Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Works of Samuel Johnson in Nine Volumes by Samuel Johnson

Part 9 out of 9

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.0 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

not, however, persevere in this contempt of luxury; nor did he close his
days with honour.

One evening, after hunting the gulos or wild-dog, being bewildered in a
solitary forest, and having passed the fatigues of the day without any
interval of refreshment, he discovered a large store of honey in the
hollow of a pine. This was a dainty which he had never tasted before;
and being at once faint and hungry, he fed greedily upon it. From this
unusual and delicious repast he received so much satisfaction, that, at
his return home, he commanded honey to be served up at his table every
day. His palate, by degrees, became refined and vitiated; he began to
lose his native relish for simple fare, and contracted a habit of
indulging himself in delicacies; he ordered the delightful gardens of
his castle to be thrown open, in which the most luscious fruits had been
suffered to ripen and decay, unobserved and untouched, for many
revolving autumns, and gratified his appetite with luxurious desserts.
At length he found it expedient to introduce wine, as an agreeable
improvement, or a necessary ingredient, to his new way of living; and
having once tasted it, he was tempted, by little and little, to give a
loose to the excesses of intoxication. His general simplicity of life
was changed; he perfumed his apartments by burning the wood of the most
aromatick fir, and commanded his helmet to be ornamented with beautiful
rows of the teeth of the raindeer. Indolence and effeminacy stole upon
him by pleasing and imperceptible gradations, relaxed the sinews of his
resolution, and extinguished his thirst of military glory.

While Hacho was thus immersed in pleasure and in repose, it was reported
to him, one morning, that the preceding night, a disastrous omen had
been discovered, and that bats and hideous birds had drunk up the oil
which nourished the perpetual lamp in the temple of Odin. About the same
time, a messenger arrived to tell him, that the king of Norway had
invaded his kingdom with a formidable army. Hacho, terrified as he was
with the omen of the night, and enervated with indulgence, roused
himself from his voluptuous lethargy, and, recollecting some faint and
few sparks of veteran valour, marched forward to meet him. Both armies
joined battle in the forest where Hacho had been lost after hunting; and
it so happened, that the king of Norway challenged him to single combat,
near the place where he had tasted the honey. The Lapland chief, languid
and long disused to arms, was soon overpowered; he fell to the ground;
and before his insulting adversary struck his head from his body,
uttered this exclamation, which the Laplanders still use as an early
lesson to their children: "The vicious man should date his destruction
from the first temptation. How justly do I fall a sacrifice to sloth and
luxury, in the place where I first yielded to those allurements which
seduced me to deviate from temperance and innocence! The honey which I
tasted in this forest, and not the hand of the king of Norway, conquers

[1] By Mr. Thomas Warton.

No. 97. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 1760.

It may, I think, be justly observed, that few books disappoint their
readers more than the narrations of travellers. One part of mankind is
naturally curious to learn the sentiments, manners, and condition of the
rest; and every mind that has leisure or power to extend its views, must
be desirous of knowing in what proportion Providence has distributed the
blessings of nature, or the advantages of art, among the several nations
of the earth.

This general desire easily procures readers to every book from which it
can expect gratification. The adventurer upon unknown coasts, and the
describer of distant regions, is always welcomed as a man who has
laboured for the pleasure of others, and who is able to enlarge our
knowledge and rectify our opinions; but when the volume is opened,
nothing is found but such general accounts as leave no distinct idea
behind them, or such minute enumerations as few can read with either
profit or delight.

Every writer of travels should consider, that, like all other authors,
he undertakes either to instruct or please, or to mingle pleasure with
instruction. He that instructs must offer to the mind something to be
imitated, or something to be avoided; he that pleases must offer new
images to his reader, and enable him to form a tacit comparison of his
own state with that of others.

The greater part of travellers tell nothing, because their method of
travelling supplies them with nothing to be told. He that enters a town
at night, and surveys it in the morning, and then hastens away to
another place, and guesses at the manners of the inhabitants by the
entertainment which his inn afforded him, may please himself for a time
with a hasty change of scenes, and a confused remembrance of palaces and
churches; he may gratify his eye with a variety of landscapes, and
regale his palate with a succession of vintages; but let him be
contented to please himself without endeavouring to disturb others.

Why should he record excursions by which nothing could be learned, or
wish to make a show of knowledge, which, without some power of intuition
unknown to other mortals, he never could attain?

