The Works of Samuel Johnson in Nine Volumes
Part 5 out of 9
baffled and their force defied by an enemy, whom they considered
themselves as entitled to conquer by the right of prescription, and whom
many ages of hereditary superiority had taught them to despise. Their
fleets were more numerous, and their seamen braver, than those of
France; yet they only floated useless on the ocean, and the French
derided them from their ports. Misfortunes, as is usual, produced
discontent, the people murmured at the ministers, and the ministers
censured the commanders.
"In the summer of this year, the English began to find their success
answerable to their cause. A fleet and an army were sent to America to
dislodge the enemies from the settlements which they had so perfidiously
made, and so insolently maintained, and to repress that power which was
growing more every day by the association of the Indians, with whom
these degenerate Europeans intermarried, and whom they secured to their
party by presents and promises.
"In the beginning of June the ships of war and vessels containing the
land-forces appeared before Louisbourg, a place so secured by nature
that art was almost superfluous, and yet fortified by art as if nature
had left it open. The French boasted that it was impregnable, and spoke
with scorn of all attempts that could be made against it. The garrison
was numerous, the stores equal to the longest siege, and their engineers
and commanders high in reputation. The mouth of the harbour was so
narrow, that three ships within might easily defend it against all
attacks from the sea. The French had, with that caution which cowards
borrow from fear, and attribute to policy, eluded our fleets, and sent
into that port five great ships and six smaller, of which they sunk four
in the mouth of the passage, having raised batteries and posted troops
at all the places where they thought it possible to make a descent. The
English, however, had more to dread from the roughness of the sea, than
from the skill or bravery of the defendants. Some days passed before the
surges, which rise very high round that island, would suffer them to
land. At last their impatience could be restrained no longer; they got
possession of the shore with little loss by the sea, and with less by
the enemy. In a few days the artillery was landed, the batteries were
raised, and the French had no other hope than to escape from one post to
another. A shot from the batteries fired the powder in one of their
largest ships, the flame spread to the two next, and all three were
destroyed; the English admiral sent his boats against the two large
ships yet remaining, took them without resistance, and terrified the
garrison to an immediate capitulation."
Let us now oppose to this English narrative the relation which will be
produced, about the same time, by the writer of the age of Louis XV.
"About this time the English admitted to the conduct of affairs a man
who undertook to save from destruction that ferocious and turbulent
people, who, from the mean insolence of wealthy traders, and the lawless
confidence of successful robbers, were now sunk in despair and stupified
with horrour. He called in the ships which had been dispersed over the
ocean to guard their merchants, and sent a fleet and an army, in which
almost the whole strength of England was comprised, to secure their
possessions in America, which were endangered alike by the French arms
and the French virtue. We had taken the English fortresses by force, and
gained the Indian nations by humanity. The English, wherever they come,
are sure to have the natives for their enemies; for the only motive of
their settlements is avarice, and the only consequence of their success
is oppression. In this war they acted like other barbarians; and, with a
degree of outrageous cruelty, which the gentleness of our manners
scarcely suffers us to conceive, offered rewards by open proclamation to
those who should bring in the scalps of Indian women and children. A
trader always makes war with the cruelty of a pirate.
"They had long looked with envy and with terrour upon the influence
which the French exerted over all the northern regions of America by the
possession of Louisbourg, a place naturally strong, and new-fortified
with some slight outworks. They hoped to surprise the garrison
unprovided; but that sluggishness, which always defeats their malice,
gave us time to send supplies, and to station ships for the defence of
the harbour. They came before Louisbourg in June, and were for some time
in doubt whether they should land. But the commanders, who had lately
seen an admiral shot for not having done what he had not power to do,
durst not leave the place unassaulted. An Englishman has no ardour for
honour, nor zeal for duty; he neither values glory nor loves his king,
but balances one danger with another, and will fight rather than be
hanged. They therefore landed, but with great loss their engineers had,
in the last war with the French, learned something of the military
science, and made their approaches with sufficient skill; but all their
efforts had been without effect, had not a ball unfortunately fallen
into the powder of one of our ships, which communicated the fire to the
rest, and, by opening the passage of the harbour, obliged the garrison
to capitulate. Thus was Louisbourg lost, and our troops marched out with
the admiration of their enemies, who durst hardly think themselves
masters of the place."
No. 21. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 1758.
TO THE IDLER.
Dear Mr. Idler,
There is a species of misery, or of disease, for which our language is
commonly supposed to be without a name, but which I think is
emphatically enough denominated _listlessness_, and which is commonly
termed a want of something to do.
Of the unhappiness of this state I do not expect all your readers to
have an adequate idea. Many are overburdened with business, and can
imagine no comfort but in rest; many have minds so placid, as willingly
to indulge a voluntary lethargy; or so narrow, as easily to be filled to
their utmost capacity. By these I shall not be understood, and therefore
cannot be pitied. Those only will sympathize with my complaint, whose
imagination is active, and resolution weak, whose desires are ardent,
and whose choice is delicate; who cannot satisfy themselves with
standing still, and yet cannot find a motive to direct their course.
I was the second son of a gentleman, whose estate was barely sufficient
to support himself and his heir in the dignity of killing game. He
therefore made use of the interest which the alliances of his family
afforded him, to procure me a post in the army. I passed some years in
the most contemptible of all human stations, that of a soldier in time
of peace. I wandered with the regiment as the quarters were changed,
without opportunity for business, taste for knowledge, or money for
pleasure. Wherever I came, I was for some time a stranger without
curiosity, and afterwards an acquaintance without friendship. Having
nothing to hope in these places of fortuitous residence, I resigned my
conduct to chance; I had no intention to offend, I had no ambition to
I suppose every man is shocked when he hears how frequently soldiers are
wishing for war. The wish is not always sincere; the greater part are
content with sleep and lace, and counterfeit an ardour which they do not
feel; but those who desire it most are neither prompted by malevolence
nor patriotism; they neither pant for laurels, nor delight in blood; but
long to be delivered from the tyranny of idleness, and restored to the
dignity of active beings.
I never imagined myself to have more courage than other men, yet was
often involuntarily wishing for a war, but of a war, at that time, I had
no prospect; and being enabled, by the death of an uncle, to live
without my pay, I quitted the army, and resolved to regulate my own
I was pleased, for a while, with the novelty of independence, and
imagined that I had now found what every man desires. My time was in my
own power, and my habitation was wherever my choice should fix it. I
amused myself for two years in passing from place to place, and
comparing one convenience with another; but being at last ashamed of
inquiry, and weary of uncertainty, I purchased a house, and established
I now expected to begin to be happy, and was happy for a short time with
that expectation. But I soon perceived my spirits to subside, and my
imagination to grow dark. The gloom thickened every day round me. I
wondered by what malignant power my peace was blasted, till I discovered
at last that I had nothing to do.
Time, with all its celerity, moves slowly to him whose whole employment
is to watch its flight. I am forced upon a thousand shifts to enable me
to endure the tediousness of the day. I rise when I can sleep no longer,
and take my morning-walk; I see what I have seen before, and return. I
sit down, and persuade myself that I sit down to think; find it
impossible to think without a subject, rise up to inquire after news,
and endeavour to kindle in myself an artificial impatience for
intelligence of events, which will never extend any consequence to me,
but that, a few minutes, they abstract me from myself.
When I have heard any thing that may gratify curiosity, I am busied for
a while in running to relate it. I hasten from one place of concourse,
to another, delighted with my own importance, and proud to think that I
am doing something, though I know that another hour would spare my
I had once a round of visits, which I paid very regularly; but I have
now tired most of my friends. When I have sat down I forget to rise, and
have more than once overheard one asking another, when I would be gone.
I perceive the company tired, I observe the mistress of the family
whispering to her servants, I find orders given to put off business till
to-morrow, I see the watches frequently inspected, and yet cannot
withdraw to the vacuity of solitude, or venture myself in my own
Thus burdensome to myself and others, I form many schemes of employment
which may make my life useful or agreeable, and exempt me from the
ignominy of living by sufferance. This new course I have long designed,
but have not yet begun. The present moment is never proper for the
change, but there is always a time in view when all obstacles will be
removed, and I shall surprise all that know me with a new distribution
of my time. Twenty years have past since I have resolved a complete
amendment, and twenty years have been lost in delays. Age is coming upon
me; and I should look back with rage and despair upon the waste of life,
but that I am now beginning in earnest to begin a reformation.
I am, Sir,
Your humble servant,
No. 22. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 1758.
_Oh nomen dulce libertatis! Oh jus eximium nostra civitatis!_
TO THE IDLER.
As I was passing lately under one of the gates of this city, I was
struck with horrour by a rueful cry, which summoned me _to remember the
The wisdom and justice of the English laws are, by Englishmen at least,
loudly celebrated: but scarcely the most zealous admirers of our
institutions can think that law wise, which, when men are capable of
work, obliges them to beg; or just, which exposes the liberty of one to
the passions of another.
The prosperity of a people is proportionate to the number of hands and
minds usefully employed. To the community, sedition is a fever,
corruption is a gangrene, and idleness an atrophy. Whatever body, and
whatever society, wastes more than it acquires, must gradually decay;
and every being that continues to be fed, and ceases to labour, takes
away something from the publick stock.
The confinement, therefore, of any man in the sloth and darkness of a
prison, is a loss to the nation, and no gain to the creditor. For of the
multitudes who are pining in those cells of misery, a very small part is
suspected of any fraudulent act by which they retain what belongs to
others. The rest are imprisoned by the wantonness of pride, the
malignity of revenge, or the acrimony of disappointed expectation.
If those, who thus rigorously exercise the power which the law has put
into their hands, be asked, why they continue to imprison those whom
they know to be unable to pay them; one will answer, that his debtor
once lived better than himself; another, that his wife looked above her
neighbours, and his children went in silk clothes to the dancing-school;
and another, that he pretended to be a joker and a wit. Some will reply,
that if they were in debt, they should meet with the same treatment;
some, that they owe no more than they can pay, and need therefore give
no account of their actions. Some will confess their resolution, that
their debtors shall rot in jail; and some will discover, that they hope,
by cruelty, to wring the payment from their friends.
The end of all civil regulations is to secure private happiness from
private malignity; to keep individuals from the power of one another;
but this end is apparently neglected, when a man, irritated with loss,
is allowed to be the judge of his own cause, and to assign the
punishment of his own pain; when the distinction between guilt and
happiness, between casualty and design, is intrusted to eyes blind with
interest, to understandings depraved by resentment.
