The Works of Samuel Johnson in Nine Volumes
Part 4 out of 9
It will be easily believed of the Idler, that if his title had required
any search, he never would have found it. Every mode of life has its
conveniencies. The Idler, who habituates himself to be satisfied with
what he can most easily obtain, not only escapes labours which are often
fruitless, but sometimes succeeds better than those who despise all that
is within their reach, and think every thing more valuable as it is
harder to be acquired.
If similitude of manners be a motive to kindness, the Idler may flatter
himself with universal patronage. There is no single character under
which such numbers are comprised. Every man is, or hopes to be, an
Idler. Even those who seem to differ most from us are hastening to
increase our fraternity; as peace is the end of war, so to be idle is
the ultimate purpose of the busy.
There is perhaps no appellation by which a writer can better denote his
kindred to the human species. It has been found hard to describe man by
an adequate definition. Some philosophers have called him a reasonable
animal; but others have considered reason as a quality of which many
creatures partake. He has been termed likewise a laughing animal; but it
is said that some men have never laughed. Perhaps man may be more
properly distinguished as an idle animal; for there is no man who is not
sometimes idle. It is at least a definition from which none that shall
find it in this paper can be excepted; for who can be more idle than the
reader of the Idler?
That the definition may be complete, idleness must be not only the
general, but the peculiar characteristick of man; and perhaps man is the
only being that can properly be called idle, that does by others what he
might do himself, or sacrifices duty or pleasure to the love of ease.
Scarcely any name can be imagined from which less envy or competition is
to be dreaded. The Idler has no rivals or enemies. The man of business
forgets him; the man of enterprise despises him; and though such as
tread the same track of life fall commonly into jealousy and discord,
Idlers are always found to associate in peace; and he who is most famed
for doing nothing, is glad to meet another as idle as himself.
What is to be expected from this paper, whether it will be uniform or
various, learned or familiar, serious or gay, political or moral,
continued or interrupted, it is hoped that no reader will inquire. That
the Idler has some scheme, cannot be doubted, for to form schemes is the
Idler's privilege. But though he has many projects in his head, he is
now grown sparing of communication, having observed, that his hearers
are apt to remember what he forgets himself; that his tardiness of
execution exposes him to the encroachments of those who catch a hint and
fall to work; and that very specious plans, after long contrivance and
pompous displays, have subsided in weariness without a trial, and
without miscarriage have been blasted by derision.
Something the Idler's character may be supposed to promise. Those that
are curious after diminutive history, who watch the revolutions of
families, and the rise and fall of characters either male or female,
will hope to be gratified by this paper; for the Idler is always
inquisitive and seldom retentive. He that delights in obloquy and
satire, and wishes to see clouds gathering over any reputation that
dazzles him with its brightness, will snatch up the Idler's essays with
a beating heart. The Idler is naturally censorious; those who attempt
nothing themselves, think every thing easily performed, and consider the
unsuccessful always as criminal.
I think it necessary to give notice, that I make no contract, nor incur
any obligation. If those who depend on the Idler for intelligence and
entertainment, should suffer the disappointment which commonly follows
ill-placed expectations, they are to lay the blame only on themselves.
Yet hope is not wholly to be cast away. The Idler, though sluggish, is
yet alive, and may sometimes be stimulated to vigour and activity. He
may descend into profoundness, or tower into sublimity; for the
diligence of an Idler is rapid and impetuous, as ponderous bodies forced
into velocity move with violence proportionate to their weight.
But these vehement exertions of intellect cannot be frequent, and he
will therefore gladly receive help from any correspondent, who shall
enable him to please without his own labour. He excludes no style, he
prohibits no subject; only let him that writes to the Idler remember,
that his letters must not be long; no words are to be squandered in
declarations of esteem, or confessions of inability; conscious dulness
has little right to be prolix, and praise is not so welcome to the Idler
 The Universal Spectator in 1728, by the celebrated antiquary William
The Female Spectator in 1744, by Eliza Haywood.
These were followed by the New Spectator in 1784; and lastly, by the
Country Spectator in 1792. This last is a production of very
 This attempt was made in 1750, under the title of the Tatler
Revived. After a short trial it completely failed.
No. 2. SATURDAY, APRIL 22, 1758.
--_Toto non quater anno
Membranam_.--HOR. Lib. ii. Sat. iii. 1.
Many positions are often on the tongue, and seldom in the mind; there
are many truths which every human being acknowledges and forgets. It is
generally known, that he who expects much will be often disappointed;
yet disappointment seldom cures us of expectation, or has any other
effect than that of producing a moral sentence, or peevish exclamation.
He that embarks in the voyage of life, will always wish to advance
rather by the impulse of the wind, than the strokes of the oar; and many
founder in the passage, while they lie waiting for the gale that is to
waft them to their wish.
It will naturally be suspected that the Idler has lately suffered some
disappointment, and that he does not talk thus gravely for nothing. No
man is required to betray his own secrets. I will however, confess, that
I have now been a writer almost a week, and have not yet heard a single
word of praise, nor received one hint from any correspondent.
Whence this negligence proceeds I am not able to discover. Many of my
predecessors have thought themselves obliged to return their
acknowledgments in the second paper, for the kind reception of the
first; and in a short time, apologies have become necessary to those
ingenious gentlemen and ladies, whose performances, though in the
highest degree elegant and learned, have been unavoidably delayed.
What then will be thought of me, who, having experienced no kindness,
have no thanks to return; whom no gentleman or lady has yet enabled to
give any cause of discontent, and who have therefore no opportunity of
showing how skilfully I can pacify resentment, extenuate negligence, or
I have long known that splendour of reputation is not to be counted
among the necessaries of life, and therefore shall not much repine if
praise be withheld till it is better deserved. But surely I may be
allowed to complain, that, in a nation of authors, not one has thought
me worthy of notice after so fair an invitation.
At the time when the rage of writing has seized the old and young, when
the cook warbles her lyricks in the kitchen, and the thrasher
vociferates his heroicks in the barn; when our traders deal out
knowledge in bulky volumes, and our girls forsake their samplers to
teach kingdoms wisdom; it may seem very unnecessary to draw any more
from their proper occupations, by affording new opportunities of
I should be indeed unwilling to find that, for the sake of corresponding
with the Idler, the smith's iron had cooled on the anvil, or the
spinster's distaff stood unemployed. I solicit only the contributions of
those who have already devoted themselves to literature, or, without any
determinate intention, wander at large through the expanse of life, and
wear out the day in hearing at one place what they utter at another.
Of these, a great part are already writers. One has a friend in the
country upon whom he exercises his powers; whose passions he raises and
depresses; whose understanding he perplexes with paradoxes, or
strengthens by argument; whose admiration he courts, whose praises he
enjoys; and who serves him instead of a senate or a theatre; as the
young soldiers in the Roman camp learned the use of their weapons by
fencing against a post in the place of an enemy.
Another has his pockets filled with essays and epigrams, which he reads
from house to house, to select parties; and which his acquaintances are
daily entreating him to withhold no longer from the impatience of the
If among these any one is persuaded, that, by such preludes of
composition, he has qualified himself to appear in the open world, and
is yet afraid of those censures which they who have already written, and
they who cannot write, are equally ready to fulminate against publick
pretenders to fame, he may, by transmitting his performances to the
Idler, make a cheap experiment of his abilities, and enjoy the pleasure
of success, without the hazard of miscarriage.
Many advantages not generally known arise from this method of stealing
on the publick. The standing author of the paper is always the object of
critical malignity. Whatever is mean will be imputed to him, and
whatever is excellent be ascribed to his assistants. It does not much
alter the event, that the author and his correspondents are equally
unknown; for the author, whoever he be, is an individual, of whom every
reader has some fixed idea, and whom he is therefore unwilling to
gratify with applause; but the praises given to his correspondents are
scattered in the air, none can tell on whom they will light, and
therefore none are unwilling to bestow them.
He that is known to contribute to a periodical work, needs no other
caution than not to tell what particular pieces are his own; such
secrecy is indeed very difficult; but if it can be maintained, it is
scarcely to be imagined at how small an expense he may grow
A person of quality, by a single paper, may engross the honour of a
volume. Fame is indeed dealt with a hand less and less bounteous through
the subordinate ranks, till it descends to the professed author, who
will find it very difficult to get more than he deserves; but every man
who does not want it, or who needs not value it, may have liberal
allowances; and, for five letters in the year sent to the Idler, of
which perhaps only two are printed, will be promoted to the first rank
of writers by those who are weary of the present race of wits, and wish
to sink them into obscurity before the lustre of a name not yet known
enough to be detested.
 See Knox's Essays, Number 50.
No. 3. SATURDAY, APRIL 29, 1758.
Solamur cantu_. STAT.
It has long been the complaint of those who frequent the theatres, that
all the dramatick art has been long exhausted, and that the vicissitudes
of fortune, and accidents of life, have been shown in every possible
combination, till the first scene informs us of the last, and the play
no sooner opens, than every auditor knows how it will conclude. When a
conspiracy is formed in a tragedy, we guess by whom it will be detected;
when a letter is dropt in a comedy, we can tell by whom it will be
found. Nothing is now left for the poet but character and sentiment,
which are to make their way as they can, without the soft anxiety of
suspense, or the enlivening agitation of surprise.
A new paper lies under the same disadvantages as a new play. There is
danger lest it be new without novelty. My earlier predecessors had their
choice of vices and follies, and selected such as were most likely to
raise merriment or attract attention; they had the whole field of life
before them, untrodden and unsurveyed; characters of every kind shot up
in their way, and those of the most luxuriant growth, or most
conspicuous colours, were naturally cropt by the first sickle. They that
follow are forced to peep into neglected corners, to note the casual
varieties of the same species, and to recommend themselves by minute
industry and distinctions too subtle for common eyes.
Sometimes it may happen, that the haste or negligence of the first
inquirers has left enough behind to reward another search; sometimes new
objects start up under the eye, and he that is looking for one kind of
matter, is amply gratified by the discovery of another. But still it
must be allowed, that, as more is taken, less can remain; and every
truth brought newly to light impoverishes the mine, from which
succeeding intellects are to dig their treasures.
Many philosophers imagine, that the elements themselves may be in time
exhausted; that the sun, by shining long, will effuse all its light; and
that, by the continual waste of aqueous particles, the whole earth will
at last become a sandy desert.
I would not advise my readers to disturb themselves by contriving how
they shall live without light and water. For the days of universal
thirst and perpetual darkness are at a great distance. The ocean and the
sun will last our time, and we may leave posterity to shift for
But if the stores of nature are limited, much more narrow bounds must be
set to the modes of life; and mankind may want a moral or amusing paper,
many years before they shall be deprived of drink or day-light. This
want, which to the busy and the inventive may seem easily remediable by
some substitute or other, the whole race of Idlers will feel with all
the sensibility that such torpid animals can suffer.