Of those who crowd the world with their itineraries, some have no other
purpose than to describe the face of the country; those who sit idle at
home, and are curious to know what is done or suffered in distant
countries, may be informed by one of these wanderers, that on a certain
day he set out early with the caravan, and in the first hour's march
saw, towards the south, a hill covered with trees, then passed over a
stream, which ran northward with a swift course, but which is probably
dry in the summer months; that an hour after he saw something to the
right which looked at a distance like a castle with towers, but which he
discovered afterwards to be a craggy rock; that he then entered a
valley, in which he saw several trees tall and flourishing, watered by a
rivulet not marked in the maps, of which he was not able to learn the
name; that the road afterward grew stony, and the country uneven, where
he observed among the hills many hollows worn by torrents, and was told
that the road was passable only part of the year; that going on they
found the remains of a building, once, perhaps, a fortress to secure the
pass, or to restrain the robbers, of which the present inhabitants can
give no other account than that it is haunted by fairies; that they went
to dine at the foot of a rock, and travelled the rest of the day along
the banks of a river, from which the road turned aside towards evening,
and brought them within sight of a village, which was once a
considerable town, but which afforded them neither good victuals nor
commodious lodging.

Thus he conducts his reader through wet and dry, over rough and smooth,
without incidents, without reflection; and, if he obtains his company
for another day, will dismiss him again at night, equally fatigued with
a like succession of rocks and streams, mountains and ruins.

This is the common style of those sons of enterprise, who visit savage
countries, and range through solitude and desolation; who pass a desert,
and tell that it is sandy; who cross a valley, and find that it is
green. There are others of more delicate sensibility, that visit only
the realms of elegance and softness; that wander through Italian
palaces, and amuse the gentle reader with catalogues of pictures; that
hear masses in magnificent churches, and recount the number of the
pillars or variegations of the pavement. And there are yet others, who,
in disdain of trifles, copy inscriptions elegant and rude, ancient and
modern; and transcribe into their book the walls of every edifice,
sacred or civil. He that reads these books must consider his labour as
its own reward; for he will find nothing on which attention can fix, or
which memory can retain.

He that would travel for the entertainment of others, should remember
that the great object of remark is human life. Every nation has
something peculiar in its manufactures, its works of genius, its
medicines, its agriculture, its customs and its policy. He only is a
useful traveller, who brings home something by which his country may be
benefited; who procures some supply of want, or some mitigation of evil,
which may enable his readers to compare their condition with that of
others, to improve it whenever it is worse, and whenever it is better to
enjoy it.

No. 98. SATURDAY, MARCH 1, 1760.



I am the daughter of a gentleman, who during his lifetime enjoyed a
small income which arose from a pension from the court, by which he was
enabled to live in a genteel and comfortable manner.

By the situation of life in which he was placed, he was frequently
introduced into the company of those of much greater fortunes than his
own, among whom he was always received with complaisance, and treated
with civility.

At six years of age I was sent to a boarding-school in the country, at
which I continued till my father's death. This melancholy event happened
at a time when I was by no means of sufficient age to manage for myself,
while the passions of youth continued unsubdued, and before experience
could guide my sentiments or my actions.

I was then taken from school by an uncle, to the care of whom my father
had committed me on his dying-bed. With him I lived several years; and,
as he was unmarried, the management of his family was committed to me.
In this character I always endeavoured to acquit myself, if not with
applause, at least without censure.

At the age of twenty-one, a young gentleman of some fortune paid his
addresses to me, and offered me terms of marriage. This proposal I
should readily have accepted, because from vicinity of residence, and
from many opportunities of observing his behaviour, I had, in some sort,
contracted an affection for him. My uncle, for what reason I do not
know, refused his consent to this alliance, though it would have been
complied with by the father of the young gentleman; and, as the future
condition of my life was wholly dependant on him, I was not willing to
disoblige him, and, therefore, though unwillingly, declined the offer.

My uncle, who possessed a plentiful fortune, frequently hinted to me in
conversation, that at his death I should be provided for in such a
manner that I should be able to make my future life comfortable and
happy. As this promise was often repeated, I was the less anxious about
any provision for myself. In a short time my uncle was taken ill, and
though all possible means were made use of for his recovery, in a few
days he died.

The sorrow arising from the loss of a relation, by whom I had been
always treated with the greatest kindness, however grievous, was not the
worst of my misfortunes. As he enjoyed an almost uninterrupted state of
health, he was the less mindful of his dissolution, and died intestate;
by which means his whole fortune devolved to a nearer relation, the heir
at law.

