The Works of Samuel Johnson in Nine Volumes
Part 2 out of 9
passed the day with anguish in his heart and distraction in his looks,
he seized at night a very large sum of money in the compting-house, and
setting out he knew not whither, was heard of no more.
The consequence of his flight was the ruin of Candidus; ruin surely
undeserved and irreproachable, and such as the laws of a just government
ought either to prevent or repair: nothing is more inequitable than that
one man should suffer for the crimes of another, for crimes which he
neither prompted nor permitted, which he could neither foresee nor
prevent. When we consider the weakness of human resolutions and the
inconsistency of human conduct, it must appear absurd that one man shall
engage for another, that he will not change his opinions or alter his
It is, I think, worthy of consideration, whether, since no wager is
binding without a possibility of loss on each side, it is not equally
reasonable, that no contract should be valid without reciprocal
stipulations; but in this case, and others of the same kind, what is
stipulated on his side to whom the bond is given? he takes advantage of
the security, neglects his affairs, omits his duty, suffers timorous
wickedness to grow daring by degrees, permits appetite to call for new
gratifications, and, perhaps, secretly longs for the time in which he
shall have power to seize the forfeiture; and if virtue or gratitude
should prove too strong for temptation, and a young man persist in
honesty, however instigated by his passions, what can secure him at last
against a false accusation? I for my part always shall suspect, that he
who can by such methods secure his property, will go one step further to
increase it; nor can I think that man safely trusted with the means of
mischief, who, by his desire to have them in his hands, gives an evident
proof how much less he values his neighbour's happiness than his own.
Another of our companions is Lentulus, a man whose dignity of birth was
very ill supported by his fortune. As some of the first offices in the
kingdom were filled by his relations, he was early invited to court, and
encouraged by caresses and promises to attendance and solicitation; a
constant appearance in splendid company necessarily required
magnificence of dress; and a frequent participation of fashionable
amusements forced him into expense: but these measures were requisite to
his success; since every body knows, that to be lost to sight is to be
lost to remembrance, and that he who desires to fill a vacancy, must be
always at hand, lest some man of greater vigilance should step in before
By this course of life his little fortune was every day made less: but
he received so many distinctions in publick, and was known to resort so
familiarly to the houses of the great, that every man looked on his
preferment as certain, and believed that its value would compensate for
its slowness: he, therefore, found no difficulty in obtaining credit for
all that his rank or his vanity made necessary: and, as ready payment
was not expected, the bills were proportionably enlarged, and the value
of the hazard or delay was adjusted solely by the equity of the
creditor. At length death deprived Lentulus of one of his patrons, and a
revolution in the ministry of another; so that all his prospects
vanished at once, and those that had before encouraged his expenses,
began to perceive that their money was in danger; there was now no other
contention but who should first seize upon his person, and, by forcing
immediate payment, deliver him up naked to the vengeance of the rest.
In pursuance of this scheme, one of them invited him to a tavern, and
procured him to be arrested at the door; but Lentulus, instead of
endeavouring secretly to pacify him by payment, gave notice to the rest,
and offered to divide amongst them the remnant of his fortune: they
feasted six hours at his expense, to deliberate on his proposal; and at
last determined, that as he could not offer more than five shillings in
the pound, it would be more prudent to keep him in prison, till he could
procure from his relations the payment of his debts.
Lentulus is not the only man confined within these walls, on the same
account: the like procedure, upon the like motives, is common among men
whom yet the law allows to partake the use of fire and water with the
compassionate and the just; who frequent the assemblies of commerce in
open day, and talk with detestation and contempt of highwaymen or
housebreakers: but, surely, that man must be confessedly robbed, who is
compelled, by whatever means, to pay the debts which he does not owe:
nor can I look with equal hatred upon him, who, at the hazard of his
life, holds out his pistol and demands my purse, as on him who plunders
under shelter of the law, and by detaining my son or my friend in
prison, extorts from me the price of their liberty. No man can be more
an enemy to society than he, by whose machinations our virtues are
turned to our disadvantage; he is less destructive to mankind that
plunders cowardice, than he that preys upon compassion.
I believe, Mr. Adventurer, you will readily confess, that though not one
of these, if tried before a commercial judicature, can be wholly
acquitted from imprudence or temerity; yet that, in the eye of all who
can consider virtue as distinct from wealth, the fault of two of them,
at least, is outweighed by the merit; and that of the third is so much
extenuated by the circumstances of his life, as not to deserve a
perpetual prison: yet must these, with multitudes equally blameless,
languish in confinement, till malevolence shall relent, or the law be
I am, Sir,
Your humble servant, MISARGYRUS.
No. 67. TUESDAY, JUNE 26, 1753.
_Inventas--vitam excolucre per artes_. VIRG. Aen. vi. 663.
They polish life by useful arts.
That familiarity produces neglect, has been long observed. The effect of
all external objects, however great or splendid, ceases with their
novelty; the courtier stands without emotion in the royal presence; the
rustick tramples under his foot the beauties of the spring with little
attention to their colours or their fragrance; and the inhabitant of the
coast darts his eye upon the immense diffusion of waters, without awe,
wonder, or terrour.
Those who have past much of their lives in this great city, look upon
its opulence and its multitudes, its extent and variety, with cold
indifference; but an inhabitant of the remoter parts of the kingdom is
immediately distinguished by a kind of dissipated curiosity, a busy
endeavour to divide his attention amongst a thousand objects, and a wild
confusion of astonishment and alarm.
The attention of a new comer is generally first struck by the
multiplicity of cries that stun him in the streets, and the variety of
merchandize and manufactures which the shopkeepers expose on every hand;
and he is apt, by unwary bursts of admiration, to excite the merriment
and contempt of those who mistake the use of their eyes for effects of
their understanding, and confound accidental knowledge with just
But, surely, these are subjects on which any man may without reproach
employ his meditations: the innumerable occupations, among which the
thousands that swarm in the streets of London, are distributed, may
furnish employment to minds of every cast, and capacities of every
degree. He that contemplates the extent of this wonderful city, finds it
difficult to conceive, by what method plenty is maintained in our
markets, and how the inhabitants are regularly supplied with the
necessaries of life; but when he examines the shops and warehouses, sees
the immense stores of every kind of merchandize piled up for sale, and
runs over all the manufactures of art and products of nature, which are
every where attracting his eye and soliciting his purse, he will be
inclined to conclude, that such quantities cannot easily be exhausted,
and that part of mankind must soon stand still for want of employment,
till the wares already provided shall be worn out and destroyed.
As Socrates was passing through the fair at Athens, and casting his eyes
over the shops and customers, "how many things are here," says he, "that
I do not want!" The same sentiment is every moment rising in the mind of
him that walks the streets of London, however inferior in philosophy to
Socrates: he beholds a thousand shops crowded with goods, of which he
can scarcely tell the use, and which, therefore, he is apt to consider
as of no value: and indeed, many of the arts by which families are
supported, and wealth is heaped together, are of that minute and
superfluous kind, which nothing but experience could evince possible to
be prosecuted with advantage, and which, as the world might easily want,
it could scarcely be expected to encourage.
But so it is, that custom, curiosity, or wantonness, supplies every art
with patrons, and finds purchasers for every manufacture; the world is
so adjusted, that not only bread, but riches may be obtained without
great abilities or arduous performances: the most unskilful hand and
unenlightened mind have sufficient incitements to industry; for he that
is resolutely busy, can scarcely be in want. There is, indeed, no
employment, however despicable, from which a man may not promise himself
more than competence, when he sees thousands and myriads raised to
dignity, by no other merit than that of contributing to supply their
neighbours with the means of sucking smoke through a tube of clay; and
others raising contributions upon those, whose elegance disdains the
grossness of smoky luxury, by grinding the same materials into a. powder
that may at once gratify and impair the smell.
Not only by these popular and modish trifles, but by a thousand unheeded
and evanescent kinds of business, are the multitudes of this city
preserved from idleness, and consequently from want. In the endless
variety of tastes and circumstances that diversify mankind, nothing is
so superfluous, but that some one desires it: or so common, but that
some one is compelled to buy it. As nothing is useless but because it is
in improper hands, what is thrown away by one is gathered up by another;
and the refuse of part of mankind furnishes a subordinate class with the
materials necessary to their support.
When I look round upon those who are thus variously exerting their
qualifications, I cannot but admire the secret concatenation of society
that links together the great and the mean, the illustrious and the
obscure; and consider with benevolent satisfaction, that no man, unless
his body or mind be totally disabled, has need to suffer the
mortification of seeing himself useless or burthensome to the community:
he that will diligently labour, in whatever occupation, will deserve the
sustenance which he obtains, and the protection which he enjoys; and may
lie down every night with the pleasing consciousness of having
contributed something to the happiness of life.
Contempt and admiration are equally incident to narrow minds: he whose
comprehension can take in the whole subordination of mankind, and whose
perspicacity can pierce to the real state of things through the thin
veils of fortune or of fashion, will discover meanness in the highest
stations, and dignity in the meanest; and find that no man can become
venerable but by virtue, or contemptible but by wickedness.
In the midst of this universal hurry, no man ought to be so little
influenced by example, or so void of honest emulation, as to stand a
lazy spectator of incessant labour; or please himself with the mean
happiness of a drone, while the active swarms are buzzing about him: no
man is without some quality, by the due application of which he might
deserve well of the world; and whoever he be that has but little in his
power, should be in haste to do that little, lest he be confounded with
him that can do nothing.
By this general concurrence of endeavours, arts of every kind have been
so long cultivated, that all the wants of man may be immediately
supplied; idleness can scarcely form a wish which she may not gratify by
the toil of others, or curiosity dream of a toy, which the shops are not
ready to afford her.
Happiness is enjoyed only in proportion as it is known; and such is the
state or folly of man, that it is known only by experience of its
contrary: we who have long lived amidst the conveniencies of a town
immensely populous, have scarce an idea of a place where desire cannot
be gratified by money. In order to have a just sense of this artificial
plenty, it is necessary to have passed some time in a distant colony, or
those parts of our island which are thinly inhabited: he that has once
known how many trades every man in such situations is compelled to
exercise, with how much labour the products of nature must be
accommodated to human use, how long the loss or defect of any common
utensil must be endured, or by what awkward expedients it must be
supplied, how far men may wander with money in their hands before any
can sell them what they wish to buy, will know how to rate at its proper
value the plenty and ease of a great city.
But that the happiness of man may still remain imperfect, as wants in
this place are easily supplied, new wants likewise are easily created;
every man, in surveying the shops of London, sees numberless instruments
and conveniencies, of which, while he did not know them, he never felt
the need; and yet, when use has made them familiar, wonders how life
could be supported without them. Thus it comes to pass, that our desires
always increase with our possessions; the knowledge that something
remains yet unenjoyed, impairs our enjoyment of the good before us.