When I consider the innumerable multitudes that, having no motive of
desire, or determination of will, lie freezing in perpetual inactivity,
till some external impulse puts them in motion; who awake in the
morning, vacant of thought, with minds gaping for the intellectual food,
which some kind essayist has been accustomed to supply; I am moved by
the commiseration with which all human beings ought to behold the
distresses of each other, to try some expedients for their relief, and
to inquire by what methods the listless may be actuated, and the empty
There are said to be pleasures in madness known only to madmen. There
are certainly miseries in idleness, which the Idler only can conceive.
These miseries I have often felt and often bewailed. I know by
experience, how welcome is every avocation that summons the thoughts to
a new image; and how much languor and lassitude are relieved by that
officiousness which offers a momentary amusement to him who is unable to
find it for himself.
It is naturally indifferent to this race of men what entertainment they
receive, so they are but entertained. They catch, with equal eagerness,
at a moral lecture, or the memoirs of a robber; a prediction of the
appearance of a comet, or the calculation of the chances of a lottery.
They might therefore easily be pleased, if they consulted only their own
minds; but those who will not take the trouble to think for themselves,
have always somebody to think for them; and the difficulty in writing is
to please those from whom others learn to be pleased.
Much mischief is done in the world with very little interest or design.
He that assumes the character of a critick, and justifies his claim by
perpetual censure, imagines that he is hurting none but the author, and
him he considers as a pestilent animal, whom every other being has a
right to persecute; little does he think how many harmless men he
involves in his own guilt, by teaching them to be noxious without
malignity, and to repeat objections which they do not understand; or how
many honest minds he debars from pleasure, by exciting an artificial
fastidiousness, and making them too wise to concur with their own
sensations. He who is taught by a critick to dislike that which pleased
him in his natural state, has the same reason to complain of his
instructer, as the madman to rail at his doctor, who, when he thought
himself master of Peru, physicked him to poverty.
If men will struggle against their own advantage, they are not to expect
that the Idler will take much pains upon them; he has himself to please
as well as them, and has long learned, or endeavoured to learn, not to
make the pleasure of others too necessary to his own.
No. 4. SATURDAY, MAY 6, 1758.
[Greek: Pantas gar phileeske.] HOM.
Charity, or tenderness for the poor, which is now justly considered, by
a great part of mankind, as inseparable from piety, and in which almost
all the goodness of the present age consists, is, I think, known only to
those who enjoy, either immediately or by transmission, the light of
Those ancient nations who have given us the wisest models of government,
and the brightest examples of patriotism, whose institutions have been
transcribed by all succeeding legislatures, and whose history is studied
by every candidate for political or military reputation, have yet left
behind them no mention of alms-houses or hospitals, or places where age
might repose, or sickness be relieved.
The Roman emperours, indeed, gave large donatives to the citizens and
soldiers, but these distributions were always reckoned rather popular
than virtuous: nothing more was intended than an ostentation of
liberality, nor was any recompense expected, but suffrages and
Their beneficence was merely occasional; he that ceased to need the
favour of the people, ceased likewise to court it; and, therefore, no
man thought it either necessary or wise to make any standing provision
for the needy, to look forwards to the wants of posterity, or to secure
successions of charity, for successions of distress.
Compassion is by some reasoners, on whom the name of philosophers has
been too easily conferred, resolved into an affection merely selfish, an
involuntary perception of pain at the involuntary sight of a being like
ourselves languishing in misery. But this sensation, if ever it be felt
at all from the brute instinct of uninstructed nature, will only produce
effects desultory and transient; it will never settle into a principle
of action, or extend relief to calamities unseen, in generations not yet
The devotion of life or fortune to the succour of the poor, is a height
of virtue, to which humanity has never risen by its own power. The
charity of the Mahometans is a precept which their teacher evidently
transplanted from the doctrines of Christianity; and the care with which
some of the Oriental sects attend, as is said, to the necessities of the
diseased and indigent, may be added to the other arguments, which prove
Zoroaster to have borrowed his institutions from the law of Moses.
The present age, though not likely to shine hereafter among the most
splendid periods of history, has yet given examples of charity, which
may be very properly recommended to imitation. The equal distribution of
wealth, which long commerce has produced, does not enable any single
hand to raise edifices of piety like fortified cities, to appropriate
manors to religious uses, or deal out such large and lasting beneficence
as was scattered over the land in ancient times, by those who possessed
counties or provinces. But no sooner is a new species of misery brought
to view, and a design of relieving it professed, than every hand is open
to contribute something, every tongue is busied in solicitation, and
every art of pleasure is employed for a time in the interest of virtue.
The most apparent and pressing miseries incident to man, have now their
peculiar houses of reception and relief; and there are few among us,
raised however little above the danger of poverty, who may not justly
claim, what is implored by the Mahometans in their most ardent
benedictions, the prayers of the poor.
Among those actions which the mind can most securely review with
unabated pleasure, is that of having contributed to an hospital for the
sick. Of some kinds of charity the consequences are dubious: some evils
which beneficence has been busy to remedy, are not certainly known to be
very grievous to the sufferer, or detrimental to the community; but no
man can question whether wounds and sickness are not really painful;
whether it be not worthy of a good man's care to restore those to ease
and usefulness, from whose labour infants and women expect their bread,
and who, by a casual hurt, or lingering disease, lie pining in want and
anguish, burthensome to others, and weary of themselves.
Yet as the hospitals of the present time subsist only by gifts bestowed
at pleasure, without any solid fund of support, there is danger lest the
blaze of charity, which now burns with so much heat and splendour,
should die away for want of lasting fuel; lest fashion should suddenly
withdraw her smile, and inconstancy transfer the publick attention to
something which may appear more eligible, because it will be new.
Whatever is left in the hands of chance must be subject to vicissitude;
and when any establishment is found to be useful, it ought to be the
next care to make it permanent.
But man is a transitory being, and his designs must partake of the
imperfections of their author. To confer duration is not always in our
power. We must snatch the present moment, and employ it well, without
too much solicitude for the future, and content ourselves with
reflecting that our part is performed. He that waits for an opportunity
to do much at once, may breathe out his life in idle wishes, and regret,
in the last hour, his useless intentions, and barren zeal.
The most active promoters of the present schemes of charity cannot be
cleared from some instances of misconduct, which may awaken contempt or
censure, and hasten that neglect which is likely to come too soon of
itself. The open competitions between different hospitals, and the
animosity with which their patrons oppose one another, may prejudice
weak minds against them all. For it will not be easily believed, that
any man can, for good reasons, wish to exclude another from doing good.
The spirit of charity can only be continued by a reconciliation of these
ridiculous feuds; and therefore, instead of contentions who shall be the
only benefactors to the needy, let there be no other struggle than who
shall be the first.
No. 5. SATURDAY, MAY 13, 1758.
Ant egcheon hapanton
Ant aspidon hapason]. ANAC.
Our military operations are at last begun; our troops are marching in
all the pomp of war, and a camp is marked out on the Isle of Wight; the
heart of every Englishman now swells with confidence, though somewhat
softened by generous compassion for the consternation and distresses of
This formidable armament and splendid march produce different effects
upon different minds, according to the boundless diversities of temper,
occupation, and habits of thought.
Many a tender maiden considers her lover as already lost, because he
cannot reach the camp but by crossing the sea; men of a more political
understanding are persuaded that we shall now see, in a few days, the
ambassadours of France supplicating for pity. Some are hoping for a
bloody battle, because a bloody battle makes a vendible narrative; some
are composing songs of victory; some planning arches of triumph; and
some are mixing fireworks for the celebration of a peace.
Of all extensive and complicated objects, different parts are selected
by different eyes; and minds are variously affected, as they vary their
attention. The care of the publick is now fixed upon our soldiers, who
are leaving their native country to wander, none can tell how long, in
the pathless deserts of the Isle of Wight. The tender sigh for their
sufferings, and the gay drink to their success. I, who look, or believe
myself to look, with more philosophick eyes on human affairs, must
confess, that I saw the troops march with little emotion; my thoughts
were fixed upon other scenes, and the tear stole into my eyes, not for
those who were going away, but for those who were left behind.
We have no reason to doubt but our troops will proceed with proper
caution; there are men among them who can take care of themselves. But
how shall the ladies endure without them? By what arts can they, who
have long had no joy but from the civilities of a soldier, now amuse
their hours, and solace their separation?
Of fifty thousand men, now destined to different stations, if we allow
each to have been occasionally necessary only to four women, a short
computation will inform us, that two hundred thousand ladies are left to
languish in distress; two hundred thousand ladies, who must run to sales
and auctions without an attendant; sit at the play, without a critick to
direct their opinion; buy their fans by their own judgment; dispose
shells by their own invention; walk in the Mall without a gallant; go to
the gardens without a protector; and shuffle cards with vain impatience,
for want of a fourth to complete the party.
Of these ladies, some, I hope, have lap-dogs, and some monkeys; but they
are unsatisfactory companions. Many useful offices are performed by men
of scarlet, to which neither dog nor monkey has adequate abilities. A
parrot, indeed, is as fine as a colonel, and, if he has been much used
to good company, is not wholly without conversation; but a parrot, after
all, is a poor little creature, and has neither sword nor shoulder-knot,
can neither dance nor play at cards.
Since the soldiers must obey the call of their duty, and go to that side
of the kingdom which faces France, I know not why the ladies, who cannot
live without them, should not follow them. The prejudices and pride of
man have long presumed the sword and spindle made for different hands,
and denied the other sex to partake the grandeur of military glory. This
notion may be consistently enough received in France, where the salick
law excludes females from the throne; but we, who allow them to be
sovereigns, may surely suppose them capable to be soldiers.
It were to be wished that some man, whose experience and authority might
enforce regard, would propose that our encampments for the present year
should comprise an equal number of men and women, who should march and
fight in mingled bodies. If proper colonels were once appointed, and the
drums ordered to beat for female volunteers, our regiments would soon be
filled without the reproach or cruelty of an impress.
Of these heroines, some might serve on foot under the denomination of
the _Female Buffs_, and some on horseback, with the title of _Lady
What objections can be made to this scheme I have endeavoured maturely
to consider; and cannot find that a modern soldier has any duties,
except that of obedience, which a lady cannot perform. If the hair has
lost its powder, a lady has a puff; if a coat be spotted, a lady has a
brush. Strength is of less importance since fire-arms have been used;
blows of the hand are now seldom exchanged; and what is there to be done
in the charge or the retreat beyond the powers of a sprightly maiden?
Our masculine squadrons will not suppose themselves disgraced by their
auxiliaries, till they have done something which women could not have
done. The troops of Braddock never saw their enemies, and perhaps were
defeated by women. If our American general had headed an army of girls,
he might still have built a fort and taken it. Had Minorca been defended
by a female garrison, it might have been surrendered, as it was, without
a breach; and I cannot but think, that seven thousand women might have
ventured to look at Rochfort, sack a village, rob a vineyard, and return
No. 6. SATURDAY, MAY 20, 1758.
[Greek: Tameion aretaes gennaia gynae]. GR. PRO.
The lady who had undertaken to ride on one horse a thousand miles in a
thousand hours, has completed her journey in little more than two-thirds
of the time stipulated, and was conducted through the last mile with
triumphal honours. Acclamation shouted before her, and all the flowers
of the spring were scattered in her way.
Every heart ought to rejoice when true merit is distinguished with
publick notice. I am far from wishing either to the amazon or her horse
any diminution of happiness or fame, and cannot but lament that they
were not more amply and suitably rewarded.
There was once a time when wreaths of bays or oak were considered as
recompenses equal to the most wearisome labours and terrifick dangers,
and when the miseries of long marches and stormy seas were at once
driven from the remembrance by the fragrance of a garland.
If this heroine had been born in ancient times, she might perhaps have
been delighted with the simplicity of ancient gratitude; or if any thing
was wanting to full satisfaction, she might have supplied the deficiency
with the hope of deification, and anticipated the altars that would be
raised, and the vows that would be made, by future candidates for
equestrian glory, to the patroness of the race and the goddess of the
But fate reserved her for a more enlightened age, which has discovered
leaves and flowers to be transitory things; which considers profit as
the end of honour; and rates the event of every undertaking only by the
money that is gained or lost. In these days, to strew the road with
daisies and lilies, is to mock merit, and delude hope. The toyman will
not give his jewels, nor the mercer measure out his silks, for vegetable
coin. A primrose, though picked up under the feet of the most renowned
courser, will neither be received as a stake at cards, nor procure a
seat at an opera, nor buy candles for a rout, nor lace for a livery. And
though there are many virtuosos, whose sole ambition is to possess
something which can be found in no other hand, yet some are more
accustomed to store their cabinets by theft than purchase, and none of
them would either steal or buy one of the flowers of gratulation till he
knows that all the rest are totally destroyed.
Little therefore did it avail this wonderful lady to be received,
however joyfully, with such obsolete and barren ceremonies of praise.
Had the way been covered with guineas, though but for the tenth part of
the last mile, she would have considered her skill and diligence as not
wholly lost; and might have rejoiced in the speed and perseverance which
had left her such superfluity of time, that she could at leisure gather
her reward without the danger of Atalanta's miscarriage.
So much ground could not indeed have been paved with gold but at a large
expense, and we are at present engaged in a war, which demands and
enforces frugality. But common rules are made only for common life, and
some deviation from general policy may be allowed in favour of a lady
that rode a thousand miles in a thousand hours.
Since the spirit of antiquity so much prevails amongst us, that even on
this great occasion we have given flowers instead of money, let us at
least complete our imitation of the ancients, and endeavour to transmit
to posterity the memory of that virtue, which we consider as superior to
pecuniary recompense. Let an equestrian statue of this heroine be
erected, near the starting-post on the heath of Newmarket, to fill
kindred souls with emulation, and tell the grand-daughters of our
grand-daughters what an English maiden has once performed.
As events, however illustrious, are soon obscured if they are intrusted
to tradition, I think it necessary, that the pedestal should be
inscribed with a concise account of this great performance. The
composition of this narrative ought not to be committed rashly to
improper hands. If the rhetoricians of Newmarket, who may be supposed
likely to conceive in its full strength the dignity of the subject,
should undertake to express it, there is danger lest they admit some
phrases which, though well understood at present, may be ambiguous in
another century. If posterity should read on a publick monument, that
_the lady carried her horse a thousand miles in a thousand hours_, they
may think that the statue and inscription are at variance, because one
will represent the horse as carrying his lady, and the other tell that
the lady carried her horse.
Some doubts likewise may be raised by speculatists, and some
controversies be agitated among historians, concerning the motive as
well as the manner of the action. As it will be known, that this wonder
was performed in a time of war, some will suppose that the lady was
frighted by invaders, and fled to preserve her life or her chastity:
others will conjecture, that she was thus honoured for some intelligence
carried of the enemy's designs: some will think that she brought news of
a victory; others, that she was commissioned to tell of a conspiracy;
and some will congratulate themselves on their acuter penetration, and
find, that all these notions of patriotism and publick spirit are
improbable and chimerical; they will confidently tell, that she only ran
away from her guardians, and that the true causes of her speed were fear
Let it therefore be carefully mentioned, that by this performance _she
won her wager_; and, lest this should, by any change of manners, seem an
inadequate or incredible incitement, let it be added, that at this time
the original motives of human actions had lost their influence; that the
love of praise was extinct; the fear of infamy was become ridiculous;
and the only wish of an Englishman was, _to win his wager_.
 The incident, so pleasingly ridiculed in this paper, happened in
1758; and the newspapers of the time gave it due importance.
No. 7. SATURDAY, MAY 27, 1758.
One of the principal amusements of the _Idler_ is to read the works of
those minute historians the writers of news, who, though contemptuously
overlooked by the composers of bulky volumes, are yet necessary in a
nation where much wealth produces much leisure, and one part of the
people has nothing to do but to observe the lives and fortunes of the
To us, who are regaled every morning and evening with intelligence, and
are supplied from day to day with materials for conversation, it is
difficult to conceive how man can subsist without a newspaper, or to
what entertainment companies can assemble, in those wide regions of the
earth that have neither _Chronicles_ nor _Magazines_, neither _Gazettes_
nor _Advertisers_, neither _Journals_ nor _Evening Posts_.
There are never great numbers in any nation, whose reason or invention
can find employment for their tongues, who can raise a pleasing
discourse from their own stock of sentiments and images; and those few
who have qualified themselves by speculation for general disquisitions
are soon left without an audience. The common talk of men must relate to
facts in which the talkers have, or think they have, an interest; and
where such facts cannot be known, the pleasures of society will be
merely sensual. Thus the natives of the Mahometan empires, who approach
most nearly to European civility, have no higher pleasure at their
convivial assemblies than to hear a piper, or gaze upon a tumbler; and
no company can keep together longer than they are diverted by sounds or
All foreigners remark, that the knowledge of the common people of
England is greater than that of any other vulgar. This superiority we
undoubtedly owe to the rivulets of intelligence, which are continually
trickling among us, which every one may catch, and of which every one
This universal diffusion of instruction is, perhaps, not wholly without
its inconveniencies; it certainly fills the nation with superficial
disputants; enables those to talk who were born to work; and affords
information sufficient to elate vanity, and stiffen obstinacy, but too
little to enlarge the mind into complete skill for full comprehension.
Whatever is found to gratify the publick, will be multiplied by the
emulation of venders beyond necessity or use. This plenty indeed
produces cheapness, but cheapness always ends in negligence and
The compilation of newspapers is often committed to narrow and mercenary
minds, not qualified for the task of delighting or instructing; who are
content to fill their paper, with whatever matter, without industry to
gather, or discernment to select.
Thus journals are daily multiplied without increase of knowledge. The
tale of the morning paper is told again in the evening, and the
narratives of the evening are bought again in the morning. These
repetitions, indeed, waste time, but they do not shorten it. The most
eager peruser of news is tired before he has completed his labour; and
many a man, who enters the coffee-house in his nightgown and slippers,
is called away to his shop, or his dinner, before he has well considered
the state of Europe.
It is discovered by Reaumur, that spiders might make silk, if they could
be persuaded to live in peace together. The writers of news, if they
could be confederated, might give more pleasure to the publick. The
morning and evening authors might divide an event between them; a single
action, and that not of much importance, might be gradually discovered,
so as to vary a whole week with joy, anxiety, and conjecture.
We know that a French ship of war was lately taken by a ship of England;
but this event was suffered to burst upon us all at once, and then what
we knew already was echoed from day to day, and from week to week.
Let us suppose these spiders of literature to spin together, and inquire
to what an extensive web such another event might be regularly drawn,
and how six morning and six evening writers might agree to retail their
On _Monday Morning_ the Captain of a ship might arrive, who left the
_Friseur_ of _France_, and the _Bull-dog_, Captain _Grim_, in sight of
one another, so that an engagement seemed unavoidable.
_Monday Evening._ A sound of cannon was heard off Cape Finisterre,
supposed to be those of the Bull-dog and Friseur.
_Tuesday Morning._ It was this morning reported that the Bull-dog
engaged the Friseur, yard-arm and yard-arm, three glasses and a half,
but was obliged to sheer off for want of powder. It is hoped that
inquiry will be made into this affair in a proper place.
_Tuesday Evening._ The account of the engagement between the Bull-dog
and Friseur was premature.
_Wednesday Morning._ Another express is arrived, which brings news, that
the Friseur had lost all her masts, and three hundred of her men, in the
late engagement; and that Captain Grim is come into harbour much
_Wednesday Evening._ We hear that the brave Captain Grim, having
expended his powder, proposed to enter the Friseur sword in hand; but
that his lieutenant, the nephew of a certain nobleman, remonstrated
_Thursday Morning_. We wait impatiently for a full account of the late
engagement between the Bull-dog and Friseur.
_Thursday Evening_. It is said the order of the Bath will be sent to
_Friday Morning_. A certain Lord of the Admiralty has been heard to say
of a certain Captain, that if he had done his duty, a certain French
ship might have been taken. It was not thus that merit was rewarded in
the days of Cromwell.
_Friday Evening_. There is certain information at the Admiralty, that
the Friseur is taken, after a resistance of two hours.
_Saturday Morning_. A letter from one of the gunners of the Bull-dog
mentions the taking of the Friseur, and attributes their success wholly
to the bravery and resolution of Captain Grim, who never owed any of his
advancement to borough-jobbers, or any other corrupters of the people.
_Saturday Evening_. Captain Grim arrived at the Admiralty, with an
account that he engaged the Friseur, a ship of equal force with his own,
off Cape Finisterre, and took her after an obstinate resistance, having
killed one hundred and fifty of the French, with the loss of ninety-five
of his own men.
 For some pleasing remarks on this subject see De Lolme on the
constitution of England, chap. 12. We cannot retrain from quoting
here the speech of Sir James Mackintosh in the well known Peltier
cause. "A sort of prophetic instinct, if I may so speak, seems to
have revealed to her (Queen Elizabeth) the importance of that great
instrument, for rousing and guiding the minds of men, of the effects
of which she had no experience; which, since her time, has changed
the condition of the world; but which few modern statesmen have
thoroughly understood, or wisely employed; which is no doubt
connected with many ridiculous and degrading details; which has
produced, and may again produce, terrible mischiefs; but of which
the influence must after all be considered as the most certain
effect of the most efficacious cause of civilization; and which,
whether it be a blessing or a curse, is the most powerful engine
that a politician can move--I mean the Press. It is a curious fact,
that in the year of the Armada, Queen Elizabeth caused to be printed
the first Gazettes that ever appeared in England."
No. 8. SATURDAY, JUNE 3, 1758.
TO THE IDLER.
In the time of publick danger, it is every man's duty to withdraw his
thoughts in some measure from his private interest, and employ part of
his time for the general welfare. National conduct ought to be the
result of national wisdom, a plan formed by mature consideration and
diligent selection out of all the schemes which may be offered, and all
the information which can be procured.
In a battle, every man should fight as if he was the single champion; in
preparations for war, every man should think, as if the last event
depended on his counsel. None can tell what discoveries are within his
reach, or how much he may contribute to the publick safety.
Full of these considerations, I have carefully reviewed the process of
the war, and find, what every other man has found, that we have hitherto
added nothing to our military reputation: that at one time we have been
beaten by enemies whom we did not see; and, at another, have avoided the
sight of enemies lest we should be beaten.
Whether our troops are defective in discipline or in courage, is not
very useful to inquire; they evidently want something necessary to
success; and he that shall supply that want will deserve well of his
_To learn of an enemy_ has always been accounted politick and
honourable; and therefore I hope it will raise no prejudices against my
project, to confess that I borrowed it from a Frenchman.
When the Isle of Rhodes was, many centuries ago, in the hands of that
military order now called the Knights of Malta, it was ravaged by a
dragon, who inhabited a den under a rock, from which he issued forth
when he was hungry or wanton, and without fear or mercy devoured men and
beasts as they came in his way. Many councils were held, and many
devices offered, for his destruction; but as his back was armed with
impenetrable scales, none would venture to attack him. At last Dudon, a
French knight, undertook the deliverance of the island. From some place
of security, he took a view of the dragon, or, as a modern soldier would
say, _reconnoitred_ him, and observed that his belly was naked and
vulnerable. He then returned home to make his _arrangements_; and, by a
very exact imitation of nature, made a dragon of pasteboard, in the
belly of which he put beef and mutton, and accustomed two sturdy
mastiffs to feed themselves by tearing their way to the concealed flesh.
When his dogs were well practised in this method of plunder, he marched
out with them at his heels, and showed them the dragon; they rushed upon
him in quest of their dinner; Dudon battered his scull, while they
lacerated his belly; and neither his sting nor claws were able to defend
Something like this might be practised in our present state. Let a
fortification be raised on Salisbury Plain, resembling Brest, or Toulon,
or Paris itself, with all the usual preparation for defence; let the
inclosure be filled with beef and ale: let the soldiers, from some
proper eminence, see shirts waving upon lines, and here and there a
plump landlady hurrying about with pots in her hands. When they are
sufficiently animated to advance, lead them in exact order, with fife
and drum, to that side whence the wind blows, till they come within the
scent of roast meat and tobacco. Contrive that they may approach the
place fasting about an hour after dinner-time, assure them that there is
no danger, and command an attack.
If nobody within either moves or speaks, it is not unlikely that they
may carry the place by storm; but if a panick should seize them, it will
be proper to defer the enterprise to a more hungry hour. When they have
entered, let them fill their bellies and return to the camp.
On the next day let the same place be shown them again, but with some
additions of strength or terrour. I cannot pretend to inform our
generals through what gradations of danger they should train their men
to fortitude. They best know what the soldiers and what themselves can
bear. It will be proper that the war should every day vary its
appearance. Sometimes, as they mount the rampart, a cook may throw fat
upon the fire, to accustom them to a sudden blaze; and sometimes, by the
clatter of empty pots, they may be inured to formidable noises. But let
it never be forgotten, that victory must repose with a full belly.
In time it will be proper to bring our French prisoners from the coast,
and place them upon the walls in martial order. At their first
appearance their hands must be tied, but they may be allowed to grin. In
a month they may guard the place with their hands loosed, provided that
on pain of death they be forbidden to strike.
By this method our army will soon be brought to look an enemy in the
face. But it has been lately observed, that fear is received by the ear
as well as the eyes; and the Indian war-cry is represented as too
dreadful to be endured; as a sound that will force the bravest veteran
to drop his weapon, and desert his rank; that will deafen his ear, and
chill his breast; that will neither suffer him to hear orders or to feel
shame, or retain any sensibility but the dread of death.
That the savage clamours of naked barbarians should thus terrify troops
disciplined to war, and ranged in array with arms in their hands, is
surely strange. But this is no time to reason. I am of opinion, that by
a proper mixture of asses, bulls, turkeys, geese, and tragedians, a
noise might be procured equally horrid with the war-cry. When our men
have been encouraged by frequent victories, nothing will remain but to
qualify them for extreme danger, by a sudden concert of terrifick
vociferation. When they have endured this last trial, let them be led to
action, as men who are no longer to be frightened; as men who can bear
at once the grimaces of the Gauls, and the howl of the Americans.
No. 9. SATURDAY, JUNE 10, 1758.
TO THE IDLER.
I have read you; that is a favour few authors can boast of having
received from me besides yourself. My intention in telling you of it is
to inform you, that you have both pleased and angered me. Never did
writer appear so delightful to me as you did when you adopted the name
of the _Idler_. But what a falling off was there when your first
production was brought to light! A natural irresistible attachment to
that favourable passion, _idling_, had led me to hope for indulgence
from the _Idler_, but I find him a stranger to the title.
What rules has he proposed totally to unbrace the slackened nerve; to
shade the heavy eye of inattention; to give the smooth feature and the
uncontracted muscle; or procure insensibility to the whole animal
These were some of the placid blessings I promised myself the enjoyment
of, when I committed violence upon myself by mustering up all my
strength to set about reading you; but I am disappointed in them all,
and the stroke of eleven in the morning is still as terrible to me as
before, and I find putting on my clothes still as painful and laborious.
Oh that our climate would permit that original nakedness which the
thrice happy Indians to this day enjoy! How many unsolicitous hours
should I bask away, warmed in bed by the sun's glorious beams, could I,
like them, tumble from thence in a moment, when necessity obliges me to
endure the torment of getting upon my legs!
But wherefore do I talk to you upon subjects of this delicate nature?
you who seem ignorant of the inexpressible charms of the elbow-chair,
attended with a soft stool for the elevation of the feet! Thus, vacant
of thought, do I indulge the live-long day.
You may define happiness as you please; I embrace that opinion which
makes it consist in the absence of pain. To reflect is pain; to stir is
pain; therefore I never reflect or stir but when I cannot help it.
Perhaps you will call my scheme of life indolence, and therefore think
the _Idler_ excused from taking any notice of me; but I have always
looked upon indolence and idleness as the same; and so desire you will
now and then, while you profess yourself of our fraternity, take some
notice of me, and others in my situation, who think they have a right to
your assistance; or relinquish the name.
You may publish, burn, or destroy this, just as you are in the humour;
it is ten to one but I forget that I wrote it, before it reaches you. I
believe you may find a motto for it in Horace, but I cannot reach him
without getting out of my chair; that is a sufficient reason for my not
affixing any.--And being obliged to sit upright to ring the bell for my
servant to convey this to the penny-post, if I slip the opportunity of
his being now in the room, makes me break off abruptly.
This correspondent, whoever he be, is not to be dismissed without some
tokens of regard. There is no mark more certain of a genuine Idler, than
uneasiness without molestation, and complaint without a grievance.
Yet my gratitude to the contributor of half a paper shall not wholly
overpower my sincerity. I must inform him, that, with all his
pretensions, he that calls for directions to be idle, is yet but in the
rudiments of idleness, and has attained neither the practice nor theory
of wasting life. The true nature of idleness he will know in time, by
continuing to be idle. Virgil tells us of an impetuous and rapid being,
that acquires strength by motion. The Idler acquires weight by lying
The _vis inertiae_, the quality of resisting all external impulses, is
hourly increasing; the restless and troublesome faculties of attention
and distinction, reflection on the past, and solicitude for the future,
by a long indulgence of idleness, will, like tapers in unelastick air,
be gradually extinguished; and the officious lover, the vigilant
soldier, the busy trader, may, by a judicious composure of his mind,
sink into a state approaching to that of brute matter; in which he shall
retain the consciousness of his own existence, only by an obtuse languor
and drowsy discontent.
This is the lowest stage to which the favourites of idleness can
descend; these regions of undelighted quiet can be entered by few. Of
those that are prepared to sink down into their shade, some are roused
into action by avarice or ambition, some are awakened by the voice of
fame, some allured by the smile of beauty, and many withheld by the
importunities of want. Of all the enemies of idleness, want is the most
formidable. Fame is soon found to be a sound, and love a dream; avarice
and ambition may be justly suspected of privy confederacies with
idleness; for, when they have for a while protected their votaries, they
often deliver them up to end their lives under her dominion. Want always
struggles against idleness, but want herself is often overcome; and
every hour shows the careful observer those who had rather live in ease
than in plenty.
So wide is the region of Idleness, and so powerful her influence. But
she does not immediately confer all her gifts. My correspondent, who
seems, with all his errours, worthy of advice, must be told, that he is
calling too hastily for the last effusion of total insensibility.
Whatever he may have been taught by unskilful Idlers to believe, labour
is necessary in his initiation to idleness. He that never labours may
know the pains of idleness, but not the pleasure. The comfort is, that
if he devotes himself to insensibility, he will daily lengthen the
intervals of idleness, and shorten those of labour, till at last he will
lie down to rest, and no longer disturb the world or himself by bustle
Thus I have endeavoured to give him that information which, perhaps,
after all, he did not want; for a true Idler often calls for that which
he knows is never to be had, and asks questions which he does not desire
ever to be answered.
 By an unknown correspondent.
No. 10. SATURDAY, JUNE 17, 1758.
Credulity, or confidence of opinion too great for the evidence from
which opinion is derived, we find to be a general weakness imputed by
every sect and party to all others, and indeed by every man to every
Of all kinds of credulity, the most obstinate and wonderful is that of
political zealots; of men, who being numbered, they know not how or why,
in any of the parties that divide a state, resign the use of their own
eyes and ears, and resolve to believe nothing that does not favour those
whom they profess to follow.
The bigot of philosophy is seduced by authorities which he has not
always opportunities to examine, is entangled in systems by which truth
and falsehood are inextricably complicated, or undertakes to talk on
subjects which nature did not form him able to comprehend.
The Cartesian, who denies that his horse feels the spur, or that the
hare is afraid when the hounds approach her; the disciple of Malbranche,
who maintains that the man was not hurt by the bullet, which, according
to vulgar apprehension, swept away his legs; the follower of Berkeley,
who while he sits writing at his table, declares that he has neither
table, paper, nor fingers; have all the honour at least of being
deceived by fallacies not easily detected, and may plead that they did
not forsake truth, but for appearances which they were not able to
distinguish from it.
But the man who engages in a party has seldom to do with any thing
remote or abstruse. The present state of things is before his eyes; and,
if he cannot be satisfied without retrospection, yet he seldom extends
his views beyond the historical events of the last century. All the
knowledge that he can want is within his attainment, and most of the
arguments which he can hear are within his capacity.
Yet so it is, that an Idler meets every hour of his life with men who
have different opinions upon every thing past, present, and future; who
deny the most notorious facts, contradict the most cogent truths, and
persist in asserting to-day what they asserted yesterday, in defiance of
evidence, and contempt of confutation.
Two of my companions, who are grown old in idleness, are Tom Tempest and
Jack Sneaker. Both of them consider themselves as neglected by their
parties, and therefore entitled to credit; for why should they favour
ingratitude? They are both men of integrity, where no factious interest
is to be promoted; and both lovers of truth, when they are not heated
with political debate.
Tom Tempest is a steady friend to the house of Stuart. He can recount
the prodigies that have appeared in the sky, and the calamities that
have afflicted the nation every year from the Revolution; and is of
opinion, that, if the exiled family had continued to reign, there would
have neither been worms in our ships nor caterpillars in our trees. He
wonders that the nation was not awakened by the hard frost to a
revocation of the true king, and is hourly afraid that the whole island
will be lost in the sea. He believes that king William burned Whitehall
that he might steal the furniture; and that Tillotson died an atheist.
Of queen Anne he speaks with more tenderness, owns that she meant well,
and can tell by whom and why she was poisoned. In the succeeding reigns
all has been corruption, malice, and design. He believes that nothing
ill has ever happened for these forty years by chance or errour; he
holds that the battle of Dettingen was won by mistake, and that of
Fontenoy lost by contract; that the Victory was sunk by a private order;
that Cornhill was fired by emissaries from the council; and the arch of
Westminster-bridge was so contrived as to sink on purpose that the
nation might be put to charge. He considers the new road to Islington as
an encroachment on liberty, and often asserts that _broad wheels_ will
be the ruin of England.
Tom is generally vehement and noisy, but nevertheless has some secrets
which he always communicates in a whisper. Many and many a time has Tom
told me, in a corner, that our miseries were almost at an end, and that
we should see, in a month, another monarch on the throne; the time
elapses without a revolution; Tom meets me again with new intelligence,
the whole scheme is now settled, and we shall see great events in
Jack Sneaker is a hearty adherent to the present establishment; he has
known those who saw the bed into which the Pretender was conveyed in a
warming-pan. He often rejoices that the nation was not enslaved by the
Irish. He believes that king William never lost a battle, and that if he
had lived one year longer he would have conquered France. He holds that
Charles the First was a Papist. He allows there were some good men in
the reign of queen Anne, but the peace of Utrecht brought a blast upon
the nation, and has been the cause of all the evil that we have suffered
to the present hour. He believes that the scheme of the South Sea was
well intended, but that it miscarried by the influence of France. He
considers a standing army as the bulwark of liberty, thinks us secured
from corruption by septennial parliaments, relates how we are enriched
and strengthened by the electoral dominions, and declares that the
publick debt is a blessing to the nation.
Yet, amidst all this prosperity, poor Jack is hourly disturbed by the
dread of Popery. He wonders that some stricter laws are not made against
Papists, and is sometimes afraid that they are busy with French gold
among the bishops and judges.
He cannot believe that the Nonjurors are so quiet for nothing, they must
certainly be forming some plot for the establishment of Popery; he does
not think the present oaths sufficiently binding, and wishes that some
better security could be found for the succession of Hanover. He is
zealous for the naturalization of foreign Protestants, and rejoiced at
the admission of the Jews to the English privileges, because he thought
a Jew would never be a Papist.
No. 11. SATURDAY, JUNE 24, 1758.
--_Nec te quaesiveris extra_. PERS.
It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk
is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must
already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm.
There are, among the numerous lovers of subtilties and paradoxes, some
who derive the civil institutions of every country from its climate, who
impute freedom and slavery to the temperature of the air, can fix the
meridian of vice and virtue, and tell at what degree of latitude we are
to expect courage or timidity, knowledge or ignorance.
From these dreams of idle speculation, a slight survey of life, and a
little knowledge of history, are sufficient to awaken any inquirer,
whose ambition of distinction has not overpowered his love of truth.
Forms of government are seldom the result of much deliberation; they are
framed by chance in popular assemblies, or in conquered countries, by
despotick authority. Laws are often occasional, often capricious, made
always by a few, and sometimes by a single voice. Nations have changed
their characters; slavery is now no where more patiently endured, than
in countries once inhabited by the zealots of liberty.
But national customs can arise only from general agreement; they are not
imposed, but chosen, and are continued only by the continuance of their
cause. An Englishman's notice of the weather is the natural consequence
of changeable skies and uncertain seasons. In many parts of the world,
wet weather and dry are regularly expected at certain periods; but in
our island every man goes to sleep, unable to guess whether he shall
behold in the morning a bright or cloudy atmosphere, whether his rest
shall be lulled by a shower, or broken by a tempest. We therefore
rejoice mutually at good weather, as at an escape from something that we
feared; and mutually complain of bad, as of the loss of something that
Such is the reason of our practice; and who shall treat it with
contempt? Surely not the attendant on a court, whose business is to
watch the looks of a being weak and foolish as himself, and whose vanity
is to recount the names of men, who might drop into nothing, and leave
no vacuity; nor the proprietor of funds, who stops his acquaintance in
the street to tell him of the loss of half-a-crown; nor the inquirer
after news, who fills his head with foreign events, and talks of
skirmishes and sieges, of which no consequence will ever reach his
hearers or himself. The weather is a nobler and more interesting
subject; it is the present state of the skies, and of the earth, on
which plenty and famine are suspended, on which millions depend for the
necessaries of life.
The weather is frequently mentioned for another reason, less honourable
to my dear countrymen. Our dispositions too frequently change with the
colour of the sky; and when we find ourselves cheerful and good-natured,
we naturally pay our acknowledgments to the powers of sunshine; or, if
we sink into dulness and peevishness, look round the horizon for an
excuse, and charge our discontent upon an easterly wind or a cloudy day.
Surely nothing is more reproachful to a being endowed with reason, than
to resign its powers to the influence of the air, and live in dependence
on the weather and the wind, for the only blessings which nature has put
into our power, tranquillity and benevolence. To look up to the sky for
the nutriment of our bodies, is the condition of nature; to call upon
the sun for peace and gaiety, or deprecate the clouds lest sorrow should
overwhelm us, is the cowardice of idleness, and the idolatry of folly.
Yet even in this age of inquiry and knowledge, when superstition is
driven away, and omens and prodigies have lost their terrours, we find
this folly countenanced by frequent examples. Those that laugh at the
portentous glare of a comet, and hear a crow with equal tranquillity
from the right or left, will yet talk of times and situations proper for
intellectual performances, will imagine the fancy exalted by vernal
breezes, and the reason invigorated by a bright calm.
If men who have given up themselves to fanciful credulity would confine
their conceits in their own minds, they might regulate their lives by
the barometer, with inconvenience only to themselves; but to fill the
world with accounts of intellects subject to ebb and flow, of one genius
that awakened in the spring, and another that ripened in the autumn, of
one mind expanded in the summer, and of another concentrated in the
winter, is no less dangerous than to tell children of bugbears and
goblins. Fear will find every house haunted; and idleness will wait for
ever for the moment of illumination.
This distinction of seasons is produced only by imagination operating on
luxury. To temperance every day is bright, and every hour is propitious
to diligence. He that shall resolutely excite his faculties, or exert
his virtues, will soon make himself superior to the seasons, and may set
at defiance the morning mist, and the evening damp, the blasts of the
east, and the clouds of the south.
It was the boast of the Stoick philosophy, to make man unshaken by
calamity, and unelated by success, incorruptible by pleasure, and
invulnerable by pain; these are heights of wisdom which none ever
attained, and to which few can aspire; but there are lower degrees of
constancy necessary to common virtue; and every man, however he may
distrust himself in the extremes of good or evil, might at least
struggle against the tyranny of the climate, and refuse to enslave his
virtue or his reason to the most variable of all variations, the changes
of the weather.
No. 12. SATURDAY, JULY 1, 1758.
That every man is important in his own eyes, is a position of which we
all either voluntarily or unwarily at least once an hour confess the
truth; and it will unavoidably follow, that every man believes himself
important to the publick. The right which this importance gives us to
general notice and visible distinction, is one of those disputable
privileges which we have not always courage to assert; and which we
therefore suffer to lie dormant till some elation of mind, or
vicissitude of fortune, incites us to declare our pretensions and
enforce our demands. And hopeless as the claim of vulgar characters may
seem to the supercilious and severe, there are few who do not at one
time or other endeavour to step forward beyond their rank; who do not
make some struggles for fame, and show that they think all other
conveniencies and delights imperfectly enjoyed without a name.
To get a name, can happen but to few. A name, even in the most
commercial nation, is one of the few things which cannot be bought. It
is the free gift of mankind, which must be deserved before it will be
granted, and is at last unwillingly bestowed. But this unwillingness
only increases desire in him who believes his merit sufficient to
There is a particular period of life, in which this fondness for a name
seems principally to predominate in both sexes. Scarce any couple comes
together but the nuptials are declared in the newspapers with encomiums
on each party. Many an eye, ranging over the page with eager curiosity
in quest of statesmen and heroes, is stopped by a marriage celebrated
between Mr. Buckram, an eminent salesman in Threadneedle-street, and
Miss Dolly Juniper, the only daughter of an eminent distiller, of the
parish of St. Giles's in the Fields, a young lady adorned with every
accomplishment that can give happiness to the married state. Or we are
told, amidst our impatience for the event of a battle, that on a certain
day Mr. Winker, a tide-waiter at Yarmouth, was married to Mrs. Cackle, a
widow lady of great accomplishments, and that as soon as the ceremony
was performed they set out in a post-chaise for Yarmouth.
Many are the inquiries which such intelligence must undoubtedly raise,
but nothing in this world is lasting. When the reader has contemplated
with envy, or with gladness, the felicity of Mr. Buckram and Mr. Winker,
and ransacked his memory for the names of Juniper and Cackle, his
attention is diverted to other thoughts, by finding that Mirza will not
cover this season; or that a spaniel has been lost or stolen, that
answers to the name of Ranger.
Whence it arises that on the day of marriage all agree to call thus
openly for honours, I am not able to discover. Some, perhaps, think it
kind, by a publick declaration, to put an end to the hopes of rivalry
and the fears of jealousy, to let parents know that they may set their
daughters at liberty whom they have locked up for fear of the
bridegroom, or to dismiss to their counters and their offices the
amorous youths that had been used to hover round the dwelling of the
These connubial praises may have another cause. It may be the intention
of the husband and wife to dignify themselves in the eyes of each other,
and, according to their different tempers or expectations, to win
affection, or enforce respect.
It was said of the family of Lucas, that it was _noble_, for _all the
brothers were valiant, and all the sisters were virtuous_. What would a
stranger say of the _English_ nation, in which on the day of marriage
all the men are _eminent_, and all the women _beautiful, accomplished_,
How long the wife will be persuaded of the eminence of her husband, or
the husband continue to believe that his wife has the qualities required
to make marriage happy, may reasonably be questioned. I am afraid that
much time seldom passes before each is convinced that praises are
fallacious, and particularly those praises which we confer upon
I should therefore think, that this custom might be omitted without any
loss to the community; and that the sons and daughters of lanes and
alleys might go hereafter to the next church, with no witnesses of their
worth or happiness but their parents and their friends; but if they
cannot be happy on the bridal day without some gratification of their
vanity, I hope they will be willing to encourage a friend of mine who
proposes to devote his powers to their service.
Mr. Settle, a man whose _eminence_ was once allowed by the _eminent_,
and whose _accomplishments_ were confessed by the _accomplished_, in the
latter part of a long life supported himself by an uncommon expedient.
He had a standing elegy and epithalamium, of which only the first and
last were leaves varied occasionally, and the intermediate pages were,
by general terms, left applicable alike to every character. When any
marriage became known, Settle ran to the bridegroom with his
epithalamium; and when he heard of any death, ran to the heir with his
Who can think himself disgraced by a trade that was practised so long by
the rival of Dryden, by the poet whose "Empress of Morocco" was played
before princes by ladies of the court?
My friend purposes to open an office in the Fleet for matrimonial
panegyricks, and will accommodate all with praise who think their own
powers of expression inadequate to their merit. He will sell any man or
woman the virtue or qualification which is most fashionable or most
desired; but desires his customers to remember, that he sets beauty at
the highest price, and riches at the next, and, if he be well paid,
throws in virtue for nothing.
No. 13. SATURDAY, JULY 8, 1758.
TO THE IDLER.
Dear Mr. Idler,
Though few men of prudence are much inclined to interpose in disputes
between man and wife, who commonly make peace at the expense of the
arbitrator; yet I will venture to lay before you a controversy, by which
the quiet of my house has been long disturbed, and which, unless you can
decide it, is likely to produce lasting evils, and embitter those hours
which nature seems to have appropriated to tenderness and repose.
I married a wife with no great fortune, but of a family remarkable for
domestick prudence, and elegant frugality. I lived with her at ease, if
not with happiness, and seldom had any reason of complaint. The house
was always clean, the servants were active and regular, dinner was on
the table every day at the same minute, and the ladies of the
neighbourhood were frightened when I invited their husbands, lest their
own economy should be less esteemed.
During this gentle lapse of life, my dear brought me three daughters. I
wished for a son, to continue the family; but my wife often tells me,
that boys are dirty things, and are always troublesome in a house; and
declares that she has hated the sight of them ever since she saw lady
Fondle's eldest son ride over a carpet with his hobby-horse all mire.
I did not much attend to her opinion, but knew that girls could not be
made boys; and therefore composed myself to bear what I could not
remedy, and resolved to bestow that care on my daughters, to which only
the sons are commonly thought entitled.
But my wife's notions of education differ widely from mine. She is an
irreconcilable enemy to idleness, and considers every state of life as
idleness, in which the hands are not employed, or some art acquired, by
which she thinks money may be got or saved.
In pursuance of this principle, she calls up her daughters at a certain
hour, and appoints them a task of needlework to be performed before
breakfast. They are confined in a garret, which has its window in the
roof, both because work is best done at a sky-light, and because
children are apt to lose time by looking about them.
They bring down their work to breakfast, and as they deserve are
commended or reproved; they are then sent up with a new task till
dinner; if no company is expected, their mother sits with them the whole
afternoon, to direct their operations, and to draw patterns, and is
sometimes denied to her nearest relations when she is engaged in
teaching them a new stitch.
By this continual exercise of their diligence, she has obtained a very
considerable number of laborious performances. We have twice as many
fire-skreens as chimneys, and three flourished quilts for every bed.
Half the rooms are adorned with a kind of _sutile pictures_, which
imitate tapestry. But all their work is not set out to show; she has
boxes filled with knit garters and braided shoes. She has twenty covers
for side-saddles embroidered with silver flowers, and has curtains
wrought with gold in various figures, which she resolves some time or
other to hang up. All these she displays to her company whenever she is
elate with merit, and eager for praise; and amidst the praises which her
friends and herself bestow upon her merit, she never fails to turn to
me, and ask what all these would cost, if I had been to buy them.
I sometimes venture to tell her, that many of the ornaments are
superfluous; that what is done with so much labour might have been
supplied by a very easy purchase; that the work is not always worth the
materials; and that I know not why the children should be persecuted
with useless tasks, or obliged to make shoes that are never worn. She
answers with a look of contempt, that men never care how money goes, and
proceeds to tell of a dozen new chairs for which she is contriving
covers, and of a couch which she intends to stand as a monument of
In the mean time, the girls grow up in total ignorance of every thing
past, present, and future. Molly asked me the other day, whether Ireland
was in France, and was ordered by her mother to mend her hem. Kitty
knows not, at sixteen, the difference between a Protestant and a Papist,
because she has been employed three years in filling the side of a
closet with a hanging that is to represent Cranmer in the flames. And
Dolly, my eldest girl, is now unable to read a chapter in the Bible,
having spent all the time, which other children pass at school, in
working the interview between Solomon and the queen of Sheba.
About a month ago, Tent and Turkey-stitch seemed at a stand; my wife
knew not what new work to introduce; I ventured to propose that the
girls should now learn to read and write, and mentioned the necessity of
a little arithmetick; but, unhappily, my wife has discovered that linen
wears out, and has bought the girls three little wheels, that they may
spin huckaback for the servants' table. I remonstrated, that with larger
wheels they might despatch in an hour what must now cost them a day; but
she told me, with irresistible authority, that any business is better
than idleness; that when these wheels are set upon a table, with mats
under them, they will turn without noise, and keep the girls upright;
that great wheels are not fit for gentlewomen; and that with these,
small as they are, she does not doubt but that the three girls, if they
are kept close, will spin every year as much cloth as would cost five
pounds if one were to buy it.
No 14. SATURDAY, JULY 15, 1758.
When Diogenes received a visit in his tub from Alexander the Great, and
was asked, according to the ancient forms of royal courtesy, what
petition he had to offer; "I have nothing," said he, "to ask, but that
you would remove to the other side, that you may not, by intercepting
the sunshine, take from me what you cannot give me."
Such was the demand of Diogenes from the greatest monarch of the earth,
which those, who have less power than Alexander, may, with yet more
propriety, apply to themselves. He that does much good, may be allowed
to do sometimes a little harm. But if the opportunities of beneficence
be denied by fortune, innocence should at least be vigilantly preserved.
It is well known, that time once passed never returns; and that the
moment which is lost, is lost for ever. Time therefore ought, above all
other kinds of property, to be free from invasion; and yet there is no
man who does not claim the power of wasting that time which is the right
This usurpation is so general, that a very small part of the year is
spent by choice; scarcely any thing is done when it is intended, or
obtained when it is desired. Life is continually ravaged by invaders;
one steals away an hour, and another a day; one conceals the robbery by
hurrying us into business, another by lulling us with amusement; the
depredation is continued through a thousand vicissitudes of tumult and
tranquillity, till, having lost all, we can lose no more.
This waste of the lives of men has been very frequently charged upon the
Great, whose followers linger from year to year in expectations, and die
at last with petitions in their hands. Those who raise envy will easily
incur censure. I know not whether statesmen and patrons do not suffer
more reproaches than they deserve, and may not rather themselves
complain, that they are given up a prey to pretensions without merit,
and to importunity without shame.
The truth is, that the inconveniencies of attendance are more lamented
than felt. To the greater number solicitation is its own reward. To be
seen in good company, to talk of familiarities with men of power, to be
able to tell the freshest news, to gratify an inferior circle with
predictions of increase or decline of favour, and to be regarded as a
candidate for high offices, are compensations more than equivalent to
the delay of favours, which, perhaps, he that begs them has hardly
confidence to expect.
A man conspicuous in a high station, who multiplies hopes that he may
multiply dependants, may be considered as a beast of prey, justly
dreaded, but easily avoided; his den is known, and they who would not be
devoured, need not approach it. The great danger of the waste of time is
from caterpillars and moths, who are not resisted, because they are not
feared, and who work on with unheeded mischiefs, and invisible
He, whose rank or merit procures him the notice of mankind, must give up
himself, in a great measure, to the convenience or humour of those who
surround him. Every man, who is sick of himself, will fly to him for
relief; he that wants to speak will require him to hear; and he that
wants to hear will expect him to speak. Hour passes after hour, the noon
succeeds to morning, and the evening to noon, while a thousand objects
are forced upon his attention, which he rejects as fast as they are
offered, but which the custom of the world requires to be received with
appearance of regard.
If we will have the kindness of others, we must endure their follies. He
who cannot persuade himself to withdraw from society, must be content to
pay a tribute of his time to a multitude of tyrants; to the loiterer,
who makes appointments which he never keeps; to the consulter, who asks
advice which he never takes; to the boaster, who blusters only to be
praised; to the complainer, who whines only to be pitied; to the
projector, whose happiness is to entertain his friends with expectations
which all but himself know to be vain; to the economist, who tells of
bargains and settlements; to the politician, who predicts the fate of
battles and breach of alliances; to the usurer, who compares the
different funds; and to the talker, who talks only because he loves to
To put every man in possession of his own time, and rescue the day from
this succession of usurpers, is beyond my power, and beyond my hope.
Yet, perhaps, some stop might be put to this unmerciful persecution, if
all would seriously reflect, that whoever pays a visit that is not
desired, or talks longer than the hearer is willing to attend, is guilty
of an injury which he cannot repair, and takes away that which he cannot
No. 15. SATURDAY, JULY 22, 1758.
TO THE IDLER.
I have the misfortune to be a man of business; that, you will say, is a
most grievous one; but what makes it the more so to me, is, that my wife
has nothing to do: at least she had too good an education, and the
prospect of too good a fortune in reversion when I married her, to think
of employing herself either in my shop-affairs, or the management of my
Her time, you know, as well as my own, must be filled up some way or
other. For my part, I have enough to mind in weighing my goods out, and
waiting on my customers: but my wife, though she could be of as much use
as a shopman to me, if she would put her hand to it, is now only in my
way. She walks all the morning sauntering about the shop with her arms
through her pocket-holes or stands gaping at the door-sill, and looking
at every person that passes by. She is continually asking me a thousand
frivolous questions about every customer that comes in and goes out; and
all the while that I am entering any thing in my day-book, she is
lolling over the counter, and staring at it, as if I was only scribbling
or drawing figures for her amusement. Sometimes, indeed, she will take a
needle; but as she always works at the door, or in the middle of the
shop, she has so many interruptions, that she is longer hemming a towel,
or darning a stocking, than I am in breaking forty loaves of sugar, and
making it up into pounds.
In the afternoons I am sure likewise to have her company, except she is
called upon by some of her acquaintance: and then, as we let out all the
upper part of our house, and have only a little room backwards for
ourselves, they either keep such a chattering, or else are calling out
every moment to me, that I cannot mind my business for them.
My wife, I am sure, might do all the little matters our family requires;
and I could wish that she would employ herself in them; but, instead of
that, we have a girl to do the work, and look after a little boy about
two years old, which, I may fairly say, is the mother's own child. The
brat must be humoured in every thing: he is therefore suffered
constantly to play in the shop, pull all the goods about, and clamber up
the shelves to get at the plums and sugar. I dare not correct him;
because, if I did, I should have wife and maid both upon me at once. As
to the latter, she is as lazy and sluttish as her mistress; and because
she complains she has too much work, we can scarcely get her to do any
thing at all: nay, what is worse than that, I am afraid she is hardly
honest; and as she is intrusted to buy-in all our provisions, the jade,
I am sure, makes a market-penny out of every article.
But to return to my deary.--The evenings are the only time, when it is
fine weather, that I am left to myself; for then she generally takes the
child out to give it milk in the Park. When she comes home again, she is
so fatigued with walking, that she cannot stir from her chair: and it is
an hour, after shop is shut, before I can get a bit of supper, while the
maid is taken up in undressing and putting the child to bed.
But you will pity me much more, when I tell you the manner in which we
generally pass our Sundays. In the morning she is commonly too ill to
dress herself to go to church; she therefore never gets up till noon;
and, what is still more vexatious, keeps me in bed with her, when I
ought to be busily engaged in better employment. It is well if she can
get her things on by dinner-time; and, when that is over, I am sure to
be dragged out by her either to Georgia, or Hornsey Wood, or the White
Conduit House. Yet even these near excursions are so very fatiguing to
her, that, besides what it costs me in tea and hot rolls, and sillabubs,
and cakes for the boy, I am frequently forced to take a hackney-coach,
or drive them out in a one-horse chair. At other times, as my wife is
rather of the fattest, and a very poor walker, besides bearing her whole
weight upon my arm, I am obliged to carry the child myself.
Thus, Sir, does she constantly drawl out her time, without either profit
or satisfaction; and, while I see my neighbours' wives helping in the
shop, and almost earning as much as their husbands, I have the
mortification to find that mine is nothing but a dead weight upon me. In
short, I do not know any greater misfortune can happen to a plain
hard-working tradesman, as I am, than to be joined to such a woman, who
is rather a clog than a helpmate to him.
I am, Sir,
Your humble servant,
An unknown correspondent.
No. 16. SATURDAY, JULY 29, 1758.
I paid a visit yesterday to my old friend Ned Drugget, at his
country-lodgings. Ned began trade with a very small fortune; he took a
small house in an obscure street, and for some years dealt only in
remnants. Knowing that _light gains make a heavy purse_, he was content
with moderate profit: having observed or heard the effects of civility,
he bowed down to the counter-edge at the entrance and departure of every
customer, listened without impatience to the objections of the ignorant,
and refused without resentment the offers of the penurious. His only
recreation was to stand at his own door and look into the street. His
dinner was sent him from a neighbouring alehouse, and he opened and shut
the shop at a certain hour with his own hands.
His reputation soon extended from one end of the street to the other;
and Mr. Drugget's exemplary conduct was recommended by every master to
his apprentice, and by every father to his son. Ned was not only
considered as a thriving trader, but as a man of elegance and
politeness, for he was remarkably neat in his dress, and would wear his
coat threadbare without spotting it; his hat was always brushed, his
shoes glossy, his wig nicely curled, and his stockings without a
wrinkle. With such qualifications it was not very difficult for him to
gain the heart of Miss Comfit, the only daughter of Mr. Comfit the
Ned is one of those whose happiness marriage has increased. His wife had
the same disposition with himself; and his method of life was very
little changed, except that he dismissed the lodgers from the first
floor, and took the whole house into his own hands.
He had already, by his parsimony, accumulated a considerable sum, to
which the fortune of his wife was now added. From this time he began to
grasp at greater acquisitions, and was always ready, with money in his
hand, to pick up the refuse of a sale, or to buy the stock of a trader
who retired from business. He soon added his parlour to his shop, and
was obliged a few months afterwards to hire a warehouse.
He had now a shop splendidly and copiously furnished with every thing
that time had injured, or fashion had degraded, with fragments of
tissues, odd yards of brocade, vast bales of faded silk, and innumerable
boxes of antiquated ribbons. His shop was soon celebrated through all
quarters of the town, and frequented by every form of ostentatious
poverty. Every maid, whose misfortune it was to be taller than her lady,
matched her gown at Mr. Drugget's; and many a maiden, who had passed a
winter with her aunt in London, dazzled the rusticks, at her return,
with cheap finery which Drugget had supplied. His shop was often visited
in a morning by ladies who left their coaches in the next street, and
crept through the alley in linen gowns. Drugget knows the rank of his
customers by their bashfulness; and, when he finds them unwilling to be
seen, invites them up stairs, or retires with them to the back window.
I rejoiced at the increasing prosperity of my friend, and imagined that,
as he grew rich, he was growing happy. His mind has partaken the
enlargement of his fortune. When I stepped in for the first five years,
I was welcomed only with a shake of the hand; in the next period of his
life, he beckoned across the way for a pot of beer; but for six years
past, he invites me to dinner; and, if he bespeaks me the day before,
never fails to regale me with a fillet of veal.
His riches neither made him uncivil nor negligent; he rose at the same
hour, attended with the same assiduity, and bowed with the same
gentleness. But for some years he has been much inclined to talk of the
fatigues of business, and the confinement of a shop, and to wish that he
had been so happy as to have renewed his uncle's lease of a farm, that
he might have lived without noise and hurry, in a pure air, in the
artless society of honest villagers, and the contemplation of the works
I soon discovered the cause of my friend's philosophy. He thought
himself grown rich enough to have a lodging in the country, like the
mercers on Ludgate-hill, and was resolved to enjoy himself in the
decline of life. This was a revolution not to be made suddenly. He
talked three years of the pleasures of the country, but passed every
night over his own shop. But at last he resolved to be happy, and hired
a lodging in the country, that he may steal some hours in the week from
business; for, says he, _when a man advances in life, he loves to
entertain himself sometimes with his own thoughts._
I was invited to this seat of quiet and contemplation, among those whom
Mr. Drugget considers as his most reputable friends, and desires to make
the first witnesses of his elevation to the highest dignities of a
shopkeeper. I found him at Islington, in a room which overlooked the
high road, amusing himself with looking through the window, which the
clouds of dust would not suffer him to open. He embraced me, told me I
was welcome into the country, and asked me if I did not feel myself
refreshed. He then desired that dinner might be hastened, for fresh air
always sharpened his appetite, and ordered me a toast and a glass of
wine after my walk. He told me much of the pleasures he found in
retirement, and wondered what had kept him so long out of the country.
After dinner company came in, and Mr. Drugget again repeated the praises
of the country, recommended the pleasures of meditation, and told them
that he had been all the morning at the window, counting the carriages
as they passed before him.
No. 17. SATURDAY, AUGUST 5, 1758.
_Surge tandem Carnifex_. MAECENAS AD AUGUSTUM.
The rainy weather, which has continued the last month, is said to have
given great disturbance to the inspectors of barometers. The oraculous
glasses have deceived their votaries; shower has succeeded shower,
though they predicted sunshine and dry skies; and, by fatal confidence
in these fallacious promises, many coats have lost their gloss, and many
curls been moistened to flaccidity.
This is one of the distresses to which mortals subject themselves by the
pride of speculation. I had no part in this learned disappointment, who
am content to credit my senses, and to believe that rain will fall when
the air blackens, and that the weather will be dry when the sun is
bright. My caution, indeed, does not always preserve me from a shower.
To be wet may happen to the genuine Idler; but to be wet in opposition
to theory, can befall only the Idler that pretends to be busy. Of those
that spin out life in trifles and die without a memorial, many flatter
themselves with high opinions of their own importance, and imagine that
they are every day adding some improvement to human life. To be idle and
to be poor have always been reproaches, and therefore every man
endeavours, with his utmost care, to hide his poverty from others, and
his idleness from himself.
Among those whom I never could persuade to rank themselves with Idlers,
and who speak with indignation of my morning sleeps and nocturnal
rambles; one passes the day in catching spiders, that he may count their
eyes with a microscope; another erects his head, and exhibits the dust
of a marigold separated from the flower with a dexterity worthy of
Leuwenhoeck himself. Some turn the wheel of electricity; some suspend
rings to a load-stone, and find that what they did yesterday they can do
again to-day. Some register the changes of the wind, and die fully
convinced that the wind is changeable.
There are men yet more profound, who have heard that two colourless
liquors may produce a colour by union, and that two cold bodies will
grow hot if they are mingled; they mingle them, and produce the effect
expected, say it is strange, and mingle them again.
The Idlers that sport only with inanimate nature may claim some
indulgence; if they are useless, they are still innocent: but there are
others, whom I know not how to mention without more emotion than my love
of quiet willingly admits. Among the inferior professors of medical
knowledge, is a race of wretches, whose lives are only varied by
varieties of cruelty; whose favourite amusement is to nail dogs to
tables and open them alive; to try how long life may be continued in
various degrees of mutilation, or with the excision or laceration of the
vital parts; to examine whether burning irons are felt more acutely by
the bone or tendon; and whether the more lasting agonies are produced by
poison forced into the mouth, or injected into the veins.
It is not without reluctance that I offend the sensibility of the tender
mind with images like these. If such cruelties were not practised, it
were to be desired that they should not be conceived; but, since they
are published every day with ostentation, let me be allowed once to
mention them, since I mention them with abhorrence.
Mead has invidiously remarked of Woodward, that he gathered shells and
stones, and would pass for a philosopher. With pretensions much less
reasonable, the anatomical novice tears out the living bowels of an
animal, and styles himself physician, prepares himself by familiar
cruelty for that profession which he is to exercise upon the tender and
the helpless, upon feeble bodies and broken minds, and by which he has
opportunities to extend his arts of torture, and continue those
experiments upon infancy and age, which he has hitherto tried upon cats
What is alleged in defence of these hateful practices, every one knows;
but the truth is, that by knives, fire, and poison, knowledge is not
always sought, and is very seldom attained. The experiments that have
been tried, are tried again; he that burned an animal with irons
yesterday, will be willing to amuse himself with burning another
to-morrow. I know not, that by living dissections any discovery has been
made by which a single malady is more easily cured. And if the knowledge
of physiology has been somewhat increased, he surely buys knowledge
dear, who learns the use of the lacteals at the expense of his humanity.
It is time that universal resentment should arise against these horrid
operations, which tend to harden the heart, extinguish those sensations
which give man confidence in man, and make the physician more dreadful
than the gout or stone.
 Dr. Johnson gave this, among other mottos, to Mrs. Piozzi. They will
be inserted in this Edition in their proper places, and indicated by
an asterisk. See Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes, and Chalmers' British
Essayists, vol. 33.
No. 18. SATURDAY, AUGUST 12, 1758.
TO THE IDLER.
It commonly happens to him who endeavours to obtain distinction by
ridicule or censure, that he teaches others to practise his own arts
against himself; and that, after a short enjoyment of the applause paid
to his sagacity, or of the mirth excited by his wit, he is doomed to
suffer the same severities of scrutiny, to hear inquiry detecting his
faults, and exaggeration sporting with his failings.
The natural discontent of inferiority will seldom fail to operate in
some degree of malice against him who professes to superintend the
conduct of others, especially if he seats himself uncalled in the chair
of judicature, and exercises authority by his own commission.
You cannot, therefore, wonder that your observations on human folly, if
they produce laughter at one time, awaken criticism at another; and that
among the numbers whom you have taught to scoff at the retirement of
Drugget, there is one who offers his apology.
The mistake of your old friend is by no means peculiar. The publick
pleasures of far the greater part of mankind are counterfeit. Very few
carry their philosophy to places of diversion, or are very careful to
analyze their enjoyments. The general condition of life is so full of
misery, that we are glad to catch delight without inquiring whence it
comes, or by what power it is bestowed.
The mind is seldom quickened to very vigorous operations but by pain, or
the dread of pain. We do not disturb ourselves with the detection of
fallacies which do us no harm, nor willingly decline a pleasing effect
to investigate its cause. He that is happy, by whatever means, desires
nothing but the continuance of happiness, and is no more solicitous to
distribute his sensations into their proper species, than the common
gazer on the beauties of the spring to separate light into its original
Pleasure is therefore seldom such as it appears to others, nor often
such as we represent it to ourselves. Of the ladies that sparkle at a
musical performance, a very small number has any quick sensibility of
harmonious sounds. But every one that goes has her pleasure. She has the
pleasure of wearing fine clothes, and of showing them, of outshining
those whom she suspects to envy her; she has the pleasure of appearing
among other ladies in a place whither the race of meaner mortals seldom
intrudes, and of reflecting that, in the conversations of the next
morning, her name will be mentioned among those that sat in the first
row; she has the pleasure of returning courtesies, or refusing to return
them, of receiving compliments with civility, or rejecting them with
disdain. She has the pleasure of meeting some of her acquaintance, of
guessing why the rest are absent, and of telling them that she saw the
opera, on pretence of inquiring why they would miss it. She has the
pleasure of being supposed to be pleased with a refined amusement, and
of hoping to be numbered among the votaresses of harmony. She has the
pleasure of escaping for two hours the superiority of a sister, or the
control of a husband; and from all these pleasures she concludes, that
heavenly musick is the balm of life.
All assemblies of gaiety are brought together by motives of the same
kind. The theatre is not filled with those that know or regard the skill
of the actor, nor the ball-room by those who dance, or attend to the
dancers. To all places of general resort, where the standard of pleasure
is erected, we run with equal eagerness, or appearance of eagerness, for
very different reasons. One goes that he may say he has been there,
another because he never misses. This man goes to try what he can find,
and that to discover what others find. Whatever diversion is costly will
be frequented by those who desire to be thought rich; and whatever has,
by any accident, become fashionable, easily continues its reputation,
because every one is ashamed of not partaking it.
To every place of entertainment we go with expectation and desire of
being pleased; we meet others who are brought by the same motives; no
one will be the first to own the disappointment; one face reflects the
smile of another, till each believes the rest delighted, and endeavours
to catch and transmit the circulating rapture. In time all are deceived
by the cheat to which all contribute. The fiction of happiness is
propagated by every tongue, and confirmed by every look, till at last
all profess the joy which they do not feel, consent to yield to the
general delusion; and when the voluntary dream is at an end, lament that
bliss is of so short a duration.
If Drugget pretended to pleasures of which he had no perception, or
boasted of one amusement where he was indulging another, what did he
which is not done by all those who read his story? of whom some pretend
delight in conversation, only because they dare not be alone; some
praise the quiet of solitude, because they are envious of sense, and
impatient of folly; and some gratify their pride, by writing characters
which expose the vanity of life.
I am, Sir,
Your humble servant.
No. 19. SATURDAY, AUGUST 19, 1758.
Some of those ancient sages that have exercised their abilities in the
inquiry after the supreme good, have been of opinion, that the highest
degree of earthly happiness is quiet; a calm repose both of mind and
body, undisturbed by the sight of folly or the noise of business, the
tumults of publick commotion, or the agitations of private interest: a
state in which the mind has no other employment, but to observe and
regulate her own motions, to trace thought from thought, combine one
image with another, raise systems of science, and form theories of
To the scheme of these solitary speculatists, it has been justly
objected, that if they are happy, they are happy only by being useless.
That mankind is one vast republick, where every individual receives many
benefits from the labours of others, which, by labouring in his turn for
others, he is obliged to repay; and that where the united efforts of all
are not able to exempt all from misery, none have a right to withdraw
from their task of vigilance, or to be indulged in idle wisdom or
It is common for controvertists, in the heat of disputation, to add one
position to another till they reach the extremities of knowledge, where
truth and falsehood lose their distinction. Their admirers follow them
to the brink of absurdity, and then start back from each side towards
the middle point. So it has happened in this great disquisition. Many
perceive alike the force of the contrary arguments, find quiet shameful,
and business dangerous, and therefore pass their lives between them, in
bustle without business, and negligence without quiet.
Among the principal names of this moderate set is that great philosopher
Jack Whirler, whose business keeps him in perpetual motion, and whose
motion always eludes his business; who is always to do what he never
does, who cannot stand still because he is wanted in another place, and
who is wanted in many places because he stays in none.
Jack has more business than he can conveniently transact in one house;
he has therefore one habitation near Bow-church, and another about a
mile distant. By this ingenious distribution of himself between two
houses, Jack has contrived to be found at neither. Jack's trade is
extensive, and he has many dealers; his conversation is sprightly, and
he has many companions; his disposition is kind, and he has many
friends. Jack neither forbears pleasure for business, nor omits business
for pleasure, but is equally invisible to his friends and his customers;
to him that comes with an invitation to a club, and to him that waits to
settle an account.
When you call at his house, his clerk tells you that Mr. Whirler has
just stept out, but will be at home exactly at two; you wait at a
coffee-house till two, and then find that he has been at home, and is
gone out again, but left word that he should be at the Half-moon tavern
at seven, where he hopes to meet you. At seven you go to the tavern. At
eight in comes Mr. Whirler to tell you that he is glad to see you, and
only begs leave to run for a few minutes to a gentleman that lives near
the Exchange, from whom he will return before supper can be ready. Away
he runs to the Exchange, to tell those who are waiting for him that he
must beg them to defer the business till to-morrow, because his time is
come at the Half-moon.
Jack's cheerfulness and civility rank him among those whose presence
never gives pain, and whom all receive with fondness and caresses. He
calls often on his friends, to tell them that he will come again
to-morrow; on the morrow he comes again, to tell them how an unexpected
summons hurries him away.--When he enters a house, his first declaration
is, that he cannot sit down; and so short are his visits, that he seldom
appears to have come for any other reason, but to say, He must go.
The dogs of Egypt, when thirst brings them to the Nile, are said to run
as they drink for fear of the crocodiles. Jack Whirler always dines at
full speed. He enters, finds the family at table, sits familiarly down,
and fills his plate; but while the first morsel is in his mouth, hears
the clock strike, and rises; then goes to another house, sits down
again, recollects another engagement, has only time to taste the soup,
makes a short excuse to the company, and continues through another
street his desultory dinner.
But, overwhelmed as he is with business, his chief desire is to have
still more. Every new proposal takes possession of his thoughts; he soon
balances probabilities, engages in the project, brings it almost to
completion, and then forsakes it for another, which he catches with the
same alacrity, urges with the same vehemence, and abandons with the same
Every man may be observed to have a certain strain of lamentation, some
peculiar theme of complaint, on which he dwells in his moments of
dejection. Jack's topick of sorrow is the want of time. Many an
excellent design languishes in empty theory for want of time. For the
omission of any civilities, want of time is his plea to others; for the
neglect of any affairs, want of time is his excuse to himself. That he
wants time, he sincerely believes; for he once pined away many months
with a lingering distemper, for want of time to attend to his health.
Thus Jack Whirler lives in perpetual fatigue without proportionate
advantage, because he does not consider that no man can see all with his
own eyes, or do all with his own hands; that whoever is engaged in
multiplicity of business, must transact much by substitution, and leave
something to hazard; and that he who attempts to do all, will waste his
life in doing little.
No. 20. SATURDAY, AUGUST 26, 1758.
There is no crime more infamous than the violation of truth. It is
apparent that men can be social beings no longer than they believe each
other. When speech is employed only as the vehicle of falsehood, every
man must disunite himself from others, inhabit his own cave, and seek
prey only for himself.
Yet the law of truth, thus sacred and necessary, is broken without
punishment, without censure, in compliance with inveterate prejudice and
prevailing passions. Men are willing to credit what they wish, and
encourage rather those who gratify them with pleasure, than those that
instruct them with fidelity.
For this reason every historian discovers his country; and it is
impossible to read the different accounts of any great event, without a
wish that truth had more power over partiality.
Amidst the joy of my countrymen for the acquisition of Louisbourg, I
could not forbear to consider how differently this revolution of
American power is not only now mentioned by the contending nations, but
will be represented by the writers of another century.
The English historian will imagine himself barely doing justice to
English virtue, when he relates the capture of Louisbourg in the
"The English had hitherto seen, with great indignation, their attempts
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