Thus excluded from all hopes of living in the manner with which I have
so long flattered myself, I am doubtful what method I shall take to
procure a decent maintenance. I have been educated in a manner that has
set me above a state of servitude, and my situation renders me unfit for
the company of those with whom I have hitherto conversed. But, though
disappointed in my expectations, I do not despair. I will hope that
assistance may still be obtained for innocent distress, and that
friendship, though rare, is yet not impossible to be found.

I am, Sir, Your humble servant,


[1] By an unknown correspondent.

No. 99. SATURDAY, MARCH 8, 1760.

As Ortogrul of Basra was one day wandering along the streets of Bagdat,
musing on the varieties of merchandise which the shops offered to his
view, and observing the different occupations which busied the
multitudes on every side, he was awakened from the tranquillity of
meditation by a crowd that obstructed his passage. He raised his eyes,
and saw the chief visier, who, having returned from the divan, was
entering his palace.

Ortogrul mingled with the attendants, and being supposed to have some
petition for the visier, was permitted to enter. He surveyed the
spaciousness of the apartments, admired the walls hung with golden
tapestry, and the floors covered with silken carpets, and despised the
simple neatness of his own little habitation.

Surely, said he to himself, this palace is the seat of happiness, where
pleasure succeeds to pleasure, and discontent and sorrow can have no
admission. Whatever Nature has provided for the delight of sense, is
here spread forth to be enjoyed. What can mortals hope or imagine, which
the master of this palace has not obtained? The dishes of luxury cover
his table, the voice of harmony lulls him in his bowers; he breathes the
fragrance of the groves of Java, and sleeps upon the down of the cygnets
of Ganges. He speaks, and his mandate is obeyed; he wishes, and his wish
is gratified; all whom he sees obey him, and all whom he hears flatter
him. How different, Ortogrul, is thy condition, who art doomed to the
perpetual torments of unsatisfied desire, and who hast no amusement in
thy power that can withhold thee from thy own reflections! They tell
thee that thou art wise; but what does wisdom avail with poverty? None
will flatter the poor, and the wise have very little power of flattering
themselves. That man is surely the most wretched of the sons of
wretchedness, who lives with his own faults and follies always before
him, and who has none to reconcile him to himself by praise and
veneration. I have long sought content, and have not found it; I will
from this moment endeavour to be rich.

Full of this new resolution, he shut himself up in his chamber for six
months, to deliberate how he should grow rich; he sometimes proposed to
offer himself as a counsellor to one of the kings of India, and
sometimes resolved to dig for diamonds in the mines of Golconda. One
day, after some hours passed in violent fluctuation of opinion, sleep
insensibly seized him in his chair; he dreamed that he was ranging a
desert country in search of some one that might teach him to grow rich;
and as he stood on the top of a hill shaded with cypress, in doubt
whither to direct his steps, his father appeared on a sudden standing
before him. Ortogrul, said the old man, I know thy perplexity; listen to
thy father; turn thine eye on the opposite mountain. Ortogrul looked,
and saw a torrent tumbling down the rocks, roaring with the noise of
thunder, and scattering its foam on the impending woods. Now, said his
father, behold the valley that lies between the hills. Ortogrul looked,
and espied a little well, out of which issued a small rivulet. Tell me
now, said his father, dost thou wish for sudden affluence, that may pour
upon thee like the mountain torrent, or for a slow and gradual increase,
resembling the rill gliding from the well? Let me be quickly rich, said
Ortogrul; let the golden stream be quick and violent. Look round thee,
said his father, once again. Ortogrul looked, and perceived the channel
of the torrent dry and dusty; but following the rivulet from the well,
he traced it to a wide lake, which the supply, slow and constant, kept
always full. He waked, and determined to grow rich by silent profit and
persevering industry.

Having sold his patrimony, he engaged in merchandise, and in twenty
years purchased lands, on which he raised a house, equal in
sumptuousness to that of the visier, to which he invited all the
ministers of pleasure, expecting to enjoy all the felicity which he had
imagined riches able to afford. Leisure soon made him weary of himself,
and he longed to be persuaded that he was great and happy. He was
courteous and liberal; he gave all that approached him hopes of pleasing
him, and all who should please him hopes of being rewarded. Every art of
praise was tried, and every source of adulatory fiction was exhausted.
Ortogrul heard his flatterers without delight, because he found himself
unable to believe them. His own heart told him its frailties, his own
understanding reproached him with his faults. How long, said he, with a
deep sigh, have I been labouring in vain to amass wealth which at last
is useless! Let no man hereafter wish to be rich, who is already too
wise to be flattered.