They who have been accustomed to the refinements of science, and
multiplications of contrivance, soon lose their confidence in the
unassisted powers of nature, forget the paucity of our real necessities,
and overlook the easy methods by which they may be supplied. It were a
speculation worthy of a philosophical mind, to examine how much is taken
away from our native abilities, as well as added to them, by artificial
expedients. We are so accustomed to give and receive assistance, that
each of us singly can do little for himself; and there is scarce any one
among us, however contracted may be his form of life, who does not enjoy
the labour of a thousand artists.
But a survey of the various nations that inhabit the earth will inform
us, that life may be supported with less assistance; and that the
dexterity, which practice enforced by necessity produces, is able to
effect much by very scanty means. The nations of Mexico and Peru erected
cities and temples without the use of iron; and at this day the rude
Indian supplies himself with all the necessaries of life: sent like the
rest of mankind naked into the world, as soon as his parents have nursed
him up to strength, he is to provide by his own labour for his own
support. His first care is to find a sharp flint among the rocks; with
this he undertakes to fell the trees of the forest; he shapes his bow,
heads his arrows, builds his cottage, and hollows his canoe, and from
that time lives in a state of plenty and prosperity; he is sheltered
from the storms, he is fortified against beasts of prey, he is enabled
to pursue the fish of the sea, and the deer of the mountains; and as he
does not know, does not envy the happiness of polished nations, where
gold can supply the want of fortitude and skill, and he whose laborious
ancestors have made him rich, may lie stretched upon a couch, and see
all the treasures of all the elements poured down before him.
This picture of a savage life if it shows how much individuals may
perform, shows likewise how much society is to be desired. Though the
perseverance and address of the Indian excite our admiration, they
nevertheless cannot procure him the conveniencies which are enjoyed by
the vagrant beggar of a civilized country: he hunts like a wild beast to
satisfy his hunger; and when he lies down to rest after a successful
chase, cannot pronounce himself secure against the danger of perishing
in a few days: he is, perhaps, content with his condition, because he
knows not that a better is attainable by man; as he that is born blind
does not long for the perception of light, because he cannot conceive
the advantages which light would afford him; but hunger, wounds, and
weariness, are real evils, though he believes them equally incident to
all his fellow-creatures; and when a tempest compels him to lie starving
in his hut, he cannot justly be concluded equally happy with those whom
art has exempted from the power of chance, and who make the foregoing
year provide for the following.
To receive and to communicate assistance, constitutes the happiness of
human life: man may, indeed, preserve his existence in solitude, but can
enjoy it only in society; the greatest understanding of an individual,
doomed to procure food and clothing for himself, will barely supply him
with expedients to keep off death from day to day; but as one of a large
community performing only his share of the common business, he gains
leisure for intellectual pleasures, and enjoys the happiness of reason
No. 69. TUESDAY, JULY 3, 1753.
_Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt._ Caesar.
Men willingly believe what they wish to be true.
Tully has long ago observed, that no man, however weakened by long life,
is so conscious of his own decrepitude, as not to imagine that he may
yet hold his station in the world for another year.
Of the truth of this remark every day furnishes new confirmation: there
is no time of life, in which men for the most part seem less to expect
the stroke of death, than when every other eye sees it impending; or are
more busy in providing for another year, than when it is plain to all
but themselves, that at another year they cannot arrive. Though every
funeral that passes before their eyes evinces the deceitfulness of such
expectations, since every man who is born to the grave thought himself
equally certain of living at least to the next year; the survivor still
continues to flatter himself, and is never at a loss for some reason why
his life should be protracted, and the voracity of death continue to be
pacified with some other prey.
But this is only one of the innumerable artifices practised in the
universal conspiracy of mankind against themselves: every age and every
condition indulges some darling fallacy; every man amuses himself with
projects which he knows to be improbable, and which, therefore, he
resolves to pursue without daring to examine them. Whatever any man
ardently desires, he very readily believes that he shall some time
attain: he whose intemperance has overwhelmed him with diseases, while
he languishes in the spring, expects vigour and recovery from the summer
sun; and while he melts away in the summer, transfers his hopes to the
frosts of winter: he that gazes upon elegance or pleasure, which want of
money hinders him from imitating or partaking, comforts himself that the
time of distress will soon be at an end, and that every day brings him
nearer to a state of happiness; though he knows it has passed not only
without acquisition of advantage, but perhaps without endeavours after
it, in the formation of schemes that cannot be executed, and in the
contemplation of prospects which cannot be approached.
Such is the general dream in which we all slumber out our time: every
man thinks the day coming, in which he shall be gratified with all his
wishes, in which he shall leave all those competitors behind, who are
now rejoicing like himself in the expectation of victory; the day is
always coming to the servile in which they shall be powerful, to the
obscure in which they shall be eminent, and to the deformed in which
they shall be beautiful.
If any of my readers has looked with so little attention on the world
about him, as to imagine this representation exaggerated beyond
probability, let him reflect a little upon his own life; let him
consider what were his hopes and prospects ten years ago, and what
additions he then expected to be made by ten years to his happiness;
those years are now elapsed; have they made good the promise that was
extorted from them? have they advanced his fortune, enlarged his
knowledge, or reformed his conduct, to the degree that was once
expected? I am afraid, every man that recollects his hopes must confess
his disappointment; and own that day has glided unprofitably after day,
and that he is still at the same distance from the point of happiness.
With what consolations can those, who have thus miscarried in their
chief design, elude the memory of their ill success? with what
amusements can they pacify their discontent, after the loss of so large
a portion of life? they can give themselves up again to the same
delusions, they can form new schemes of airy gratifications, and fix
another period of felicity; they can again resolve to trust the promise
which they know will be broken, they can walk in a circle with their
eyes shut, and persuade themselves to think that they go forward.
Of every great and complicated event, part depends upon causes out of
our power, and part must be effected by vigour and perseverance. With
regard to that which is styled in common language the work of chance,
men will always find reasons for confidence or distrust, according to
their different tempers or inclinations; and he that has been long
accustomed to please himself with possibilities of fortuitous happiness,
will not easily or willingly be reclaimed from his mistake. But the
effects of human industry and skill are more easily subjected to
calculation: whatever can be completed in a year, is divisible into
parts, of which each may be performed in the compass of a day; he,
therefore, that has passed the day without attention to the task
assigned him, may be certain, that the lapse of life has brought him no
nearer to his object; for whatever idleness may expect from time, its
produce will be only in proportion to the diligence with which it has
been used. He that floats lazily down the stream, in pursuit of
something borne along by the same current, will find himself indeed move
forward; but unless he lays his hand to the oar, and increases his speed
by his own labour, must be always at the same distance from that which
he is following.
There have happened in every age some contingencies of unexpected and
undeserved success, by which those who are determined to believe
whatever favours their inclinations, have been encouraged to delight
themselves with future advantages; they support confidence by
considerations, of which the only proper use is to chase away despair:
it is equally absurd to sit down in idleness because some have been
enriched without labour, as to leap a precipice because some have fallen
and escaped with life, or to put to sea in a storm because some have
been driven from a wreck upon the coast to which they are bound.
We are all ready to confess, that belief ought to be proportioned to
evidence or probability: let any man, therefore, compare the number of
those who have been thus favoured by fortune, and of those who have
failed of their expectations, and he will easily determine, with what
justness he has registered himself in the lucky catalogue.
But there is no need on these occasions for deep inquiries or laborious
calculations; there is a far easier method of distinguishing the hopes
of folly from those of reason, of finding the difference between
prospects that exist before the eyes, and those that are only painted on
a fond imagination. Tom Drowsy had accustomed himself to compute the
profit of a darling project till he had no longer any doubt of its
success; it was at last matured by close consideration, all the measures
were accurately adjusted, and he wanted only five hundred pounds to
become master of a fortune that might be envied by a director of a
trading company. Tom was generous and grateful, and was resolved to
recompense this small assistance with an ample fortune; he, therefore,
deliberated for a time, to whom amongst his friends he should declare
his necessities; not that he suspected a refusal, but because he could
not suddenly determine which of them would make the best use of riches,
and was, therefore, most worthy of his favour. At last his choice was
settled; and knowing that in order to borrow he must shew the
probability of repayment, he prepared for a minute and copious
explanation of his project. But here the golden dream was at an end: he
soon discovered the impossibility of imposing upon others the notions by
which he had so long imposed upon himself; which way soever he turned
his thoughts, impossibility and absurdity arose in opposition on every
side; even credulity and prejudice were at last forced to give way, and
he grew ashamed of crediting himself what shame would not suffer him to
communicate to another.
To this test let every man bring his imaginations, before they have been
too long predominant in his mind. Whatever is true will bear to be
related, whatever is rational will endure to be explained; but when we
delight to brood in secret over future happiness, and silently to employ
our meditations upon schemes of which we are conscious that the bare
mention would expose us to derision and contempt; we should then
remember, that we are cheating ourselves by voluntary delusions; and
giving up to the unreal mockeries of fancy, those hours in which solid
advantages might be attained by sober thought and rational assiduity.
There is, indeed, so little certainty in human affairs, that the most
cautious and severe examiner may be allowed to indulge some hopes which
he cannot prove to be much favoured by probability; since, after his
utmost endeavours to ascertain events, he must often leave the issue in
the hands of chance. And so scanty is our present allowance of
happiness, that in many situations life could scarcely be supported, if
hope were not allowed to relieve the present hour by pleasures borrowed
from futurity; and reanimate the languor of dejection to new efforts, by
pointing to distant regions of felicity, which yet no resolution or
perseverance shall ever reach.
But these, like all other cordials, though they may invigorate in a
small quantity, intoxicate in a greater; these pleasures, like the rest,
are lawful only in certain circumstances, and to certain degrees; they
may be useful in a due subserviency to nobler purposes, but become
dangerous and destructive when once they gain the ascendant in the
heart: to soothe the mind to tranquillity by hope, even when that hope
is likely to deceive us, may be sometimes useful; but to lull our
faculties in a lethargy is poor and despicable.
Vices and errours are differently modified, according to the state of
the minds to which they are incident; to indulge hope beyond the warrant
of reason, is the failure alike of mean and elevated understandings; but
its foundation and its effects are totally different: the man of high
courage and great abilities is apt to place too much confidence in
himself, and to expect, from a vigorous exertion of his powers, more
than spirit or diligence can attain: between him and his wish he sees
obstacles indeed, but he expects to overleap or break them; his mistaken
ardour hurries him forward; and though, perhaps, he misses his end, he
nevertheless obtains some collateral good, and performs something useful
to mankind, and honourable to himself.
The drone of timidity presumes likewise to hope, but without ground and
without consequence; the bliss with which he solaces his hours he always
expects from others, though very often he knows not from whom: he folds
his arms about him, and sits in expectation of some revolution in the
state that shall raise him to greatness, or some golden shower that
shall load him with wealth; he dozes away the day in musing upon the
morrow; and at the end of life is roused from his dream only to discover
that the time of action is past, and that he can now shew his wisdom
only by repentance.
No. 74. SATURDAY, JULY 21, 1753.
_Insanientis dun sapientae
Consultus erro.--_ HOR. Lib. i. Od. xxxiv. 2.