Since poverty is punished among us as a crime, it ought at least to be
treated with the same lenity as other crimes; the offender ought not to
languish at the will of him whom he has offended, but to be allowed some
appeal to the justice of his country. There can be no reason why any
debtor should be imprisoned, but that he may be compelled to payment;
and a term should therefore be fixed, in which the creditor should
exhibit his accusation of concealed property. If such property can be
discovered, let it be given to the creditor; if the charge is not
offered, or cannot be proved, let the prisoner be dismissed.
Those who made the laws have apparently supposed, that every deficiency
of payment is the crime of the debtor. But the truth is, that the
creditor always shares the act, and often more than shares the guilt, of
improper trust. It seldom happens that any man imprisons another but for
debts which he suffered to be contracted in hope of advantage to
himself, and for bargains in which he proportioned his profit to his own
opinion of the hazard; and there is no reason why one should punish the
other for a contract in which both concurred.
Many of the inhabitants of prisons may justly complain of harder
treatment. He that once owes more than he can pay, is often obliged to
bribe his creditor to patience, by increasing his debt. Worse and worse
commodities, at a higher and higher price, are forced upon him; he is
impoverished by compulsive traffick, and at last overwhelmed, in the
common receptacles of misery, by debts, which, without his own consent,
were accumulated on his head. To the relief of this distress, no other
objection can be made, but that by an easy dissolution of debts fraud
will be left without punishment, and imprudence without awe; and that
when insolvency should be no longer punishable, credit will cease.
The motive to credit is the hope of advantage. Commerce can never be at
a stop, while one man wants what another can supply; and credit will
never be denied, while it is likely to be repaid with profit. He that
trusts one whom he designs to sue, is criminal by the act of trust: the
cessation of such insidious traffick is to be desired, and no reason can
be given why a change of the law should impair any other.
We see nation trade with nation, where no payment can be compelled.
Mutual convenience produces mutual confidence; and the merchants
continue to satisfy the demands of each other, though they have nothing
to dread but the loss of trade.
It is vain to continue an institution, which experience shows to be
ineffectual. We have now imprisoned one generation of debtors after
another, but we do not find that their numbers lessen. We have now
learned that rashness and imprudence will not be deterred from taking
credit; let us try whether fraud and avarice may be more easily
restrained from giving it.
I am, Sir, &c.
 This number was substituted, for some reason not ascertained, for
the keenly satirical original, which is reprinted at the end of this
The observations of the present paper are such as would naturally
suggest themselves to an honest and benevolent mind like Johnson's; but
their political correctness may reasonably be questioned. An attempt has
been made, since his day, to provide a humane protection for the
unfortunate debtor. But has it not, at the same time, exposed the
confiding tradesman to deception and to consequent ruin, by destroying
all adequate punishment, and therefore removing every check upon vice
and prodigality? In a _Dictionnaire des Gens du Monde_, insolvency has
been, not unaptly, defined, a mode of getting rich by infallible rules!
See Idler 38, and Note.
No. 23. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 1758.
Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than that of friendship. It is
painful to consider, that this sublime enjoyment may be impaired or
destroyed by innumerable causes, and that there is no human possession
of which the duration is less certain.
Many have talked, in very exalted language, of the perpetuity of
friendship, of invincible constancy, and unalienable kindness; and some
examples have been seen of men who have continued faithful to their
earliest choice, and whose affection has predominated over changes of
fortune, and contrariety of opinion.
But these instances are memorable, because they are rare. The friendship
which is to be practised or expected by common mortals, must take its
rise from mutual pleasure, and must end when the power ceases of
delighting each other.
Many accidents therefore may happen, by which the ardour of kindness
will be abated, without criminal baseness or contemptible inconstancy on
either part. To give pleasure is not always in our power; and little
does he know himself, who believes that he can be always able to receive
Those who would gladly pass their days together may be separated by the
different course of their affairs; and friendship, like love, is
destroyed by long absence, though it may be increased by short
intermissions. What we have missed long enough to want it, we value more
when it is regained; but that which has been lost till it is forgotten,
will be found at last with little gladness, and with still less if a
substitute has supplied the place. A man deprived of the companion to
whom he used to open his bosom, and with whom he shared the hours of
leisure and merriment, feels the day at first hanging heavy on him; his
difficulties oppress, and his doubts distract him; he sees time come and
go without his wonted gratification, and all is sadness within, and
solitude about him. But this uneasiness never lasts long; necessity
produces expedients, new amusements are discovered, and new conversation
No expectation is more frequently disappointed, than that which
naturally arises in the mind from the prospect of meeting an old friend
after long separation. We expect the attraction to be revived, and the
coalition to be renewed; no man considers how much alteration time has
made in himself, and very few inquire what effect it has had upon
others. The first hour convinces them that the pleasure, which they had
formerly enjoyed, is for ever at an end; different scenes have made
different impressions; the opinions of both are changed; and that
similitude of manners and sentiment is lost, which confirmed them both
in the approbation of themselves.
Friendship is often destroyed by opposition of interest, not only by the
ponderous and visible interest which the desire of wealth and greatness
forms and maintains, but by a thousand secret and slight competitions,
scarcely known to the mind upon which they operate. There is scarcely
any man without some favourite trifle which he values above greater
attainments, some desire of petty praise which he cannot patiently
suffer to be frustrated. This minute ambition is sometimes crossed
before it is known, and sometimes defeated by wanton petulance; but such
attacks are seldom made without the loss of friendship; for whoever has
once found the vulnerable part will always be feared, and the resentment
will burn on in secret, of which shame hinders the discovery.
This, however, is a slow malignity, which a wise man will obviate as
inconsistent with quiet, and a good man will repress as contrary to
virtue; but human happiness is sometimes violated by some more sudden
A dispute begun in jest upon a subject which, a moment before, was on
both parts regarded with careless indifference, is continued by the
desire of conquest, till vanity kindles into rage, and opposition
rankles into enmity. Against this hasty mischief, I know not what
security can be obtained: men will be sometimes surprised into quarrels;
and though they might both hasten to reconciliation, as soon as their
tumult had subsided, yet two minds will seldom be found together, which
can at once subdue their discontent, or immediately enjoy the sweets of
peace, without remembering the wounds of the conflict.
Friendship has other enemies. Suspicion is always hardening the
cautious, and disgust repelling the delicate. Very slender differences
will sometimes part those whom long reciprocation of civility or
beneficence has united. Lonelove and Ranger retired into the country to
enjoy the company of each other, and returned in six weeks cold and
petulant; Ranger's pleasure was to walk in the fields, and Lonelove's to
sit in a bower; each had complied with the other in his turn, and each
was angry that compliance had been exacted.
The most fatal disease of friendship is gradual decay, or dislike hourly
increased by causes too slender for complaint, and too numerous for
removal.--Those who are angry may be reconciled; those who have been
injured may receive a recompense: but when the desire of pleasing and
willingness to be pleased is silently diminished, the renovation of
friendship is hopeless; as, when the vital powers sink into languor,
there is no longer any use of the physician.
No. 24. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 1758.
When man sees one of the inferior creatures perched upon a tree, or
basking in the sunshine, without any apparent endeavour or pursuit, he
often asks himself, or his companion, _On what that animal can be
supposed to be thinking_?
Of this question, since neither bird nor beast can answer it, we must be
content to live without the resolution. We know not how much the brutes
recollect of the past, or anticipate of the future; what power they have
of comparing and preferring; or whether their faculties may not rest in
motionless indifference, till they are moved by the presence of their
proper object, or stimulated to act by corporal sensations.
I am the less inclined to these superfluous inquiries, because I have
always been able to find sufficient matter for curiosity in my own
species. It is useless to go far in quest of that which may be found at
home; a very narrow circle of observation will supply a sufficient
number of men and women, who might be asked, with equal propriety, _On
what they can be thinking_?
It is reasonable to believe, that thought, like every thing else, has
its causes and effects; that it must proceed from something known, done,
or suffered; and must produce some action or event. Yet how great is the
number of those in whose minds no source of thought has ever been
opened, in whose life no consequence of thought is ever discovered; who
have learned nothing upon which they can reflect; who have neither seen
nor felt any thing which could leave its traces on the memory; who
neither foresee nor desire any change in their condition, and have
therefore neither fear, hope, nor design, and yet are supposed to be
To every act a subject is required. He that thinks must think upon
something. But tell me, ye that pierce deepest into nature, ye that take
the widest surveys of life, inform me, kind shades of Malbranche and of
Locke, what that something can be, which excites and continues thought
in maiden aunts with small fortunes; in younger brothers that live upon
annuities; in traders retired from business; in soldiers absent from
their regiments; or in widows that have no children?
Life is commonly considered as either active or contemplative; but
surely this division, how long soever it has been received, is
inadequate and fallacious. There are mortals whose life is certainly not
active, for they do neither good nor evil; and whose life cannot be
properly called contemplative, for they never attend either to the
conduct of men, or the works of nature, but rise in the morning, look
round them till night in careless stupidity, go to bed and sleep, and
rise again in the morning.
It has been lately a celebrated question in the schools of philosophy,
_Whether the soul always thinks_! Some have defined the soul to be the
_power of thinking_; concluded that its essence consists in act; that,
if it should cease to act, it would cease to be; and that cessation of
thought is but another name for extinction of mind. This argument is
subtle, but not conclusive; because it supposes what cannot be proved,
that the nature of mind is properly defined. Others affect to disdain
subtilty, when subtilty will not serve their purpose, and appeal to
daily experience. We spend many hours, they say, in sleep, without the
least remembrance of any thoughts which then passed in our minds; and
since we can only by our own consciousness be sure that we think, why
should we imagine that we have had thought of which no consciousness
This argument, which appeals to experience, may from experience be
confuted. We every day do something which we forget when it is done, and
know to have been done only by consequence. The waking hours are not
denied to have been passed in thought; yet he that shall endeavour to
recollect on one day the ideas of the former, will only turn the eye of
reflection upon vacancy; he will find that the greater part is
irrevocably vanished, and wonder how the moments could come and go, and
leave so little behind them.
To discover only that the arguments on both sides are defective, and to
throw back the tenet into its former uncertainty, is the sport of wanton
or malevolent skepticism, delighting to see the sons of philosophy at
work upon a task which never can be decided. I shall suggest an argument
hitherto overlooked, which may perhaps determine the controversy.
If it be impossible to think without materials, there must necessarily
be minds that do not always think; and whence shall we furnish materials
for the meditation of the glutton between his meals, of the sportsman in
a rainy month, of the annuitant between the days of quarterly payment,
of the politician when the mails are detained by contrary winds?