No. 100. SATURDAY, MARCH 15, 1760,



The uncertainty and defects of language have produced very frequent
complaints among the learned; yet there still remain many words among us
undefined, which are very necessary to be rightly understood, and which
produce very mischievous mistakes when they are erroneously interpreted.

I lived in a state of celibacy beyond the usual time. In the hurry first
of pleasure, and afterwards of business, I felt no want of a domestick
companion; but becoming weary of labour, I soon grew more weary of
idleness, and thought it reasonable to follow the custom of life, and to
seek some solace of my cares in female tenderness, and some amusement of
my leisure in female cheerfulness.

The choice which has been long delayed is commonly made at last with
great caution. My resolution was, to keep my passions neutral, and to
marry only in compliance with my reason. I drew upon a page of my
pocket-book a scheme of all female virtues and vices, with the vices
which border upon every virtue, and the virtues which are allied to
every vice. I considered that wit was sarcastick, and magnanimity
imperious; that avarice was economical, and ignorance obsequious; and
having estimated the good and evil of every quality, employed my own
diligence, and that of my friends, to find the lady in whom nature and
reason had reached that happy mediocrity which is equally remote from
exuberance and deficience.

Every woman had her admirers and her censurers; and the expectations
which one raised were by another quickly depressed; yet there was one in
whose favour almost all suffrages concurred. Miss Gentle was universally
allowed to be a good sort of woman. Her fortune was not large, but so
prudently managed, that she wore finer clothes, and saw more company,
than many who were known to be twice as rich. Miss Gentle's visits were
every where welcome; and whatever family she favoured with her company,
she always left behind her such a degree of kindness as recommended her
to others. Every day extended her acquaintance; and all who knew her
declared, that they never met with a better sort of woman.

To Miss Gentle I made my addresses, and was received with great equality
of temper. She did not in the days of courtship assume the privilege of
imposing rigorous commands, or resenting slight offences. If I forgot
any of her injunctions, I was gently reminded; if I missed the minute of
appointment, I was easily forgiven. I foresaw nothing in marriage but a
halcyon calm, and longed for the happiness which was to be found in the
inseparable society of a good sort of woman.

The jointure was soon settled by the intervention of friends, and the
day came in which Miss Gentle was made mine for ever. The first month
was passed easily enough in receiving and repaying the civilities of our
friends. The bride practised with great exactness all the niceties of
ceremony, and distributed her notice in the most punctilious proportions
to the friends who surrounded us with their happy auguries.

But the time soon came when we were left to ourselves, and were to
receive our pleasures from each other; and I then began to perceive that
I was not formed to be much delighted by a good sort of woman. Her great
principle is, that the orders of a family must not be broken. Every hour
of the day has its employment inviolably appropriated; nor will any
importunity persuade her to walk in the garden at the time which she has
devoted to her needlework, or to sit up stairs in that part of the
forenoon which she has accustomed herself to spend in the back parlour.
She allows herself to sit half an hour after breakfast, and an hour
after dinner; while I am talking or reading to her, she keeps her eye
upon her watch, and when the minute of departure comes, will leave an
argument unfinished, or the intrigue of a play unravelled. She once
called me to supper when I was watching an eclipse, and summoned me at
another time to bed when I was going to give directions at a fire.

Her conversation is so habitually cautious, that she never talks to me
but in general terms, as to one whom it is dangerous to trust. For
discriminations of character she has no names: all whom she mentions are
honest men and agreeable women. She smiles not by sensation, but by
practice. Her laughter is never excited but by a joke, and her notion of
a joke is not very delicate. The repetition of a good joke does not
weaken its effect; if she has laughed once, she will laugh again.

She is an enemy to nothing but ill-nature and pride; but she has
frequent reason to lament that they are so frequent in the world. All
who are not equally pleased with the good and the bad, with the elegant
and gross, with the witty and the dull, all who distinguish excellence
from defect, she considers as ill-natured; and she condemns as proud all
who repress impertinence or quell presumption, or expect respect from
any other eminence than that of fortune, to which she is always willing
to pay homage.