I miss'd my end, and lost my way,
By crack-brain'd wisdom led astray.
TO THE ADVENTURER.
It has long been charged by one part of mankind upon the other, that
they will not take advice; that counsel and instruction are generally
thrown away; and that, in defiance both of admonition and example, all
claim the right to choose their own measures, and to regulate their own
That there is something in advice very useful and salutary, seems to be
equally confessed on all hands: since even those that reject it, allow
for the most part that rejection to be wrong, but charge the fault upon
the unskilful manner in which it is given: they admit the efficacy of
the medicine, but abhor the nauseousness of the vehicle.
Thus mankind have gone on from century to century: some have been
advising others how to act, and some have been teaching the advisers how
to advise; yet very little alteration has been made in the world. As we
must all by the law of nature enter life in ignorance, we must all make
our way through it by the light of our own experience; and for any
security that advice has been yet able to afford, must endeavour after
success at the hazard of miscarriage, and learn to do right by venturing
to do wrong.
By advice I would not be understood to mean, the everlasting and
invariable principles of moral and religious truth, from which no change
of external circumstances can justify any deviation; but such directions
as respect merely the prudential part of conduct, and which may he
followed or neglected without any violation of essential duties.
It is, indeed, not so frequently to make us good as to make us wise,
that our friends employ the officiousness of counsel; and among the
rejectors of advice, who are mentioned by the grave and sententious with
so much acrimony, you will not so often find the vicious and abandoned,
as the pert and the petulant, the vivacious and the giddy.
As the great end of female education is to get a husband, this likewise
is the general subject of female advice: and the dreadful denunciation
against those volatile girls, who will not listen patiently to the
lectures of wrinkled wisdom, is, that they will die unmarried, or throw
themselves away upon some worthless fellow, who will never be able to
keep them a coach.
I being naturally of a ductile and easy temper, without strong desires
or quick resentments, was always a favourite amongst the elderly ladies,
because I never rebelled against seniority, nor could be charged with
thinking myself wise before my time; but heard every opinion with
submissive silence, professed myself ready to learn from all who seemed
inclined to teach me, paid the same grateful acknowledgments for
precepts contradictory to each other, and if any controversy arose, was
careful to side with her who presided in the company.
Of this compliance I very early found the advantage; for my aunt Matilda
left me a very large addition to my fortune, for this reason chiefly, as
she herself declared, because I was not above hearing good counsel, but
would sit from morning till night to be instructed, while my sister
Sukey, who was a year younger than myself, and was, therefore, in
greater want of information, was so much conceited of her own knowledge,
that whenever the good lady in the ardour of benevolence reproved or
instructed her, she would pout or titter, interrupt her with questions,
or embarrass her with objections.
I had no design to supplant my sister by this complaisant attention;
nor, when the consequence of my obsequiousness came to be known, did
Sukey so much envy as despise me: I was, however, very well pleased with
my success; and having received, from the concurrent opinion of all
mankind, a notion that to be rich was to be great and happy, I thought I
had obtained my advantages at an easy rate, and resolved to continue the
same passive attention, since I found myself so powerfully recommended
by it to kindness and esteem.
The desire of advising has a very extensive prevalence; and since advice
cannot be given but to those that will hear it, a patient listener is
necessary to the accommodation of all those who desire to be confirmed
in the opinion of their own wisdom: a patient listener, however, is not
always to be had; the present age, whatever age is present, is so
vitiated and disordered that young people are readier to talk than to
attend, and good counsel is only thrown away upon those who are full of
their own perfections.
I was, therefore, in this scarcity of good sense, a general favourite;
and seldom saw a day in which some sober matron did not invite me to her
house, or take me out in her chariot, for the sake of instructing me how
to keep my character in this censorious age, how to conduct myself in
the time of courtship, how to stipulate for a settlement, how to manage
a husband of every character, regulate my family, and educate my
We are all naturally credulous in our own favour. Having been so often
caressed and applauded for docility, I was willing to believe myself
really enlightened by instruction, and completely qualified for the task
of life. I did not doubt but I was entering the world with a mind
furnished against all exigencies, with expedients to extricate myself
from every difficulty, and sagacity to provide against every danger; I
was, therefore, in haste to give some specimen of my prudence, and to
show that this liberality of instruction had not been idly lavished upon
a mind incapable of improvement.
My purpose, for why should I deny it? was like that of other women, to
obtain a husband of rank and fortune superior to my own; and in this I
had the concurrence of all those that had assumed the province of
directing me. That the woman was undone who married below herself, was
universally agreed: and though some ventured to assert, that the richer
man ought invariably to be preferred, and that money was a sufficient
compensation for a defective ancestry; yet the majority declared warmly
for a gentleman, and were of opinion that upstarts should not be
With regard to other qualifications I had an irreconcilable variety of
instructions. I was sometimes told that deformity was no defect in a
man; and that he who was not encouraged to intrigue by an opinion of his
person, was more likely to value the tenderness of his wife: but a
grave-widow directed me to choose a man who might imagine himself
agreeable to me, for that the deformed were always insupportably
vigilant, and apt to sink into sullenness, or burst into rage, if they
found their wife's eye wandering for a moment to a good face or a
They were, however, all unanimous in warning me, with repeated cautions,
against all thoughts of union with a wit, as a being with whom no
happiness could possibly be enjoyed: men of every other kind I was
taught to govern, but a wit was an animal for whom no arts of taming had
been yet discovered: the woman whom he could once get within his power,
was considered as lost to all hope of dominion or of quiet: for he would
detect artifice and defeat allurement; and if once he discovered any
failure of conduct, would believe his own eyes, in defiance of tears,
caresses, and protestations.
In pursuance of these sage principles, I proceeded to form my schemes;
and while I was yet in the first bloom of youth, was taken out at an
assembly by Mr. Frisk. I am afraid my cheeks glowed, and my eyes
sparkled; for I observed the looks of all my superintendants fixed
anxiously upon me; and I was next day cautioned against him from all
hands, as a man of the most dangerous and formidable kind, who had writ
verses to one lady, and then forsaken her only because she could not
read them, and had lampooned another for no other fault than defaming
Having been hitherto accustomed to obey, I ventured to dismiss Mr.
Frisk, who happily did not think me worth the labour of a lampoon. I was
then addressed by Mr. Sturdy, and congratulated by all my friends on the
manors of which I was shortly to be lady: but Sturdy's conversation was
so gross, that after the third visit I could endure him no longer; and
incurred, by dismissing him, the censure of all my friends, who declared
that my nicety was greater than my prudence, and that they feared it
would be my fate at last to be wretched with a wit.
By a wit, however, I was never afterwards attacked, but lovers of every
other class, or pretended lovers, I have often had; and, notwithstanding
the advice constantly given me, to have no regard in my choice to my own
inclinations, I could not forbear to discard some for vice, and some for
rudeness. I was once loudly censured for refusing an old gentleman who
offered an enormous jointure, and died of the phthisic a year after; and
was so baited with incessant importunities, that I should have given my
hand to Drone the stock-jobber, had not the reduction of interest made
him afraid of the expenses of matrimony.
Some, indeed, I was permitted to encourage; but miscarried of the main
end, by treating them according to the rules of art which had been
prescribed me. Altilis, an old maid, infused into me so much haughtiness
and reserve, that some of my lovers withdrew themselves from my frown,
and returned no more; others were driven away, by the demands of
settlement which the widow Trapland directed me to make; and I have
learned, by many experiments, that to ask advice is to lose opportunity.
I am, Sir,
Your humble servant,
No. 81. TUESDAY, AUGUST 14, 1753.
_Nil desperandum. Lib. i. Od. vii. 27.
I have sometimes heard it disputed in conversation, whether it be more
laudable or desirable, that a man should think too highly or too meanly
of himself: it is on all hands agreed to be best, that he should think
rightly; but since a fallible being will always make some deviations
from exact rectitude, it is not wholly useless to inquire towards which
side it is safer to decline.
The prejudices of mankind seem to favour him who errs by under-rating
his own powers: he is considered as a modest and harmless member of
society, not likely to break the peace by competition, to endeavour
after such splendour of reputation as may dim the lustre of others, or
to interrupt any in the enjoyment of themselves; he is no man's rival,
and, therefore, may be every man's friend.
The opinion which a man entertains of himself ought to be distinguished,
in order to an accurate discussion of this question, as it relates to
persons or to things. To think highly of ourselves in comparison with
others, to assume by our own authority that precedence which none is
willing to grant, must be always invidious and offensive; but to rate
our powers high in proportion to things, and imagine ourselves equal to
great undertakings, while we leave others in possession of the same
abilities, cannot with equal justice provoke censure.
It must be confessed, that self-love may dispose us to decide too
hastily in our own favour: but who is hurt by the mistake? If we are
incited by this vain opinion to attempt more than we can perform, ours
is the labour, and ours is the disgrace.
But he that dares to think well of himself, will not always prove to be
mistaken; and the good effects of his confidence will then appear in
great attempts and great performances: if he should not fully complete
his design, he will at least advance it so far as to leave an easier
task for him that succeeds him; and even though he should wholly fail,
he will fail with honour.
But from the opposite errour, from torpid despondency, can come no
advantage; it is the frost of the soul, which binds up all its powers,
and congeals life in perpetual sterility. He that has no hopes of
success, will make no attempts; and where nothing is attempted, nothing
can be done.
Every man should, therefore, endeavour to maintain in himself a
favourable opinion of the powers of the human mind; which are, perhaps,
in every man, greater than they appear, and might, by diligent
cultivation, be exalted to a degree beyond what their possessor presumes
to believe. There is scarce any man but has found himself able, at the
instigation of necessity, to do what in a state of leisure and
deliberation he would have concluded impossible; and some of our species
have signalized themselves by such achievements, as prove that there are
few things above human hope.
It has been the policy of all nations to preserve, by some public
monuments, the memory of those who have served their country by great
exploits: there is the same reason for continuing or reviving the names
of those, whose extensive abilities have dignified humanity. An honest
emulation may be alike excited; and the philosopher's curiosity may be
inflamed by a catalogue of the works of Boyle or Bacon, as Themistocles
was kept awake by the trophies of Miltiades.
Among the favourites of nature that have from time to time appeared in
the world, enriched with various endowments and contrarieties of
excellence, none seems to have been exalted above the common rate of
humanity, than the man known about two centuries ago by the appellation
of the Admirable Crichton; of whose history, whatever we may suppress as
surpassing credibility, yet we shall, upon incontestable authority,
relate enough to rank him among prodigies.
"Virtue," says Virgil, "is better accepted when it comes in a pleasing
form:" the person of Crichton was eminently beautiful; but his beauty
was consistent with such activity and strength, that in fencing he would
spring at one bound the length of twenty feet upon his antagonist; and
he used the sword in either hand with such force and dexterity, that
scarce any one had courage to engage him.