But how frequent soever may be the examples of existence without
thought, it is certainly a state not much to be desired. He that lives
in torpid insensibility, wants nothing of a carcass but putrefaction. It
is the part of every inhabitant of the earth to partake the pains and
pleasures of his fellow-beings; and, as in a road through a country
desert and uniform, the traveller languishes for want of amusement, so
the passage of life will be tedious and irksome to him who does not
beguile it by diversified ideas.
No. 25. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 7, 1758.
TO THE IDLER.
I am a very constant frequenter of the playhouse, a place to which I
suppose the _Idler_ not much a stranger, since he can have no where else
so much entertainment with so little concurrence of his own endeavour.
At all other assemblies, he that comes to receive delight, will be
expected to give it; but in the theatre nothing is necessary to the
amusement of two hours, but to sit down and be willing to be pleased.
The last week has offered two new actors to the town. The appearance and
retirement of actors are the great events of the theatrical world; and
their first performances fill the pit with conjecture and
prognostication, as the first actions of a new monarch agitate nations
with hope or fear.
What opinion I have formed of the future excellence of these candidates
for dramatick glory, it is not necessary to declare. Their entrance gave
me a higher and nobler pleasure than any borrowed character can afford.
I saw the ranks of the theatre emulating each other in candour and
humanity, and contending who should most effectually assist the
struggles of endeavour, dissipate the blush of diffidence, and still the
flutter of timidity.
This behaviour is such as becomes a people, too tender to repress those
who wish to please, too generous to insult those who can make no
resistance. A publick performer is so much in the power of spectators,
that all unnecessary severity is restrained by that general law of
humanity, which forbids us to be cruel where there is nothing to be
In every new performer something must be pardoned. No man can, by any
force of resolution, secure to himself the full possession of his own
powers under the eye of a large assembly. Variation of gesture, and
flexion of voice, are to be obtained only by experience.
There is nothing for which such numbers think themselves qualified as
for theatrical exhibition. Every human being has an action graceful to
his own eye, a voice musical to his own ear, and a sensibility which
nature forbids him to know that any other bosom can excel. An art in
which such numbers fancy themselves excellent, and which the publick
liberally rewards, will excite many competitors, and in many attempts
there must be many miscarriages.
The care of the critick should be to distinguish errour from inability,
faults of inexperience from defects of nature. Action irregular and
turbulent may be reclaimed; vociferation vehement and confused may be
restrained and modulated; the stalk of the tyrant may become the gait of
the man; the yell of inarticulate distress may be reduced to human
lamentation. All these faults should be for a time overlooked, and
afterwards censured with gentleness and candour. But if in an actor
there appears an utter vacancy of meaning, a frigid equality, a stupid
languor, a torpid apathy, the greatest kindness that can be shown him is
a speedy sentence of expulsion.
I am, Sir, &c.
The plea which my correspondent has offered for young actors, I am very
far from wishing to invalidate. I always considered those combinations
which are sometimes formed in the playhouse, as acts of fraud or of
cruelty; he that applauds him who does not deserve praise, is
endeavouring to deceive the publick; he that hisses in malice or sport,
is an oppressor and a robber.
But surely this laudable forbearance might be justly extended to young
poets. The art of the writer, like that of the player, is attained by
slow degrees. The power of distinguishing and discriminating comick
characters, or of filling tragedy with poetical images, must be the gift
of nature, which no instruction nor labour can supply; but the art of
dramatick disposition, the contexture of the scenes, the opposition of
characters, the involution of the plot, the expedients of suspension,
and the stratagems of surprise, are to be learned by practice; and it is
cruel to discourage a poet for ever, because he has not from genius what
only experience can bestow.
Life is a stage. Let me likewise solicit candour for the young actor on
the stage of life. They that enter into the world are too often treated
with unreasonable rigour by those that were once as ignorant and heady
as themselves; and distinction is not always made between the faults
which require speedy and violent eradication, and those that will
gradually drop away in the progression of life. Vicious solicitations of
appetite, if not checked, will grow more importunate; and mean arts of
profit or ambition will gather strength in the mind, if they are not
early suppressed. But mistaken notions of superiority, desires of
useless show, pride of little accomplishments, and all the train of
vanity, will be brushed away by the wing of time.
Reproof should not exhaust its power upon petty failings; let it watch
diligently against the incursion of vice, and leave foppery and futility
to die of themselves.
No. 26 SATURDAY, OCTOBER 14, 1758.
I never thought that I should write any thing to be printed; but having
lately seen your first essay, which was sent down into the kitchen, with
a great bundle of gazettes and useless papers, I find that you are
willing to admit any correspondent, and therefore hope you will not
reject me. If you publish my letter, it may encourage others, in the
same condition with myself, to tell their stories, which may be,
perhaps, as useful as those of great ladies.
I am a poor girl. I was bred in the country at a charity-school,
maintained by the contributions of wealthy neighbours. The ladies, or
patronesses, visited us from time to time, examined how we were taught,
and saw that our clothes were clean. We lived happily enough, and were
instructed to be thankful to those at whose cost we were educated. I was
always the favourite of my mistress; she used to call me to read and
show my copybook to all strangers, who never dismissed me without
commendation, and very seldom without a shilling.
At last the chief of our subscribers, having passed a winter in London,
came down full of an opinion new and strange to the whole country. She
held it little less than criminal to teach poor girls to read and write.
They who are born to poverty, she said, are born to ignorance, and will
work the harder the less they know. She told her friends, that London
was in confusion by the insolence of servants; that scarcely a wench was
to be got for _all work_, since education had made such numbers of fine
ladies; that nobody would now accept a lower title than that of a
waiting-maid, or something that might qualify her to wear laced shoes
and long ruffles, and to sit at work in the parlour window. But she was
resolved, for her part, to spoil no more girls; those, who were to live
by their hands, should neither read nor write out of her pocket; the
world was bad enough already, and she would have no part in making it
She was for a short time warmly opposed; but she persevered in her
notions, and withdrew her subscription. Few listen without a desire of
conviction to those who advise them to spare their money. Her example
and her arguments gained ground daily; and in less than a year the whole
parish was convinced, that the nation would be ruined, if the children
of the poor were taught to read and write.
Our school was now dissolved: my mistress kissed me when we parted, and
told me, that, being old and helpless, she could not assist me; advised
me to seek a service, and charged me not to forget what I had learned.
My reputation for scholarship, which had hitherto recommended me to
favour, was, by the adherents to the new opinion, considered as a crime;
and, when I offered myself to any mistress, I had no other answer than,
"Sure, child, you would not work! hard work is not fit for a pen-woman;
a scrubbing-brush would spoil your hand, child!"
I could not live at home; and while I was considering to what I should
betake me, one of the girls, who had gone from our school to London,
came down in a silk gown, and told her acquaintance how well she lived,
what fine things she saw, and what great wages she received. I resolved
to try my fortune, and took my passage in the next week's waggon to
London. I had no snares laid for me at my arrival, but came safe to a
sister of my mistress, who undertook to get me a place. She knew only
the families of mean tradesmen; and I, having no high opinion of my own
qualifications, was willing to accept the first offer.
My first mistress was wife of a working watch-maker, who earned more
than was sufficient to keep his family in decency and plenty; but it was
their constant practice to hire a chaise on Sunday, and spend half the
wages of the week on Richmond Hill; of Monday he commonly lay half in
bed, and spent the other half in merriment; Tuesday and Wednesday
consumed the rest of his money; and three days every week were passed in
extremity of want by us who were left at home, while my master lived on
trust at an alehouse. You may be sure, that of the sufferers, the maid
suffered most; and I left them, after three months, rather than be
I was then maid to a hatter's wife. There was no want to be dreaded, for
they lived in perpetual luxury. My mistress was a diligent woman, and
rose early in the morning to set the journeymen to work; my master was a
man much beloved by his neighbours, and sat at one club or other every
night. I was obliged to wait on my master at night, and on my mistress
in the morning. He seldom came home before two, and she rose at five. I
could no more live without sleep than without food, and therefore
entreated them to look out for another servant.
My next removal was to a linen-draper's, who had six children. My
mistress, when I first entered the house, informed me, that I must never
contradict the children, nor suffer them to cry. I had no desire to
offend, and readily promised to do my best. But when I gave them their
breakfast, I could not help all first; when I was playing with one in my
lap, I was forced to keep the rest in expectation. That which was not
gratified, always resented the injury with a loud outcry, which put my
mistress in a fury at me, and procured sugar-plums to the child. I could
not keep six children quiet, who were bribed to be clamorous; and was
therefore dismissed, as a girl honest, but not good-natured.
I then lived with a couple that kept a petty shop of remnants and cheap
linen. I was qualified to make a bill, or keep a book; and being
therefore often called, at a busy time, to serve the customers, expected
that I should now be happy, in proportion as I was useful. But my
mistress appropriated every day part of the profit to some private use,
and, as she grew bolder in her thefts, at last deducted such sums, that
my master began to wonder how he sold so much, and gained so little. She
pretended to assist his inquiries, and began, very gravely, to hope that
"Betty was honest, and yet those sharp girls were apt to be
light-fingered." You will believe that I did not stay there much longer.
The rest of my story I will tell you in another letter; and only beg to
be informed, in some paper, for which of my places, except perhaps the
last, I was disqualified by my skill in reading and writing.
I am, Sir,
Your very humble servant,
No. 27. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 21, 1758.
It has been the endeavour of all those whom the world has reverenced for
superior wisdom, to persuade man to be acquainted with himself, to learn
his own powers and his own weakness, to observe by what evils he is most
dangerously beset, and by what temptations most easily overcome.
This counsel has been often given with serious dignity, and often
received with appearance of conviction; but, as very few can search deep
into their own minds without meeting what they wish to hide from
themselves, scarcely any man persists in cultivating such disagreeable
acquaintance, but draws the veil again between his eyes and his heart,
leaves his passions and appetites as he found them, and advises others
to look into themselves.
This is the common result of inquiry even among those that endeavour to
grow wiser or better: but this endeavour is far enough from frequency;
the greater part of the multitudes that swarm upon the earth have never
been disturbed by such uneasy curiosity, but deliver themselves up to
business or to pleasure, plunge into the current of life, whether placid
or turbulent, and pass on from one point or prospect to another,
attentive rather to any thing than the state of their minds; satisfied,
at an easy rate, with an opinion, that they are no worse than others,
that every man must mind his own interest, or that their pleasures hurt
only themselves, and are therefore no proper subjects of censure.
Some, however, there are, whom the intrusion of scruples, the
recollection of better notions, or the latent reprehension of good
examples, will not suffer to live entirely contented with their own
conduct; these are forced to pacify the mutiny of reason with fair
promises, and quiet their thoughts with designs of calling all their
actions to review, and planning a new scheme for the time to come.
There is nothing which we estimate so fallaciously as the force of our
own resolutions, nor any fallacy which we so unwillingly and tardily
detect. He that has resolved a thousand times, and a thousand times
deserted his own purpose, yet suffers no abatement of his confidence,
but still believes himself his own master; and able, by innate vigour of
soul, to press forward to his end, through all the obstructions that
inconveniencies or delights can put in his way.
That this mistake should prevail for a time, is very natural. When
conviction is present, and temptation out of sight, we do not easily
conceive how any reasonable being can deviate from his true interest.
What ought to be done, while it yet hangs only on speculation, is so
plain and certain, that there is no place for doubt; the whole soul
yields itself to the predominance of truth, and readily determines to do
what, when the time of action comes, will be at last omitted.
I believe most men may review all the lives that have passed within
their observation, without remembering one efficacious resolution, or
being able to tell a single instance of a course of practice suddenly
changed in consequence of a change of opinion, or an establishment of
determination. Many, indeed, alter their conduct, and are not at fifty
what they were at thirty; but they commonly varied imperceptibly from
themselves, followed the train of external causes, and rather suffered
reformation than made it.
It is not uncommon to charge the difference between promise and
performance, between profession and reality, upon deep design and
studied deceit; but the truth is, that there is very little hypocrisy in
the world; we do not so often endeavour or wish to impose on others, as
on ourselves; we resolve to do right, we hope to keep our resolutions,
we declare them to confirm our own hope, and fix our own inconstancy by
calling witnesses of our actions; but at last habit prevails, and those
whom we invited to our triumph laugh at our defeat.
Custom is commonly too strong for the most resolute resolver, though
furnished for the assault with all the weapons of philosophy. "He that
endeavours to free himself from an ill habit," says Bacon, "must not
change too much at a time, lest he should be discouraged by difficulty;
nor too little, for then he will make but slow advances." This is a
precept which may be applauded in a book, but will fail in the trial, in
which every change will be found too great or too little. Those who have
been able to conquer habit, are like those that are fabled to have
returned from the realms of Pluto:
--"Pauci, quos aequus amavit
Jupiter, atque ardens evexit ad aethera virtus."
They are sufficient to give hope, but not security; to animate the
contest, but not to promise victory.
Those who are in the power of evil habits must conquer them as they can;
and conquered they must be, or neither wisdom nor happiness can be
attained; but those who are not yet subject to their influence may, by
timely caution, preserve their freedom; they may effectually resolve to
escape the tyrant, whom they will very vainly resolve to conquer.
No. 28. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 28, 1758.
TO THE IDLER.
It is very easy for a man who sits idle at home, and has nobody to
please but himself, to ridicule or to censure the common practices of
mankind; and those who have no present temptation to break the rules of
propriety, may applaud his judgment, and join in his merriment; but let
the author or his readers mingle with common life, they will find
themselves irresistibly borne away by the stream of custom, and must
submit, after they have laughed at others, to give others the same
opportunity of laughing at them.
There is no paper published by the Idler which I have read with more
approbation than that which censures the practice of recording vulgar
marriages in the newspapers. I carried it about in my pocket, and read
it to all those whom I suspected of having published their nuptials, or
of being inclined to publish them, and sent transcripts of it to all the
couples that transgressed your precepts for the next fortnight. I hoped
that they were all vexed, and pleased myself with imagining their
But short is the triumph of malignity. I was married last week to Miss
Mohair, the daughter of a salesman; and, at my first appearance after
the wedding night, was asked, by my wife's mother, whether I had sent
our marriage to the Advertiser? I endeavoured to show how unfit it was
to demand the attention of the publick to our domestick affairs; but she
told me, with great vehemence, "That she would not have it thought to be
a stolen match; that the blood of the Mohairs should never be disgraced;
that her husband had served all the parish offices but one; that she had
lived five-and-thirty years at the same house, had paid every body
twenty shillings in the pound, and would have me know, though she was
not as fine and as flaunting as Mrs. Gingham, the deputy's wife, she was
not ashamed to tell her name, and would show her face with the best of
them; and since I had married her daughter--" At this instant entered my
father-in-law, a grave man, from whom I expected succour; but upon
hearing the case, he told me, "That it would be very imprudent to miss
such an opportunity of advertising my shop; and that when notice was
given of my marriage, many of my wife's friends would think themselves
obliged to be my customers." I was subdued by clamour on one side, and
gravity on the other, and shall be obliged to tell the town, that "three
days ago Timothy Mushroom, an eminent oilman in Seacoal-lane, was
married to Miss Polly Mohair of Lothbury, a beautiful young lady, with a
I am, Sir, &c.
I am the unfortunate wife of the grocer whose letter you published about
ten weeks ago, in which he complains, like a sorry fellow, that I loiter
in the shop with my needle-work in my hand, and that I oblige him to
take me out on Sundays, and keep a girl to look after the child. Sweet
Mr. Idler, if you did but know all, you would give no encouragement to
such an unreasonable grumbler. I brought him three hundred pounds, which
set him up in a shop, and bought in a stock, on which, with good
management, we might live comfortably; but now I have given him a shop,
I am forced to watch him and the shop too. I will tell you, Mr. Idler,
how it is. There is an alehouse over the way, with a ninepin alley, to
which he is sure to run when I turn my back, and there he loses his
money, for he plays at ninepins as he does every thing else. While he is
at this favourite sport, he sets a dirty boy to watch his door, and call
him to his customers; but he is so long in coming, and so rude when he
comes, that our custom falls off every day.
Those who cannot govern themselves, must be governed. I have resolved to
keep him for the future behind his counter, and let him bounce at his
customers if he dares. I cannot be above stairs and below at the same
time, and have therefore taken a girl to look after the child, and dress
the dinner; and, after all, pray who is to blame?
On a Sunday, it is true, I make him walk abroad, and sometimes carry the
child; I wonder who should carry it! But I never take him out till after
church-time, nor would do it then, but that, if he is left alone, he
will be upon the bed. On a Sunday, if he stays at home, he has six
meals, and, when he can eat no longer, has twenty stratagems to escape
from me to the alehouse; but I commonly keep the door locked, till
Monday produces something for him to do.
This is the true state of the case, and these are the provocations for
which he has written his letter to you. I hope you will write a paper to
show, that, if a wife must spend her whole time in watching her husband,
she cannot conveniently tend her child, or sit at her needle.
I am, Sir, &c.
There is in this town a species of oppression which the law has not
hitherto prevented or redressed.
I am a chairman. You know, Sir, we come when we are called, and are
expected to carry all who require our assistance. It is common for men
of the most unwieldy corpulence to crowd themselves into a chair, and
demand to be carried for a shilling as far as an airy young lady whom we
scarcely feel upon our poles. Surely we ought to be paid, like all other
mortals, in proportion to our labour. Engines should be fixed in proper
places to weigh chairs as they weigh waggons; and those, whom ease and
plenty have made unable to carry themselves, should give part of their
superfluities to those who carry them.
I am, Sir, &c.
No. 29. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 1758.
TO THE IDLER.
I have often observed, that friends are lost by discontinuance of
intercourse without any offence on either part, and have long known,
that it is more dangerous to be forgotten than to be blamed; I therefore
make haste to send you the rest of my story, lest, by the delay of
another fortnight, the name of Betty Broom might be no longer remembered
by you or your readers.
Having left the last place in haste, to avoid the charge or the
suspicion of theft, I had not secured another service, and was forced to
take a lodging in a back-street. I had now got good clothes. The woman
who lived in the garret opposite to mine was very officious, and offered
to take care of my room and clean it, while I went round to my
acquaintance to inquire for a mistress. I knew not why she was so kind,
nor how I could recompense her; but in a few days I missed some of my
linen, went to another lodging, and resolved not to have another friend
in the next garret.
In six weeks I became under-maid at the house of a mercer in Cornhill,
whose son was his apprentice. The young gentleman used to sit late at
the tavern, without the knowledge of his father; and I was ordered by my
mistress to let him in silently to his bed under the counter, and to be
very careful to take away his candle. The hours which I was obliged to
watch, whilst the rest of the family was in bed, I considered as
supernumerary, and, having no business assigned for them, thought myself
at liberty to spend them my own way: I kept myself awake with a book,
and for some time liked my state the better for this opportunity of
reading. At last, the upper-maid found my book, and showed it to my
mistress, who told me, that wenches like me might spend their time
better; that she never knew any of the readers that had good designs in
their heads; that she could always find something else to do with her
time, than to puzzle over books; and did not like that such a fine lady
should sit up for her young master.
This was the first time that I found it thought criminal or dangerous to
know how to read. I was dismissed decently, lest I should tell tales,
and had a small gratuity above my wages.
I then lived with a gentlewoman of a small fortune. This was the only
happy part of my life. My mistress, for whom publick diversions were too
expensive, spent her time with books, and was pleased to find a maid who
could partake her amusements. I rose early in the morning, that I might
have time in the afternoon to read or listen, and was suffered to tell
my opinion, or express my delight. Thus fifteen months stole away, in
which I did not repine that I was born to servitude. But a burning fever
seized my mistress, of whom I shall say no more, than that her servant
wept upon her grave.
I had lived in a kind of luxury, which made me very unfit for another
place; and was rather too delicate for the conversation of a kitchen; so
that when I was hired in the family of an East-India director, my
behaviour was so different, as they said, from that of a common servant,
that they concluded me a gentlewoman in disguise, and turned me out in
three weeks, on suspicion of some design which they could not
I then fled for refuge to the other end of the town, where I hoped to
find no obstruction from my new accomplishments, and was hired under the
housekeeper in a splendid family. Here I was too wise for the maids, and
too nice for the footmen; yet I might have lived on without much
uneasiness, had not my mistress, the housekeeper, who used to employ me
in buying necessaries for the family, found a bill which I had made of
one day's expense. I suppose it did not quite agree with her own book,
for she fiercely declared her resolution, that there should be no pen
and ink in that kitchen but her own.
She had the justice, or the prudence, not to injure my reputation; and I
was easily admitted into another house in the neighbourhood, where my
business was to sweep the rooms and make the beds. Here I was, for some
time, the favourite of Mrs. Simper, my lady's woman, who could not bear
the vulgar girls, and was happy in the attendance of a young woman of
some education. Mrs. Simper loved a novel, though she could not read
hard words, and therefore, when her lady was abroad, we always laid hold
on her books. At last, my abilities became so much celebrated, that the
house-steward used to employ me in keeping his accounts. Mrs. Simper
then found out, that my sauciness was grown to such a height that nobody
could endure it, and told my lady, that there never had been a room well
swept, since Betty Broom came into the house.
I was then hired by a consumptive lady, who wanted a maid that could
read and write. I attended her four years, and though she was never
pleased, yet when I declared my resolution to leave her, she burst into
tears, and told me that I must bear the peevishness of a sick bed, and I
should find myself remembered in her will. I complied, and a codicil was
added in my favour; but in less than a week, when I set her gruel before
her, I laid the spoon on the left side, and she threw her will into the
fire. In two days she made another, which she burnt in the same manner,
because she could not eat her chicken. A third was made, and destroyed
because she heard a mouse within the wainscot, and was sure that I
should suffer her to be carried away alive. After this I was for some
time out of favour, but as her illness grew upon her, resentment and
sullenness gave way to kinder sentiments. She died, and left me five
hundred pounds; with this fortune I am going to settle in my native
parish, where I resolve to spend some hours every day in teaching poor
girls to read and write.
I am, Sir,
Your humble servant,
 Mrs. Gardiner, a pious, sensible, and charitable woman, for whom
Johnson entertained a high respect, is said to have afforded a hint
for the story of Betty Broom, from her zealous support of a Ladies'
Charity-school, confined to females. Boswell, vol. iv.
No. 30. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 1758.
The desires of man increase with his acquisitions; every step which he
advances brings something within his view, which he did not see before,
and which, as soon as he sees it, he begins to want. Where necessity
ends, curiosity begins; and no sooner are we supplied with every thing
that nature can demand, than we sit down to contrive artificial
By this restlessness of mind, every populous and wealthy city is filled
with innumerable employments, for which the greater part of mankind is
without a name; with artificers, whose labour is exerted in producing
such petty conveniencies, that many shops are furnished with
instruments, of which the use can hardly be found without inquiry, but
which he that once knows them quickly learns to number among necessary
Such is the diligence with which, in countries completely civilized, one
part of mankind labours for another, that wants are supplied faster than
they can be formed, and the idle and luxurious find life stagnate for
want of some desire to keep it in motion. This species of distress
furnishes a new set of occupations; and multitudes are busied, from day
to day, in finding the rich and the fortunate something to do.
It is very common to reproach those artists as useless, who produce only
such superfluities as neither accommodate the body, nor improve the
mind; and of which no other effect can be imagined, than that they are
the occasions of spending money, and consuming time.
But this censure will be mitigated, when it is seriously considered,
that money and time are the heaviest burdens of life, and that the
unhappiest of all mortals are those who have more of either than they
know how to use. To set himself free from these incumbrances, one
hurries to Newmarket; another travels over Europe; one pulls down his
house and calls architects about him; another buys a seat in the
country, and follows his hounds over hedges and through rivers; one
makes collections of shells; and another searches the world for tulips
He is surely a publick benefactor who finds employment for those to whom
it is thus difficult to find it for themselves. It is true, that this is
seldom done merely from generosity or compassion; almost every man seeks
his own advantage in helping others, and therefore it is too common for
mercenary officiousness to consider rather what is grateful, than what
We all know that it is more profitable to be loved than esteemed; and
ministers of pleasure will always be found, who study to make themselves
necessary, and to supplant those who are practising the same arts.
One of the amusements of idleness is reading without the fatigue of
close attention, and the world therefore swarms with writers whose wish
is not to be studied, but to be read.
No species of literary men has lately been so much multiplied as the
writers of news. Not many years ago the nation was content with one
gazette; but now we have not only in the metropolis papers for every
morning and every evening, but almost every large town has its weekly
historian, who regularly circulates his periodical intelligence, and
fills the villages of his district with conjectures on the events of
war, and with debates on the true interest of Europe.
To write news in its perfection requires such a combination of
qualities, that a man completely fitted for the task is not always to be
found. In Sir Henry Wotton's jocular definition, _An ambassador_ is said
to be _a man of virtue sent abroad to tell lies for the advantage of his
country_; a news-writer is _a man without virtue, who writes lies at
home for his own profit_. To these compositions is required neither
genius nor knowledge, neither industry nor sprightliness; but contempt
of shame and indifference to truth are absolutely necessary. He who by a
long familiarity with infamy has obtained these qualities, may
confidently tell to-day what he intends to contradict to-morrow; he may
affirm fearlessly what he knows that he shall be obliged to recant, and
may write letters from Amsterdam or Dresden to himself.
In a time of war the nation is always of one mind, eager to hear
something good of themselves and ill of the enemy. At this time the task
of news-writers is easy: they have nothing to do but to tell that a
battle is expected, and afterwards that a battle has been fought, in
which we and our friends, whether conquering or conquered, did all, and
our enemies did nothing.
Scarcely any thing awakens attention like a tale of cruelty. The writer
of news never fails in the intermission of action to tell how the
enemies murdered children and ravished virgins; and, if the scene of
action be somewhat distant, scalps half the inhabitants of a province.
Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the
love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates, and credulity
encourages. A peace will equally leave the warriour and relater of wars
destitute of employment; and I know not whether more is to be dreaded
from streets filled with soldiers accustomed to plunder, or from garrets
filled with scribblers accustomed to lie.
No. 31. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 1758.
Many moralists have remarked, that pride has of all human vices the
widest dominion, appears in the greatest multiplicity of forms, and lies
hid under the greatest variety of disguises; of disguises, which, like
the moon's _veil of brightness_, are both its _lustre and its shade_,
and betray it to others, though they hide it from ourselves.
It is not my intention to degrade pride from this pre-eminence of
mischief; yet I know not whether idleness may not maintain a very
doubtful and obstinate competition.
There are some that profess idleness in its full dignity, who call
themselves the _Idle_, as Busiris in the play calls himself the _Proud_;
who boast that they do nothing, and thank their stars that they have
nothing to do; who sleep every night till they can sleep no longer, and
rise only that exercise may enable them to sleep again; who prolong the
reign of darkness by double curtains, and never see the sun but to _tell
him how they hate his beams_; whose whole labour is to vary the posture
of indolence, and whose day differs from their night, but as a couch or
chair differs from a bed.
These are the true and open votaries of idleness, for whom she weaves
the garlands of poppies, and into whose cup she pours the waters of
oblivion; who exist in a state of unruffled stupidity, forgetting and
forgotten; who have long ceased to live, and at whose death the
survivors can only say, that they have ceased to breathe.
But idleness predominates in many lives where it is not suspected; for,
being a vice which terminates in itself, it may be enjoyed without
injury to others; and it is therefore not watched like fraud, which
endangers property; or like pride, which naturally seeks its
gratifications in another's inferiority. Idleness is a silent and
peaceful quality, that neither raises envy by ostentation, nor hatred by
opposition; and therefore nobody is busy to censure or detect it.
As pride sometimes is hid under humility, idleness is often covered by
turbulence and hurry. He that neglects his known duty and real
employment, naturally endeavours to crowd his mind with something that
may bar out the remembrance of his own folly, and does any thing but
what he ought to do with eager diligence, that he may keep himself in
his own favour.
Some are always in a state of preparation, occupied in previous
measures, forming plans, accumulating materials, and providing for the
main affair. These are certainly under the secret power of idleness.
Nothing is to be expected from the workman whose tools are for ever to
be sought. I was once told by a great master, that no man ever excelled
in painting, who was eminently curious about pencils and colours.
There are others to whom idleness dictates another expedient, by which
life may be passed unprofitably away without the tediousness of many
vacant hours. The art is, to fill the day with petty business, to have
always something in hand which may raise curiosity, but not solicitude,
and keep the mind in a state of action, but not of labour.
This art has for many years been practised by my old friend Sober with
wonderful success. Sober is a man of strong desires and quick
imagination, so exactly balanced by the love of ease, that they can
seldom stimulate him to any difficult undertaking; they have, however,
so much power, that they will not suffer him to lie quite at rest; and
though they do not make him sufficiently useful to others, they make him
at least weary of himself.
Mr. Sober's chief pleasure is conversation; there is no end of his talk
or his attention; to speak or to hear is equally pleasing; for he still
fancies that he is teaching or learning something, and is free for the
time from his own reproaches.
But there is one time at night when he must go home, that his friends
may sleep; and another time in the morning, when all the world agrees to
shut out interruption. These are the moments of which poor Sober
trembles at the thought. But the misery of these tiresome intervals he
has many means of alleviating. He has persuaded himself that the manual
arts are undeservedly overlooked; he has observed in many trades the
effects of close thought, and just ratiocination. From speculation he
proceeded to practice, and supplied himself with the tools of a
carpenter, with which he mended his coal-box very successfully, and
which he still continues to employ, as he finds occasion.
He has attempted at other times the crafts of the shoemaker, tinman,
plumber, and potter; in all these arts he has failed, and resolves to
qualify himself for them by better information. But his daily amusement
is chymistry. He has a small furnace, which he employs in distillation,
and which has long been the solace of his life. He draws oils and
waters, and essences and spirits, which he knows to be of no use; sits
and counts the drops, as they come from his retort, and forgets that,
whilst a drop is falling, a moment flies away.
Poor Sober! I have often teased him with reproof, and he has often
promised reformation; for no man is so much open to conviction as the
Idler, but there is none on whom it operates so little. What will be the
effect of this paper I know not; perhaps, he will read it and laugh, and
light the fire in his furnace; but my hope is, that he will quit his
trifles, and betake himself to rational and useful diligence.
 In Mr. Sober, we may recognise traits of Dr. Johnson's own
character. No. 67 of the Idler is another portrait of him.
No. 32. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 1758.
Among the innumerable mortifications that waylay human arrogance on
every side, may well be reckoned our ignorance of the most common
objects and effects, a defect of which we become more sensible, by every
attempt to supply it. Vulgar and inactive minds confound familiarity
with knowledge, and conceive themselves informed of the whole nature of
things when they are shown their form or told their use; but the
speculatist, who is not content with superficial views, harasses himself
with fruitless curiosity, and still as he inquires more, perceives only
that he knows less.
Sleep is a state in which a great part of every life is passed. No
animal has been yet discovered, whose existence is not varied with
intervals of insensibility; and some late philosophers have extended the
empire of sleep over the vegetable world.
Yet of this change, so frequent, so great, so general, and so necessary,
no searcher has yet found either the efficient or final cause; or can
tell by what power the mind and body are thus chained down in
irresistible stupefaction; or what benefits the animal receives from
this alternate suspension of its active powers.
Whatever may be the multiplicity or contrariety of opinions upon this
subject, nature has taken sufficient care that theory shall have little
influence on practice. The most diligent inquirer is not able long to
keep his eyes open; the most eager disputant will begin about midnight
to desert his argument; and, once in four-and-twenty hours, the gay and
the gloomy, the witty and the dull, the clamorous and the silent, the
busy and the idle, are all overpowered by the gentle tyrant, and all lie
down in the equality of sleep.
Philosophy has often attempted to repress insolence, by asserting, that
all conditions are levelled by death; a position which, however it may
deject the happy, will seldom afford much comfort to the wretched. It is
far more pleasing to consider, that, sleep is equally a leveller with
death; that the time is never at a great distance, when the balm of rest
shall be diffused alike upon every head, when the diversities of life
shall stop their operation, and the high and the low shall lie down
It is somewhere recorded of Alexander, that in the pride of conquests,
and intoxication of flattery, he declared that he only perceived himself
to be a man by the necessity of sleep. Whether he considered sleep as
necessary to his mind or body, it was indeed a sufficient evidence of
human infirmity; the body which required such frequency of renovation,
gave but faint promises of immortality; and the mind which, from time to
time, sunk gladly into insensibility, had made no very near approaches
to the felicity of the supreme and self-sufficient nature.
I know not what can tend more to repress all the passions, that disturb
the peace of the world, than the consideration that there is no height
of happiness or honour, from which man does not eagerly descend to a
state of unconscious repose; that the best condition of life is such,
that we contentedly quit its good to be disentangled from its evils;
that in a few hours splendour fades before the eye, and praise itself
deadens in the ear; the senses withdraw from their objects, and reason
favours the retreat.
What then are the hopes and prospects of covetousness, ambition, and
rapacity? Let him that desires most have all his desires gratified, he
never shall attain a state which he can, for a day and a night,
contemplate with satisfaction, or from which, if he had the power of
perpetual vigilance, he would not long for periodical separations.
All envy would be extinguished, if it were universally known that there
are none to be envied, and surely none can be much envied who are not
pleased with themselves. There is reason to suspect, that the
distinctions of mankind have more show than value, when it is found that
all agree to be weary alike of pleasures and of cares; that the powerful
and the weak, the celebrated and obscure, join in one common wish, and
implore from nature's hand the nectar of oblivion.
Such is our desire of abstraction from ourselves, that very few are
satisfied with the quantity of stupefaction which the needs of the body
force upon the mind. Alexander himself added intemperance to sleep, and
solaced with the fumes of wine the sovereignty of the world: and almost
every man has some art by which he steals his thoughts away from his
It is not much of life that is spent in close attention to any important
duty. Many hours of every day are suffered to fly away without any
traces left upon the intellects. We suffer phantoms to rise up before
us, and amuse ourselves with the dance of airy images, which, after a
time, we dismiss for ever, and know not how we have been busied.
Many have no happier moments than those that they pass in solitude,
abandoned to their own imagination, which sometimes puts sceptres in
their hands or mitres on their heads, shifts the scene of pleasure with
endless variety, bids all the forms of beauty sparkle before them, and
gluts them with every change of visionary luxury.
It is easy in these semi-slumbers to collect all the possibilities of
happiness, to alter the course of the sun, to bring back the past, and
anticipate the future, to unite all the beauties of all seasons, and all
the blessings of all climates, to receive and bestow felicity, and
forget that misery is the lot of man. All this is a voluntary dream, a
temporary recession from the realities of life to airy fictions; and
habitual subjection of reason to fancy.
Others are afraid to be alone, and amuse themselves by a perpetual
succession of companions: but the difference is not great; in solitude
we have our dreams to ourselves, and in company we agree to dream in
concert. The end sought in both is forgetfulness of ourselves.
 "For half their life," says Aristotle, "the happy differ not from
the wretched.".--Nichom. Ethic, i. 13.
[Greek: Hypn odunas adaaes, Hypne d algeon
Euaaes haemin elthois,
Euaion, euaion anax.] Soph. Philoct. 827.
No. 33. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 2, 1758.
[I hope the author of the following letter will excuse the omission
of some parts, and allow me to remark, that the Journal of the Citizen
in the Spectator has almost precluded the attempt of any future writer.]
--_Non ita Romuli Praescriptum, et intonsi Catonis
Auspiciis, veterumque norma_. HOR. Lib. ii. Ode xv. 10.
You have often solicited correspondence. I have sent you the Journal of
a Senior Fellow, or Genuine Idler, just transmitted from Cambridge by a
facetious correspondent, and warranted to have been transcribed from the
common-place book of the journalist.
Monday, Nine o'Clock. Turned off my bed-maker for waking me at eight.
Weather rainy. Consulted my weather-glass. No hopes of a ride before
Ditto, Ten. After breakfast, transcribed half a sermon from Dr. Hickman.
N.B. Never to transcribe any more from Calamy; Mrs. Pilcocks, at my
curacy, having one volume of that author lying in her parlour-window.
Ditto, Eleven. Went down into my cellar. Mem. My Mountain will be fit to
drink in a month's time. N.B. To remove the five-year old port into the
new bin on the left hand.
Ditto, Twelve. Mended a pen. Looked at my weather-glass again.
Quicksilver very low. Shaved. Barber's hand shakes.
Ditto, One. Dined alone in my room on a sole. N.B. The shrimp-sauce not
so good as Mr. H. of Peterhouse and I used to eat in London last winter
at the Mitre in Fleet-street. Sat down to a pint of Madeira. Mr. H.
surprised me over it. We finished two bottles of port together, and were
very cheerful. Mem. To dine with Mr. H. at Peterhouse next Wednesday.
One of the dishes a leg of pork and pease, by my desire.
Ditto, Six. Newspaper in the common room.
Ditto, Seven. Returned to my room. Made a tiff of warm punch, and to bed
before nine; did not fall asleep till ten, a young fellow commoner being
very noisy over my head.
Tuesday, Nine, Rose squeamish. A fine morning. Weather-glass very high.
Ditto, Ten. Ordered my horse, and rode to the five-mile stone on the
Newmarket road. Appetite gets better. A pack of hounds, in full cry,
crossed the road, and startled my horse.
Ditto, Twelve. Drest. Found a letter on my table to be in London the
19th inst. Bespoke a new wig.
Ditto, One. At dinner in the hall. Too much water in the soup. Dr. Dry
always orders the beef to be salted too much for me.
Ditto, Two. In the common room. Dr. Dry gave us an instance of a
gentleman who kept the gout out of his stomach by drinking old Madeira.
Conversation chiefly on the expeditions. Company broke up at four. Dr.
Dry and myself played at backgammon for a brace of snipes. Won.
Ditto, Five. At the coffee-house. Met Mr. H. there. Could not get a
sight of the Monitor.
Ditto, Seven. Returned home, and stirred my fire. Went to the common
room, and supped on the snipes with Dr. Dry.
Ditto, Eight. Began the evening in the common room. Dr. Dry told several
stories. Were very merry. Our new fellow, that studies physick, very
talkative toward twelve. Pretends he will bring the youngest Miss ---- to
drink tea with me soon. Impertinent blockhead!
Wednesday, Nine. Alarmed with a pain in my ankle. Q. The gout? Fear I
can't dine at Peterhouse; but I hope a ride will set all to rights.
Weather-glass below Fair.
Ditto, Ten. Mounted my horse, though the weather suspicious. Pain in my
ankle entirely gone. Caught in a shower coming back. Convinced that my
weather-glass is the best in Cambridge.
Ditto, Twelve. Drest. Sauntered up to the Fish-monger's hill. Met Mr. H.
and went with him to Peterhouse. Cook made us wait thirty-six minutes
beyond the time. The company, some of my Emmanuel friends. For dinner, a
pair of soles, a leg of pork and pease, among other things. Mem.
Pease-pudding not boiled enough. Cook reprimanded and sconced in my
Ditto, after Dinner. Pain in my ankle returns. Dull all the afternoon.
Rallied for being no company. Mr. H.'s account of the accommodations on
the road in his Bath journey.
Ditto, Six. Got into spirits. Never was more chatty. We sat late at
whist. Mr. H. and self agreed at parting to take a gentle ride, and dine
at the old house on the London road to-morrow.
Thursday, Nine. My sempstress. She has lost the measure of my wrist.
Forced to be measured again. The baggage has got a trick of smiling.
Ditto, Ten to Eleven. Made some rappee snuff. Read the magazines.
Received a present of pickles from Miss Pilcocks. Mem. To send in return
some collared eel, which I know both the old lady and miss are fond of.
Ditto, Eleven. Glass very high. Mounted at the gate with Mr. H. Horse
skittish, and wants exercise. Arrive at the old house. All the
provisions bespoke by some rakish fellow-commoner in the next room, who
had been on a scheme to Newmarket. Could get nothing but mutton-chops
off the worst end. Port very new. Agree to try some other house
Here the journal breaks off: for the next morning, as my friend informs
me, our genial academick was waked with a severe fit of the gout; and,
at present, enjoys all the dignity of that disease. But I believe we
have lost nothing by this interruption: since a continuation of the
remainder of the journal, through the remainder of the week, would most
probably have exhibited nothing more than a repeated relation of the
same circumstances of idling and luxury.
I hope it will not be concluded, from this specimen of academick life,
that I have attempted to decry our universities. If literature is not
the essential requisite of the modern academick, I am yet persuaded,
that Cambridge and Oxford, however degenerated, surpass the fashionable
_academies_ of our metropolis, and the _gymnasia_ of foreign countries.
The number of learned persons in these celebrated seats is still
considerable, and more conveniencies and opportunities for study still
subsist in them, than in any other place. There is at least one very
powerful incentive to learning; I mean the GENIUS _of the place_. It is
a sort of inspiring deity, which every youth of quick sensibility and
ingenious disposition creates to himself, by reflecting, that he is
placed under those venerable walls, where a HOOKER and a HAMMOND, a
BACON and a NEWTON, once pursued the same course of science, and from
whence they soared to the most elevated heights of literary fame. This
is that incitement which Tully, according to his own testimony,
experienced at Athens, when he contemplated the porticos where Socrates
sat, and the laurel-groves where Plato disputed.
But there are other circumstances, and of the highest importance, which
render our colleges superior to all other places of education. Their
institutions, although somewhat fallen from their primaeval simplicity,
are such as influence, in a particular manner, the moral conduct of
their youth; and in this general depravity of manners and laxity of
principles, pure religion is no where more strongly inculcated. The
_academies_, as they are presumptuously styled, are too low to be
mentioned; and foreign seminaries are likely to prejudice the unwary
mind with Calvinism. But English universities render their students
virtuous, at least by excluding all opportunities of vice; and, by
teaching them the principles of the Church of England, confirm them in
those of true Christianity.
 Mr. Thomas Warton.
 A rich assemblage of examples, of the "influence of perceptible
objects in reviving former thoughts and former feelings," is
collected in Dr. Brown's Philosophy of the Human Mind, vol. 2,
No. 34. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 9, 1758.
To illustrate one thing by its resemblance to another, has been always
the most popular and efficacious art of instruction. There is indeed no
other method of teaching that of which any one is ignorant, but by means
of something already known; and a mind so enlarged by contemplation, and
inquiry, that it has always many objects within its view, will seldom be
long without some near and familiar image through which an easy
transition may be made to truths more distant and obscure.
Of the parallels which have been drawn by wit and curiosity, some are
literal and real, as between poetry and painting, two arts which pursue
the same end, by the operation of the same mental faculties, and which
differ only as the one represents things by marks permanent and natural,
the other by signs accidental and arbitrary. The one, therefore, is more
easily and generally understood, since similitude of form is immediately
perceived; the other is capable of conveying more ideas, for men have
thought and spoken of many things which they do not see.
Other parallels are fortuitous and fanciful, yet these have sometimes
been extended to many particulars of resemblance by a lucky concurrence
of diligence and chance. The animal body is composed of many members,
united under the direction of one mind: any number of individuals,
connected for some common purpose, is therefore called a body. From this
participation of the same appellation arose the comparison of the body
natural and body politick, of which, how far soever it has been deduced,
no end has hitherto been found.
In these imaginary similitudes, the same word is used at once in its
primitive and metaphorical sense. Thus health, ascribed to the body
natural, is opposed to sickness; but attributed to the body politick
stands as contrary to adversity. These parallels therefore have more of
genius, but less of truth; they often please, but they never convince.
Of this kind is a curious speculation frequently indulged by a
philosopher of my acquaintance, who had discovered, that the qualities
requisite to conversation are very exactly represented by a bowl of
Punch, says this profound investigator, is a liquor compounded of spirit
and acid juices, sugar and water. The spirit, volatile and fiery, is the
proper emblem of vivacity and wit; the acidity of the lemon will very
aptly figure pungency of raillery, and acrimony of censure; sugar is the
natural representative of luscious adulation and gentle complaisance;
and water is the proper hieroglyphick of easy prattle, innocent and
Spirit alone is too powerful for use. It will produce madness rather
than merriment; and instead of quenching thirst will inflame the blood.
Thus wit, too copiously poured out, agitates the hearer with emotions
rather violent than pleasing; every one shrinks from the force of its
oppression, the company sits entranced and overpowered; all are
astonished, but nobody is pleased.
The acid juices give this genial liquor all its power of stimulating the
palate. Conversation would become dull and vapid, if negligence were not
sometimes roused, and sluggishness quickened, by due severity of
reprehension. But acids unmixed will distort the face and torture the
palate; and he that has no other qualities than penetration and
asperity, he whose constant employment is detection and censure, who
looks only to find faults, and speaks only to punish them, will soon be
dreaded, hated and avoided.
The taste of sugar is generally pleasing, but it cannot long be eaten by
itself. Thus meekness and courtesy will always recommend the first
address, but soon pall and nauseate, unless they are associated with
more sprightly qualities. The chief use of sugar is to temper the taste
of other substances; and softness of behaviour, in the same manner,
mitigates the roughness of contradiction, and allays the bitterness of
Water is the universal vehicle by which are conveyed the particles
necessary to sustenance and growth, by which thirst is quenched, and all
the wants of life and nature are supplied. Thus all the business of the
world is transacted by artless and easy talk, neither sublimed by fancy,
nor discoloured by affectation, without either the harshness of satire,
or the lusciousness of flattery. By this limpid vein of language,
curiosity is gratified, and all the knowledge is conveyed which one man
is required to impart for the safety or convenience of another. Water is
the only ingredient in punch which can be used alone, and with which man
is content till fancy has framed an artificial want. Thus while we only
desire to have our ignorance informed, we are most delighted with the
plainest diction; and it is only in the moments of idleness or pride,
that we call for the gratifications of wit or flattery.
He only will please long, who, by tempering the acidity of satire with
the sugar of civility, and allaying the heat of wit with the frigidity
of humble chat, can make the true punch of conversation; and, as that
punch can be drunk in the greatest quantity which has the largest
proportion of water, so that companion will be oftenest welcome, whose
talk flows out with inoffensive copiousness, and unenvied insipidity.
No. 35. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 16, 1758.
TO THE IDLER.
If it be difficult to persuade the idle to be busy, it is likewise, as
experience has taught me, not easy to convince the busy that it is
better to be idle. When you shall despair of stimulating sluggishness to
motion, I hope you will turn your thoughts towards the means of stilling
the bustle of pernicious activity.
I am the unfortunate husband of a _buyer of bargains_. My wife has
somewhere heard, that a good housewife _never_ has any thing to
_purchase when it is wanted_. This maxim is often in her mouth, and
always in her head. She is not one of those philosophical talkers that
speculate without practice; and learn sentences of wisdom only to repeat
them: she is always making additions to her stores; she never looks into
a broker's shop, but she spies something that may be wanted some time;
and it is impossible to make her pass the door of a house where she
hears _goods selling by auction_.
Whatever she thinks cheap, she holds it the duty of an economist to buy;
in consequence of this maxim, we are encumbered on every side with
useless lumber. The servants can scarcely creep to their beds through
the chests and boxes that surround them. The carpenter is employed once
a week in building closets, fixing cupboards, and fastening shelves; and
my house has the appearance of a ship stored for a voyage to the
I had often observed that advertisements set her on fire; and therefore,
pretending to emulate her laudable frugality, I forbade the newspaper to
be taken any longer; but my precaution is vain; I know not by what
fatality, or by what confederacy, every catalogue of _genuine furniture_
comes to her hand, every advertisement of a warehouse newly opened, is
in her pocketbook, and she knows before any of her neighbours when the
stock of any man _leaving off trade_ is to be _sold cheap for ready
Such intelligence is to my dear-one the Syren's song. No engagement, no
duty, no interest, can withhold her from a sale, from which she always
returns congratulating herself upon her dexterity at a bargain; the
porter lays down his burden in the hall; she displays her new
acquisitions, and spends the rest of the day in contriving where they
shall be put.
As she cannot bear to have any thing uncomplete, one purchase
necessitates another; she has twenty feather-beds more than she can use,
and a late sale has supplied her with a proportionable number of Witney
blankets, a large roll of linen for sheets, and five quilts for every
bed, which she bought because the seller told her, that if she would
clear his hands he would let her have a bargain.
Thus by hourly encroachments my habitation is made narrower and
narrower; the dining-room is so crowded with tables, that dinner
scarcely can be served; the parlour is decorated with so many piles of
china, that I dare not step within the door; at every turn of the stairs
I have a clock, and half the windows of the upper floors are darkened,
that shelves may be set before them.
This, however, might be borne, if she would gratify her own inclinations
without opposing mine. But I, who am idle, am luxurious, and she
condemns me to live upon salt provisions. She knows the loss of buying
in small quantities, we have, therefore, whole hogs and quarters of
oxen. Part of our meat is tainted before it is eaten, and part is thrown
away because it is spoiled; but she persists in her system, and will
never buy any thing by single penny-worths.
The common vice of those who are still grasping at more, is to neglect
that which they already possess; but from this failing my charmer is
free. It is the great care of her life that the pieces of beef should be
boiled in the order in which they are bought; that the second bag of
pease should not be opened till the first be eaten; that every
feather-bed should be lain on in its turn; that the carpets should be
taken out of the chests once a month and brushed, and the rolls of linen
opened now and then before the fire. She is daily inquiring after the best
traps for mice, and keeps the rooms always scented by fumigations to
destroy the moths. She employs workmen, from time to time, to adjust six
clocks that never go, and clean five jacks that rust in the garret; and
a woman in the next alley lives by scouring the brass and pewter, which
are only laid up to tarnish again.
She is always imagining some distant time, in which she shall use
whatever she accumulates: she has four looking-glasses which she cannot
hang up in her house, but which will be handsome in more lofty rooms;
and pays rent for the place of a vast copper in some warehouse, because,
when we live in the country, we shall brew our own beer.
Of this life I have long been weary, but know not how to change it: all
the married men whom I consult advise me to have patience; but some old
bachelors are of opinion that, since she loves sales so well, she should
have a sale of her own; and I have, I think, resolved to open her
hoards, and advertise an auction.
I am, Sir,
Your very humble servant,
No. 30. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23, 1758.
The great differences that disturb the peace of mankind are not about
ends, but means. We have all the same general desires, but how those
desires shall be accomplished will for ever be disputed. The ultimate
purpose of government is temporal, and that of religion is eternal
happiness. Hitherto we agree; but here we must part, to try, according
to the endless varieties of passion and understanding combined with one
another, every possible form of government, and every imaginable tenet
We are told by Cumberland that _rectitude_, applied to action or
contemplation, is merely metaphorical; and that as a _right_ line
describes the shortest passage from point to point, so a _right_ action
effects a good design by the fewest means; and so likewise a _right_
opinion is that which connects distant truths by the shortest train of
To find the nearest way from truth to truth, or from purpose to effect,
not to use more instruments where fewer will be sufficient; not to move
by wheels and levers what will give way to the naked hand, is the great
proof of a healthful and vigorous mind, neither feeble with helpless
ignorance, nor overburdened with unwieldy knowledge.
But there are men who seem to think nothing so much the characteristick
of a genius, as to do common things in an uncommon manner; like
Hudibras, to _tell the clock by algebra_; or like the lady in Dr.
Young's satires, _to drink tea by stratagem_; to quit the beaten track,
only because it is known, and take a new path, however crooked or rough,
because the straight was found out before.
Every man speaks and writes with intent to be understood; and it can
seldom happen but he that understands himself, might convey his notions
to another, if, content to be understood, he did not seek to be admired;
but when once he begins to contrive how his sentiments may be received,
not with most ease to his reader, but with most advantage to himself, he
then transfers his consideration from words to sounds, from sentences to
periods, and as he grows more elegant becomes less intelligible.
It is difficult to enumerate every species of authors whose labours
counteract themselves; the man of exuberance and copiousness, who
diffuses every thought through so many diversities of expression, that
it is lost like water in a mist; the ponderous dictator of sentences,
whose notions are delivered in the lump, and are, like uncoined bullion,
of more weight than use; the liberal illustrator, who shows by examples
and comparisons what was clearly seen when it was first proposed; and
the stately son of demonstration, who proves with mathematical formality
what no man has yet pretended to doubt.
There is a mode of style for which I know not that the masters of
oratory have yet found a name; a style by which the most evident truths
are so obscured that they can no longer be perceived, and the most
familiar propositions so disguised that they cannot be known. Every
other kind of eloquence is the dress of sense; but this is the mask by
which a true master of his art will so effectually conceal it, that a
man will as easily mistake his own positions, if he meets them thus
transformed, as he may pass in a masquerade his nearest acquaintance.
This style may be called the _terrifick_, for its chief intention is to
terrify and amaze; it may be termed the _repulsive_, for its natural
effect is to drive away the reader; or it may be distinguished, in plain
English, by the denomination of the _bugbear style_, for it has more
terrour than danger, and will appear less formidable as it is more
A mother tells her infant, that _two and two make four_; the child
remembers the proposition, and is able to count four to all the purposes
of life, till the course of his education brings him among philosophers,
who fright him from his former knowledge, by telling him, that four is a
certain aggregate of units; that all numbers being only the repetition
of an unit, which, though not a number itself, is the parent, root, or
original of all number, _four_ is the denomination assigned to a certain
number of such repetitions. The only danger is, lest, when he first
hears these dreadful sounds, the pupil should run away; if he has but
the courage to stay till the conclusion, he will find that, when
speculation has done its worst, two and two still make four.
An illustrious example of this species of eloquence may be found in
"Letters concerning Mind." The author begins by declaring, that "the
sorts of things are things that now are, have been, and shall be, and
the things that strictly _are_." In this position, except the last
clause, in which he uses something of the scholastick language, there is
nothing but what every man has heard, and imagines himself to know. But
who would not believe that some wonderful novelty is presented to his
intellect, when he is afterwards told, in the true bugbear style, that
"the _ares_, in the former sense, are things that lie between the
_have-beens_ and _shall-bes_. The _have-beens_ are things that are past;
the _shall-bes_ are things that are to come; and the things that _are_,
in the latter sense, are things that have not been, nor shall be, nor
stand in the midst of such as are before them, or shall be after them.
The things that _have been_, and _shall be_, have respect to present,
past, and future.
"Those likewise that now _are_ have moreover place; that, for instance,
which is here, that which is to the east, that which is to the west."
All this, my dear reader, is very strange; but though it be strange, it
is not new; survey these wonderful sentences again, and they will be
found to contain nothing more than very plain truths, which, till this
author arose, had always been delivered in plain language.
 These "Letters on Mind" were written by a Mr. Petvin, who after some
years again astounded the literary public by sending forth, in
diction equally terrific, another tract entitled a "Summary of the
Soul's Perceptive Faculties," 1768. He was at that time compared to
Duns Scotus, the subtle Doctor, who, in the weakness of old age,
wept because he could not understand the subtleties of his earlier
No. 37. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 30, 1758.
Those who are skilled in the extraction and preparation of metals
declare, that iron is every where to be found; and that not only its
proper ore is copiously treasured in the caverns of the earth, but that
its particles are dispersed throughout all other bodies.
If the extent of the human view could comprehend the whole frame of the
universe, I believe it would be found invariably true, that Providence
has given that in greatest plenty, which the condition of life makes of
greatest use; and that nothing is penuriously imparted, or placed far
from the reach of man, of which a more liberal distribution, or more
easy acquisition, would increase real and rational felicity.
Iron is common, and gold is rare. Iron contributes so much to supply the
wants of nature, that its use constitutes much of the difference between
savage and polished life, between the state of him that slumbers in
European palaces, and him that shelters himself in the cavities of a
rock from the chilness of the night, or the violence of the storm. Gold
can never be hardened into saws or axes; it can neither furnish
instruments of manufacture, utensils of agriculture, nor weapons of
defence; its only quality is to shine, and the value of its lustre
arises from its scarcity.
Throughout the whole circle, both of natural and moral life, necessaries
are as iron, and superfluities as gold. What we really need we may
readily obtain; so readily, that far the greater part of mankind has, in
the wantonness of abundance, confounded natural with artificial desires,
and invented necessities for the sake of employment, because the mind is
impatient of inaction, and life is sustained with so little labour, that
the tediousness of idle time cannot otherwise be supported.
Thus plenty is the original cause of many of our needs; and even the
poverty, which is so frequent and distressful in civilized nations,
proceeds often from that change of manners which opulence has produced.
Nature makes us poor only when we want necessaries; but custom gives the
name of poverty to the want of superfluities.
When Socrates passed through shops of toys and ornaments, he cried out,
"How many things are here which I do not need!" And the same exclamation
may every man make who surveys the common accommodations of life.
Superfluity and difficulty begin together. To dress food for the stomach
is easy, the art is to irritate the palate when the stomach is sufficed.
A rude hand may build walls, form roofs, and lay floors, and provide all
that warmth and security require; we only call the nicer artificers to
carve the cornice, or to paint the ceilings. Such dress as may enable
the body to endure the different seasons, the most unenlightened nations
have been able to procure; but the work of science begins in the
ambition of distinction, in variations of fashion, and emulation of
elegance. Corn grows with easy culture; the gardener's experiments are
only employed to exalt the flavours of fruits, and brighten the colours
Even of knowledge, those parts are most easy which are generally
necessary. The intercourse of society is maintained without the
elegancies of language. Figures, criticisms, and refinements, are the
work of those whom idleness makes weary of themselves. The commerce of
the world is carried on by easy methods of computation. Subtilty and
study are required only when questions are invented merely to puzzle,
and calculations are extended to show the skill of the calculator. The
light of the sun is equally beneficial to him whose eyes tell him that
it moves, and to him whose reason persuades him that it stands still;
and plants grow with the same luxuriance, whether we suppose earth or
water the parent of vegetation.
If we raise our thoughts to nobler inquiries, we shall still find
facility concurring with usefulness. No man needs stay to be virtuous,
till the moralists have determined the essence of virtue; our duty is
made apparent by its proximate consequences, though the general and
ultimate reason should never be discovered. Religion may regulate the
life of him to whom the Scotists and Thomists are alike unknown; and the
assertors of fate and free-will, however different in their talk, agree
to act in the same manner.
It is not my intention to depreciate the politer arts or abstruser
studies. That curiosity which always succeeds ease and plenty, was
undoubtedly given us as a proof of capacity which our present state is
not able to fill, as a preparative for some better mode of existence,
which shall furnish employment for the whole soul, and where pleasure
shall be adequate to our powers of fruition. In the mean time, let us
gratefully acknowledge that goodness which grants us ease at a cheap
rate, which changes the seasons where the nature of heat and cold has
not been yet examined, and gives the vicissitudes of day and night to
those who never marked the tropicks, or numbered the constellations.
No. 38. SATURDAY, JANUARY 6, 1759.
Since the publication of the letter concerning the condition of those
who are confined in gaols by their creditors, an inquiry is said to have
been made, by which it appears that more than twenty thousand are at
this time prisoners for debt.
We often look with indifference on the successive parts of that, which,
if the whole were seen together, would shake us with emotion. A debtor
is dragged to prison, pitied for a moment, and then forgotten; another
follows him, and is lost alike in the caverns of oblivion; but when the
whole mass of calamity rises up at once, when twenty thousand reasonable
beings are heard all groaning in unnecessary misery, not by the
infirmity of nature, but the mistake or negligence of policy, who can
forbear to pity and lament, to wonder and abhor?
There is here no need of declamatory vehemence: we live in an age of
commerce and computation; let us, therefore, coolly inquire what is the
sum of evil which the imprisonment of debtors brings upon our country.
It seems to be the opinion of the later computists, that the inhabitants
of England do not exceed six millions, of which twenty thousand is the
three-hundredth part. What shall we say of the humanity or the wisdom of
a nation, that voluntarily sacrifices one in every three hundred to
The misfortunes of an individual do not extend their influence to many;
yet, if we consider the effects of consanguinity and friendship, and the
general reciprocation of wants and benefits, which make one man dear or
necessary to another, it may reasonably be supposed, that every man
languishing in prison gives trouble of some kind to two others who love
or need him. By this multiplication of misery we see distress extended
to the hundredth part of the whole society.
If we estimate at a shilling a day what is lost by the inaction, and
consumed in the support of each man thus chained down to involuntary
idleness, the publick loss will rise in one year to three hundred
thousand pounds; in ten years to more than a sixth part of our
I am afraid that those who are best acquainted with the state of our
prisons will confess that my conjecture is too near the truth, when I
suppose that the corrosion of resentment, the heaviness of sorrow, the
corruption of confined air, the want of exercise, and sometimes of food,
the contagion of diseases, from which there is no retreat, and the
severity of tyrants, against whom there can be no resistance, and all
the complicated horrours of a prison, put an end every year to the life
of one in four of those that are shut up from the common comforts of
Thus perish yearly five thousand men overborne with sorrow, consumed by
famine, or putrefied by filth; many of them in the most vigorous and
useful part of life; for the thoughtless and imprudent are commonly
young, and the active and busy are seldom old.
According to the rule generally received, which supposes that one in
thirty dies yearly, the race of man may be said to be renewed at the end
of thirty years. Who would have believed till now, that of every English
generation, a hundred and fifty thousand perish in our gaols? that in
every century, a nation eminent for science, studious of commerce,
ambitious of empire, should willingly lose, in noisome dungeons, five
hundred thousand of its inhabitants; a number greater than has ever been
destroyed in the same time by pestilence and the sword?
A very late occurrence may show us the value of the number which we thus
condemn to be useless; in the reestablishment of the trained bands,
thirty thousand are considered as a force sufficient against all
exigencies. While, therefore, we detain twenty thousand in prison, we
shut up in darkness and uselessness two-thirds of an army which
ourselves judge equal to the defence of our country.
The monastick institutions have been often blamed, as tending to retard
the increase of mankind. And, perhaps, retirement ought rarely to be
permitted, except to those whose employment is consistent with
abstraction, and who, though solitary, will not be idle; to those whom
infirmity makes useless to the commonwealth, or to those who have paid
their due proportion to society, and who, having lived for others, may
be honourably dismissed to live for themselves. But whatever be the evil
or the folly of these retreats, those have no right to censure them
whose prisons contain greater numbers than the monasteries of other
countries. It is, surely, less foolish and less criminal to permit
inaction than compel it; to comply with doubtful opinions of happiness,
than condemn to certain and apparent misery; to indulge the
extravagancies of erroneous piety, than to multiply and enforce
temptations to wickedness.
The misery of gaols is not half their evil: they are filled with every
corruption which poverty and wickedness can generate between them; with
all the shameless and profligate enormities that can be produced by the
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