There are none whom she openly hates, for if once she suffers, or
believes herself to suffer, any contempt or insult, she never dismisses
it from her mind, but takes all opportunities to tell how easily she can
forgive. There are none whom she loves much better than others; for when
any of her acquaintance decline in the opinion of the world, she always
finds it inconvenient to visit them; her affection continues unaltered,
but it is impossible to be intimate with the whole town.

She daily exercises her benevolence by pitying every misfortune that
happens to every family within her circle of notice; she is in hourly
terrours lest one should catch cold in the rain, and another be frighted
by the high wind. Her charity she shows by lamenting that so many poor
wretches should languish in the streets, and by wondering what the great
can think on that they do so little good with such large estates.

Her house is elegant, and her table dainty, though she has little taste
of elegance, and is wholly free from vicious luxury; but she comforts
herself that nobody can say that her house is dirty, or that her dishes
are not well drest.

This, Mr. Idler, I have found, by long experience, to be the character
of a good sort of woman, which I have sent you for the information of
those by whom a _good sort of woman_ and a _good woman_, may happen to
be used as equivalent terms, and who may suffer by the mistake, like

Your humble servant,


No. 101. SATURDAY, MARCH 22, 1760.

_Carpe hilaris: fuget heu! non revocanda dies._

Omar, the son of Hussan, had passed seventy-five years in honour and
prosperity. The favour of three successive califs had filled his house
with gold and silver; and, whenever he appeared, the benedictions of the
people proclaimed his passage.

Terrestrial happiness is of short continuance. The brightness of the
flame is wasting its fuel; the fragrant flower is passing away in its
own odours. The vigour of Omar began to fail, the curls of beauty fell
from his head, strength departed from his hands, and agility from his
feet. He gave back to the calif the keys of trust and the seals of
secrecy; and sought no other pleasure for the remains of life than the
converse of the wise, and the gratitude of the good.

The powers of his mind were yet unimpaired. His chamber was filled by
visitants, eager to catch the dictates of experience, and officious to
pay the tribute of admiration. Caled, the son of the viceroy of Egypt,
entered every day early, and retired late. He was beautiful and
eloquent; Omar admired his wit, and loved his docility. Tell me, said
Caled, thou to whose voice nations have listened, and whose wisdom is
known to the extremities of Asia, tell me how I may resemble Omar the
prudent. The arts by which you have gained power and preserved it, are
to you no longer necessary or useful; impart to me the secret of your
conduct, and teach me the plan upon which your wisdom has built your

Young man, said Omar, it is of little use to form plans of life. When I
took my first survey of the world, in my twentieth year, having
considered the various conditions of mankind, in the hour of solitude I
said thus to myself, leaning against a cedar which spread its branches
over my head: Seventy years are allowed to man; I have yet fifty
remaining: ten years I will allot to the attainment of knowledge, and
ten I will pass in foreign countries; I shall be learned, and,
therefore, shall be honoured; every city will shout at my arrival, and
every student will solicit my friendship. Twenty years thus passed will
store my mind with images, which I shall be busy through the rest of my
life in combining and comparing. I shall revel in inexhaustible
accumulations of intellectual riches; I shall find new pleasures for
every moment, and shall never more be weary of myself. I will, however,
not deviate too far from the beaten track of life, but will try what can
be found in female delicacy. I will marry a wife beautiful as the
Houries, and wise as Zobeide; with her I will live twenty years within
the suburbs of Bagdat, in every pleasure that wealth can purchase and
fancy can invent. I will then retire to a rural dwelling, pass my last
days in obscurity and contemplation, and lie silently down on the bed of
death. Through my life it shall be my settled resolution, that I will
never depend upon the smile of princes; that I will never stand exposed
to the artifices of courts; I will never pant for publick honours, nor
disturb my quiet with affairs of state. Such was my scheme of life,
which I impressed indelibly upon my memory.

The first part of my ensuing time was to be spent in search of
knowledge; and I know not how I was diverted from my design. I had no
visible impediments without, nor any ungovernable passions within. I
regarded knowledge as the highest honour and the most engaging pleasure;
yet day stole upon day, and month glided after month, till I found that
seven years of the first ten had vanished, and left nothing behind them.
I now postponed my purpose of travelling; for why should I go abroad
while so much remained to be learned at home? I immured myself for four
years, and studied the laws of the empire. The fame of my skill reached
the judges; I was found able to speak upon doubtful questions, and was
commanded to stand at the footstool of the calif. I was heard with
attention, I was consulted with confidence, and the love of praise
fastened on my heart.