Having studied at St. Andrew's in Scotland, he went to Paris in his
twenty-first year, and affixed on the gate of the college of Navarre a
kind of challenge to the learned of that university to dispute with him
on a certain day: offering to his opponents, whoever they should be, the
choice of ten languages, and of all faculties and sciences. On the day
appointed three thousand auditors assembled, when four doctors of the
church and fifty masters appeared against him; and one of his
antagonists confesses, that the doctors were defeated; that he gave
proofs of knowledge above the reach of man; and that a hundred years
passed without food or sleep, would not be sufficient for the attainment
of his learning. After a disputation of nine hours, he was presented by
the president and professors with a diamond and a purse of gold, and
dismissed with repeated acclamations.
From Paris he went away to Rome, where he made the same challenge, and
had in the presence of the pope and cardinals the same success.
Afterwards he contracted at Venice an acquaintance with Aldus Manutius,
by whom he was introduced to the learned of that city: then visited
Padua, where he engaged in another publick disputation, beginning his
performance with an extemporal poem in praise of the city and the
assembly then present, and concluding with an oration equally
unpremeditated in commendation of ignorance.
He afterwards published another challenge, in which he declared himself
ready to detect the errours of Aristotle and all his commentators,
either in the common forms of logick, or in any which his antagonists
should propose of a hundred different kinds of verse.
These acquisitions of learning, however stupendous, were not gained at
the expense of any pleasure which youth generally indulges, or by the
omission of any accomplishment in which it becomes a gentleman to excel:
he practised in great perfection the arts of drawing and painting, he
was an eminent performer in both vocal and instrumental musick, he
danced with uncommon gracefulness, and, on the day after his disputation
at Paris, exhibited his skill in horsemanship before the court of
France, where at a publick match of tilting, he bore away the ring upon
his lance fifteen times together.
He excelled likewise in domestic games of less dignity and reputation:
and in the interval between his challenge and disputation at Paris, he
spent so much of his time at cards, dice, and tennis, that a lampoon was
fixed upon the gate of the Sorbonne, directing those that would see this
monster of erudition, to look for him at the tavern.
So extensive was his acquaintance with life and manners, that in an
Italian comedy composed by himself, and exhibited before the court of
Mantua, he is said to have personated fifteen different characters; in
all which he might succeed without great difficulty, since he had such
power of retention, that once hearing an oration of an hour, he would
repeat it exactly, and in the recital follow the speaker through all his
variety of tone and gesticulation.
Nor was his skill in arms less than in learning, or his courage inferior
to his skill: there was a prize-fighter at Mantua, who travelling about
the world, according to the barbarous custom of that age, as a general
challenger, had defeated the most celebrated masters in many parts of
Europe; and in Mantua, where he then resided, had killed three that
appeared against him. The duke repented that he had granted him his
protection; when Crichton, looking on his sanguinary success with
indignation, offered to stake fifteen hundred pistoles, and mount the
stage against him. The duke with some reluctance consented, and on the
day fixed the combatants appeared: their weapon seems to have been
single rapier, which was then newly introduced in Italy. The
prize-fighter advanced with great violence and fierceness, and Crichton
contented himself calmly to ward his passes, and suffered him to exhaust
his vigour by his own fury. Crichton then became the assailant; and
pressed upon him with such force and agility, that he thrust him thrice
through the body, and saw him expire: he then divided the prize he had
won among the widows whose husbands had been killed.
The death of this wonderful man I should be willing to conceal, did I
not know that every reader will inquire curiously after that fatal hour,
which is common to all human beings, however distinguished from each
other by nature or by fortune.
The duke of Mantua, having received so many proofs of his various merit,
made him tutor to his son Vicentio di Gonzaga, a prince of loose manners
and turbulent disposition. On this occasion it was, that he composed the
comedy in which he exhibited so many different characters with exact
propriety. But his honour was of short continuance; for as he was one
night in the time of Carnival rambling about the streets, with his
guitar in his hand, he was attacked by six men masked. Neither his
courage nor skill in his exigence deserted him: he opposed them with
such activity and spirit, that he soon dispersed them, and disarmed
their leader, who throwing off his mask, discovered himself to be the
prince his pupil. Crichton, falling on his knees, took his own sword by
the point, and presented it to the prince; who immediately seized it,
and instigated, as some say, by jealousy, according to others, only by
drunken fury and brutal resentment, thrust him through the heart.
Thus was the Admirable Crichton brought into that state, in which he
could excel the meanest of mankind only by a few empty honours paid to
his memory: the court of Mantua testified their esteem by a publick
mourning, the contemporary wits were profuse of their encomiums, and the
palaces of Italy were adorned with pictures, representing him on
horseback with a lance in one hand and a book in the other.
 This paper is enumerated by Chalmers among those which Johnson
dictated, not to Bathurst, but to Hawkesworth. It is an elegant
summary of Crichton's life which is in Mackenzie's Writers of the
Scotch Nation. See a fuller account by the Earl of Buchan and Dr.
Kippis in the Biog. Brit. and the recently published one by Mr.
No. 84. SATURDAY, AUGUST 25, 1753.
Jam vaga prosiliet frenis natura remotis._ HOR. Lib. ii. Sat. vii. 73.
But take the danger and the shame away,
And vagrant nature bounds upon her prey. FRANCIS.
TO THE ADVENTURER.
It has been observed, I think, by Sir William Temple, and after him by
almost every other writer, that England affords a greater variety of
characters than the rest of the world. This is ascribed to the liberty
prevailing amongst us, which gives every man the privilege of being wise
or foolish his own way, and preserves him from the necessity of
hypocrisy or the servility of imitation.
That the position itself is true, I am not completely satisfied. To be
nearly acquainted with the people of different countries can happen to
very few; and in life, as in every thing else beheld at a distance,
there appears an even uniformity: the petty discriminations which
diversify the natural character, are not discoverable but by a close
inspection; we, therefore, find them most at home, because there we have
most opportunities of remarking them. Much less am I convinced, that
this peculiar diversification, if it be real, is the consequence of
peculiar liberty; for where is the government to be found that
superintends individuals with so much vigilance, as not to leave their
private conduct without restraint? Can it enter into a reasonable mind
to imagine, that men of every other nation are not equally masters of
their own time or houses with ourselves, and equally at liberty to be
parsimonious or profuse, frolick or sullen, abstinent or luxurious?
Liberty is certainly necessary to the full play of predominant humours;
but such liberty is to be found alike under the government of the many
or the few, in monarchies or commonwealths.
How readily the predominant passion snatches an interval of liberty, and
how fast it expands itself when the weight of restraint is taken away, I
had lately an opportunity to discover, as I took a journey into the
country in a stage-coach; which, as every journey is a kind of
adventure, may be very properly related to you, though I can display no
such extraordinary assembly as Cervantes has collected at Don Quixote's
In a stage coach, the passengers are for the most part wholly unknown to
one another, and without expectation of ever meeting again when their
journey is at an end; one should therefore imagine, that it was of
little importance to any of them, what conjectures the rest should form
concerning him. Yet so it is, that as all think themselves secure from
detection, all assume that character of which they are most desirous,
and on no occasion is the general ambition of superiority more
On the day of our departure, in the twilight of the morning, I ascended
the vehicle with three men and two women, my fellow travellers. It was
easy to observe the affected elevation of mien with which every one
entered, and the supercilious servility with which they paid their
compliments to each other. When the first ceremony was despatched, we
sat silent for a long time, all employed in collecting importance into
our faces, and endeavouring to strike reverence and submission into our
It is always observable that silence propagates itself, and that the
longer talk has been suspended, the more difficult it is to find any
thing to say. We began now to wish for conversation; but no one seemed
inclined to descend from his dignity, or first propose a topick of
discourse. At last a corpulent gentleman, who had equipped himself for
this expedition with a scarlet surtout and a large hat with a broad
lace, drew out his watch, looked on it in silence, and then held it
dangling at his finger. This was, I suppose, understood by all the
company as an invitation to ask the time of the day, but nobody appeared
to heed his overture; and his desire to be talking so far overcame his
resentment, that he let us know of his own accord it was past five, and
that in two hours we should be at breakfast.
His condescension was thrown away: we continued all obdurate; the ladies
held up their heads; I amused myself with watching their behaviour; and
of the other two, one seemed to employ himself in counting the trees as
we drove by them, the other drew his hat over his eyes, and
counterfeited a slumber. The man of benevolence, to shew that he was not
depressed by our neglect, hummed a tune, and beat time upon his
Thus universally displeased with one another, and not much delighted
with ourselves, we came at last to the little inn appointed for our
repast; and all began at once to recompense themselves for the
constraint of silence, by innumerable questions and orders to the people
that attended us. At last, what every one had called for was got, or
declared impossible to be got at that time, and we were persuaded to sit
round the same table; when the gentleman in the red surtout looked again
upon his watch, told us that we had half an hour to spare, but he was
sorry to see so little merriment among us; that all fellow travellers
were for the time upon the level, and that it was always his way to make
himself one of the company. "I remember," says he, "it was on just such
a morning as this, that I and my Lord Mumble and the Duke of Tenterden
were out upon a ramble: we called at a little house as it might be this;
and my landlady, I warrant you, not suspecting to whom she was talking,
was so jocular and facetious, and made so many merry answers to our
questions, that we were all ready to burst with laughter. At last the
good woman happening to overhear me whisper the duke and call him by his
title, was so surprised and confounded, that we could scarcely get a
word from her; and the duke never met me from that day to this, but he
talks of the little house, and quarrels with me for terrifying the
He had scarcely time to congratulate himself on the veneration which
this narrative must have procured for him from the company, when one of
the ladies having reached out for a plate on a distant part of the
table, began to remark, "the inconveniencies of travelling, and the
difficulty which they who never sat at home without a great number of
attendants, found in performing for themselves such offices as the road
required; but that people of quality often travelled in disguise, and
might be generally known from the vulgar by their condescension to poor
inn-keepers, and the allowance which they made for any defect in their
entertainment; that for her part, while people were civil and meant
well, it was never her custom to find fault, for one was not to expect
upon a journey all that one enjoyed at one's own house."
A general emulation seemed now to be excited. One of the men who had
hitherto said nothing, called for the last newspaper; and having perused
it a while with deep pensiveness, "It is impossible," says he, "for any
man to guess how to act with regard to the stocks; last week it was the
general opinion that they would fall; and I sold out twenty thousand
pounds in order to a purchase: they have now risen unexpectedly; and I
make no doubt but at my return to London I shall risk thirty thousand
pounds among them again."
A young man, who had hitherto distinguished himself only by the vivacity
of his looks, and a frequent diversion of his eyes from one object to
another, upon this closed his snuff-box, and told us that "he had a
hundred times talked with the chancellor and the judges on the subject
of the stocks; that for his part he did not pretend to be well
acquainted with the principles on which they were established, but had
always heard them reckoned pernicious to trade, uncertain in their
produce, and unsolid in their foundation; and that he had been advised
by three judges, his most intimate friends, never to venture his money
in the funds, but to put it out upon land security, till he could light
upon an estate in his own country."
It might be expected, that upon these glimpses of latent dignity, we
should all have begun to look round us with veneration; and have behaved
like the princes of romance, when the enchantment that disguises them is
dissolved, and they discover the dignity of each other; yet it happened,
that none of these hints made much impression on the company; every one
was apparently suspected of endeavouring to impose false appearances
upon the rest; all continued their haughtiness in hopes to enforce their
claims; and all grew every hour more sullen, because they found their
representations of themselves without effect.
Thus we travelled on four days with malevolence perpetually increasing,
and without any endeavour but to outvie each other in superciliousness
and neglect; and when any two of us could separate ourselves for a
moment we vented our indignation at the sauciness of the rest.
At length the journey was at an end; and time and chance, that strip off
all disguises, have discovered that the intimate of lords and dukes is a
nobleman's butler, who has furnished a shop with the money he has saved;
the man who deals so largely in the funds, is the clerk of a broker in
Change-alley; the lady who so carefully concealed her quality, keeps a
cook-shop behind the Exchange; and the young man who is so happy in the
friendship of the judges, engrosses and transcribes for bread in a
garret of the Temple. Of one of the women only I could make no
disadvantageous detection, because she had assumed no character, but
accommodated herself to the scene before her, without any struggle for
distinction or superiority.
I could not forbear to reflect on the folly of practising a fraud,
which, as the event showed, had been already practised too often to
succeed, and by the success of which no advantage could have been
obtained; of assuming a character, which was to end with the day; and of
claiming upon false pretences honours which must perish with the breath
that paid them.
But, Mr. Adventurer, let not those who laugh at me and my companions,
think this folly confined to a stagecoach. Every man in the journey of
life takes the same advantage of the ignorance of his fellow travellers,
disguises himself in counterfeited merit, and hears those praises with
complacency which his conscience reproaches him for accepting. Every man
deceives himself while he thinks he is deceiving others; and forgets
that the time is at hand when every illusion shall cease, when
fictitious excellence shall be torn away, and _all_ must be shown to
_all_ in their realestate.
I am, Sir, your humble servant,
 Johnson has made impressive allusion to the immortal work of
Cervantes in his second Rambler. Every reflecting man must arise
from its perusal with feelings of the deepest melancholy, with the
most tender commiseration for the weakness and lot of humanity. To
such a man its moral must ever be "profoundly sad." Vulgar minds
cannot know it. Hence it has ever been the favorite with the
intellectual class, while Gil Blas has more generally won the
applause of men of the world. An amusing anecdote of the almost
universal admiration for the _chef d'oeuvre_ of Le Sage may be found
in Butler's Reminiscences.
That bigotted, yet extraordinary man, Alva, predicted, with
prophetic precision, the effects which the satire on Chivalry would
produce in Spain. _See Broad Stone of Honour; or Rules for the
Gentlemen of England._
No. 85 TUESDAY, AUGUST 28, 1753.
_Qui studet optatam cursu contingere metam,
Multa tulit fecitque puer._ HOR. De Ar. Poet. 412.
The youth, who hopes th' Olympic prize to gain,
All arts must try, and every toil sustain. FRANCIS.
It is observed by Bacon, that "reading makes a full man, conversation a
ready man, and writing an exact man."
As Bacon attained to degrees of knowledge scarcely ever reached by any
other man, the directions which he gives for study have certainly a just
claim to our regard; for who can teach an art with so great authority,
as he that has practised it with undisputed success?
Under the protection of so great a name, I shall, therefore, venture to
inculcate to my ingenious contemporaries, the necessity of reading, the
fitness of consulting other understandings than their own, and of
considering the sentiments and opinions of those who, however neglected
in the present age, had in their own times, and many of them a long time
afterwards, such reputation for knowledge and acuteness as will scarcely
ever be attained by those that despise them.
An opinion has of late been, I know not how, propagated among us, that
libraries are filled only with useless lumber; that men of parts stand
in need of no assistance; and that to spend life in poring upon books,
is only to imbibe prejudices, to obstruct and embarrass the powers of
nature, to cultivate memory at the expense of judgment, and to bury
reason under a chaos of indigested learning.
Such is the talk of many who think themselves wise, and of some who are
thought wise by others; of whom part probably believe their own tenets,
and part may be justly suspected of endeavouring to shelter their
ignorance in multitudes, and of wishing to destroy that reputation which
they have no hopes to share. It will, I believe, be found invariably
true, that learning was never decried by any learned man; and what
credit can be given to those who venture to condemn that which they do
If reason has the power ascribed to it by its advocates, if so much is
to be discovered by attention and meditation, it is hard to believe,
that so many millions, equally participating of the bounties of nature
with ourselves, have been for ages upon ages meditating in vain: if the
wits of the present time expect the regard of posterity, which will then
inherit the reason which is now thought superior to instruction, surely
they may allow themselves to be instructed by the reason of former
generations. When, therefore, an author declares, that he has been able
to learn nothing from the writings of his predecessors, and such a
declaration has been lately made, nothing but a degree of arrogance
unpardonable in the greatest human understanding, can hinder him from
perceiving that he is raising prejudices against his own performance;
for with what hopes of success can he attempt that in which greater
abilities have hitherto miscarried? or with what peculiar force does he
suppose himself invigorated, that difficulties hitherto invincible
should give way before him?
Of those whom Providence has qualified to make any additions to human
knowledge, the number is extremely small; and what can be added by each
single mind, even of this superior class, is very little: the greatest
part of mankind must owe all their knowledge, and all must owe far the
larger part of it, to the information of others. To understand the works
of celebrated authors, to comprehend their systems, and retain their
reasonings, is a task more than equal to common intellects; and he is by
no means to be accounted useless or idle, who has stored his mind with
acquired knowledge, and can detail it occasionally to others who have
less leisure or weaker abilities.
Persius has justly observed, that knowledge is nothing to him who is not
known by others to possess it: to the scholar himself it is nothing
with respect either to honour or advantage, for the world cannot reward
those qualities which are concealed from it; with respect to others it
is nothing, because it affords no help to ignorance or errour.
It is with justice, therefore, that in an accomplished character, Horace
unites just sentiments with the power of expressing them; and he that
has once accumulated learning, is next to consider, how he shall most
widely diffuse and most agreeably impart it.
A ready man is made by conversation. He that buries himself among his
manuscripts, "besprent," as Pope expresses it, "with learned dust," and
wears out his days and nights in perpetual research and solitary
meditation, is too apt to lose in his elocution what he adds to his
wisdom; and when he comes into the world, to appear overloaded with his
own notions, like a man armed with weapons which he cannot wield. He has
no facility of inculcating his speculations, of adapting himself to the
various degrees of intellect which the accidents of conversation will
present; but will talk to most unintelligibly, and to all unpleasantly.
I was once present at the lectures of a profound philosopher, a man
really skilled in the science which he professed, who having occasion to
explain the terms _opacum_ and _pellucidum_, told us, after some
hesitation, that _opacum_ was, as one might say, _opake_, and that
_pellucidum_ signified _pellucid_. Such was the dexterity with which
this learned reader facilitated to his auditors the intricacies of
science; and so true is it, that a man may know what he cannot teach.
Boerhaave complains, that the writers who have treated of chymistry
before him, are useless to the greater part of students, because they
presuppose their readers to have such degrees of skill as are not often
to be found. Into the same errour are all men apt to fall, who have
familiarized any subject to themselves in solitude: they discourse, as
if they thought every other man had been employed in the same inquiries;
and expect that short hints and obscure allusions will produce in others
the same train of ideas which they excite in themselves.
Nor is this the only inconvenience which the man of study suffers from a
recluse life. When he meets with an opinion that pleases him, he catches
it up with eagerness; looks only after such arguments as tend to his
confirmation; or spares himself the trouble of discussion, and adopts it
with very little proof; indulges it long without suspicion, and in time
unites it to the general body of his knowledge, and treasures it up
among incontestable truths: but when he comes into the world among men
who, arguing upon dissimilar principles, have been led to different
conclusions, and being placed in various situations, view the same
object on many sides; he finds his darling position attacked, and
himself in no condition to defend it: having thought always in one
train, he is in the state of a man who having fenced always with the
same master, is perplexed and amazed by a new posture of his antagonist;
he is entangled in unexpected difficulties, he is harassed by sudden
objections, he is unprovided with solutions or replies; his surprise
impedes his natural powers of reasoning, his thoughts are scattered and
confounded, and he gratifies the pride of airy petulance with an easy
It is difficult to imagine, with what obstinacy truths which one mind
perceives almost by intuition, will be rejected by another; and how many
artifices must be practised, to procure admission for the most evident
propositions into understandings frighted by their novelty, or hardened
against them by accidental prejudice; it can scarcely be conceived, how
frequently, in these extemporaneous controversies, the dull will be
subtle, and the acute absurd; how often stupidity will elude the force
of argument, by involving itself in its own gloom; and mistaken
ingenuity will weave artful fallacies, which reason can scarcely find
means to disentangle.
In these encounters the learning of the recluse usually fails him:
nothing but long habit and frequent experiments can confer the power of
changing a position into various forms, presenting it in different
points of view, connecting it with known and granted truths, fortifying
it with intelligible arguments, and illustrating it by apt similitudes;
and he, therefore, that has collected his knowledge in solitude, must
learn its application by mixing with mankind.
But while the various opportunities of conversation invite us to try
every mode of argument, and every art of recommending our sentiments, we
are frequently betrayed to the use of such as are not in themselves
strictly defensible: a man heated in talk, and eager of victory, takes
advantage of the mistakes or ignorance of his adversary, lays hold of
concessions to which he knows he has no right, and urges proofs likely
to prevail on his opponent, though he knows himself that they have no
force: thus the severity of reason is relaxed, many topicks are
accumulated, but without just arrangement or distinction; we learn to
satisfy ourselves with such ratiocination as silences others; and seldom
recall to a close examination, that discourse which has gratified our
vanity with victory and applause.
Some caution, therefore, must be used lest copiousness and facility be
made less valuable by inaccuracy and confusion. To fix the thoughts by
writing, and subject them to frequent examinations and reviews, is the
best method of enabling the mind to detect its own sophisms, and keep it
on guard against the fallacies which it practises on others: in
conversation we naturally diffuse our thoughts, and in writing we
contract them; method is the excellence of writing, and unconstraint the
grace of conversation.
To read, write, and converse in due proportions, is, therefore, the
business of a man of letters. For all these there is not often equal
opportunity; excellence, therefore, is not often attainable; and most
men fail in one or other of the ends proposed, and are full without
readiness, or without exactness. Some deficiency must be forgiven all,
because all are men; and more must be allowed to pass uncensured in the
greater part of the world, because none can confer upon himself
abilities, and few have the choice of situations proper for the
improvement of those which nature has bestowed: it is, however,
reasonable to have _perfection_ in our eye; that we may always advance
towards it, though we know it never can be reached.
 Scire tuum nihil est, nisi te scire hoc sciat alter. Sat. i. 27.
No. 92. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 1753.
_Cum tabulis animum censoris sumet honesti._HOR. Lib. ii. Ep. it. 110.
Bold be the critick, zealous to his trust,
Like the firm judge inexorably just.
TO THE ADVENTURER.
In the papers of criticism which you have given to the publick, I have
remarked a spirit of candour and love of truth equally remote from
bigotry and captiousness; a just distribution of praise amongst the
ancients and the moderns: a sober deference to reputation long
established, without a blind adoration of antiquity; and a willingness
to favour later performances, without a light or puerile fondness for
I shall, therefore, venture to lay before you, such observations as have
risen to my mind in the consideration of Virgil's pastorals, without any
inquiry how far my sentiments deviate from established rules or common
If we survey the ten pastorals in a general view, it will be found that
Virgil can derive from them very little claim to the praise of an
inventor. To search into the antiquity of this kind of poetry is not my
present purpose; that it has long subsisted in the east, the _Sacred
Writings_ sufficiently inform us; and we may conjecture, with great
probability, that it was sometimes the devotion, and sometimes the
entertainment of the first generations of mankind. Theocritus united
elegance with simplicity; and taught his shepherds to sing with so much
ease and harmony, that his countrymen, despairing to excel, forbore to
imitate him; and the Greeks, however vain or ambitious, left him in
quiet possession of the garlands which the wood-nymphs had bestowed upon
Virgil, however, taking advantage of another language, ventured to copy
or to rival the _Sicilian bard_: he has written with greater splendour
of diction, and elevation of sentiment: but as the magnificence of his
performances was more, the simplicity was less; and, perhaps, where he
excels Theocritus, he sometimes obtains his superiority by deviating
from the pastoral character, and performing what Theocritus never
Yet, though I would willingly pay to Theocritus the honour which is
always due to an original author, I am far from intending to depreciate
Virgil: of whom Horace justly declares, that the rural muses have
appropriated to him their elegance and sweetness, and who, as he copied
Theocritus in his design, has resembled him likewise in his success;
for, if we except Calphurnius, an obscure author of the lower ages, I
know not that a single pastoral was written after him by any poet, till
the revival of literature.
But though his general merit has been universally acknowledged, I am far
from thinking all the productions of his rural Thalia equally excellent;
there is, indeed, in all his pastorals a strain of versification which
it is vain to seek in any other poet; but if we except the first and the
tenth, they seem liable either wholly or in part to considerable
The second, though we should forget the great charge against it, which I
am afraid can never be refuted, might, I think, have perished, without
any diminution of the praise of its author; for I know not that it
contains one affecting sentiment or pleasing description, or one passage
that strikes the imagination or awakens the passions.
The third contains a contest between two shepherds, begun with a quarrel
of which some particulars might well be spared, carried on with
sprightliness and elegance, and terminated at last in a reconciliation:
but, surely, whether the invectives with which they attack each other be
true or false, they are too much degraded from the dignity of pastoral
innocence; and instead of rejoicing that they are both victorious, I
should not have grieved could they have been both defeated.
The poem to Pollio is, indeed, of another kind: it is filled with images
at once splendid and pleasing, and is elevated with grandeur of language
worthy of the first of Roman poets; but I am not able to reconcile
myself to the disproportion between the performance and the occasion
that produced it: that the golden age should return because Pollio had a
son, appears so wild a fiction, that I am ready to suspect the poet of
having written, for some other purpose, what he took this opportunity of
producing to the publick.
The fifth contains a celebration of Daphnis, which has stood to all
succeeding ages as the model of pastoral elegies. To deny praise to a
performance which so many thousands have laboured to imitate, would be
to judge with too little deference for the opinion of mankind: yet
whoever shall read it with impartiality, will find that most of the
images are of the mythological kind, and therefore easily invented; and
that there are few sentiments of rational praise or natural lamentation.
In the Silenus he again rises to the dignity of philosophick sentiments,
and heroick poetry. The address to Varus is eminently beautiful: but
since the compliment paid to Gallus fixes the transaction to his own
time, the fiction of Silenus seems injudicious: nor has any sufficient
reason yet been found, to justify his choice of those fables that make
the subject of the song.
The seventh exhibits another contest of the tuneful shepherds: and,
surely, it is not without some reproach to his inventive power, that of
ten pastorals Virgil has written two upon the same plan. One of the
shepherds now gains an acknowledged victory, but without any apparent,
superiority, and the reader, when he sees the prize adjudged, is not
able to discover how it was deserved.
Of the eighth pastoral, so little is properly the work of Virgil, that
he has no claim to other praise or blame, than that of a translator.
Of the ninth, it is scarce possible to discover the design or tendency;
it is said, I know not upon what authority, to have been composed from
fragments of other poems; and except a few lines in which the author
touches upon his own misfortunes, there is nothing that seems
appropriated to any time or place, or of which any other use can be
discovered than to fill up the poem.
The first and the tenth pastorals, whatever be determined of the rest,
are sufficient to place their author above the reach of rivalry. The
complaint of Gallus disappointed in his love, is full of such sentiments
as disappointed love naturally produces; his wishes are wild, his
resentment is tender, and his purposes are inconstant. In the genuine
language of despair, he soothes himself awhile with the pity that shall
be paid him after his death.
_--Tamen cantabitis, Arcades, inquit,
Montibus haec vestris: soli cantare periti
Arcades. O mihi tum quam molliter ossa quiescant,
Vestra meos olim si fistula dicat amores!_ Virg. Ec. x. 31.
--Yet, O Arcadian swains,
Ye best artificers of soothing strains!
Tune your soft reeds, and teach your rocks my woes,
So shall my shade in sweeter rest repose.
O that your birth and business had been mine;
To feed the flock, and prune the spreading vine! WARTON.
Discontented with his present condition, and desirous to be any thing
but what he is, he wishes himself one of the shepherds. He then catches
the idea of rural tranquillity; but soon discovers how much happier he
should be in these happy regions, with Lycoris at his side:
_Hic gelidi fontes, hic mollia prata, Lycori:
Hic nemus, hic ipso tecum consumerer aevo.
Nunc insanus amor duri me Martis in armis
Tela inter media atque adversos detinet hostes.
Tu procul a patria (nec sit mihi credere) tantum
Alpinas, ah dura, nives, et frigora Rheni
Me sine sola vides. Ah te ne frigora laedant!
Ah tibi ne teneras glacies secet aspera plantas!_ Ec. x. 42.
Here cooling fountains roll through flow'ry meads,
Here woods, Lycoris, lift their verdant heads;
Here could I wear my careless life away,
And in thy arms insensibly decay.
Instead of that, me frantick love detains,
'Mid foes, and dreadful darts, and bloody plains:
While you--and can my soul the tale believe,
Far from your country, lonely wand'ring leave
Me, me your lover, barbarous fugitive!
Seek the rough Alps where snows eternal shine,
And joyless borders of the frozen Rhine.
Ah! may no cold e'er blast my dearest maid,
Nor pointed ice thy tender feet invade. WARTON.
He then turns his thoughts on every side, in quest of something that may
solace or amuse him: he proposes happiness to himself, first in one
scene and then in another: and at last finds that nothing will satisfy:
_Jam neque Hamadryades rursum, nec carmina nobis
Ipsa placent: ipsae rursum concedite sylvae.
Non illum nostri possunt mutare labores;
Nec si frigoribus mediis Hebrumque bibamus,
Sithoniasque nives hyemis subeamus aquosae:
Nec si, cum moriens alta liber aret in ulmo
Aethiopum versemus oves sub sidere Cancri.
Omnia vincit amor; et nos cedamns amori._ Ec. x. 62.
But now again no more the woodland maids,
Nor pastoral songs delight--Farewell, ye shades--
No toils of ours the cruel god can change,
Tho' lost in frozen deserts we should range;
Tho' we should drink where chilling Hebrus flows,
Endure bleak winter blasts, and Thracian snows:
Or on hot India's plains our flocks should feed,
Where the parch'd elm declines his sickening head,
Beneath fierce-glowing Cancer's fiery beams,
Far from cool breezes and refreshing streams.
Love over all maintains resistless sway,
And let us love's all-conquering power obey. WARTON.
But notwithstanding the excellence of the tenth pastoral, I cannot
forbear to give the preference to the first, which is equally natural
and more diversified. The complaint of the shepherd, who saw his old
companion at ease in the shade, while himself was driving his little
flock he knew not whither, is such as, with variation of circumstances,
misery always utters at the sight of prosperity:
_Nos patriae fines, et dulcia linquimus arra;
Nos patrium fugimus: Tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
Formosam resonare doces Amaryllida sylvas._ Ec. i. 3.
We leave our country's bounds, our much-lov'd plains;
We from our country fly, unhappy swains!
You, Tit'rus, in the groves at leisure laid,
Teach Amaryllis' name to every shade. WARTON.
His account of the difficulties of his journey, gives a very tender
image of pastoral distress:
--_En ipse capellas
Protenus aeger ago: hanc etiam vix, Tityre, duco:
Hic inter densas corylos modo namque gemellos,
Spem gregis, ah! silice in nuda connixa reliquit._ Ec. i. 12.
And lo! sad partner of the general care,
Weary and faint I drive my goats afar!
While scarcely this my leading hand sustains,
Tired with the way, and recent from her pains;
For 'mid yon tangled hazels as we past,
On the bare flints her hapless twin she cast,
The hopes and promise of my ruin'd fold! WARTON.
The description of Virgil's happiness in his little farm, combines
almost all the images of rural pleasure; and he, therefore, that can
read it with indifference, has no sense of pastoral poetry:
_Fortunate senex! ergo tua rura manebunt,
Et tibi magna satis; quamvis lapis omnia nudus,
Limosoque palus obducat pascua junco:
Non insueta graves tentabunt pabula foetas,
Nec mala vicini pecoris contagia laedent.
Fortunate senex! hic inter flumina nota,
Et fontes sacros, frigus captabis opacum.
Hinc tibi, quae semper vicino ab limite sepes,
Hyblaeis apibus florem depasta salicti,
Saepe levi somnum suadebit inire susurro.
Hinc alta sub rupe canet frondator ad auras.
Nec tamen interea raucae, tua cura, palumbes,
Nec gemere aeria cessabit turtur ab ulmo._ Ec. i. 47
Happy old man! then still thy farms restored,
Enough for thee, shall bless thy frugal board.
What tho' rough stones the naked soil o'erspread,
Or marshy bulrush rear its wat'ry head,
No foreign food thy teeming ewes shall fear,
No touch contagious spread its influence here.
Happy old man! here 'mid th' accustom'd streams
And sacred springs, you'll shun the scorching beams;
While from yon willow-fence, thy picture's bound,
The bees that suck their flow'ry stores around,
Shall sweetly mingle with the whispering boughs
Their lulling murmurs, and invite repose:
While from steep rocks the pruner's song is heard;
Nor the soft-cooing dove, thy fav'rite bird,
Meanwhile shall cease to breathe her melting strain,
Nor turtles from th' aerial elm to 'plain. WARTON.
It may be observed, that these two poems were produced by events that
really happened; and may, therefore, be of use to prove, that we can
always feel more than we can imagine, and that the most artful fiction
must give way to truth.
I am, Sir,
Your humble servant,
No. 95. TUESDAY, OCTOBER 2, 1753.
--_Dulcique animos novitate tenebo_. OVID. Met. iv. 284.
And with sweet novelty your soul detain.
It is often charged upon writers, that with all their pretensions to
genius and discoveries, they do little more than copy one another; and
that compositions obtruded upon the world with the pomp of novelty,
contain only tedious repetitions of common sentiments, or at best
exhibit a transposition of known images, and give a new appearance to
truth only by some slight difference of dress and decoration.
The allegation of resemblance between authors is indisputably true; but
the charge of plagiarism, which is raised upon it, is not to be allowed
with equal readiness. A coincidence of sentiment may easily happen
without any communication, since there are many occasions in which all
reasonable men will nearly think alike. Writers of all ages have had the
same sentiments, because they have in all ages had the same objects of
speculation; the interests and passions, the virtues and vices of
mankind, have been diversified in different times, only by unessential
and casual varieties: and we must, therefore, expect in the works of all
those who attempt to describe them, such a likeness as we find in the
pictures of the same person drawn in different periods of his life.
It is necessary, therefore, that before an author be charged with
plagiarism, one of the most reproachful, though, perhaps, not the most
atrocious of literary crimes, the subject on which he treats should be
carefully considered. We do not wonder, that historians, relating the
same facts, agree in their narration; or that authors, delivering the
elements of science, advance the same theorems, and lay down the same
definitions: yet it is not wholly without use to mankind, that books are
multiplied, and that different authors lay out their labours on the same
subject; for there will always be some reason why one should on
particular occasions, or to particular persons, be preferable to
another; some will be clear where others are obscure, some will please
by their style and others by their method, some by their embellishments
and others by their simplicity, some by closeness and others by
The same indulgence is to be shown to the writers of morality: right and
wrong are immutable; and those, therefore, who teach us to distinguish
them, if they all teach us right, must agree with one another. The
relations of social life, and the duties resulting from them, must be
the same at all times and in all nations: some petty differences may be,
indeed, produced, by forms of government or arbitrary customs; but the
general doctrine can receive no alteration.
Yet it is not to be desired, that morality should be considered as
interdicted to all future writers: men will always be tempted to deviate
from their duty, and will, therefore, always want a monitor to recall
them; and a new book often seizes the attention of the publick, without
any other claim than that it is new. There is likewise in composition,
as in other things, a perpetual vicissitude of fashion; and truth is
recommended at one time to regard, by appearances which at another would
expose it to neglect; the author, therefore, who has judgment to discern
the taste of his contemporaries, and skill to gratify it, will have
always an opportunity to deserve well of mankind, by conveying
instruction to them in a grateful vehicle.
There are likewise many modes of composition, by which a moralist may
deserve the name of an original writer: he may familiarize his system by
dialogues after the manner of the ancients, or subtilize it into a
series of syllogistick arguments: he may enforce his doctrine by
seriousness and solemnity, or enliven it by sprightliness and gaiety: he
may deliver his sentiments in naked precepts, or illustrate them by
historical examples: he may detain the studious by the artful
concatenation of a continued discourse, or relieve the busy by short
strictures, and unconnected essays.
To excel in any of these forms of writing will require a particular
cultivation of the genius: whoever can attain to excellence, will be
certain to engage a set of readers, whom no other method would have
equally allured; and he that communicates truth with success, must be
numbered among the first benefactors to mankind.
The same observation may be extended likewise to the passions: their
influence is uniform, and their effects nearly the same in every human
breast: a man loves and hates, desires and avoids, exactly like his
neighbour; resentment and ambition, avarice and indolence, discover
themselves by the same symptoms in minds distant a thousand years from
Nothing, therefore, can be more unjust, than to charge an author with
plagiarism, merely because he assigns to every cause its natural effect;
and makes his personages act, as others in like circumstances have
always done. There are conceptions in which all men will agree, though
each derives them from his own observation: whoever has been in love,
will represent a lover impatient of every idea that interrupts his
meditations on his mistress, retiring to shades and solitude, that he
may muse without disturbance on his approaching happiness, or
associating himself with some friend that flatters his passion, and
talking away the hours of absence upon his darling subject. Whoever has
been so unhappy as to have felt the miseries of long-continued hatred,
will, without any assistance from ancient volumes, be able to relate how
the passions are kept in perpetual agitation, by the recollection of
injury and meditations of revenge; how the blood boils at the name of
the enemy, and life is worn away in contrivances of mischief.
Every other passion is alike simple and limited, if it be considered
only with regard to the breast which it inhabits; the anatomy of the
mind, as that of the body, must perpetually exhibit the same
appearances; and though by the continued industry of successive
inquirers, new movements will be from time to time discovered, they can
affect only the minuter parts, and are commonly of more curiosity than
It will now be natural to inquire, by what arts are the writers of the
present and future ages to attract the notice; and favour of mankind.
They are to observe the alterations which time is always making in the
modes of life, that they may gratify every generation with a picture of
themselves. Thus love is uniform, but courtship is perpetually varying:
the different arts of gallantry, which beauty has inspired, would of
themselves be sufficient to fill a volume; sometimes balls and
serenades, sometimes tournaments and adventures, have been employed to
melt the hearts of ladies, who in another century have been sensible of
scarce any other merit than that of riches, and listened only to
jointures and pin-money. Thus the ambitious man has at all times been
eager of wealth and power; but these hopes have been gratified in some
countries by supplicating the people, and in others by flattering the
prince: honour in some states has been only the reward of military
achievements, in others it has been gained by noisy turbulence and
popular clamour. Avarice has worn a different form, as she actuated the
usurer of Rome, and the stock-jobber of England; and idleness itself,
how little soever inclined to the trouble of invention, has been forced
from time to time to change its amusements, and contrive different
methods of wearing out the day.
Here then is the fund, from which those who study mankind may fill their
compositions with an inexhaustible variety of images and allusions: and
he must be confessed to look with little attention upon scenes thus
perpetually changing, who cannot catch some of the figures before they
are made vulgar by reiterated descriptions.
It has been discovered by Sir Isaac Newton, that the distinct and
primogenial colours are only seven; but every eye can witness, that from
various mixtures, in various proportions, infinite diversifications of
tints may be produced. In like manner, the passions of the mind, which
put the world in motion, and produce all the bustle and eagerness of the
busy crowds that swarm upon the earth; the passions, from whence arise
all the pleasures and pains that we see and hear of, if we analyze the
mind of man, are very few; but those few agitated and combined, as
external causes shall happen to operate, and modified by prevailing
opinions and accidental caprices, make such frequent alterations on the
surface of life, that the show, while we are busied in delineating it,
vanishes from the view, and a new set of objects succeed, doomed to the
same shortness of duration with the former: thus curiosity may always
find employment, and the busy part of mankind will furnish the
contemplative with the materials of speculation to the end of time.
The complaint, therefore, that all topicks are preoccupied, is nothing
more than the murmur of ignorance or idleness, by which some discourage
others, and some themselves; the mutability of mankind will always
furnish writers with new images, and the luxuriance of fancy may always
embellish them with new decorations.
No. 99. TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 1753.
--_Magnis tamen excidit ausis_. OVID. Met. Lib. ii. 328.
But in the glorious enterprise he died. ADDISON.
It has always been the practice of mankind, to judge of actions by the
event. The same attempts, conducted in the same manner, but terminated
by different success, produce different judgments: they who attain their
wishes, never want celebrators of their wisdom and their virtue; and
they that miscarry, are quickly discovered to have been defective not
only in mental but in moral qualities. The world will never be long
without some good reason to hate the unhappy; their real faults are
immediately detected; and if those are not sufficient to sink them into
infamy, an additional weight of calumny will be superadded: he that
fails in his endeavours after wealth or power, will not long retain
either honesty or courage.
This species of injustice has so long prevailed in universal practice,
that it seems likewise to have infected speculation: so few minds are
able to separate the ideas of greatness and prosperity, that even Sir
William Temple has determined, "that he who can deserve the name of a
hero, must not only be virtuous but fortunate."
By this unreasonable distribution of praise and blame, none have
suffered oftener than projectors, whose rapidity of imagination and
vastness of design raise such envy in their fellow mortals, that every
eye watches for their fall, and every heart exults at their distresses:
yet even a projector may gain favour by success; and the tongue that was
prepared to hiss, then endeavours to excel others in loudness of
When Coriolanus, in Shakespeare, deserted to Aufidius, the Volscian
servants at first insulted him, even while he stood under the protection
of the household gods: but when they saw that the project took effect,
and the stranger was seated at the head of the table, one of them very
judiciously observes, "that he always thought there was more in him than
he could think."
Machiavel has justly animadverted on the different notice taken by all
succeeding times, of the two great projectors, Cataline and Caesar. Both
formed the same project, and intended to raise themselves to power, by
subverting the commonwealth: they pursued their design, perhaps, with
equal abilities, and with equal virtue; but Cataline perished in the
field, and Caesar returned from Pharsalia with unlimited authority: and
from that time, every monarch of the earth has thought himself honoured
by a comparison with Caesar; and Cataline has been never mentioned, but
that his name might be applied to traitors and incendiaries.
In an age more remote, Xerxes projected the conquest of Greece, and
brought down the power of Asia against it: but after the world had been
filled with expectation and terrour, his army was beaten, his fleet was
destroyed, and Xerxes has been never mentioned without contempt.
A few years afterwards, Greece likewise had her turn of giving birth to
a projector; who invading Asia with a small army, went forward in search
of adventures, and by his escape from one danger, gained only more
rashness to rush into another: he stormed city after city, over-ran
kingdom after kingdom, fought battles only for barren victory, and
invaded nations only that he might make his way through them to new
invasions: but having been fortunate in the execution of his projects,
he died with the name of Alexander the Great.
These are, indeed, events of ancient times; but human nature is always
the same, and every age will afford us instances of publick censures
influenced by events. The great business of the middle centuries, was
the holy war; which undoubtedly was a noble project, and was for a long
time prosecuted with a spirit equal to that with which it had been
contrived; but the ardour of the European heroes only hurried them to
destruction; for a long time they could not gain the territories for
which they fought, and, when at last gained, they could not keep them:
their expeditions, therefore, have been the scoff of idleness and
ignorance, their understanding and their virtue have been equally
vilified, their conduct has been ridiculed, and their cause has been
When Columbus had engaged king Ferdinand in the discovery of the other
hemisphere, the sailors, with whom he embarked in the expedition, had so
little confidence in their commander, that after having been long at sea
looking for coasts which they expected never to find, they raised a
general mutiny, and demanded to return. He found means to sooth them
into a permission to continue the same course three days longer, and on
the evening of the third day descried land. Had the impatience of his
crew denied him a few hours of the time requested, what had been his
fate but to have come back with the infamy of a vain projector, who had
betrayed the king's credulity to useless expenses, and risked his life
in seeking countries that had no existence? how would those that had
rejected his proposals have triumphed in their acuteness! and when would
his name have been mentioned, but with the makers of potable gold and
The last royal projectors with whom the world has been troubled, were
Charles of Sweden and the Czar of Muscovy. Charles, if any judgment may
be formed of his designs by his measures and his inquiries, had purposed
first to dethrone the Czar, then to lead his army through pathless
deserts into China, thence to make his way by the sword through the
whole circuit of Asia, and by the conquest of Turkey to unite Sweden
with his new dominions: but this mighty project was crushed at Pultowa;
and Charles has since been considered as a madman by those powers, who
sent their ambassadors to solicit his friendship, and their generals "to
learn under him the art of war."
