easy terms. This ardour of confidence is usually found among those who,
having not enlarged their notions by books or conversation, are
persuaded, by the partiality which we all feel in our own favour, that
they have reached the summit of excellence, because they discover none
higher than themselves; and who acquiesce in the first thoughts that
occur, because their scantiness of knowledge allows them little choice;
and the narrowness of their views affords them no glimpse of perfection,
of that sublime idea which human industry has from the first ages been
vainly toiling to approach. They see a little, and believe that there is
nothing beyond their sphere of vision, as the Patuecos of Spain, who
inhabited a small valley, conceived the surrounding mountains to be the
boundaries of the world. In proportion as perfection is more distinctly
conceived, the pleasure of contemplating our own performances will be
lessened; it may therefore be observed, that they who most deserve
praise are often afraid to decide in favour of their own performances;
they know how much is still wanting to their completion, and wait with
anxiety and terrour the determination of the publick. _I please every
one else_, says Tally, _but never satisfy myself_.
It has often been inquired, why, notwithstanding the advances of later
ages in science, and the assistance which the infusion of so many new
ideas has given us, we fall below the ancients in the art of
composition. Some part of their superiority may be justly ascribed to
the graces of their language, from which the most polished of the
present European tongues are nothing more than barbarous degenerations.
Some advantage they might gain merely by priority, which put them in
possession of the most natural sentiments, and left us nothing but
servile repetition or forced conceits. But the greater part of their
praise seems to have been the just reward of modesty and labour. Their
sense of human weakness confined them commonly to one study, which their
knowledge of the extent of every science engaged them to prosecute with
Among the writers of antiquity I remember none except Statius who
ventures to mention the speedy production of his writings, either as an
extenuation of his faults, or a proof of his facility. Nor did Statius,
when he considered himself as a candidate for lasting reputation, think
a closer attention unnecessary, but amidst all his pride and indigence,
the two great hasteners of modern poems, employed twelve years upon the
Thebaid, and thinks his claim to renown proportionate to his labour.
_Thebais, multa cruciata lima,
Tentat, audaci fide, Mantuanae
Polish'd with endless toil, my lays
At length aspire to Mantuan praise.
Ovid indeed apologizes in his banishment for the imperfection of his
letters, but mentions his want of leisure to polish them as an addition
to his calamities; and was so far from imagining revisals and
corrections unnecessary, that at his departure from Rome, he threw his
Metamorphoses into the fire, lest he should be disgraced by a book which
he could not hope to finish.
It seems not often to have happened that the same writer aspired to
reputation in verse and prose; and of those few that attempted such
diversity of excellence, I know not that even one succeeded. Contrary
characters they never imagined a single mind able to support, and
therefore no man is recorded to have undertaken more than one kind of
What they had written, they did not venture in their first fondness to
thrust into the world, but, considering the impropriety of sending forth
inconsiderately that which cannot be recalled, deferred the publication,
if not nine years, according to the direction of Horace, yet till their
fancy was cooled after the raptures of invention, and the glare of
novelty had ceased to dazzle the judgment.
There were in those days no weekly or diurnal writers; _multa dies et
multa litura_, much time, and many rasures, were considered as
indispensable requisites; and that no other method of attaining lasting
praise has been yet discovered, may be conjectured from the blotted
manuscripts of Milton now remaining, and from the tardy emission of
Pope's compositions, delayed more than once till the incidents to which
they alluded were forgotten, till his enemies were secure from his
satire, and, what to an honest mind must be more painful, his friends
were deaf to his encomiums.
To him, whose eagerness of praise hurries his productions soon into the
light, many imperfections are unavoidable, even where the mind furnishes
the materials, as well as regulates their disposition, and nothing
depends upon search or information. Delay opens new veins of thought,
the subject dismissed for a time appears with a new train of dependent
images, the accidents of reading our conversation supply new ornaments
or allusions, or mere intermission of the fatigue of thinking enables
the mind to collect new force, and make new excursions. But all those
benefits come too late for him, who, when he was weary with labour,
snatched at the recompense, and gave his work to his friends and his
enemies, as soon as impatience and pride persuaded him to conclude it.
One of the most pernicious effects of haste, is obscurity. He that teems
with a quick succession of ideas, and perceives how one sentiment
produces another, easily believes that he can clearly express what he so
strongly comprehends; he seldom suspects his thoughts of embarrassment,
while he preserves in his own memory the series of connection, or his
diction of ambiguity, while only one sense is present to his mind. Yet
if he has been employed on an abstruse, or complicated argument, he will
find, when he has awhile withdrawn his mind, and returns as a new reader
to his work, that he has only a conjectural glimpse of his own meaning,
and that to explain it to those whom he desires to instruct, he must
open his sentiments, disentangle his method, and alter his arrangement.
Authors and lovers always suffer some infatuation, from which only
absence can set them free; and every man ought to restore himself to the
full exercise of his judgment, before he does that which he cannot do
improperly, without injuring his honour and his quiet.
No. 170. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 1751.
_Confiteor; si quid prodest delicta fateri_.
OVID. Am. Lib. i. El. iv. 3.
I grant the charge; forgive the fault confess'd.
TO THE RAMBLER.
I am one of those beings from whom many, that melt at the sight of all
other misery, think it meritorious to withhold relief; one whom the
rigour of virtuous indignation dooms to suffer without complaint, and
perish without regard; and whom I myself have formerly insulted in the
pride of reputation and security of innocence.
I am of a good family, but my father was burthened with more children
than he could decently support. A wealthy relation, as he travelled from
London to his country-seat, condescending to make him a visit, was
touched with compassion of his narrow fortune, and resolved to ease him
of part of his charge, by taking the care of a child upon himself.
Distress on one side, and ambition on the other, were too powerful for
parental fondness, and the little family passed in review before him,
that he might, make his choice. I was then ten years old, and, without
knowing for what purpose, I was called to my great cousin, endeavoured
to recommend myself by my best courtesy, sung him my prettiest song,
told the last story that I had read, and so much endeared myself by my
innocence, that he declared his resolution to adopt me, and to educate
me with his own daughters.
My parents felt the common struggles at the thought of parting, and
_some natural tears they dropp'd, but wip'd them soon_. They considered,
not without that false estimation of the value of wealth, which poverty
long continued always produces, that I was raised to higher rank than
they could give me, and to hopes of more ample fortune than they could
bequeath. My mother sold some of her ornaments to dress me in such a
manner as might secure me from contempt at my first arrival; and when
she dismissed me, pressed me to her bosom with an embrace that I still
feel, gave me some precepts of piety, which, however neglected, I have
not forgotten, and uttered prayers for my final happiness, of which I
have not yet ceased to hope that they will at last be granted.
My sisters envied my new finery, and seemed not much to regret our
separation; my father conducted me to the stage-coach with a kind of
cheerful tenderness; and in a very short time I was transported to
splendid apartments, and a luxurious table, and grew familiar to shew,
noise, and gaiety.
In three years my mother died, having implored a blessing on her family
with her last breath. I had little opportunity to indulge a sorrow which
there was none to partake with me, and therefore soon ceased to reflect
much upon my loss. My father turned all his care upon his other
children, whom some fortunate adventures and unexpected legacies enabled
him, when he died, four years after my mother, to leave in a condition
above their expectations.
I should have shared the increase of his fortune, and had once a portion
assigned me in his will; but my cousin assuring him that all care for me
was needless, since he had resolved to place me happily in the world,
directed him to divide my part amongst my sisters.
Thus I was thrown upon dependance without resource. Being now at an age
in which young women are initiated into company, I was no longer to be
supported in my former character, but at a considerable expense; so that
partly lest I should waste money, and partly lest my appearance might
draw too many compliments and assiduities, I was insensibly degraded
from my equality, and enjoyed few privileges above the head servant, but
that of receiving no wages.
I felt every indignity, but knew that resentment would precipitate my
fall. I therefore endeavoured to continue my importance by little
services and active officiousness, and, for a time, preserved myself
from neglect, by withdrawing all pretences to competition, and studying
to please rather than to shine. But my interest, notwithstanding this
expedient, hourly declined, and my cousin's favourite maid began to
exchange repartees with me, and consult me about the alterations of a
I was now completely depressed; and, though I had seen mankind enough to
know the necessity of outward cheerfulness, I often withdrew to my
chamber to vent my grief, or turn my condition in my mind, and examine
by what means I might escape from perpetual mortification. At last my
schemes and sorrows were interrupted by a sudden change of my relation's
behaviour, who one day took an occasion when we were left together in a
room, to bid me suffer myself no longer to be insulted, but assume the
place which he always intended me to hold in the family. He assured me
that his wife's preference of her own daughters should never hurt me;
and, accompanying his professions with a purse of gold, ordered me to
bespeak a rich suit at the mercer's, and to apply privately to him for
money when I wanted it, and insinuate that my other friends supplied me,
which he would take care to confirm.
By this stratagem, which I did not then understand, he filled me with
tenderness and gratitude, compelled me to repose on him as my only
support, and produced a necessity of private conversation. He often
appointed interviews at the house of an acquaintance, and sometimes
called on me with a coach, and carried me abroad. My sense of his
favour, and the desire of retaining it, disposed me to unlimited
complaisance, and, though I saw his kindness grow every day more fond, I
did not suffer any suspicion to enter my thoughts. At last the wretch
took advantage of the familiarity which he enjoyed as my relation, and
the submission which he exacted as my benefactor, to complete the ruin
of an orphan, whom his own promises had made indigent, whom his
indulgence had melted, and his authority subdued.
I know not why it should afford subject of exultation to overpower on
any terms the resolution, or surprise the caution of a girl; but of all
the boasters that deck themselves in the spoils of innocence and beauty,
they surely have the least pretensions to triumph, who submit to owe
their success to some casual influence. They neither employ the graces
of fancy, nor the force of understanding, in their attempts; they cannot
please their vanity with the art of their approaches, the delicacy of
their adulations, the elegance of their address, or the efficacy of
their eloquence; nor applaud themselves as possessed of any qualities,
by which affection is attracted. They surmount no obstacles, they defeat
no rivals, but attack only those who cannot resist, and are often
content to possess the body, without any solicitude to gain the heart.
Many of those despicable wretches does my present acquaintance with
infamy and wickedness enable me to number among the heroes of
debauchery. Reptiles whom their own servants would have despised, had
they not been their servants, and with whom beggary would have disdained
intercourse, had she not been allured by hopes of relief. Many of the
beings which are now rioting in taverns, or shivering in the streets,
have been corrupted, not by arts of gallantry which stole gradually upon
the affections and laid prudence asleep, but by the fear of losing
benefits which were never intended, or of incurring resentment which
they could not escape; some have been frighted by masters, and some awed
by guardians into ruin.
Our crime had its usual consequence, and he soon perceived that I could
not long continue in his family. I was distracted at the thought of the
reproach which I now believed inevitable. He comforted me with hopes of
eluding all discovery, and often upbraided me with the anxiety, which
perhaps none but himself saw in my countenance; but at last mingled his
assurances of protection and maintenance with menaces of total
desertion, if, in the moments of perturbation I should suffer his secret
to escape, or endeavour to throw on him any part of my infamy.
Thus passed the dismal hours, till my retreat could no longer be
delayed. It was pretended that my relations had sent for me to a distant
county, and I entered upon a state which shall be described in my next
I am, &c.
No. 171. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 1751.
_Taedet coeli convexa tueri_. VIRG. AEn. iv. 451.
Dark is the sun, and loathsome is the day.
TO THE RAMBLER.
Misella now sits down to continue her narrative. I am convinced that
nothing would more powerfully preserve youth from irregularity, or guard
inexperience from seduction, than a just description of the condition
into which the wanton plunges herself; and therefore hope that my letter
may be a sufficient antidote to my example.
After the distraction, hesitation, and delays which the timidity of
guilt naturally produces, I was removed to lodgings in a distant part of
the town, under one of the characters commonly assumed upon such
occasions. Here being by my circumstances condemned to solitude, I
passed most of my hours in bitterness and anguish. The conversation of
the people with whom I was placed was not at all capable of engaging my
attention, or dispossessing the reigning ideas. The books which I
carried to my retreat were such as heightened my abhorrence of myself;
for I was not so far abandoned as to sink voluntarily into corruption,
or endeavour to conceal from my own mind the enormity of my crime.
My relation remitted none of his fondness, but visited me so often, that
I was sometimes afraid lest his assiduity should expose him to
suspicion. Whenever he came he found me weeping, and was therefore less
delightfully entertained than he expected. After frequent expostulations
upon the unreasonableness of my sorrow, and innumerable protestations of
everlasting regard, he at last found that I was more affected with the
loss of my innocence, than the danger of my fame, and that he might not
be disturbed by my remorse, began to lull my conscience with the opiates
of irreligion. His arguments were such as my course of life has since
exposed me often to the necessity of hearing, vulgar, empty, and
fallacious; yet they at first confounded me by their novelty, filled me
with doubt and perplexity, and interrupted that peace which I began to
feel from the sincerity of my repentance, without substituting any other
support. I listened a while to his impious gabble, but its influence was
soon overpowered by natural reason and early education, and the
convictions which this new attempt gave me of his baseness completed my
abhorrence. I have heard of barbarians, who, when tempests drive ships
upon their coast, decoy them to the rocks that they may plunder their
lading, and have always thought that wretches, thus merciless in their
depredations, ought to be destroyed by a general insurrection of all
social beings; yet how light is this guilt to the crime of him, who, in
the agitations of remorse, cuts away the anchor of piety, and, when he
has drawn aside credulity from the paths of virtue, hides the light of
heaven which would direct her to return. I had hitherto considered him
as a man equally betrayed with myself by the concurrence of appetite and
opportunity; but I now saw with horrour that he was contriving to
perpetuate his gratification, and was desirous to fit me to his purpose,
by complete and radical corruption.
To escape, however, was not yet in my power. I could support the
expenses of my condition only by the continuance of his favour. He
provided all that was necessary, and in a few weeks congratulated me
upon my escape from the danger which we had both expected with so much
anxiety. I then began to remind him of his promise to restore me with my
fame uninjured to the world. He promised me in general terms, that
nothing should be wanting which his power could add to my happiness, but
forbore to release me from my confinement. I knew how much my reception
in the world depended upon my speedy return, and was therefore
outrageously impatient of his delays, which I now perceived to be only
artifices of lewdness. He told me at last, with an appearance of sorrow,
that all hopes of restoration to my former state were for ever
precluded; that chance had discovered my secret, and malice divulged it;
and that nothing now remained, but to seek a retreat more private, where
curiosity or hatred could never find us.
The rage, anguish, and resentment, which I felt at this account are not
to be expressed. I was in so much dread of reproach and infamy, which he
represented as pursuing me with full cry, that I yielded myself
implicitly to his disposal and was removed, with a thousand studied
precautions, through by-ways and dark passages to another house, where I
harassed him with perpetual solicitations for a small annuity that might
enable me to live in the country in obscurity and innocence.
This demand he at first evaded with ardent professions, but in time
appeared offended at my importunity and distrust; and having one day
endeavoured to sooth me with uncommon expressions of tenderness, when he
found my discontent immoveable, left me with some inarticulate murmurs
of anger. I was pleased that he was at last roused to sensibility, and
expecting that at his next visit he would comply with my request, lived
with great tranquillity upon the money in my hands, and was so much
pleased with this pause of persecution, that I did not reflect how much
his absence had exceeded the usual intervals, till I was alarmed with
the danger of wanting subsistence. I then suddenly contracted my
expenses, but was unwilling to supplicate for assistance. Necessity,
however, soon overcame my modesty or my pride, and I applied to him by a
letter, but had no answer. I writ in terms more pressing, but without
effect. I then sent an agent to inquire after him, who informed me, that
he had quitted his house, and was gone with his family to reside for
some time on his estate in Ireland.
However shocked at this abrupt departure, I was yet unwilling to believe
that he could wholly abandon me, and therefore, by the sale of my
clothes, I supported myself, expecting that every post would bring me
relief. Thus I passed seven months between hope and dejection, in a
gradual approach to poverty and distress, emaciated with discontent, and
bewildered with uncertainty. At last my landlady, after many hints of
the necessity of a new lover, took the opportunity of my absence to
search my boxes, and missing some of my apparel, seized the remainder
for rent, and led me to the door.
To remonstrate against legal cruelty, was vain; to supplicate obdurate
brutality, was hopeless. I went away I knew not whither, and wandered
about without any settled purpose, unacquainted with the usual
expedients of misery, unqualified for laborious offices, afraid to meet
an eye that had seen me before, and hopeless of relief from those who
were strangers to my former condition. Night came on in the midst of my
distraction, and I still continued to wander till the menaces of the
watch obliged me to shelter myself in a covered passage.
Next day, I procured a lodging in the backward garret of a mean house,
and employed my landlady to inquire for a service. My applications were
generally rejected for want of a character. At length I was received at
a draper's, but when it was known to my mistress that I had only one
gown, and that of silk, she was of opinion that I looked like a thief,
and without warning hurried me away. I then tried to support myself by
my needle; and, by my landlady's recommendation obtained a little work
from a shop, and for three weeks lived without repining; but when my
punctuality had gained me so much reputation, that I was trusted to make
up a head of some value, one of my fellow-lodgers stole the lace, and I
was obliged to fly from a prosecution.
Thus driven again into the streets, I lived upon the least that could
support me, and at night accommodated myself under pent-houses as well
as I could. At length I became absolutely pennyless, and having strolled
all day without sustenance, was, at the close of evening, accosted by an
elderly man, with an invitation to a tavern. I refused him with
hesitation; he seized me by the hand, and drew me into a neighbouring
house, where, when he saw my face pale with hunger, and my eyes swelling
with tears, he spurned me from him, and bade me cant and whine in some
other place; he for his part would take care of his pockets.
I still continued to stand in the way, having scarcely strength to walk
further, when another soon addressed me in the same manner. When he saw
the same tokens of calamity, he considered that I might be obtained at a
cheap rate, and therefore quickly made overtures, which I no longer had
firmness to reject. By this man I was maintained four months in
penurious wickedness, and then abandoned to my former condition, from
which I was delivered by another keeper.
In this abject state I have now passed four years, the drudge of
extortion and the sport of drunkenness; sometimes the property of one
man, and sometimes the common prey of accidental lewdness; at one time
tricked up for sale by the mistress of a brothel, at another begging in
the streets to be relieved from hunger by wickedness; without any hope
in the day but of finding some whom folly or excess may expose to my
allurements, and without any reflections at night, but such as guilt and
terrour impress upon me.
If those who pass their days in plenty and security, could visit for an
hour the dismal receptacles to which the prostitute retires from her
nocturnal excursions, and see the wretches that lie crowded together,
mad with intemperance, ghastly with famine, nauseous with filth, and
noisome with disease; it would not be easy for any degree of abhorrence
to harden them against compassion, or to repress the desire which they
must immediately feel to rescue such numbers of human beings from a
state so dreadful.
It is said, that in France they annually evacuate their streets, and
ship their prostitutes and vagabonds to their colonies. If the women
that infest this city had the same opportunity of escaping from their
miseries, I believe very little force would be necessary; for who among
them can dread any change? Many of us indeed are wholly unqualified for
any but the most servile employments, and those perhaps would require
the care of a magistrate to hinder them from following the same
practices in another country; but others are only precluded by infamy
from reformation, and would gladly be delivered on any terms from the
necessity of guilt, and the tyranny of chance. No place but a populous
city, can afford opportunities for open prostitution; and where the eye
of justice can attend to individuals, those who cannot be made good may
be restrained from mischief. For my part, I should exult at the
privilege of banishment, and think myself happy in any region that
should restore me once again to honesty and peace.
I am, Sir, &c.
No. 172. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 1751.
_Saepe rogare soles, qualis sim, Prisce, futurus,
Si fiam locuples, simque repente potens.
Quemquam posse putas mores narrare futuros?
Die mihi, si fias tu leo, qualis eris?_ MART. Lib. xii. Ep. 93.
Priscus, you've often ask'd me how I'd live,
Should fate at once both wealth and honour give.
What soul his future conduct can foresee?
Tell me what sort of lion you would be. F. LEWIS.
Nothing has been longer observed, than that a change of fortune causes a
change of manners; and that it is difficult to conjecture from the
conduct of him whom we see in a low condition, how he would act, if
wealth and power were put into his hands. But it is generally agreed,
that few men are made better by affluence or exaltation; and that the
powers of the mind, when they are unbound and expanded by the sunshine
of felicity, more frequently luxuriate into follies, than blossom into
Many observations have concurred to establish this opinion, and it is
not likely soon to become obsolete, for want of new occasions to revive
it. The greater part of mankind are corrupt in every condition, and
differ in high and in low stations, only as they have more or fewer
opportunities of gratifying their desires, or as they are more or less
restrained by human censures. Many vitiate their principles in the
acquisition of riches; and who can wonder that what is gained by fraud
and extortion is enjoyed with tyranny and excess?
Yet I am willing to believe that the depravation of the mind by external
advantages, though certainly not uncommon, yet approaches not so nearly
to universality, as some have asserted in the bitterness of resentment,
or heat of declamation.
Whoever rises above those who once pleased themselves with equality,
will have many malevolent gazers at his eminence. To gain sooner than
others that which all pursue with the same ardour, and to which all
imagine themselves entitled, will for ever be a crime. When those who
started with us in the race of life, leave us so far behind, that we
have little hope to overtake them, we revenge our disappointment by
remarks on the arts of supplantation by which they gained the advantage,
or on the folly and arrogance with which they possess it. Of them, whose
rise we could not hinder, we solace ourselves by prognosticating the
It is impossible for human purity not to betray to an eye, thus
sharpened by malignity, some stains which lay concealed and unregarded,
while none thought it their interest to discover them; nor can the most
circumspect attention, or steady rectitude, escape blame from censors,
who have no inclination to approve. Riches therefore, perhaps, do not so
often produce crimes as incite accusers.
The common charge against those who rise above their original condition,
is that of pride. It is certain that success naturally confirms us in a
favourable opinion of our own abilities. Scarce any man is willing to
allot to accident, friendship, and a thousand causes, which concur in
every event without human contrivance or interposition, the part which
they may justly claim in his advancement. We rate ourselves by our
fortune rather than our virtues, and exorbitant claims are quickly
produced by imaginary merit. But captiousness and jealousy are likewise
easily offended, and to him who studiously looks for an affront, every
mode of behaviour will supply it; freedom will be rudeness, and reserve
sullenness; mirth will be negligence, and seriousness formality; when he
is received with ceremony, distance and respect are inculcated; if he is
treated with familiarity, he concludes himself insulted by
It must however be confessed, that as all sudden changes are dangerous,
a quick transition from poverty to abundance can seldom be made with
safety. He that has long lived within sight of pleasures which he could
not reach, will need more than common moderation, not to lose his reason
in unbounded riot, when they are first put into his power.
Every possession is endeared by novelty; every gratification is
exaggerated by desire. It is difficult not to estimate what is lately
gained above its real value; it is impossible not to annex greater
happiness to that condition from which we are unwillingly excluded, than
nature has qualified us to obtain. For this reason, the remote inheritor
of an unexpected fortune, may be generally distinguished from those who
are enriched in the common course of lineal descent, by his greater
haste to enjoy his wealth, by the finery of his dress, the pomp of his
equipage, the splendour of his furniture, and the luxury of his table.
A thousand things which familiarity discovers to be of little value,
have power for a time to seize the imagination. A Virginian king, when
the Europeans had fixed a lock on his door, was so delighted to find his
subjects admitted or excluded with such facility, that it was from
morning to evening his whole employment to turn the key. We, among whom
locks and keys have been longer in use, are inclined to laugh at this
American amusement; yet I doubt whether this paper will have a single
reader that may not apply the story to himself, and recollect some hours
of his life in which he has been equally overpowered by the transitory
charms of trifling novelty.
Some indulgence is due to him whom a happy gale of fortune has suddenly
transported into new regions, where unaccustomed lustre dazzles his
eyes, and untasted delicacies solicit his appetite. Let him not be
considered as lost in hopeless degeneracy, though he for a while forgets
the regard due to others, to indulge the contemplation of himself, and
in the extravagance of his first raptures expects that his eye should
regulate the motions of all that approach him, and his opinion be
received as decisive and oraculous. His intoxication will give way to
time; the madness of joy will fume imperceptibly away; the sense of his
insufficiency will soon return; he will remember that the co-operation
of others is necessary to his happiness, and learn to conciliate their
regard by reciprocal beneficence.
There is, at least, one consideration which ought to alleviate our
censures of the powerful and rich. To imagine them chargeable with all
the guilt and folly of their own actions, is to be very little
acquainted with the world.
_De l'absolu pouvoir vous ignorez l'yvresse,
Et du lache flateur la voix enchanteresse_.
Thou hast not known the giddy whirls of fate,
Nor servile flatteries which enchant the great. Miss A. W.
He that can do much good or harm, will not find many whom ambition or
cowardice will suffer to be sincere. While we live upon the level with
the rest of mankind, we are reminded of our duty by the admonitions of
friends and reproaches of enemies; but men who stand in the highest
ranks of society, seldom hear of their faults; if by any accident an
opprobrious clamour reaches their ears, flattery is always at hand to
pour in her opiates, to quiet conviction, and obtund remorse.
Favour is seldom gained but by conformity in vice. Virtue can stand
without assistance, and considers herself as very little obliged by
countenance and approbation: but vice, spiritless and timorous, seeks
the shelter of crowds, and support of confederacy. The sycophant,
therefore, neglects the good qualities of his patron, and employs all
his art on his weaknesses and follies, regales his reigning vanity, or
stimulates his prevalent desires.
Virtue is sufficiently difficult with any circumstances, but the
difficulty is increased when reproof and advice are frighted away. In
common life, reason and conscience have only the appetites and passions
to encounter; but in higher stations, they must oppose artifice and
adulation. He, therefore, that yields to such temptations, cannot give
those who look upon his miscarriage much reason for exultation, since
few can justly presume that from the same snare they should have been
able to escape.
No. 173. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 1751.
_Quo virtus, quo ferat error_. HOR. De Ar. Poet. 308.
Now say, where virtue stops, and vice begins?
As any action or posture, long continued, will distort and disfigure the
limbs; so the mind likewise is crippled and contracted by perpetual
application to the same set of ideas. It is easy to guess the trade of
an artizan by his knees, his fingers, or his shoulders: and there are
few among men of the more liberal professions, whose minds do not carry
the brand of their calling, or whose conversation does not quickly
discover to what class of the community they belong.
These peculiarities have been of great use, in the general hostility
which every part of mankind exercises against the rest, to furnish
insults and sarcasms. Every art has its dialect, uncouth and ungrateful
to all whom custom has not reconciled to its sound, and which therefore
becomes ridiculous by a slight misapplication, or unnecessary
The general reproach with which ignorance revenges the superciliousness
of learning, is that of pedantry; a censure which every man incurs, who
has at any time the misfortune to talk to those who cannot understand
him, and by which the modest and timorous are sometimes frighted from
the display of their acquisitions, and the exertion of their powers.
The name of a pedant is so formidable to young men when they first sally
from their colleges, and is so liberally scattered by those who mean to
boast their elegance of education, easiness of manners, and knowledge of
the world, that it seems to require particular consideration; since,
perhaps, if it were once understood, many a heart might be freed from
painful apprehensions, and many a tongue, delivered from restraint.
Pedantry is the unseasonable ostentation of learning. It may be
discovered either in the choice of a subject, or in the manner of
treating it. He is undoubtedly guilty of pedantry, who, when he has made
himself master of some abstruse and uncultivated part of knowledge,
obtrudes his remarks and discoveries upon those whom he believes unable
to judge of his proficiency, and from whom, as he cannot fear
contradiction, he cannot properly expect applause.
To this errour the student is sometimes betrayed by the natural
recurrence of the mind to its common employment, by the pleasure which
every man receives from the recollection of pleasing images, and the
desire of dwelling upon topicks, on which he knows himself able to speak
with justness. But because we are seldom so far prejudiced in favour of
each other, as to search out for palliations, this failure of politeness
is imputed always to vanity; and the harmless collegiate, who, perhaps,
intended entertainment and instruction, or at worst only spoke without
sufficient reflection upon the character of his hearers, is censured as
arrogant or overbearing, and eager to extend his renown, in contempt of
the convenience of society and the laws of conversation.
All discourse of which others cannot partake, is not only an irksome
usurpation of the time devoted to pleasure and entertainment, but what
never fails to excite very keen resentment, an insolent assertion of
superiority, and a triumph over less enlightened understandings. The
pedant is, therefore, not only heard with weariness, but malignity; and
those who conceive themselves insulted by his knowledge, never fail to
tell with acrimony how injudiciously it was exerted.
To avoid this dangerous imputation, scholars sometimes divest themselves
with too much haste of their academical formality, and in their
endeavours to accommodate their notions and their style to common
conceptions, talk rather of any thing than of that which they
understand, and sink into insipidity of sentiment and meanness of
There prevails among men of letters an opinion, that all appearance of
science is particularly hateful to women; and that therefore, whoever
desires to be well received in female assemblies, must qualify himself
by a total rejection of all that is serious, rational, or important;
must consider argument or criticism, as perpetually interdicted; and
devote all his attention to trifles, and all his eloquence to
Students often form their notions of the present generation from the
writings of the past, and are not very early informed of those changes
which the gradual diffusion of knowledge, or the sudden caprice of
fashion, produces in the world. Whatever might be the state of female
literature in the last century, there is now no longer any danger lest
the scholar should want an adequate audience at the tea-table; and
whoever thinks it necessary to regulate his conversation by antiquated
rules, will be rather despised for his futility than caressed for his
To talk intentionally in a manner above the comprehension of those whom
we address, is unquestionable pedantry; but surely complaisance
requires, that no man should, without proof, conclude his company
incapable of following him to the highest elevation of his fancy, or the
utmost extent of his knowledge. It is always safer to err in favour of
others than of ourselves, and therefore we seldom hazard much by
endeavouring to excel.
It ought at least to be the care of learning, when she quits her
exaltation, to descend with dignity. Nothing is more despicable than the
airiness and jocularity of a man bred to severe science, and solitary
meditation. To trifle agreeably is a secret which schools cannot impart;
that gay negligence and vivacious levity, which charm down resistance
wherever they appear, are never attainable by him who, having spent his
first years among the dust of libraries, enters late into the gay world
with an unpliant attention and established habits.
It is observed in the panegyrick on Fabricius the mechanist, that,
though forced by publick employments into mingled conversation, he never
lost the modesty and seriousness of the convent, nor drew ridicule upon
himself by an affected imitation of fashionable life. To the same praise
every man devoted to learning ought to aspire. If he attempts the softer
arts of pleasing, and endeavours to learn the graceful bow and the
familiar embrace, the insinuating accent and the general smile, he will
lose the respect due to the character of learning, without arriving at
the envied honour of doing any thing with elegance and facility.
Theophrastus was discovered not to be a native of Athens, by so strict
an adherence to the Attick dialect, as shewed that he had learned it not
by custom, but by rule. A man not early formed to habitual elegance,
betrays, in like manner, the effects of his education, by an unnecessary
anxiety of behaviour. It is as possible to become pedantick, by fear of
pedantry, as to be troublesome by ill-timed civility. There is no kind
of impertinence more justly censurable than his who is always labouring
to level thoughts to intellects higher than his own; who apologizes for
every word which his own narrowness of converse inclines him to think
unusual; keeps the exuberance of his faculties under visible restraint;
is solicitous to anticipate inquiries by needless explanations; and
endeavours to shade his own abilities, lest weak eyes should be dazzled
with their lustre.
No. 174. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 1751.
_Faenum habet in cornu, longe fuge; dummodo risum
Excutiat sibi, non hic cuiquam parcet amico_.
HOR. Lib. i. Sat. iv. 34.
Yonder he drives--avoid that furious beast:
If he may have his jest, he never cares
At whose expense; nor friend nor patron spares. FRANCIS.
TO THE RAMBLER.
The laws of social benevolence require, that every man should endeavour
to assist others by his experience. He that has at last escaped into
port from the fluctuations of chance, and the gusts of opposition, ought
to make some improvements in the chart of life, by marking the rocks on
which he has been dashed, and the shallows where he has been stranded.
The errour into which I was betrayed, when custom first gave me up to my
own direction, is very frequently incident to the quick, the sprightly,
the fearless, and the gay; to all whose ardour hurries them into
precipitate execution of their designs, and imprudent declaration of
their opinions; who seldom count the cost of pleasure, or examine the
distant consequences of any practice that flatters them with immediate
I came forth into the crowded world with the usual juvenile ambition,
and desired nothing beyond the title of a wit. Money I considered as
below my care; for I saw such multitudes grow rich without
understanding, that I could not forbear to look on wealth as an
acquisition easy to industry directed by genius, and therefore threw it
aside as a secondary convenience, to be procured when my principal wish
should be satisfied, and the claim to intellectual excellence
With this view I regulated my behaviour in publick, and exercised my
meditations in solitude. My life was divided between the care of
providing topicks for the entertainment of my company, and that of
collecting company worthy to be entertained; for I soon found, that wit,
like every other power, has its boundaries; that its success depends
upon the aptitude of others to receive impressions; and that as some
bodies, indissoluble by heat, can set the furnace and crucible at
defiance, there are minds upon which the rays of fancy may be pointed
without effect, and which no fire of sentiment can agitate or exalt.
It was, however, not long before I fitted myself with a set of
companions who knew how to laugh, and to whom no other recommendation
was necessary than the power of striking out a jest. Among those I fixed
my residence, and for a time enjoyed the felicity of disturbing the
neighbours every night with the obstreperous applause which my sallies
forced from the audience. The reputation of our club every day
increased, and as my flights and remarks were circulated by my admirers,
every day brought new solicitations for admission into our society.
To support this perpetual fund of merriment, I frequented every place of
concourse, cultivated the acquaintance of all the fashionable race, and
passed the day in a continual succession of visits, in which I collected
a treasure of pleasantry for the expenses of the evening. Whatever
errour of conduct I could discover, whatever peculiarity of manner I
could observe, whatever weakness was betrayed by confidence, whatever
lapse was suffered by neglect, all was drawn together for the diversion
of my wild companions, who when they had been taught the art of
ridicule, never failed to signalize themselves by a zealous imitation,
and filled the town on the ensuing day with scandal and vexation, with
merriment and shame.
I can scarcely believe, when I recollect my own practice, that I could
have been so far deluded with petty praise, as to divulge the secrets of
trust, and to expose the levities of frankness; to waylay the walks of
the cautious, and surprise the security of the thoughtless. Yet it is
certain, that for many years I heard nothing but with design to tell it,
and saw nothing with any other curiosity than after some failure that
might furnish out a jest.
My heart, indeed, acquits me of deliberate malignity, or interested
insidiousness. I had no other purpose than to heighten the pleasure of
laughter by communication, nor ever raised any pecuniary advantage from
the calamities of others. I led weakness and negligence into
difficulties, only that I might divert myself with their perplexities
and distresses; and violated every law of friendship, with no other hope
than that of gaining the reputation of smartness and waggery.
I would not be understood to charge myself with any crimes of the
atrocious or destructive kind. I never betrayed an heir to gamesters, or
a girl to bebauchees; [Transcriber's note: sic] never intercepted the
kindness of a patron, or sported away the reputation of innocence. My
delight was only in petty mischief, and momentary vexations, and my
acuteness was employed not upon fraud and oppression, which it had been
meritorious to detect, but upon harmless ignorance or absurdity,
prejudice or mistake.
This inquiry I pursued with so much diligence and sagacity, that I was
able to relate, of every man whom I knew, some blunder or miscarriage;
to betray the most circumspect of my friends into follies, by a
judicious flattery of his predominant passion; or expose him to
contempt, by placing him in circumstances which put his prejudices into
action, brought to view his natural defects, or drew the attention of
the company on his airs of affectation.
The power had been possessed in vain if it had never been exerted; and
it was not my custom to let any arts of jocularity remain unemployed. My
impatience of applause brought me always early to the place of
entertainment; and I seldom failed to lay a scheme with the small knot
that first gathered round me, by which some of those whom we expected
might be made subservient to our sport. Every man has some favourite
topick of conversation, on which, by a feigned seriousness of attention,
he may be drawn to expatiate without end. Every man has some habitual
contortion of body, or established mode of expression, which never fails
to raise mirth if it be pointed out to notice. By premonitions of these
particularities I secured our pleasantry. Our companion entered with his
usual gaiety, and began to partake of our noisy cheerfulness, when the
conversation was imperceptibly diverted to a subject which pressed upon
his tender part, and extorted the expected shrug, the customary
exclamation, or the predicted remark. A general clamour of joy then
burst from all that were admitted to the stratagem. Our mirth was often
increased by the triumph of him that occasioned it; for as we do not
hastily form conclusions against ourselves, seldom any one suspected,
that he had exhilarated us otherwise than by wit.
You will hear, I believe, with very little surprise, that by this
conduct I had in a short time united mankind against me, and that every
tongue was diligent in prevention or revenge. I soon perceived myself
regarded with malevolence or distrust, but wondered what had been
discovered in me either terrible or hateful. I had invaded no man's
property; I had rivalled no man's claims: nor had ever engaged in any of
those attempts which provoke the jealousy of ambition or the rage of
faction. I had lived but to laugh, and make others laugh; and believed
that I was loved by all who caressed, and favoured by all who applauded
me. I never imagined, that he who, in the mirth of a nocturnal revel,
concurred in ridiculing his friend, would consider, in a cooler hour,
that the same trick might be played against himself; or that even where
there is no sense of danger, the natural pride of human nature rises
against him, who, by general censures, lays claim to general
I was convinced, by a total desertion, of the impropriety of my conduct;
every man avoided, and cautioned others to avoid me. Wherever I came, I
found silence and dejection, coldness and terrour. No one would venture
to speak, lest he should lay himself open to unfavourable
representations; the company, however numerous, dropped off at my
entrance upon various pretences; and, if I retired to avoid the shame of
being left, I heard confidence and mirth revive at my departure.
If those whom I had thus offended could have contented themselves with
repaying one insult for another, and kept up the war only by a
reciprocation of sarcasms, they might have perhaps vexed, but would
never have much hurt me; for no man heartily hates him at whom he can
laugh. But these wounds which they give me as they fly, are without
cure; this alarm which they spread by their solicitude to escape me,
excludes me from all friendship and from all pleasure. I am condemned to
pass a long interval of my life in solitude, as a man suspected of
infection is refused admission into cities; and must linger in
obscurity, till my conduct shall convince the world, that I may be
approached without hazard.
I am, &c.
No. 175. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 1751.
_Rari quippe boni: numerus vix est totidem quot
Thebarum portae, vel divitis ostia Nili_. Juv. Sat. xiii. 26.
Good men are scarce; the just are thinly sown:
They thrive but ill, nor can they last when grown;
And should we count them, and our store compile,
Yet Thebes more gates could show, more mouths the Nile. CREECH.
None of the axioms of wisdom which recommend the ancient sages to
veneration, seem to have required less extent of knowledge or
perspicacity of penetration, than the remarks of Bias, that [Greek: oi
pleones kakoi], "the majority are wicked."
The depravity of mankind is so easily discoverable, that nothing but the
desert or the cell can exclude it from notice. The knowledge of crimes
intrudes uncalled and undesired. They whom their abstraction from common
occurrences hinders from seeing iniquity, will quickly have their
attention awakened by feeling it. Even he who ventures not into the
world, may learn its corruption in his closet. For what are treatises of
morality, but persuasives to the practice of duties, for which no
arguments would be necessary, but that we are continually tempted to
violate or neglect them? What are all the records of history, but
narratives of successive villanies, of treasons and usurpations,
massacres and wars?
But, perhaps, the excellence of aphorisms consists not so much in the
expression of some rare and abstruse sentiment, as in the comprehension
of some obvious and useful truths in a few words. We frequently fall
into errour and folly, not because the true principles of action are not
known, but because, for a time, they are not remembered; and he may,
therefore, be justly numbered among the benefactors of mankind, who
contracts the great rules of life into short sentences, that may be
easily impressed on the memory, and taught by frequent recollection to
recur habitually to the mind.
However those who have passed through half the life of man, may now
wonder that any should require to be cautioned against corruption, they
will find that they have themselves purchased their conviction by many
disappointments and vexations which an earlier knowledge would have
spared them; and may see, on every side, some entangling themselves in
perplexities, and some sinking into ruin, by ignorance or neglect of the
maxim of Bias.
Every day sends out, in quest of pleasure and distinction, some heir
fondled in ignorance, and flattered into pride. He comes forth with all
the confidence of a spirit unacquainted with superiors, and all the
benevolence of a mind not yet irritated by opposition, alarmed by fraud,
or embittered by cruelty. He loves all, because he imagines himself the
universal favourite. Every exchange of salutation produces new
acquaintance, and every acquaintance kindles into friendship.
Every season brings a new flight of beauties into the world, who have
hitherto heard only of their own charms, and imagine that the heart
feels no passion but that of love. They are soon surrounded by admirers
whom they credit, because they tell them only what is heard with
delight. Whoever gazes upon them is a lover; and whoever forces a sigh,
is pining in despair.
He surely is a useful monitor, who inculcates to these thoughtless
strangers, that the _majority are wicked_; who informs them, that the
train which wealth and beauty draw after them, is lured only by the
scent of prey; and that, perhaps, among all those who crowd about them
with professions and flatteries, there is not one who does not hope for
some opportunity to devour or betray them, to glut himself by their
destruction, or to share their spoils with a stronger savage.
Virtue presented singly to the imagination or the reason, is so well
recommended by its own graces, and so strongly supported by arguments,
that a good man wonders how any can be bad; and they who are ignorant of
the force of passion and interest, who never observed the arts of
seduction, the contagion of example, the gradual descent from one crime
to another, or the insensible depravation of the principles by loose
conversation, naturally expect to find integrity in every bosom, and
veracity on every tongue.
It is, indeed, impossible not to hear from those who have lived longer,
of wrongs and falsehoods, of violence and circumvention; but such
narratives are commonly regarded by the young, the heady, and the
confident, as nothing more than the murmurs of peevishness, or the
dreams of dotage; and, notwithstanding all the documents of hoary
wisdom, we commonly plunge into the world fearless and credulous,
without any foresight of danger, or apprehension of deceit.
I have remarked, in a former paper, that credulity is the common failing
of unexperienced virtue; and that he who is spontaneously suspicious,
may be justly charged with radical corruption; for, if he has not known
the prevalence of dishonesty by information, nor had time to observe it
with his own eyes, whence can he take his measures of judgment but from
They who best deserve to escape the snares of artifice, are most likely
to be entangled. He that endeavours to live for the good of others, must
always be exposed to the arts of them who live only for themselves,
unless he is taught by timely precepts the caution required in common
transactions, and shewn at a distance the pitfalls of treachery.
To youth, therefore, it should be carefully inculcated, that, to enter
the road of life without caution or reserve, in expectation of general
fidelity and justice, is to launch on the wide ocean without the
instruments of steerage, and to hope that every wind will be prosperous,
and that every coast will afford a harbour.
To enumerate the various motives to deceit and injury, would be to count
all the desires that prevail among the sons of men; since there is no
ambition however petty, no wish however absurd, that by indulgence will
not be enabled to overpower the influence of virtue. Many there are, who
openly and almost professedly regulate all their conduct by their love
of money; who have no other reason for action or forbearance, for
compliance or refusal, than that they hope to gain more by one than by
the other. These are indeed the meanest and cruellest of human beings, a
race with whom, as with some pestiferous animals, the whole creation
seems to be at war; but who, however detested or scorned, long continue
to add heap to heap, and when they have reduced one to beggary, are
still permitted to fasten on another.
Others, yet less rationally wicked, pass their lives in mischief,
because they cannot bear the sight of success, and mark out every man
for hatred, whose fame or fortune they believe increasing.
Many who have not advanced to these degrees of guilt are yet wholly
unqualified for friendship, and unable to maintain any constant or
regular course of kindness. Happiness may be destroyed not only by union
with the man who is apparently the slave of interest, but with him whom
a wild opinion of the dignity of perseverance, in whatever cause,
disposes to pursue every injury with unwearied and perpetual resentment;
with him whose vanity inclines him to consider every man as a rival in
every pretension; with him whose airy negligence puts his friend's
affairs or secrets in continual hazard, and who thinks his forgetfulness
of others excused by his inattention to himself; and with him whose
inconstancy ranges without any settled rule of choice through varieties
of friendship, and who adopts and dismisses favourites by the sudden
impulse of caprice.
Thus numerous are the dangers to which the converse of mankind exposes
us, and which can be avoided only by prudent distrust. He therefore
that, remembering this salutary maxim, learns early to withhold his
fondness from fair appearances, will have reason to pay some honours to
Bias of Priene, who enabled him to become wise without the cost of
No. 176. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 1751
--_Naso suspendis adunco_. HOR. Lib. i. Sat. vi. 5.
On me you turn the nose.--
There are many vexatious accidents and uneasy situations which raise
little compassion for the sufferer, and which no man but those whom they
immediately distress can regard with seriousness. Petty mischiefs, that
have no influence on futurity, nor extend their effects to the rest of
life, are always seen with a kind of malicious pleasure. A mistake or
embarrassment, which for the present moment fills the face with blushes,
and the mind with confusion, will have no other effect upon those who
observe it, than that of convulsing them with irresistible laughter.
Some circumstances of misery are so powerfully ridiculous, that neither
kindness nor duty can withstand them; they bear down love, interest, and
reverence, and force the friend, the dependent, or the child, to give
way to, instantaneous motions of merriment.
Among the principal of comick calamities, may be reckoned the pain which
an author, not yet hardened into insensibility, feels at the onset of a
furious critick, whose age, rank, or fortune, gives him confidence to
speak without reserve; who heaps one objection upon another, and
obtrudes his remarks, and enforces his corrections, without tenderness
The author, full of the importance of his work, and anxious for the
justification of every syllable, starts and kindles at the slightest
attack; the critick, eager to establish his superiority, triumphing in
every discovery of failure, and zealous to impress the cogency of his
arguments, pursues him from line to line without cessation or remorse.
The critick, who hazards little, proceeds with vehemence, impetuosity,
and fearlessness; the author, whose quiet and fame, and life and
immortality, are involved in the controversy, tries every art of
subterfuge and defence; maintains modestly what he resolves never to
yield, and yields unwillingly what cannot be maintained. The critick's
purpose is to conquer, the author only hopes to escape; the critick
therefore knits his brow, and raises his voice, and rejoices whenever he
perceives any tokens of pain excited by the pressure of his assertions,
or the point of his sarcasms. The author, whose endeavour is at once to
mollify and elude his persecutor, composes his features and softens his
accent, breaks the force of assault by retreat, and rather steps aside
than flies or advances.
As it very seldom happens that the rage of extemporary criticism
inflicts fatal or lasting wounds, I know not that the laws of
benevolence entitle this distress to much sympathy. The diversion of
baiting an author has the sanction of all ages and nations, and is more
lawful than the sport of teasing other animals, because, for the most
part, he comes voluntarily to the stake, furnished, as he imagines, by
the patron powers of literature, with resistless weapons, and
impenetrable armour, with the mail of the boar of Erymanth, and the paws
of the lion of Nemea.
But the works of genius are sometimes produced by other motives than
vanity; and he whom necessity or duty enforces to write, is not always
so well satisfied with himself, as not to be discouraged by censorious
impudence. It may therefore be necessary to consider, how they whom
publication lays open to the insults of such as their obscurity secures
against reprisals, may extricate themselves from unexpected encounters.
Vida, a man of considerable skill in the politicks of literature,
directs his pupil wholly to abandon his defence, and even when he can
irrefragably refute all objections, to suffer tamely the exultations of
This rule may perhaps be just, when advice is asked, and severity
solicited, because no man tells his opinion so freely as when he
imagines it received with implicit veneration; and criticks ought never
to be consulted, but while errours may yet be rectified or insipidity
suppressed. But when the book has once been dismissed into the world,
and can be no more retouched, I know not whether a very different
conduct should not be prescribed, and whether firmness and spirit may
not sometimes be of use to overpower arrogance and repel brutality.
Softness, diffidence, and moderation, will often be mistaken for
imbecility and dejection; they hire cowardice to the attack by the hopes
of easy victory, and it will soon be found that he whom every man thinks
he can conquer, shall never be at peace.
The animadversions of criticks are commonly such as may easily provoke
the sedatest writer to some quickness of resentment and asperity of
reply. A man, who by long consideration has familiarized a subject to
his own mind, carefully surveyed the series of his thoughts, and planned
all the parts of his composition into a regular dependance on each
other, will often start at the sinistrous interpretations or absurd
remarks of haste and ignorance, and wonder by what infatuation they have
been led away from the obvious sense, and upon what peculiar principles
of judgment they decide against him.
The eye of the intellect, like that of the body, is not equally perfect
in all, nor equally adapted in any to all objects; the end of criticism
is to supply its defects; rules are the instruments of mental vision,
which may indeed assist our faculties when properly used, but produce
confusion and obscurity by unskilful application.
Some seem always to read with the microscope of criticism, and employ
their whole attention upon minute elegance, or faults scarcely visible
to common observation. The dissonance of a syllable, the recurrence of
the same sound, the repetition of a particle, the smallest deviation
from propriety, the slightest defect in construction or arrangement,
swell before their eyes into enormities. As they discern with great
exactness, they comprehend but a narrow compass, and know nothing of the
justness of the design, the general spirit of the performance, the
artifice of connection, or the harmony of the parts; they never,
conceive how small a proportion that which they are busy in
contemplating bears to the whole, or how the petty inaccuracies, with
which they are offended, are absorbed and lost in general excellence.
Others are furnished by criticism with a telescope. They see with great
clearness whatever is too remote to be discovered by the rest of
mankind, but are totally blind to all that lies immediately before them.
They discover in every passage some secret meaning, some remote
allusion, some artful allegory, or some occult imitation, which no other
reader ever suspected; but they have no perception of the cogency of
arguments, the force of pathetick sentiments, the various colours of
diction, or the flowery embellishments of fancy; of all that engages the
attention of others they are totally insensible, while they pry into
worlds of conjecture, and amuse themselves with phantoms in the clouds.
In criticism, as in every other art, we fail sometimes by our weakness,
but more frequently by our fault. We are sometimes bewildered by
ignorance, and sometimes by prejudice, but we seldom deviate far from
the right, but when we deliver ourselves up to the direction of vanity.
No. 177. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 1751.
_Turpe est difficiles habere nugas_. MART. Lib. ii. Ep. lxxxvi. 9.
Those things which now seem frivolous and slight,
Will be of serious consequence to you,
When they have made you once ridiculous. ROSCOMMON.
TO THE RAMBLER.
When I was, at the usual time, about to enter upon the profession to
which my friends had destined me, being summoned, by the death of my
father, into the country, I found myself master of an unexpected sum of
money, and of an estate, which, though not large, was, in my opinion,
sufficient to support me in a condition far preferable to the fatigue,
dependance, and uncertainty of any gainful occupation. I therefore
resolved to devote the rest of my life wholly to curiosity, and without
any confinement of my excursions, or termination of my views, to wander
over the boundless regions of general knowledge.
This scheme of life seemed pregnant with inexhaustible variety, and
therefore I could not forbear to congratulate myself upon the wisdom of
my choice. I furnished a large room with all conveniences for study;
collected books of every kind; quitted every science at the first
perception of disgust; returned to it again as soon as my former ardour
happened to revive; and having no rival to depress me by comparison, nor
any critick to alarm me with objections, I spent day after day in
profound tranquillity, with only so much complaisance in my own
improvements, as served to excite and animate my application.
Thus I lived for some years with complete acquiescence in my own plan of
conduct, rising early to read, and dividing the latter part of the day
between economy, exercise, and reflection. But, in time, I began to find
my mind contracted and stiffened by solitude. My ease and elegance were
sensibly impaired; I was no longer able to accommodate myself with
readiness to the accidental current of conversation; my notions grew
particular and paradoxical, and my phraseology formal and unfashionable;
I spoke, on common occasions, the language of books. My quickness of
apprehension, and celerity of reply, had entirely deserted me; when I
delivered my opinion, or detailed my knowledge, I was bewildered by an
unseasonable interrogatory, disconcerted by any slight opposition, and
overwhelmed and lost in dejection, when the smallest advantage was
gained against me in dispute. I became decisive and dogmatical,
impatient of contradiction, perpetually jealous of my character,
insolent to such as acknowledged my superiority, and sullen and
malignant to all who refused to receive my dictates.
This I soon discovered to be one of those intellectual diseases which a
wise man should make haste to cure. I therefore resolved for a time to
shut my books, and learn again the art of conversation; to defecate and
clear my mind by brisker motions, and stronger impulses; and to unite
myself once more to the living generation.
For this purpose I hasted to London, and entreated one of my academical
acquaintances to introduce me into some of the little societies of
literature which are formed in taverns and coffee-houses. He was pleased
with an opportunity of shewing me to his friends, and soon obtained me
admission among a select company of curious men, who met once a week to
exhilarate their studies, and compare their acquisitions.
The eldest and most venerable of this society was Hirsutus, who, after
the first civilities of my reception, found means to introduce the
mention of his favourite studies, by a severe censure of those who want
the due regard for their native country. He informed me, that he had
early withdrawn his attention from foreign trifles, and that since he
began to addict his mind to serious and manly studies, he had very
carefully amassed all the English books that were printed in the black
character. This search he had pursued so diligently, that he was able to
shew the deficiencies of the best catalogues. He had long since
completed his Caxton, had three sheets of Treveris unknown to the
antiquaries, and wanted to a perfect Pynson but two volumes, of which
one was promised him as a legacy by its present possessor, and the other
he was resolved to buy, at whatever price, when Quisquilius's library
should be sold. Hirsutus had no other reason for the valuing or
slighting a book, than that it was printed in the Roman or the Gothic
letter, nor any ideas but such as his favourite volumes had supplied;
when he was serious he expatiated on the narratives "of Johan de
Trevisa," and when he was merry, regaled us with a quotation from the
"Shippe of Foles."
While I was listening to this hoary student, Ferratus entered in a
hurry, and informed us with the abruptness of ecstacy, that his set of
halfpence was now complete; he had just received in a handful of change,
the piece that he had so long been seeking, and could now defy mankind
to outgo his collection of English copper.
Chartophylax then observed how fatally human sagacity was sometimes
baffled, and how often the most valuable discoveries are made by chance.
He had employed himself and his emissaries seven years at great expense
to perfect his series of Gazettes, but had long wanted a single paper,
which, when he despaired of obtaining it, was sent him wrapped round a
parcel of tobacco.
Cantilenus turned all his thoughts upon old ballads, for he considered
them as the genuine records of the national taste. He offered to shew me
a copy of "The Children in the Wood," which he firmly believed to be of
the first edition, and, by the help of which, the text might be freed
from several corruptions, if this age of barbarity had any claim to such
favours from him.
Many were admitted into this society as inferior members, because they
had collected old prints and neglected pamphlets, or possessed some
fragment of antiquity, as the seal of an ancient corporation, the
charter of a religious house, the genealogy of a family extinct, or a
letter written in the reign of Elizabeth.
Every one of these virtuosos looked on all his associates as wretches of
depraved taste and narrow notions. Their conversation was, therefore,
fretful and waspish, their behaviour brutal, their merriment bluntly
sarcastick, and their seriousness gloomy and suspicious. They were
totally ignorant of all that passes, or has lately passed, in the world;
unable to discuss any question of religious, political, or military
knowledge; equally strangers to science and politer learning, and
without any wish to improve their minds, or any other pleasure than that
of displaying rarities, of which they would not suffer others to make
the proper use.
Hirsutus graciously informed me, that the number of their society was
limited, but that I might sometimes attend as an auditor. I was pleased
to find myself in no danger of an honour, which I could not have
willingly accepted, nor gracefully refused, and left them without any
intention of returning; for I soon found that the suppression of those
habits with which I was vitiated, required association with men very
different from this solemn race.
I am, Sir, &c.
It is natural to feel grief or indignation when any thing necessary or
useful is wantonly wasted, or negligently destroyed; and therefore my
correspondent cannot be blamed for looking with uneasiness on the waste
of life. Leisure and curiosity might soon make great advances in useful
knowledge, were they not diverted by minute emulation and laborious
trifles. It may, however, somewhat mollify his anger to reflect, that
perhaps none of the assembly which he describes, was capable of any
nobler employment, and that he who does his best, however little, is
always to be distinguished from him who does nothing. Whatever busies
the mind without corrupting it, has at least this use, that it rescues
the day from idleness, and he that is never idle will not often be
No. 178. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 1751.
_Purs sanitatis velle sanuria fuit_. SENECA.
To yield to remedies is half the cure.
Pythagoras is reported to have required from those whom he instructed in
philosophy a probationary silence of five years. Whether this
prohibition of speech extended to all the parts of this time, as seems
generally to be supposed, or was to be observed only in the school or in
the presence of their master, as is more probable, it was sufficient to
discover the pupil's disposition; to try whether he was willing to pay
the price of learning, or whether he was one of those whose ardour was
rather violent than lasting, and who expected to grow wise on other
terms than those of patience and obedience.
Many of the blessings universally desired, are very frequently wanted,
because most men, when they should labour, content themselves to
complain, and rather linger in a state in which they cannot be at rest,
than improve their condition by vigour and resolution.
Providence has fixed the limits of human enjoyment by immoveable
boundaries, and has set different gratifications at such a distance from
each other, that no art or power can bring them together. This great law
it is the business of every rational being to understand, that life may
not pass away in an attempt to make contradictions consistent, to
combine opposite qualities, and to unite things which the nature of
their being must always keep asunder.
Of two objects tempting at a distance on contrary sides, it is
impossible to approach one but by receding from the other; by long
deliberation and dilatory projects, they may be both lost, but can never
be both gained. It is, therefore, necessary to compare them, and, when
we have determined the preference, to withdraw our eyes and our thoughts
at once from that which reason directs us to reject. This is more
necessary, if that which we are forsaking has the power of delighting
the senses, or firing the fancy. He that once turns aside to the
allurements of unlawful pleasure, can have no security that he shall
ever regain the paths of virtue.
The philosophick goddess of Boethius, having related the story of
Orpheus, who, when he had recovered his wife from the dominions of
death, lost her again by looking back upon her in the confines of light,
concludes with a very elegant and forcible application. "Whoever you are
that endeavour to elevate your minds to the illuminations of Heaven,
consider yourselves as represented in this fable; for he that is once so
far overcome as to turn back his eyes towards the infernal caverns,
loses at the first sight all that influence which attracted him on
Vos haec fabula respicit,
Quicunque in superum diem
Mentem ducere quaeritis.
Nam qui Tartareum in specus
Victus lumina flexerit,
Quidquid praecipuum trahit,
Perdit, dum videt inferos.
It may be observed, in general, that the future is purchased by the
present. It is not possible to secure instant or permanent happiness but
by the forbearance of some immediate gratification. This is so evidently
true with regard to the whole of our existence, that all the precepts of
theology have no other tendency than to enforce a life of faith; a life
regulated not by our senses but our belief; a life in which pleasures
are to be refused for fear of invisible punishments, and calamities
sometimes to be sought, and always endured, in hope of rewards that
shall be obtained in another state.
Even if we take into our view only that particle of our duration which
is terminated by the grave, it will be found that we cannot enjoy one
part of life beyond the common limitations of pleasure, but by
anticipating some of the satisfaction which should exhilarate the
following years. The heat of youth may spread happiness into wild
luxuriance, but the radical vigour requisite to make it perennial is
exhausted, and all that can be hoped afterwards is languor and
The reigning errour of mankind is, that we are not content with the
conditions on which the goods of life are granted. No man is insensible
of the value of knowledge, the advantages of health, or the convenience
of plenty, but every day shews us those on whom the conviction is
Knowledge is praised and desired by multitudes whom her charms could
never rouse from the couch of sloth; whom the faintest invitation of
pleasure draws away from their studies; to whom any other method of
wearing out the day is more eligible than the use of books, and who are
more easily engaged by any conversation, than such as may rectify their
notions or enlarge their comprehension.
Every man that has felt pain, knows how little all other comforts can
gladden him to whom health is denied. Yet who is there does not
sometimes hazard it for the enjoyment of an hour? All assemblies of
jollity, all places of public entertainment, exhibit examples of
strength wasting in riot, and beauty withering in irregularity; nor is
it easy to enter a house in which part of the family is not groaning in
repentance of past intemperance, and part admitting disease by
negligence, or soliciting it by luxury.
There is no pleasure which men of every age and sect have more generally
agreed to mention with contempt, than the gratifications of the palate;
an entertainment so far removed from intellectual happiness, that
scarcely the most shameless of the sensual herd have dared to defend it:
yet even to this, the lowest of our delights, to this, though neither
quick nor lasting, is health with all its activity and sprightliness
daily sacrificed; and for this are half the miseries endured which urge
impatience to call on death.
The whole world is put in motion by the wish for riches and the dread of
poverty. Who, then, would not imagine that such conduct as will
inevitably destroy what all are thus labouring to acquire, must
generally be avoided? That he who spends more than he receives, must in
time become indigent, cannot be doubted; but, how evident soever this
consequence may appear, the spendthrift moves in the whirl of pleasure
with too much rapidity to keep it before his eyes, and, in the
intoxication of gaiety, grows every day poorer without any such sense of
approaching ruin as is sufficient to wake him into caution.
Many complaints are made of the misery of life; and indeed it must be
confessed that we are subject to calamities by which the good and bad,
the diligent and slothful, the vigilant and heedless, are equally
afflicted. But surely, though some indulgence may be allowed to groans