I still wished to see distant countries, listened with rapture to the
relations of travellers, and resolved some time to ask my dismission,
that I might feast my soul with novelty; but my presence was always
necessary, and the stream of business hurried me along. Sometimes I was
afraid lest I should be charged with ingratitude; but I still proposed
to travel, and, therefore, would, not confine myself by marriage.

In my fiftieth year I began to suspect that the time of travelling was
past, and thought it best to lay hold on the felicity yet in my power,
and indulge myself in domestick pleasures. But at fifty no man easily
finds a woman beautiful as the Houries, and wise as Zobeide. I inquired
and rejected, consulted and deliberated, till the sixty-second year made
me ashamed of gazing upon girls. I had now nothing left but retirement,
and for retirement I never found a time, till disease forced me from
publick employment.

Such was my scheme, and such has been its consequence. With an
insatiable thirst for knowledge, I trifled away the years of
improvement; with a restless desire of seeing different countries, I
have always resided in the same city; with the highest expectation of
connubial felicity, I have lived unmarried; and with unalterable
resolutions of contemplative retirement, I am going to die within the
walls of Bagdat.

No. 102. SATURDAY, MARCH 29, 1760.

It very seldom happens to man that his business is his pleasure. What is
done from necessity is so often to be done when against the present
inclination, and so often fills the mind with anxiety, that an habitual
dislike steals upon us, and we shrink involuntarily from the remembrance
of our task. This is the reason why almost every one wishes to quit his
employment; he does not like another state, but is disgusted with his

From this unwillingness to perform more than is required of that which
is commonly performed with reluctance, it proceeds that few authors
write their own lives. Statesmen, courtiers, ladies, generals and seamen
have given to the world their own stories, and the events with which
their different stations have made them acquainted. They retired to the
closet as to a place of quiet and amusement, and pleased themselves with
writing, because they could lay down the pen whenever they were weary.
But the author, however conspicuous, or however important, either in the
publick eye or in his own, leaves his life to be related by his
successors, for he cannot gratify his vanity but by sacrificing his

It is commonly supposed that the uniformity of a studious life affords
no matter for a narration: but the truth is, that of the most studious
life a great part passes without study. An author partakes of the common
condition of humanity; he is born and married like another man; he has
hopes and fears, expectations and disappointments, griefs and joys, and
friends and enemies, like a courtier or a statesman; nor can I conceive
why his affairs should not excite curiosity as much as the whisper of a
drawing-room or the factions of a camp.

Nothing detains the reader's attention more powerfully than deep
involutions of distress, or sudden vicissitudes of fortune; and these
might be abundantly afforded by memoirs of the sons of literature. They
are entangled by contracts which they know not how to fulfil, and
obliged to write on subjects which they do not understand. Every
publication is a new period of time, from which some increase or
declension of fame is to be reckoned. The gradations of a hero's life
are from battle to battle, and of an author's from book to book.

Success and miscarriage have the same effects in all conditions. The
prosperous are feared, hated and flattered; and the unfortunate avoided,
pitied and despised. No sooner is a book published than the writer may
judge of the opinion of the world. If his acquaintance press round him
in publick places, or salute him from the other side of the street; if
invitations to dinner come thick upon him, and those with whom he dines
keep him to supper; if the ladies turn to him when his coat is plain,
and the footmen serve him with attention and alacrity; he may be sure
that his work has been praised by some leader of literary fashions.

Of declining reputation the symptoms are not less easily observed. If
the author enters a coffee-house, he has a box to himself; if he calls
at a bookseller's, the boy turns his back and, what is the most fatal of
all prognosticks, authors will visit him in a morning, and talk to him
hour after hour of the malevolence of criticks, the neglect of merit,
the bad taste of the age and the candour of posterity.

All this, modified and varied by accident and custom, would form very
amusing scenes of biography, and might recreate many a mind which is
very little delighted with conspiracies or battles, intrigues of a
court, or debates of a parliament; to this might be added all the
changes of the countenance of a patron, traced from the first glow which
flattery raises in his cheek, through ardour of fondness, vehemence of
promise, magnificence of praise, excuse of delay, and lamentation of
inability, to the last chill look of final dismission, when the one
grows weary of soliciting, and the other of hearing solicitation. Thus
copious are the materials which have been hitherto suffered to lie
neglected, while the repositories of every family that has produced a
soldier or a minister are ransacked, and libraries are crowded with
useless folios of state-papers which will never be read, and which
contribute nothing to valuable knowledge.