The Czar found employment sufficient in his own dominions, and amused
himself in digging canals, and building cities: murdering his subjects
with insufferable fatigues, and transplanting nations from one corner of
his dominions to another, without regretting the thousands that perished
on the way: but he attained his end, he made his people formidable, and
is numbered by fame among the demi-gods.
I am far from intending to vindicate the sanguinary projects of heroes
and conquerors, and would wish rather to diminish the reputation of
their success, than the infamy of their miscarriages: for I cannot
conceive, why he that has burned cities, wasted nations, and filled the
world with horrour and desolation, should be more kindly regarded by
mankind, than he that died in the rudiments of wickedness; why he that
accomplished mischief should be glorious, and he that only endeavoured
it should be criminal. I would wish Caesar and Catiline, Xerxes and
Alexander, Charles and Peter, huddled together in obscurity or
But there is another species of projectors, to whom I would willingly
conciliate mankind; whose ends are generally laudable, and whose labours
are innocent; who are searching out new powers of nature, or contriving
new works of art; but who are yet persecuted with incessant obloquy, and
whom the universal contempt with which they are treated, often debars
from that success which their industry would obtain, if it were
permitted to act without opposition.
They who find themselves inclined to censure new undertakings, only
because they are new, should consider, that the folly of projection is
very seldom the folly of a fool; it is commonly the ebullition of a
capacious mind, crowded with variety of knowledge, and heated with
intenseness of thought; it proceeds often from the consciousness of
uncommon powers, from the confidence of those, who having already done
much, are easily persuaded that they can do more. When Rowley had
completed the orrery, he attempted the perpetual motion; when Boyle had
exhausted the secrets of vulgar chymistry, he turned his thoughts to the
work of transmutation.
A projector generally unites those qualities which have the fairest
claim to veneration, extent of knowledge and greatness of design; it was
said of Catiline, "_immoderata, incredibilia, nimis alta semper
cupiebat_." Projectors of all kinds agree in their intellects, though
they differ in their morals; they all fail by attempting things beyond
their power, by despising vulgar attainments, and aspiring to
performances to which, perhaps, nature has not proportioned the force of
man: when they fail, therefore, they fail not by idleness or timidity,
but by rash adventure and fruitless diligence.
That the attempts of such men will often miscarry, we may reasonably
expect; yet from such men, and such only, are we to hope for the
cultivation of those parts of nature which lie yet waste, and the
invention of those arts which are yet wanting to the felicity of life.
If they are, therefore, universally discouraged, art and discovery can
make no advances. Whatever is attempted without previous certainty of
success, may be considered as a project, and amongst narrow minds may,
therefore, expose its author to censure and contempt; and if the liberty
of laughing be once indulged, every man will laugh at what he does not
understand, every project will be considered as madness, and every great
or new design will be censured as a project. Men unaccustomed to reason
and researches, think every enterprise impracticable, which is extended
beyond common effects, or comprises many intermediate operations. Many
that presume to laugh at projectors, would consider a flight through the
air in a winged chariot, and the movement of a mighty engine by the
steam of water as equally the dreams of mechanick lunacy; and would
hear, with equal negligence, of the union of the Thames and Severn by a
canal, and the scheme of Albuquerque, the viceroy of the Indies, who in
the rage of hostility had contrived to make Egypt a barren desert, by
turning the Nile into the Red Sea.
Those who have attempted much, have seldom failed to perform more than
those who never deviate from the common roads of action: many valuable
preparations of chymistry are supposed to have risen from unsuccessful
inquiries after the grand elixir: it is, therefore, just to encourage
those who endeavour to enlarge the power of art, since they often
succeed beyond expectation; and when they fail, may sometimes benefit
the world even by their miscarriages.
 Sir Richard Steele was infatuated, with notions of Alchemy, and
wasted money in its visionary projects. He had a laboratory at
Poplar. Addisoniana, vol i. p. 10.
The readers of Washington Irving's Brace-Bridge Hall will recollect
a pleasing and popular exposition of the alternately splendid and
benevolent, and always passionate reveries of the Alchemist, in the
affecting story of the Student of Salamanca.
No. 102. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 27, 1753.
--_Quid tam dextro pede concipis, ut te
Conatus non poeniteat votique peracti?_ JUV. Sat. x. 5.
What in the conduct of our life appears
So well design'd, so luckily begun,
But when we have our wish, we wish undone. DRYDEN.
TO THE ADVENTURER.
I have been for many years a trader in London. My beginning was narrow,
and my stock small; I was, therefore, a long time brow-beaten and
despised by those, who, having more money, thought they had more merit
than myself. I did not, however, suffer my resentment to instigate me to
any mean arts of supplantation, nor my eagerness of riches to betray me
to any indirect methods of gain; I pursued my business with incessant
assiduity, supported by the hope of being one day richer than those who
contemned me; and had, upon every annual review of my books, the
satisfaction of finding my fortune increased beyond my expectation.
In a few years my industry and probity were fully recompensed, my wealth
was really great, and my reputation for wealth still greater. I had
large warehouses crowded with goods, and considerable sums in the
publick funds; I was caressed upon the Exchange by the most eminent
merchants; became the oracle of the common council; was solicited to
engage in all commercial undertakings; was flattered with the hopes of
becoming in a short time one of the directors of a wealthy company, and,
to complete my mercantile honours, enjoyed the expensive happiness of
fining for sheriff.
Riches, you know, easily produce riches; when I had arrived to this
degree of wealth, I had no longer any obstruction or opposition to fear;
new acquisitions were hourly brought within my reach, and I continued
for some years longer to heap thousands upon thousands.
At last I resolved to complete the circle of a citizen's prosperity by
the purchase of an estate in the country, and to close my life in
retirement. From the hour that this design entered my imagination, I
found the fatigues of my employment every day more oppressive, and
persuaded myself that I was no longer equal to perpetual attention, and
that my health would soon be destroyed by the torment and distraction of
extensive business. I could image to myself no happiness, but in vacant
jollity, and uninterrupted leisure: nor entertain my friends with any
other topick than the vexation and uncertainty of trade, and the
happiness of rural privacy.
But, notwithstanding these declarations, I could not at once reconcile
myself to the thoughts of ceasing to get money; and though I was every
day inquiring for a purchase, I found some reason for rejecting all that
were offered me; and, indeed, had accumulated so many beauties and
conveniencies in my idea of the spot where I was finally to be happy,
that, perhaps, the world might have been travelled over without
discovery of a place which would not have been defective in some
Thus I went on, still talking of retirement, and still refusing to
retire; my friends began to laugh at my delays, and I grew ashamed to
trifle longer with my own inclinations; an estate was at length
purchased, I transferred my stock to a prudent young man who had married
my daughter, went down into the country, and commenced lord of a
Here for some time I found happiness equal to my expectation. I reformed
the old house according to the advice of the best architects, I threw
down the walls of the garden, and enclosed it with palisades, planted
long avenues of trees, filled a green-house with exotick plants, dug a
new canal, and threw the earth into the old moat.
The fame of these expensive improvements brought in all the country to
see the show. I entertained my visitors with great liberality, led them
round my gardens, showed them my apartments, laid before them plans for
new decorations, and was gratified by the wonder of some and the envy of
I was envied: but how little can one man judge of the condition of
another! The time was now coming, in which affluence and splendour could
no longer make me pleased with myself. I had built till the imagination
of the architect was exhausted; I had added one convenience to another,
till I knew not what more to wish or to design; I had laid out my
gardens, planted my park, and completed my water-works; and what now
remained to be done? what, but to look up to turrets, of which when they
were once raised I had no further use, to range over apartments where
time was tarnishing the furniture, to stand by the cascade of which I
scarcely now perceived the sound, and to watch the growth of woods that
must give their shade to a distant generation.
In this gloomy inactivity, is every day begun and ended: the happiness
that I have been so long procuring is now at an end, because it has been
procured; I wander from room to room, till I am weary of myself; I ride
out to a neighbouring hill in the centre of my estate, from whence all
my lands lie in prospect round me; I see nothing that I have not seen
before, and return home disappointed, though I knew that I had nothing
In my happy days of business I had been accustomed to rise early in the
morning; and remember the time when I grieved that the night came so
soon upon me, and obliged me for a few hours to shut out affluence and
prosperity. I now seldom see the rising sun, but to "tell him," with the
fallen angel, "how I hate his beams." I awake from sleep as to
languor or imprisonment, and have no employment for the first hour but
to consider by what art I shall rid myself of the second. I protract the
breakfast as long as I can, because when it is ended I have no call for
my attention, till I can with some degree of decency grow impatient for
my dinner. If I could dine all my life, I should be happy; I eat not
because I am hungry, but because I am idle: but, alas! the time quickly
comes when I can eat no longer; and so ill does my constitution second
my inclination, that I cannot bear strong liquors: seven hours must then
be endured before I shall sup; but supper comes at last, the more
welcome as it is in a short time succeeded by sleep.
Such, Mr. Adventurer, is the happiness, the hope of which seduced me
from the duties and pleasures of a mercantile life. I shall be told by
those who read my narrative, that there are many means of innocent
amusement, and many schemes of useful employment, which I do not appear
ever to have known; and that nature and art have provided pleasures, by
which, without the drudgery of settled business, the active may be
engaged, the solitary soothed, and the social entertained.
These arts, Sir, I have tried. When first I took possession of my
estate, in conformity to the taste of my neighbours, I bought guns and
nets, filled my kennel with dogs, and my stable with horses: but a
little experience showed me, that these instruments of rural felicity
would afford me few gratifications. I never shot but to miss the mark,
and, to confess the truth, was afraid of the fire of my own gun. I could
discover no musick in the cry of the dogs, nor could divest myself of
pity for the animal whose peaceful and inoffensive life was sacrificed
to our sport. I was not, indeed, always at leisure to reflect upon her
danger; for my horse, who had been bred to the chase, did not always
regard my choice either of speed or way, but leaped hedges and ditches
at his own discretion, and hurried me along with the dogs, to the great
diversion of my brother sportsmen. His eagerness of pursuit once incited
him to swim a river; and I had leisure to resolve in the water, that I
would never hazard my life again for the destruction of a hare.
I then ordered books to be procured, and by the direction of the vicar
had in a few weeks a closet elegantly furnished. You will, perhaps, be
surprised when I shall tell you, that when once I had ranged them
according to their sizes, and piled them up in regular gradations, I had
received all the pleasure which they could give me. I am not able to
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