I hope the learned will be taught to know their own strength and their
value, and, instead of devoting their lives to the honour of those who
seldom thank them for their labours, resolve at last to do justice to

No. 103. SATURDAY, APRIL 5, 1760.

_Respicere ad longae jussit spatia ultima vitae_. JUV. Sat. x. 275.

Much of the pain and pleasure of mankind arises from the conjectures
which every one makes of the thoughts of others; we all enjoy praise
which we do not hear, and resent contempt which we do not see. The Idler
may, therefore, be forgiven, if he suffers his imagination to represent
to him what his readers will say or think when they are informed that
they have now his last paper in their hands.

Value is more frequently raised by scarcity than by use. That which lay
neglected when it was common, rises in estimation as its quantity
becomes less. We seldom learn the true want of what we have till it is
discovered that we can have no more.

This essay will, perhaps, be read with care even by those who have not
yet attended to any other; and he that finds this late attention
recompensed, will not forbear to wish that he had bestowed it sooner.

Though the Idler and his readers have contracted no close friendship,
they are, perhaps, both unwilling to part. There are few things not
purely evil, of which we can say, without some emotion of uneasiness,
_this is the last_. Those who never could agree together, shed tears
when mutual discontent has determined them to final separation; of a
place which has been frequently visited, though without pleasure, the
last look is taken with heaviness of heart; and the Idler, with all his
chilness of tranquillity, is not wholly unaffected by the thought that
his last essay is now before him.

The secret horrour of the last is inseparable from a thinking being,
whose life is limited, and to whom death is dreadful. We always make a
secret comparison between a part and the whole; the termination of any
period of life reminds us that life itself has likewise its termination;
when we have done any thing for the last time, we involuntarily reflect
that a part of the days allotted us is past, and that as more is past
there is less remaining.

It is very happily and kindly provided, that in every life there are
certain pauses and interruptions, which force consideration upon the
careless, and seriousness upon the light; points of time where one
course of action ends, and another begins; and by vicissitudes of
fortune or alteration of employment, by change of place or loss of
friendship, we are forced to say of something, _this is the last_.

An even and unvaried tenour of life always hides from our apprehension
the approach of its end. Succession is not perceived but by variation;
he that lives to-day as he lived yesterday, and expects that, as the
present day is, such will be the morrow, easily conceives time as
running in a circle and returning to itself. The uncertainty of our
duration is impressed commonly by dissimilitude of condition; it is only
by finding life changeable that we are reminded of its shortness.

This conviction, however forcible at every new impression, is every
moment fading from the mind; and partly by the inevitable incursion of
new images, and partly by voluntary exclusion of unwelcome thoughts, we
are again exposed to the universal fallacy; and we must do another thing
for the last time, before we consider that the time is nigh when we
shall do no more.

As the last Idler is published in that solemn week which the Christian
world has always set apart for the examination of the conscience, the
review of life, the extinction of earthly desires, and the renovation of
holy purposes; I hope that my readers are already disposed to view every
incident with seriousness, and improve it by meditation; and that, when
they see this series of trifles brought to a conclusion, they will
consider that, by out-living the Idler, they have passed weeks, months
and years, which are now no longer in their power; that an end must in
time be put to every thing great as to every thing little; that to life
must come its last hour, and to this system of being its last day, the
hour at which probation ceases, and repentance will be vain; the day in
which every work of the hand, and imagination of the heart shall be
brought to judgment, and an everlasting futurity shall be determined by
the past[1].

[1] This most solemn and impressive paper may be profitably compared
with the introduction of Bishop Heber's first Bampton-Lecture.

THE IDLER. No. 22[1]

Many naturalists are of opinion, that the animals which we commonly
consider as mute, have the power of imparting their thoughts to one
another. That they can express general sensations is very certain; every
being that can utter sounds, has a different voice for pleasure and for
pain. The hound informs his fellows when he scents his game; the hen
calls her chickens to their food by her cluck, and drives them from
danger by her scream.

Birds have the greatest variety of notes; they have, indeed, a variety,
which seems almost sufficient to make a speech adequate to the purposes
of a life which is regulated by instinct, and can admit little change or
improvement. To the cries of birds, curiosity or superstition has been
always attentive; many have studied the language of the feathered
tribes, and some have boasted that they understood it.

The most skilful or most confident interpreters of the sylvan dialogues
have been commonly found among the philosophers of the east, in a
country where the calmness of the air, and the mildness of the seasons,
allow the student to pass a great part of the year in groves and bowers.
But what may be done in one place by peculiar opportunities, may be
performed in another by peculiar diligence. A shepherd of Bohemia has,
by long abode in the forests, enabled himself to understand the voice of
birds; at least he relates with great confidence a story, of which the
credibility is left to be considered by the learned.

"As I was sitting" said he, "within a hollow rock, and watching my sheep
that fed in the valley, I heard two vultures interchangeably crying on
the summit of the cliff. Both voices were earnest and deliberate. My
curiosity prevailed over my care of the flock; I climbed slowly and
silently from crag to crag, concealed among the shrubs, till I found a
cavity where I might sit and listen without suffering or giving

"I soon perceived, that my labour would be well repaid; for an old
vulture was sitting on a naked prominence, with her young about her,
whom she was instructing in the arts of a vulture's life, and preparing,
by the last lecture, for their final dismission to the mountains and the

"My children," said the old vulture, "you will the less want my
instructions, because you have had my practice before your eyes; you
have seen me snatch from the farm the household fowl; you have seen me
seize the leveret in the bush, and the kid in the pasture; you know how
to fix your talons, and how to balance your flight when you are laden
with your prey. But you remember the taste of more delicious food; I
have often regaled you with the flesh of man." "Tell us," said the young
vultures, "where man may be found, and how he may be known; his flesh is
surely the natural food of a vulture. Why have you never brought a man
in your talons to the nest?" "He is too bulky," said the mother; "when
we find a man, we can only tear away his flesh, and leave his bones upon
the ground." "Since man is so big," said the young ones, "how do you
kill him? You are afraid of the wolf and of the bear, by what power are
vultures superior to man? is man more defenceless than a sheep?" "We
have not the strength of man," returned the mother, "and I am sometimes
in doubt whether we have the subtilty; and the vultures would seldom
feast upon his flesh, had not nature, that devoted him to our uses,
infused into him a strange ferocity, which I have never observed in any
other being that feeds upon the earth. Two herds of men will often meet
and shake the earth with noise, and fill the air with fire. When you
hear noise and see fire, with flashes along the ground, hasten to the
place with your swiftest wing, for men are surely destroying one
another; you will then find the ground smoking with blood, and covered
with carcasses, of which many are dismembered and mangled for the
convenience of the vulture." "But when men have killed their prey," said
the pupil, "why do they not eat it? When the wolf has killed a sheep, he
suffers not the vulture to touch it till he has satisfied himself. Is
not man another kind of wolf?" "Man," said the mother, "is the only
beast who kills that which he does not devour, and this quality makes
him so much a benefactor to our species." "If men kill our prey and lay
it in our way," said the young one, "what need shall we have of
labouring for ourselves?" "Because man will, sometimes," replied the
mother, "remain for a long time quiet in his den. The old vultures will
tell you when you are to watch his motions. When you see men in great
numbers moving close together, like a flock of storks, you may conclude
that they are hunting, and that you will soon revel in human blood."
"But still," said the young one, "I would gladly know the reason of this
mutual slaughter. I could never kill what I could not eat." "My child,"
said the mother, "this is a question which I cannot answer, though I am
reckoned the most subtle bird of the mountain. When I was young, I used
frequently to visit the aerie of an old vulture, who dwelt upon the
Carpathian rocks; he had made many observations; he knew the places that
afforded prey round his habitation; as far in every direction as the
strongest wing can fly between the rising and setting of the summer sun;
he had fed year after year on the entrails of men. His opinion was, that
men had only the appearance of animal life, being really vegetables with
a power of motion; and that as the boughs of an oak are dashed together
by the storm, that swine may fatten upon the fallen acorns, so men are
by some unaccountable power driven one against another, till they lose
their motion, that vultures may be fed. Others think they have observed
something of contrivance and policy among these mischievous beings; and
those that hover more closely round them, pretend, that there is, in
every herd, one that gives directions to the rest, and seems to be more
eminently delighted with a wide carnage. What it is that entitles him to
such preeminence we know not; he is seldom the biggest or the swiftest,
but he shows by his eagerness and diligence that he is, more than any of
the others, a friend to the vultures."

[1] This was the original No. 22, but on the republication of the work
in volumes, Dr. Johnson substituted what now stands under that head.


Book of the day: