The Works of Samuel Johnson in Nine Volumes
Part 6 out of 9
impudence of ignominy, the rage of want, and the malignity of despair.
In a prison the awe of the publick eye is lost, and the power of the law
is spent; there are few fears, there are no blushes. The lewd inflame
the lewd, the audacious harden the audacious. Every one fortifies
himself as he can against his own sensibility, endeavours to practise on
others the arts which are practised on himself; and gains the kindness
of his associates by similitude of manners.
Thus some sink amidst their misery, and others survive only to propagate
villany. It may be hoped, that our lawgivers will at length take away
from us this power of starving and depraving one another; but, if there
be any reason why this inveterate evil should not be removed in our age,
which true policy has enlightened beyond any former time, let those,
whose writings form the opinions and the practices of their
contemporaries, endeavour to transfer the reproach of such imprisonment
from the debtor to the creditor, till universal infamy shall pursue the
wretch whose wantonness of power, or revenge of disappointment, condemns
another to torture and to ruin; till he shall be hunted through the
world as an enemy to man, and find in riches no shelter from contempt.
Surely, he whose debtor has perished in prison, although he may acquit
himself of deliberate murder, must at least have his mind clouded with
discontent, when he considers how much another has suffered from him;
when he thinks on the wife bewailing her husband, or the children
begging the bread which their father would have earned. If there are any
made so obdurate by avarice or cruelty, as to revolve these consequences
without dread or pity, I must leave them to be awakened by some other
power, for I write only to human beings.
 This number was, at that time, confidently published; but the author
has since found reason to question the calculation.
 A series of Essays, entitled the Farrago, was published in 1792, for
the benefit of the society for the discharge and relief of persons
imprisoned for small debts. See Dr. Drake's Essays on the Rambler,
&c. vol. ii. p. 427. The Congress of the United States passed a law
in 1824, abolishing arrest and imprisonment for debt. The measure
has yet to stand the test of practice and experience. See Idler 22.
No. 39. SATURDAY, JANUARY 13, 1759.
_Nec genus ornatus unun est: quod quamque decebit,
Eligat_--OVID. Ars. Am. iii. 135.
TO THE IDLER.
As none look more diligently about them than those who have nothing to
do, or who do nothing, I suppose it has not escaped your observation,
that the bracelet, an ornament of great antiquity, has been for some
years revived among the English ladies.
The genius of our nation is said, I know not for what reason, to appear
rather in improvement than invention. The bracelet was known in the
earliest ages; but it was formerly only a hoop of gold, or a cluster of
jewels, and showed nothing but the wealth or vanity of the wearer, till
our ladies, by carrying pictures on their wrists, made their ornaments
works of fancy and exercises of judgment.
This addition of art to luxury is one of the innumerable proofs that
might be given of the late increase of female erudition; and I have
often congratulated myself that my life has happened at a time when
those, on whom so much of human felicity depends, have learned to think
as well as speak, and when respect takes possession of the ear, while
love is entering at the eye.
I have observed, that, even by the suffrages of their own sex, those
ladies are accounted wisest, who do not yet disdain to be taught; and,
therefore, I shall offer a few hints for the completion of the bracelet,
without any dread of the fate of Orpheus.
To the ladies, who wear the pictures of their husbands or children, or
any other relations, I can offer nothing more decent or more proper. It
is reasonable to believe that she intends at least to perform her duty,
who carries a perpetual excitement to recollection and caution, whose
own ornaments must upbraid her with every failure, and who, by an open
violation of her engagements, must for ever forfeit her bracelet.
Yet I know not whether it is the interest of the husband to solicit very
earnestly a place on the bracelet. If his image be not in the heart, it
is of small avail to hang it on the hand. A husband encircled with
diamonds and rubies may gain some esteem, but will never excite love. He
that thinks himself most secure of his wife, should be fearful of
persecuting her continually with his presence. The joy of life is
variety; the tenderest love requires to be rekindled by intervals of
absence; and Fidelity herself will be wearied with transferring her eye
only from the same man to the same picture.
In many countries the condition of every woman is known by her dress.
Marriage is rewarded with some honourable distinction, which celibacy is
forbidden to usurp. Some such information a bracelet might afford. The
ladies might enrol themselves in distinct classes, and carry in open
view the emblems of their order. The bracelet of the authoress may
exhibit the Muses in a grove of laurel; the housewife may show Penelope
with her web; the votaress of a single life may carry Ursula with her
troop of virgins; the gamester may have Fortune with her wheel; and
those women _that have no character at all_ may display a field of white
enamel, as imploring help to fill up the vacuity.
There is a set of ladies who have outlived most animal pleasures, and,
having nothing rational to put in their place, solace with cards the
loss of what time has taken away, and the want of what wisdom, having
never been courted, has never given. For these I know not how to provide
a proper decoration. They cannot be numbered among the gamesters; for
though they are always at play, they play for nothing, and never rise to
the dignity of hazard or the reputation of skill. They neither love nor
are loved, and cannot be supposed to contemplate any human image with
delight. Yet, though they despair to please, they always wish to be
fine, and, therefore, cannot be without a bracelet. To this sisterhood I
can recommend nothing more likely to please them than the king of clubs,
a personage very comely and majestick, who will never meet their eyes
without reviving the thought of some past or future party, and who may
be displayed, in the act of dealing, with grace and propriety.
But the bracelet which might be most easily introduced into general use
is a small convex mirror, in which the lady may see herself whenever she
shall lift her hand. This will be a perpetual source of delight. Other
ornaments are of use only in publick, but this will furnish
gratifications to solitude. This will show a face that must always
please; she who is followed by admirers will carry about her a perpetual
justification of the publick voice; and she who passes without notice
may appeal from prejudice to her own eyes.
But I know not why the privilege of the bracelet should be confined to
women; it was in former ages worn by heroes in battle; and, as modern
soldiers are always distinguished by splendour of dress, I should
rejoice to see the bracelet added to the cockade.
In hope of this ornamental innovation, I have spent some thoughts upon
military bracelets. There is no passion more heroick than love; and,
therefore, I should be glad to see the sons of England marching in the
field, every man with the picture of a woman of honour bound upon his
hand. But since in the army, as every where else, there will always be
men who love nobody but themselves, or whom no woman of honour will
permit to love her, there is a necessity of some other distinctions and
I have read of a prince who, having lost a town, ordered the name of it
to be every morning shouted in his ear till it should be recovered. For
the same purpose I think the prospect of Minorca might be properly worn
on the hands of some of our generals: others might delight their
countrymen, and dignify themselves, with a view of Rochfort as it
appeared to them at sea: and those that shall return from the conquest
of America, may exhibit the warehouse of Frontenac, with an inscription
denoting, that it was taken in less than three years by less than twenty
I am, Sir, &c.
No. 40. SATURDAY, JANUARY 20, 1759.
The practice of appending to the narratives of publick transactions more
minute and domestick intelligence, and filling the newspapers with
advertisements, has grown up by slow degrees to its present state.
Genius is shown only by invention. The man who first took advantage of
the general curiosity that was excited by a siege or battle, to betray
the readers of news into the knowledge of the shop where the best puffs
and powder were to be sold, was undoubtedly a man of great sagacity, and
profound skill in the nature of man. But when he had once shown the way,
it was easy to follow him; and every man now knows a ready method of
informing the publick of all that he desires to buy or sell; whether his
wares be material or intellectual; whether he makes clothes, or teaches
the mathematicks; whether he be a tutor that wants a pupil, or a pupil
that wants a tutor.
Whatever is common is despised. Advertisements are now so numerous that
they are very negligently perused, and it is, therefore, become
necessary to gain attention by magnificence of promises, and by
eloquence sometimes sublime and sometimes pathetick.
Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement. I remember a
_wash-ball_ that had a quality truly wonderful--it gave an _exquisite
edge to the razor_. And there are now to be sold, _for ready money
only_, some _duvets for bed-coverings, of down, beyond comparison
superior to what is called otter-down_, and indeed such, that its _many
excellencies cannot be here set forth_. With one excellence we are made
acquainted--_it is warmer than four or five blankets, and lighter than
There are some, however, that know the prejudice of mankind in favour of
modest sincerity. The vender of the _beautifying fluid_ sells a lotion
that repels pimples, washes away freckles, smooths the skin, and plumps
the flesh; and yet, with a generous abhorrence of ostentation,
confesses, that it will not _restore the bloom of fifteen to a lady of
The true pathos of advertisements must have sunk deep into the heart of
every man that remembers the zeal shown by the seller of the _anodyne
necklace_, for the ease and safety of _poor teething infants_, and the
affection with which he warned every mother, that _she would never
forgive herself_, if her infant should perish without a necklace.
I cannot but remark to the celebrated author who gave, in his
notifications of the camel and dromedary, so many specimens of the
genuine sublime, that there is now arrived another subject yet more
worthy of his pen. _A famous Mohawk Indian warrior, who took_ Dieskaw
_the French general prisoner, dressed in the same manner with the native
Indians when they go to war, with his face and body painted, with his
scalping-knife, tom-axe, and all other implements of war! a sight worthy
the curiosity of every true Briton!_ This is a very powerful
description; but a critick of great refinement would say, that it
conveys rather _horrour_ than _terrour_. An Indian, dressed as he goes
to war, may bring company together; but if he carries the scalping-knife
and tom-axe, there are many true Britons that will never be persuaded to
see him but through a grate.
It has been remarked by the severer judges, that the salutary sorrow of
tragick scenes is too soon effaced by the merriment of the epilogue; the
same inconvenience arises from the improper disposition of
advertisements. The noblest objects may be so associated as to be made
ridiculous. The camel and dromedary themselves might have lost much of
their dignity between _the true flower of mustard_ and the _original
Daffy's elixir_; and I could not but feel some indignation when I found
this illustrious Indian warrior immediately succeeded by _a fresh parcel
of Dublin butter_.
The trade of advertising is now so near to perfection, that it is not
easy to propose any improvement. But as every art ought to be exercised
in due subordination to the publick good, I cannot but propose it as a
moral question to these masters of the publick ear, Whether they do not
sometimes play too wantonly with our passions, as when the registrar of
lottery-tickets invites us to his shop by an account of the prize which
he sold last year; and whether the advertising controvertists do not
indulge asperity of language without any adequate provocation; as in the
dispute about _straps for razors_, now happily subsided, and in the
altercation which at present subsists concerning _eau de luce_?
In an advertisement it is allowed to every man to speak well of himself,
but I know not why he should assume the privilege of censuring his
neighbour. He may proclaim his own virtue or skill, but ought not to
exclude others from the same pretensions.
Every man that advertises his own excellence should write with some
consciousness of a character which dares to call the attention of the
publick. He should remember that his name is to stand in the same paper
with those of the king of Prussia and the emperour of Germany, and
endeavour to make himself worthy of such association.
Some regard is likewise to be paid to posterity. There are men of
diligence and curiosity who treasure up the papers of the day merely
because others neglect them, and in time they will be scarce. When these
collections shall be read in another century, how will numberless
contradictions be reconciled? and how shall fame be possibly distributed
among the tailors and bodice-makers of the present age?
Surely these things deserve consideration. It is enough for me to have
hinted my desire that these abuses may be rectified; but such is the
state of nature, that what all have the right of doing, many will
attempt without sufficient care or due qualifications.
 A history of newspapers, more diffuse than the chronological series
in Nichols' Literary Anecdotes, Vol. iv. is desirable. See Preface.
No. 41. SATURDAY, JANUARY 27, 1759.
The following letter relates to an affliction perhaps not necessary to
be imparted to the publick; but I could not persuade myself to suppress
it, because I think, I know the sentiments to be sincere, and I feel no
disposition to provide for this day any other entertainment.
At, tu quisquis eris, miseri qui cruda poetae
Credideris fletu funera digna tuo,
Haec postrema tibi sit flendi causa, fluatque
Lenis inoffenso vitaque morsque gradu. OVID.
Notwithstanding the warnings of philosophers, and the daily examples of
losses and misfortunes which life forces upon our observation, such is
the absorption of our thoughts in the business of the present day, such
the resignation of our reason to empty hopes of future felicity, or such
our unwillingness to foresee what we dread, that every calamity comes
suddenly upon us, and not only presses us as a burden, but crushes as a
There are evils which happen out of the common course of nature, against
which it is no reproach not to be provided. A flash of lightning
intercepts the traveller in his way. The concussion of an earthquake
heaps the ruins of cities upon their inhabitants. But other miseries
time brings, though silently yet visibly, forward by its even lapse,
which yet approach us unseen, because we turn our eyes away, and seize
us unresisted, because we could not arm ourselves against them but by
setting them before us.
That it is vain to shrink from what cannot be avoided, and to hide that
from ourselves which must some time be found, is a truth which we all
know, but which all neglect, and, perhaps, none more than the
speculative reasoner, whose thoughts are always from home, whose eye
wanders over life, whose fancy dances after meteors of happiness kindled
by itself, and who examines every thing rather than his own state.
Nothing is more evident than that the decays of age must terminate in
death; yet there is no man, says Tully, who does not believe that he may
yet live another year; and there is none who does not, upon the same
principle, hope another year for his parent or his friend: but the
fallacy will be in time detected; the last year, the last day, must
come. It has come, and is past. The life which made my own life pleasant
is at an end, and the gates of death are shut upon my prospects.
The loss of a friend upon whom the heart was fixed, to whom every wish
and endeavour tended, is a state of dreary desolation, in which the mind
looks abroad impatient of itself, and finds nothing but emptiness and
horrour. The blameless life, the artless tenderness, the pious
simplicity, the modest resignation, the patient sickness, and the quiet
death, are remembered only to add value to the loss, to aggravate regret
for what cannot be amended, to deepen sorrow for what cannot be
These are the calamities by which Providence gradually disengages us
from the love of life. Other evils fortitude may repel, or hope may
mitigate; but irreparable privation leaves nothing to exercise
resolution or flatter expectation. The dead cannot return, and nothing
is left us here but languishment and grief.
Yet such is the course of nature, that whoever lives long must outlive
those whom he loves and honours. Such is the condition of our present
existence, that life must one time lose its associations, and every
inhabitant of the earth must walk downward to the grave alone and
unregarded, without any partner of his joy or grief, without any
interested witness of his misfortunes or success.
Misfortune, indeed, he may yet feel; for where is the bottom of the
misery of man? But what is success to him that has none to enjoy it?
Happiness is not found in self-contemplation; it is perceived only when
it is reflected from another.
We know little of the state of departed souls, because such knowledge is
not necessary to a good life. Reason deserts us at the brink of the
grave, and can give no further intelligence. Revelation is not wholly
silent. "There is joy in the angels of Heaven over one sinner that
repenteth;" and, surely, this joy is not incommunicable to souls
disentangled from the body, and made like angels.
Let hope therefore dictate, what revelation does not confute, that the
union of souls may still remain; and that we who are struggling with
sin, sorrow, and infirmities, may have our part in the attention and
kindness of those who have finished their course, and are now receiving
These are the great occasions which force the mind to take refuge in
religion: when we have no help in ourselves, what can remain but that we
look up to a higher and a greater Power? and to what hope may we not
raise our eyes and hearts, when we consider that the greatest POWER is
Surely there is no man who, thus afflicted, does not seek succour in the
_gospel_, which has brought _life and immortality to light_. The
precepts of Epicurus, who teaches us to endure what the laws of the
universe make necessary, may silence, but not content us. The dictates
of Zeno, who commands us to look with indifference on external things,
may dispose us to conceal our sorrow, but cannot assuage it. Real
alleviation of the loss of friends, and rational tranquillity, in the
prospect of our own dissolution, can be received only from the promises
of Him in whose hands are life and death, and from the assurance of
another and better state, in which all tears will be wiped from the
eyes, and the whole soul shall be filled with joy. Philosophy may infuse
stubbornness, but Religion only can give patience.
I am, &c.
 See Preface.
No. 42. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1759.
The subject of the following letter is not wholly unmentioned by the
Rambler. The Spectator has also a letter containing a case not much
different. I hope my correspondent's performance is more an effort of
genius, than an effusion of the passions; and that she hath rather
attempted to paint some possible distress, than really feels the evils
which she has described.
TO THE IDLER.
There is a cause of misery, which, though certainly known both to you
and your predecessors, has been little taken notice of in your papers; I
mean the snares that the bad behaviour of parents extends over the paths
of life which their children are to tread after them; and as I make no
doubt but the Idler holds the shield for virtue, as well as the glass
for folly; that he will employ his leisure hours as much to his own
satisfaction in warning his readers against a danger, as in laughing
them out of a fashion: for this reason I am tempted to ask admittance
for my story in your paper, though it has nothing to recommend it but
truth, and the honest wish of warning others to shun the track which, I
am afraid, may lead me at last to ruin.
I am the child of a father, who, having always lived in one spot in the
country where he was born, and having had no genteel education himself,
thought no qualifications in the world desirable but as they led up to
fortune, and no learning necessary to happiness but such as might most
effectually teach me to make the best market of myself. I was
unfortunately born a beauty, to a full sense of which my father took
care to flatter me; and having, when very young, put me to a school in
the country, afterwards transplanted me to another in town, at the
instigation of his friends, where his ill-judged fondness let me remain
no longer than to learn just enough experience to convince me of the
sordidness of his views, to give me an idea of perfections which my
present situation will never suffer me to reach, and to teach me
sufficient morals to dare to despise what is bad, though it be in a
Thus equipped (as he thought completely) for life, I was carried back
into the country, and lived with him and my mother in a small village,
within a few miles of the county town; where I mixed, at first with
reluctance, among company which, though I never despised, I could not
approve, as they were brought up with other inclinations, and narrower
views than my own. My father took great pains to show me every where,
both at his own house, and at such publick diversions as the country
afforded: he frequently told the people all he had was for his daughter;
took care to repeat the civilities I had received from all his friends
in London; told how much I was admired, and all his little ambition
could suggest to set me in a stronger light.
Thus have I continued tricked out for sale, as I may call it, and
doomed, by parental authority, to a state little better than that of
prostitution. I look on myself as growing cheaper every hour, and am
losing all that honest pride, that modest confidence, in which the
virgin dignity consists. Nor does my misfortune stop here: though many
would be too generous to impute the follies of a father to a child whose
heart has set her above them; yet I am afraid the most charitable of
them will hardly think it possible for me to be a daily spectatress of
his vices without tacitly allowing them, and at last consenting to them,
as the eye of the frightened infant is, by degrees, reconciled to the
darkness of which at first it was afraid.
It is a common opinion, he himself must very well know, that vices, like
diseases, are often hereditary; and that the property of the one is to
infect the manners, as the other poisons the springs of life.
Yet this, though bad, is not the worst; my father deceives himself in
the hopes of the very child he has brought into the world; he suffers
his house to be the seat of drunkenness, riot, and irreligion, who
seduces, almost in my sight, the menial servant, converses with the
prostitute, and corrupts the wife! Thus I, who from my earliest dawn of
reason was taught to think that at my approach every eye sparkled with
pleasure, or was dejected as conscious of superior charms, am excluded
from society, through fear lest I should partake, if not of my father's
crimes, at least of his reproach. Is a parent, who is so little
solicitous for the welfare of a child, better than a pirate who turns a
wretch adrift in a boat at sea, without a star to steer by, or an anchor
to hold it fast? Am I not to lay all my miseries at those doors which
ought to have been opened only for my protection? And if doomed to add
at last one more to the number of those wretches whom neither the world
nor its law befriends, may I not justly say that I have been awed by a
parent into ruin? But though a parent's power is screened from insult
and violation by the very words of Heaven, yet surely no laws, divine or
human, forbid me to remove myself from the malignant shade of a plant
that poisons all around it, blasts the bloom of youth, checks its
improvements, and makes all its flowrets fade; but to whom can the
wretched, can the dependant fly? For me to fly a father's house, is to
be a beggar: I have only one comfort amidst my anxieties, a pious
relation, who bids me appeal to Heaven for a witness to my just
intentions, fly as a deserted wretch to its protection; and, being asked
who my father is, point, like the ancient philosopher, with my finger to
The hope in which I write this is, that you will give it a place in your
paper; and, as your essays sometimes find their way into the country,
that my father may read my story there; and, if not for his own sake,
yet for mine, spare to perpetuate that worst of calamities to me, the
loss of character, from which all his dissimulation has not been able to
rescue himself. Tell the world, Sir, that it is possible for virtue to
keep its throne unshaken without any other guard than itself; that it is
possible to maintain that purity of thought so necessary to the
completion of human excellence, even in the midst of temptations; when
they have no friend within, nor are assisted by the voluntary indulgence
of vicious thoughts.
If the insertion of a story like this does not break in on the plan of
your paper, you have it in your power to be a better friend than her
From an unknown correspondent.
No. 43. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 1759.
The natural advantages which arise from the position of the earth which
we inhabit with respect to the other planets, afford much employment to
mathematical speculation; by which it has been discovered, that no other
conformation of the system could have given such commodious
distributions of light and heat, or imparted fertility and pleasure to
so great a part of a revolving sphere.
It may be, perhaps, observed by the moralist, with equal reason, that
our globe seems particularly fitted for the residence of a being, placed
here only for a short time, whose task is to advance himself to a higher
and happier state of existence, by unremitted vigilance of caution, and
activity of virtue.
The duties required of man are such as human nature does not willingly
perform, and such as those are inclined to delay who yet intend some
time to fulfil them. It was, therefore, necessary that this universal
reluctance should be counteracted, and the drowsiness of hesitation
wakened into resolve; that the danger of procrastination should he
always in view, and the fallacies of security be hourly detected.
To this end all the appearances of nature uniformly conspire. Whatever
we see on every side reminds us of the lapse of time and the flux of
life. The day and night succeed each other, the rotation of seasons
diversifies the year, the sun rises, attains the meridian, declines, and
sets; and the moon every night changes its form.
The day has been considered as an image of the year, and the year as the
representation of life. The morning answers to the spring, and the
spring to childhood and youth; the noon corresponds to the summer, and
the summer to the strength of manhood. The evening is an emblem of
autumn, and autumn of declining life. The night with its silence and
darkness shows the winter, in which all the powers of vegetation are
benumbed; and the winter points out the time when life shall cease, with
its hopes and pleasures.
He that is carried forward, however swiftly, by a motion equable and
easy, perceives not the change of place but by the variation of objects.
If the wheel of life, which rolls thus silently along, passed on through
undistinguishable uniformity, we should never mark its approaches to the
end of the course. If one hour were like another; if the passage of the
sun did not show that the day is wasting; if the change of seasons did
not impress upon us the flight of the year; quantities of duration equal
to days and years would glide unobserved. If the parts of time were not
variously coloured, we should never discern their departure or
succession, but should live thoughtless of the past, and careless of the
future, without will, and perhaps without power, to compute the periods
of life, or to compare the time which is already lost with that which
may probably remain.
But the course of time is so visibly marked, that it is observed even by
the birds of passage, and by nations who have raised their minds very
little above animal instinct: there are human beings whose language does
not supply them with words by which they can number five, but I have
read of none, that have not names for day and night, for summer and
Yet it is certain, that these admonitions of nature, however forcible,
however importunate, are too often vain; and that many who mark with
such accuracy the course of time, appear to have little sensibility of
the decline of life. Every man has something to do which he neglects;
every man has faults to conquer which he delays to combat.
So little do we accustom ourselves to consider the effects of time, that
things necessary and certain often surprise us like unexpected
contingencies. We leave the beauty in her bloom, and, after an absence
of twenty years, wonder, at our return, to find her faded. We meet those
whom we left children, and can scarcely persuade ourselves to treat them
as men. The traveller visits in age those countries through which he
rambled in his youth, and hopes for merriment at the old place. The man
of business, wearied with unsatisfactory prosperity, retires to the town
of his nativity, and expects to play away the last years with the
companions of his childhood, and recover youth in the fields, where he
once was young.
From this inattention, so general and so mischievous, let it be every
man's study to exempt himself. Let him that desires to see others happy
make haste to give, while his gift can be enjoyed, and remember that
every moment of delay takes away something from the value of his
benefaction. And let him, who purposes his own happiness, reflect, that
while he forms his purpose the day rolls on, and _the night cometh when
no man can work_.
No. 44. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 1759.
Memory is, among the faculties of the human mind, that of which we make
the most frequent use, or rather that of which the agency is incessant,
or perpetual. Memory is the primary and fundamental power, without which
there could be no other intellectual operation. Judgment and
ratiocination suppose something already known, and draw their decisions
only from experience. Imagination selects ideas from the treasures of
remembrance, and produces novelty only by varied combinations. We do not
even form conjectures of distant, or anticipations of future events, but
by concluding what is possible from what is past.
The two offices of memory are collection and distribution; by one images
are accumulated, and by the other produced for use. Collection is always
the employment of our first years; and distribution commonly that of our
To collect and reposite the various forms of things, is far the most
pleasing part of mental occupation. We are naturally delighted with
novelty, and there is a time when all that we see is new. When first we
enter into the world, whithersoever we turn our eyes, they meet
knowledge with pleasure at her side; every diversity of nature pours
ideas in upon the soul; neither search nor labour are necessary; we have
nothing more to do than to open our eyes, and curiosity is gratified.
Much of the pleasure which the first survey of the world affords, is
exhausted before we are conscious of our own felicity, or able to
compare our condition with some other possible state. We have,
therefore, few traces of the joy of our earliest discoveries; yet we all
remember a time, when nature had so many untasted gratifications, that
every excursion gave delight which, can now be found no longer, when the
noise of a torrent, the rustle of a wood, the song of birds, or the play
of lambs, had power to fill the attention, and suspend all perception of
the course of time.
But these easy pleasures are soon at an end; we have seen in a very
little time so much, that we call out for new objects of observation,
and endeavour to find variety in books and life. But study is laborious,
and not always satisfactory; and conversation has its pains as well
pleasures; we are willing to learn, but not willing to be taught; we are
pained by ignorance, but pained yet more by another's knowledge.
From the vexation of pupilage men commonly set themselves free about the
middle of life, by shutting up the avenues of intelligence, and
resolving to rest in their present state; and they, whose ardour of
inquiry continues longer, find themselves insensibly forsaken by their
instructors. As every man advances in life, the proportion between those
that are younger and that are older than himself is continually
changing; and he that has lived half a century finds few that do not
require from him that information which he once expected from those that
went before him.
Then it is, that the magazines of memory are opened, and the stores of
accumulated knowledge are displayed by vanity or benevolence, or in
honest commerce of mutual interest. Every man wants others, and is,
therefore, glad when he is wanted by them. And as few men will endure
the labour of intense meditation without necessity, he that has learned
enough for his profit or his honour, seldom endeavours after further
The pleasure of recollecting speculative notions would not be much less
than that of gaining them, if they could be kept pure and unmingled with
the passages of life; but such is the necessary concatenation of our
thoughts, that good and evil are linked together, and no pleasure recurs
but associated with pain. Every revived idea reminds us of a time when
something was enjoyed that is now lost, when some hope was not yet
blasted, when some purpose had yet not languished into sluggishness or
Whether it be, that life has more vexations than comforts, or, what is
in the event just the same, that evil makes deeper impression than good,
it is certain that few can review the time past without heaviness of
heart. He remembers many calamities incurred by folly, many
opportunities lost by negligence. The shades of the dead rise up before
him; and he laments the companions of his youth, the partners of his
amusements, the assistants of his labours, whom the hand of death has
When an offer was made to Themistocles of teaching him the art of
memory, he answered, that he would rather wish for the art of
forgetfulness. He felt his imagination haunted by phantoms of misery
which he was unable to suppress, and would gladly have calmed his
thoughts with some _oblivious antidote_. In this we all resemble one
another; the hero and the sage are, like vulgar mortals, overburdened by
the weight of life; all shrink from recollection, and all wish for an
art of forgetfulness.
 Read the sublime story of Sadak in search of the waters of oblivion
the Tales of the Genii. Those who have seen Martin's picture on the
subject, have failed almost to recognise the respective limits of
poetry and of painting.
No. 45. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 1759.
There is in many minds a kind of vanity exerted to the disadvantage of
themselves; a desire to be praised for superior acuteness discovered
only in the degradation of their species, or censure of their country.
Defamation is sufficiently copious. The general lampooner of mankind may
find long exercise for his zeal or wit, in the defects of nature, the
vexations of life, the follies of opinion, and the corruptions of
practice. But fiction is easier than discernment; and most of these
writers spare themselves the labour of inquiry, and exhaust their
virulence upon imaginary crimes, which, as they never existed, can never
That the painters find no encouragement among the English for many other
works than portraits, has been imputed to national selfishness. 'Tis
vain, says the satirist, to set before, any Englishman the scenes of
landscape, or the heroes of history; nature and antiquity are nothing in
his eye; he has no value but for himself, nor desires any copy but of
his own form.
Whoever is delighted with his own picture must derive his pleasure from
the pleasure of another. Every man is always present to himself, and
has, therefore, little need of his own resemblance, nor can desire it,
but for the sake of those whom he loves, and by whom he hopes to be
remembered. This use of the art is a natural and reasonable consequence
of affection; and though, like other human actions, it is often
complicated with pride, yet even such pride is more laudable than that
by which palaces are covered with pictures, that, however excellent,
neither imply the owner's virtue, nor excite it.
Genius is chiefly exerted in historical pictures; and the art of the
painter of portraits is often lost in the obscurity of his subject. But
it is in painting as in life; what is greatest is not always best. I
should grieve to see Reynolds transfer to heroes and to goddesses, to
empty splendour and to airy fiction, that art which is now employed in
diffusing friendship, in reviving tenderness, in quickening the
affections of the absent, and continuing the presence of the dead.
Yet in a nation great and opulent there is room, and ought to be
patronage, for an art like that of painting through all its diversities;
and it is to be wished, that the reward now offered for an historical
picture may excite an honest emulation, and give beginning to an English
It is not very easy to find an action or event that can be efficaciously
represented by a painter.
He must have an action not successive but instantaneous; for the time of
a picture is a single moment. For this reason, the death of Hercules
cannot well be painted, though, at the first view, it flatters the
imagination with very glittering ideas: the gloomy mountain, overhanging
the sea, and covered with trees, some bending to the wind, and some torn
from their roots by the raging hero; the violence with which he rends
from his shoulders the envenomed garment; the propriety with which his
muscular nakedness may be displayed; the death of Lycas whirled from the
promontory; the gigantick presence of Philoctetes; the blaze of the
fatal pile, which the deities behold with grief and terrour from the
All these images fill the mind, but will not compose a picture, because
they cannot be united in a single moment. Hercules must have rent his
flesh at one time, and tossed Lycas into the air at another; he must
first tear up the trees, and then lie down upon the pile.
The action must be circumstantial and distinct. There is a passage in
the Iliad which cannot be read without strong emotions. A Trojan prince,
seized by Achilles in the battle, falls at his feet, and in moving terms
supplicates for life. "How can a wretch like thee," says the haughty
Greek, "intreat to live, when thou knowest that the time must come when
Achilles is to die?" This cannot be painted, because no peculiarity of
attitude or disposition can so supply the place of language as to
impress the sentiment.
The event painted must be such as excites passion, and different
passions in the several actors, or a tumult of contending passions in
Perhaps the discovery of Ulysses by his nurse is of this kind. The
surprise of the nurse mingled with joy; that of Ulysses checked by
prudence, and clouded by solicitude; and the distinctness of the action
by which the scar is found; all concur to complete the subject. But the
picture, having only two figures, will want variety.
A much nobler assemblage may be furnished by the death of Epaminondas.
The mixture of gladness and grief in the face of the messenger who
brings his dying general an account of the victory; the various passions
of the attendants; the sublimity of composure in the hero, while the
dart is by his own command drawn from his side, and the faint gleam of
satisfaction that diffuses itself over the languor of death; are worthy
of that pencil which yet I do not wish to see employed upon them.
If the design were not too multifarious and extensive, I should wish
that our painters would attempt the dissolution of the parliament by
Cromwell. The point of time may be chosen when Cromwell, looking
round the Pandaemonium with contempt, ordered the bauble to be taken
away; and Harrison laid hands on the Speaker to drag him from the chair.
The various appearances which rage, and terrour, and astonishment, and
guilt, might exhibit in the faces of that hateful assembly, of whom the
principal persons may be faithfully drawn from portraits or prints; the
irresolute repugnance of some, the hypocritical submissions of others,
the ferocious insolence of Cromwell, the rugged brutality of Harrison,
and the general trepidation of fear and wickedness, would, if some
proper disposition could be contrived, make a picture of unexampled
variety, and irresistible instruction.
 Some judicious remarks on portrait painting may be found in
Chalmers' Preface to Idler, Brit. Ess. 33.
The difference between the French and English schools, in this
department of the Art, well proves that mind has scope for its
powers in portrait, and that genius alone can so generalize the
details "as to identify the individual man with the dignity of his
 Has that picture, which is considered the finest in the world, the
transfiguration, this requisite? Could any human eye, at one and the
same moment, have beheld the apostles baffled with the stubborn
spirit which they had not faith to quell, and the glories on the
 This subject has now been most successfully handled by West. Hall's
exquisite engraving has rendered the picture familiar.
No. 40. SATURDAY, MARCH 3, 1759.
_Fugit ad salices, sed, se cupit ante videri_. VIRGIL.
I am encouraged, by the notice you have taken of Betty Broom, to
represent the miseries which I suffer from a species of tyranny, which,
I believe, is not very uncommon, though perhaps it may have escaped the
observation of those who converse little with fine ladies, or see them
only in their publick characters.
To this method of venting my vexation I am the more inclined, because if
I do not complain to you, I must burst in silence; for my mistress has
teased me and teased me till I can hold no longer, and yet I must not
tell her of her tricks. The girls that live in common services can
quarrel, and give warning, and find other places; but we that live with
great ladies, if we once offend them, have, nothing left but to return
into the country.
I am waiting-maid to a lady who keeps the best company, and is seen at
every place of fashionable resort. I am envied by all the maids in the
square, for few countesses leave off so many clothes as my mistress, and
nobody shares with me: so that I supply two families in the country with
finery for the assizes and horse-races, besides what I wear myself. The
steward and housekeeper have joined against me to procure my removal,
that they may advance a relation of their own; but their designs are
found out by my lady, who says I need not fear them, for she will never
have dowdies about her.
You would think, Mr. Idler, like others, that I am very happy, and may
well be contented with my lot. But I will tell you. My lady has an odd
humour. She never orders any thing in direct words, for she loves a
sharp girl that can take a hint.
I would not have you suspect that she has any thing to hint which she is
ashamed to speak at length; for none can have greater purity of
sentiment, or rectitude of intention. She has nothing to hide, yet
nothing will she tell. She always gives her directions obliquely and
allusively, by the mention of something relative or consequential,
without any other purpose than to exercise my acuteness and her own.
It is impossible to give a notion of this style otherwise than by
examples. One night, when she had sat writing letters till it was time
to be dressed, _Molly_, said she, _the Ladies are all to be at Court
to-night in white aprons_. When she means that I should send to order the
chair, she says, _I think the streets are clean, I may venture to walk_.
When she would have something put into its place, she bids me _lay it on
the floor_. If she would have me snuff the candles, she asks _whether I
think her eyes are like a cat's_? If she thinks her chocolate delayed,
she talks of _the benefit of abstinence_. If any needle-work is
forgotten, she supposes _that I have heard of the lady who died by
pricking her finger_.
She always imagines that I can recall every thing past from a single
word. If she wants her head from the milliner, she only says, _Molly,
you know Mrs. Tape_. If she would have the mantua-maker sent for, she
remarks _that Mr. Taffety, the mercer, was here last week_. She ordered,
a fortnight ago, that the first time she was abroad all day I should
choose her a new set of coffee-cups at the china-shop: of this she
reminded me yesterday, as she was going down stairs, by saying, _You
can't find your way now to Pall-mall_.
All this would never vex me, if, by increasing my trouble, she spared
her own; but, dear Mr. Idler, is it not as easy to say _coffee-cups_, as
_Pall-mall_? and to tell me in plain words what I am to do, and when it
is to be done, as to torment her own head with the labour of finding
hints, and mine with that of understanding them?
When first I came to this lady, I had nothing like the learning that I
have now; for she has many books, and I have much time to read; so that
of late I seldom have missed her meaning: but when she first took me I
was an ignorant girl; and she, who, as is very common, confounded want
of knowledge with want of understanding, began once to despair of
bringing me to any thing, because, when I came into her chamber at the
call of her bell, she asked me, _Whether we lived in Zembla_; and I did
not guess the meaning of her inquiry, but modestly answered, that _I
could not tell_. She had happened to ring once when I did not hear her,
and meant to put me in mind of that country where sounds are said to be
congealed by the frost.
Another time, as I was dressing her head, she began to talk on a sudden
of _Medusa_, and _snakes_, and _men turned into stone, and maids that,
if they were not watched, would let their mistresses be Gorgons_. I
looked round me half frightened, and quite bewildered; till at last,
finding that her literature was thrown away upon me, she bid me with
great vehemence, reach the curling-irons.
It is not without some indignation, Mr. Idler, that I discover, in these
artifices of vexation, something worse than foppery or caprice; a mean
delight in superiority, which knows itself in no danger of reproof or
opposition; a cruel pleasure in seeing the perplexity of a mind obliged
to find what is studiously concealed, and a mean indulgence of petty
malevolence, in the sharp censure of involuntary, and very often of
inevitable, failings. When, beyond her expectation, I hit upon her
meaning, I can perceive a sudden cloud of disappointment spread over her
face; and have sometimes been afraid, lest I should lose her favour by
understanding her when she means to puzzle me.
This day, however, she has conquered my sagacity. When she went out of
her dressing-room, she said nothing, but, _Molly, you know_, and
hastened to her chariot. What I am to know is yet a secret; but if I do
not know before she comes back, what I yet have no means of discovering,
she will make my dullness a pretence for a fortnight's ill humour, treat
me as a creature devoid of the faculties necessary to the common duties
of life, and perhaps give the next gown to the housekeeper.
I am, Sir,
Your humble servant,
No. 47. SATURDAY, MARCH 10, 1759.
TO THE IDLER.
I am the unfortunate wife of a city wit, and cannot but think that my
case may deserve equal compassion with any of those which have been
represented in your paper.
I married my husband within three months after the expiration of his
apprenticeship; we put our money together, and furnished a large and
splendid shop, in which he was for five years and a half diligent and
civil. The notice which curiosity or kindness commonly bestows on
beginners, was continued by confidence and esteem; one customer, pleased
with his treatment and his bargain, recommended another; and we were
busy behind the counter from morning to night.
Thus every day increased our wealth and our reputation. My husband was
often invited to dinner openly on the Exchange by hundred thousand
pounds men; and whenever I went to any of the halls, the wives of the
aldermen made me low courtesies. We always took up our notes before the
day, and made all considerable payments by draughts upon our banker.
You will easily believe that I was well enough pleased with my
condition; for what happiness can be greater than that of growing every
day richer and richer? I will not deny, that, imagining myself likely to
be in a short time the sheriff's lady, I broke off my acquaintance with
some of my neighbours; and advised my husband to keep good company, and
not to be seen with men that were worth nothing.
In time he found that ale disagreed with his constitution, and went
every night to drink his pint at a tavern, where he met with a set of
criticks, who disputed upon the merit of the different theatrical
performers. By these idle fellows he was taken to the play, which at
first he did not seem much to heed; for he owned, that he very seldom
knew what they were doing, and that, while his companions would let him
alone, he was commonly thinking on his last bargain.
Having once gone, however, he went again and again, though I often told
him that three shillings were thrown away: at last he grew uneasy if he
missed a night, and importuned me to go with him. I went to a tragedy,
which they called Macbeth; and, when I came home, told him, that I could
not bear to see men and women make themselves such fools, by pretending
to be witches and ghosts, generals and kings, and to walk in their sleep
when they were as much awake, as those that looked at them. He told me
that I must get higher notions, and that a play was the most rational of
all entertainments, and most proper to relax the mind after the business
of the day.
By degrees he gained knowledge of some of the players: and, when the
play was over, very frequently treated them with suppers; for which he
was admitted to stand behind the scenes.
He soon began to lose some of his morning hours in the same folly, and
was for one winter very diligent in his attendance on the rehearsals;
but of this species of idleness he grew weary, and said, that the play
was nothing without the company.
His ardour for the diversion of the evening increased; he bought a
sword, and paid five shillings a night to sit in the boxes; he went
sometimes into a place which he calls the green-room, where all the wits
of the age assemble and, when he had been there, could do nothing, for
two or three days, but repeat their jests, or tell their disputes.
He has now lost his regard for every thing but the playhouse; he
invites, three times a week, one or other to drink claret, and talk of
the drama. His first care in the morning is to read the play-bills; and,
if he remembers any lines of the tragedy which is to be represented,
walks about the shop, repeating them so loud, and with such strange
gestures, that the passengers gather round the door.
His greatest pleasure, when I married him, was to hear the situation of
his shop commended, and to be told how many estates have been got in it
by the same trade; but of late he grows peevish at any mention of
business, and delights in nothing so much as to be told that he speaks
Among his new associates he has learned another language, and speaks in
such a strain that his neighbours cannot understand him. If a customer
talks longer than he is willing to hear, he will complain that he has
been excruciated with unmeaning verbosity; he laughs at the letters of
his friends for their tameness of expression, and often declares himself
weary of attending to the minutiae of a shop.
It is well for me that I know how to keep a book, for of late he is
scarcely ever in the way. Since one of his friends told him that he had
a genius for tragick poetry, he has locked himself in an upper room six
or seven hours a day; and, when I carry him any paper to be read or
signed, I hear him talking vehemently to himself, sometimes of love and
beauty, sometimes of friendship and virtue, but more frequently of
liberty and his country.
I would gladly, Mr. Idler, be informed what to think of a shopkeeper,
who is incessantly talking about liberty; a word, which, since his
acquaintance with polite life, my husband has always in his mouth: he
is, on all occasions, afraid of our liberty, and declares his resolution
to hazard all for liberty. What can the man mean? I am sure he has
liberty enough; it were better for him and me if his liberty was
He has a friend, whom he calls a critick, that comes twice a week to
read what he is writing. This critick tells him that his piece is a
little irregular, but that some detached scenes will shine prodigiously,
and that in the character of Bombulus he is wonderfully great. My
scribbler then squeezes his hand, calls him the best of friends, thanks
him for his sincerity, and tells him that he hates to be flattered. I
have reason to believe that he seldom parts with his dear friend without
lending him two guineas, and am afraid that he gave bail for him three
By this course of life our credit as traders is lessened; and I cannot
forbear to suspect, that my husband's honour as a wit is not much
advanced, for he seems to be always the lowest of the company, and is
afraid to tell his opinion till the rest have spoken. When he was behind
his counter, he used to be brisk, active, and jocular, like a man that
knew what he was doing, and did not fear to look another in the face;
but among wits and criticks he is timorous and awkward, and hangs down
his head at his own table. Dear Mr. Idler, persuade him, if you can, to
return once more to his native element. Tell him, that wit will never
make him rich, but that there are places where riches will always make a
I am, Sir, &c.
No. 48. SATURDAY, MARCH 17, 1759.
There is no kind of idleness, by which we are so easily seduced, as that
which dignifies itself by the appearance of business; and, by making the
loiterer imagine that he has something to do which must not be
neglected, keeps him in perpetual agitation, and hurries him rapidly
from place to place.
He that sits still, or reposes himself upon a couch, no more deceives
himself than he deceives others; he knows that he is doing nothing, and
has no other solace of his insignificance than the resolution, which the
lazy hourly make, of changing his mode of life.
To do nothing every man is ashamed; and to do much almost every man is
unwilling or afraid. Innumerable expedients have, therefore, been
invented to produce motion without labour, and employment without
solicitude. The greater part of those, whom the kindness of fortune has
left to their own direction, and whom want does not keep chained to the
counter or the plough, play throughout life with the shadows of
business, and know not at last what they have been doing.
These imitators of action are of all denominations. Some are seen at
every auction without intention to purchase; others appear punctually at
the Exchange, though they are known there only by their faces: some are
always making parties to visit collections for which they have no taste;
and some neglect every pleasure and every duty to hear questions, in
which they have no interest, debated in parliament.
These men never appear more ridiculous than in the distress which they
imagine themselves to feel from some accidental interruption of those
empty pursuits. A tiger newly imprisoned is indeed more formidable, but
not more angry, than Jack Tulip, withheld from a florist's feast, or Tom
Distich, hindered from seeing the first representation of a play.
As political affairs are the highest and most extensive of temporal
concerns, the mimick of a politician is more busy and important than any
other trifler. Monsieur le Noir, a man who, without property or
importance in any corner of the earth, has, in the present confusion of
the world, declared himself a steady adherent to the French, is made
miserable by a wind that keeps back the packet-boat, and still more
miserable by every account of a Malouin privateer caught in his cruise;
he knows well that nothing can be done or said by him which can produce
any effect but that of laughter, that he can neither hasten nor retard
good or evil, that his joys and sorrows have scarcely any partakers; yet
such is his zeal, and such his curiosity, that he would run barefooted
to Gravesend, for the sake of knowing first that the English had lost a
tender, and would ride out to meet every mail from the continent, if he
might be permitted to open it.
Learning is generally confessed to be desirable, and there are some who
fancy themselves always busy in acquiring it. Of these ambulatory
students, one of the most busy is my friend Tom Restless.
Tom has long had a mind to be a man of knowledge, but he does not care
to spend much time among authors; for he is of opinion that few books
deserve the labour of perusal, that they give the mind an unfashionable
cast, and destroy that freedom of thought, and easiness of manners,
indispensably requisite to acceptance in the world. Tom has, therefore,
found another way to wisdom. When he rises he goes into a coffee-house,
where he creeps so near to men whom he takes to be reasoners, as to hear
their discourse, and endeavours to remember something which, when it has
been strained through Tom's head, is so near to nothing, that what it
once was cannot be discovered. This he carries round from friend to
friend through a circle of visits, till, hearing what each says upon the
question, he becomes able at dinner to say a little himself; and, as
every great genius relaxes himself among his inferiors, meets with some
who wonder how so young a man can talk so wisely.
At night he has a new feast prepared for his intellects; he always runs
to a disputing society, or a speaking club, where he half hears what, if
he had heard the whole, be would but half understand; goes home pleased
with the consciousness of a day well spent, lies down full of ideas, and
rises in the morning empty as before.
No. 49. SATURDAY, MARCH 24, 1759.
I supped three nights ago with my friend Will Marvel. His affairs
obliged him lately to take a journey into Devonshire, from which he has
just returned. He knows me to be a very patient hearer, and was glad of
my company, as it gave him an opportunity of disburdening himself, by a
minute relation of the casualties of his expedition.
Will is not one of those who go out and return with nothing to tell. He
has a story of his travels, which will strike a home-bred citizen with
horrour, and has in ten days suffered so often the extremes of terrour
and joy, that he is in doubt whether he shall ever again expose either
his body or mind to such danger and fatigue.
When he left London the morning was bright, and a fair day was promised.
But Will is born to struggle with difficulties. That happened to him,
which has sometimes, perhaps, happened to others. Before he had gone
more than ten miles, it began to rain. What course was to be taken? His
soul disdained to turn back. He did what the King of Prussia might have
done; he flapped his hat, buttoned up his cape, and went forwards,
fortifying his mind by the stoical consolation, that whatever is violent
will be short.
His constancy was not long tried; at the distance of about half a mile
he saw an inn, which he entered wet and weary, and found civil treatment
and proper refreshment. After a respite of about two hours, he looked
abroad, and seeing the sky clear, called for his horse, and passed the
first stage without any other memorable accident.
Will considered, that labour must be relieved by pleasure, and that the
strength which great undertakings require must be maintained by copious
nutriment; he, therefore, ordered himself an elegant supper, drank two
bottles of claret, and passed the beginning of the night in sound sleep;
but, waking before light, was forewarned of the troubles of the next
day, by a shower beating against his windows with such violence, as to
threaten the dissolution of nature. When he arose, he found what he
expected, that the country was under water. He joined himself, however,
to a company that was travelling the same way, and came safely to the
place of dinner, though every step of his horse dashed the mud into the
In the afternoon, having parted from his company, he set forward alone,
and passed many collections of water, of which it was impossible to
guess the depth, and which he now cannot review without some censure of
his own rashness; but what a man undertakes he must perform, and Marvel
hates a coward at his heart.
Few that lie warm in their beds think what others undergo, who have,
perhaps, been as tenderly educated, and have as acute sensations as
themselves. My friend was now to lodge the second night almost fifty
miles from home, in a house which he never had seen before, among people
to whom he was totally a stranger, not knowing whether the next man he
should meet would prove good or bad; but seeing an inn of a good
appearance, he rode resolutely into the yard; and knowing that respect
is often paid in proportion as it is claimed, delivered his injunctions
to the ostler with spirit, and entering the house, called vigorously
On the third day up rose the sun and Mr. Marvel. His troubles and his
dangers were now such as he wishes no other man ever to encounter. The
ways were less frequented, and the country more thinly inhabited. He
rode many a lonely hour through mire and water, and met not a single
soul for two miles together, with whom he could exchange a word. He
cannot deny that, looking round upon the dreary region, and seeing
nothing but bleak fields and naked trees, hills obscured by fogs, and
flats covered with inundations, he did, for some time, suffer melancholy
to prevail upon him, and wished himself again safe at home. One comfort
he had, which was, to consider that none of his friends were in the same
distress, for whom, if they had been with him, he should have suffered
more than for himself; he could not forbear sometimes to consider how
happily the Idler is settled in an easier condition, who, surrounded
like him with terrours, could have done nothing but lie down and die.
Amidst these reflections he came to a town, and found a dinner which
disposed him to more cheerful sentiments: but the joys of life are
short, and its miseries are long; he mounted and travelled fifteen miles
more through dirt and desolation.
At last the sun set, and all the horrours of darkness came upon him. He
then repented the weak indulgence in which he had gratified himself at
noon with too long an interval of rest: yet he went forward along a path
which he could no longer see, sometimes rushing suddenly into water, and
sometimes incumbered with stiff clay, ignorant whither he was going, and
uncertain whether his next step might not be the last.
In this dismal gloom of nocturnal peregrination his horse unexpectedly
stood still. Marvel had heard many relations of the instinct of horses,
and was in doubt what danger might be at hand. Sometimes he fancied that
he was on the bank of a river still and deep, and sometimes that a dead
body lay across the track. He sat still awhile to recollect his
thoughts; and as he was about to alight and explore the darkness, out
stepped a man with a lantern, and opened the turnpike. He hired a guide
to the town, arrived in safety, and slept in quiet.
The rest of his journey was nothing but danger. He climbed and descended
precipices on which vulgar mortals tremble to look; he passed marshes
like the _Serbonian bog, where armies whole have sunk_; he forded rivers
where the current roared like the Egre or the Severn; or ventured
himself on bridges that trembled under him, from which he looked down on
foaming whirlpools, or dreadful abysses; he wandered over houseless
heaths, amidst all the rage of the elements, with the snow driving in
his face, and the tempest howling in his ears.
Such are the colours in which Marvel paints his adventures. He has
accustomed himself to sounding words and hyperbolical images, till he
has lost the power of true description. In a road, through which the
heaviest carriages pass without difficulty, and the post-boy every day
and night goes and returns, he meets with hardships like those which are
endured in Siberian deserts, and misses nothing of romantick danger but
a giant and a dragon. When his dreadful story is told in proper terms,
it is only that the way was dirty in winter, and that he experienced the
common vicissitudes of rain and sunshine.
No. 50. SATURDAY, MARCH 31, 1759.
The character of Mr. Marvel has raised the merriment of some and the
contempt of others, who do not sufficiently consider how often they hear
and practise the same arts of exaggerated narration.
There is not, perhaps, among the multitudes of all conditions that swarm
upon the earth, a single man who does not believe that he has something
extraordinary to relate of himself; and who does not, at one time or
other, summon the attention of his friends to the casualties of his
adventures and the vicissitudes of his fortune; casualties and
vicissitudes that happen alike in lives uniform and diversified; to the
commander of armies and the writer at a desk; to the sailor who resigns
himself to the wind and water, and the farmer whose longest journey is
to the market.
In the present state of the world man may pass through Shakespeare's
seven stages of life, and meet nothing singular or wonderful. But such
is every man's attention to himself, that what is common and unheeded,
when it is only seen, becomes remarkable and peculiar when we happen to
It is well enough known to be according to the usual process of nature,
that men should sicken and recover, that some designs should succeed and
others miscarry, that friends should be separated and meet again, that
some should be made angry by endeavours to please them, and some be
pleased when no care has been used to gain their approbation; that men
and women should at first come together by chance, like each other so
well as to commence acquaintance, improve acquaintance into fondness,
increase or extinguish fondness by marriage, and have children of
different degrees of intellects and virtue, some of whom die before
their parents, and others survive them.
Yet let any man tell his own story, and nothing of all this has ever
befallen him according to the common order of things; something has
always discriminated his case; some unusual concurrence of events has
appeared, which made him more happy or more miserable than other
mortals; for in pleasures or calamities, however common, every one has
comforts and afflictions of his own.
It is certain that without some artificial augmentations, many of the
pleasures of life, and almost all its embellishments, would fall to the
ground. If no man was to express more delight than he felt, those who
felt most would raise little envy. If travellers were to describe the
most laboured performances of art with the same coldness as they survey
them, all expectations of happiness from change of place would cease.
The pictures of Raphael would hang without spectators, and the gardens
of Versailles might be inhabited by hermits. All the pleasure that is
received ends in an opportunity of splendid falsehood, in the power of
gaining notice by the display of beauties which the eye was weary of
beholding, and a history of happy moments, of which, in reality, the
most happy was the last.
The ambition of superior sensibility and superior eloquence disposes the
lovers of arts to receive rapture at one time, and communicate it at
another; and each labours first to impose upon himself, and then to
propagate the imposture.
Pain is less subject than pleasure to caprices of expression. The
torments of disease, and the grief for irremediable misfortunes,
sometimes are such as no words can declare, and can only be signified by
groans, or sobs, or inarticulate ejaculations. Man has from nature a
mode of utterance peculiar to pain, but he has none peculiar to
pleasure, because he never has pleasure but in such degrees as the
ordinary use of language may equal or surpass.
It is nevertheless certain, that many pains, as well as pleasures, are
heightened by rhetorical affectation, and that the picture is, for the
most part, bigger than the life.
When we describe our sensations of another's sorrows, either in friendly
or ceremonious condolence, the customs of the world scarcely admit of
rigid veracity. Perhaps, the fondest friendship would enrage oftener
than comfort, were the tongue on such occasions faithfully to represent
the sentiments of the heart; and I think the strictest moralists allow
forms of address to be used without much regard to their literal
acceptation, when either respect or tenderness requires them, because
they are universally known to denote not the degree but the species of
But the same indulgence cannot be allowed to him who aggravates dangers
incurred, or sorrow endured, by himself, because he darkens the prospect
of futurity, and multiplies the pains of our condition by useless
terrour. Those who magnify their delights are less criminal deceivers,
yet they raise hopes which are sure to be disappointed. It would be
undoubtedly best, if we could see and hear every thing as it is, that
nothing might be too anxiously dreaded, or too ardently pursued.
No. 51. SATURDAY, APRIL 7, 1759.
It has been commonly remarked, that eminent men are least eminent at
home, that bright characters lose much of their splendour at a nearer
view, and many, who fill the world with their fame, excite very little
reverence among those that surround them in their domestick privacies.
To blame or suspect is easy and natural. When the fact is evident, and
the cause doubtful, some accusation is always engendered between
idleness and malignity. This disparity of general and familiar esteem
is, therefore, imputed to hidden vices, and to practices indulged in
secret, but carefully covered from the publick eye.
Vice will indeed always produce contempt. The dignity of Alexander,
though nations fell prostrate before him, was certainly held in little
veneration by the partakers of his midnight revels, who had seen him, in
the madness of wine, murder his friend, or set fire to the Persian
palace at the instigation of a harlot; and it is well remembered among
us, that the avarice of Marlborough kept him in subjection to his wife,
while he was dreaded by France as her conqueror, and honoured by the
emperour as his deliverer.
But though, where there is vice there must be want of reverence, it is
not reciprocally true, that where there is want of reverence there is
always vice. That awe which great actions or abilities impress will be
inevitably diminished by acquaintance, though nothing either mean or
criminal should be found.
Of men, as of every thing else, we must judge according to our
knowledge. When we see of a hero only his battles, or of a writer only
his books, we have nothing to allay our ideas of their greatness. We
consider the one only as the guardian of his country, and the other only
as the instructor of mankind. We have neither opportunity nor motive to
examine the minuter parts of their lives, or the less apparent
peculiarities of their characters; we name them with habitual respect,
and forget, what we still continue to know, that they are men like other
But such is the constitution of the world, that much of life must be
spent in the same manner by the wise and the ignorant, the exalted and
the low. Men, however distinguished by external accidents or intrinsick
qualities, have all the same wants, the same pains, and, as far as the
senses are consulted, the same pleasures. The petty cares and petty
duties are the same in every station to every understanding, and every
hour brings some occasion on which we all sink to the common level. We
are all naked till we are dressed, and hungry till we are fed; and the
general's triumph, and sage's disputation, end, like the humble labours
of the smith or ploughman, in a dinner or in sleep.
Those notions which are to be collected by reason, in opposition to the
senses, will seldom stand forward in the mind, but lie treasured in the
remoter repositories of memory, to be found only when they are sought.
Whatever any man may have written or done, his precepts or his valour
will scarcely overbalance the unimportant uniformity which runs through
his time. We do not easily consider him as great, whom our own eyes show
us to be little; nor labour to keep present to our thoughts the latent
excellencies of him, who shares with us all our weaknesses and many of
our follies; who, like us, is delighted with slight amusements, busied
with trifling employments, and disturbed by little vexations.
Great powers cannot be exerted, but when great exigencies make them
necessary. Great exigencies can happen but seldom, and, therefore, those
qualities which have a claim to the veneration of mankind, lie hid, for
the most part, like subterranean treasures, over which the foot passes
as on common ground, till necessity breaks open the golden cavern.
In the ancient celebration of victory, a slave was placed on the
triumphal car, by the side of the general, who reminded him by a short
sentence, that he was a man. Whatever danger there might be lest a
leader, in his passage to the capitol, should forget the frailties of
his nature, there was surely no need of such an admonition; the
intoxication could not have continued long; he would have been at home
but a few hours, before some of his dependants would have forgot his
greatness, and shown him, that, notwithstanding his laurels, he was yet
There are some who try to escape this domestick degradation, by
labouring to appear always wise or always great; but he that strives
against nature, will for ever strive in vain. To be grave of mien and
slow of utterrance; to look with solicitude and speak with hesitation,
is attainable at will; but the show of wisdom is ridiculous when there
is nothing to cause doubt, as that of valour where there is nothing to
A man who has duly considered the condition of his being, will
contentedly yield to the course of things; he will not pant for
distinction where distinction would imply no merit; but though on great
occasions he may wish to be greater than others, he will be satisfied in
common occurrences not to be less.
Ne placeat, curru servus portatur eodem. JUV. Sat. x. 41.
No 52. SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 1759.
_Responsare cupidinibus_.--HOR. Lib. ii. Sat. vii. 85.
The practice of self-denial, or the forbearance of lawful pleasure, has
been considered by almost every nation, from the remotest ages, as the
highest exaltation of human virtue; and all have agreed to pay respect
and veneration to those who abstained from the delights of life, even
when they did not censure those who enjoy them.
The general voice of mankind, civil and barbarous, confesses that the
mind and body are at variance, and that neither can be made happy by its
proper gratifications, but at the expense of the other; that a pampered
body will darken the mind, and an enlightened mind will macerate the
body. And none have failed to confer their esteem on those who prefer
intellect to sense, who control their lower by their higher faculties,
and forget the wants and desires of animal life for rational
disquisitions or pious contemplations.
The earth has scarcely a country, so far advanced towards political
regularity as to divide the inhabitants into classes, where some orders
of men or women are not distinguished by voluntary severities, and where
the reputation of their sanctity is not increased in proportion to the
rigour of their rules, and the exactness of their performance.
When an opinion to which there is no temptation of interest spreads
wide, and continues long, it may be reasonably presumed to have been
infused by nature or dictated by reason. It has been often observed that
the fictions of impostures and illusions of fancy, soon give way to time
and experience; and that nothing keeps its ground but truth, which gains
every day new influence by new confirmation.
But truth, when it is reduced to practice, easily becomes subject to
caprice and imagination; and many particular acts will be wrong, though
their general principle be right. It cannot be denied that a just
conviction of the restraint necessary to be laid upon the appetites has
produced extravagant and unnatural modes of mortification, and
institutions, which, however favourably considered, will be found to
violate nature without promoting piety.
But the doctrine of self-denial is not weakened in itself by the errours
of those who misinterpret or misapply it; the encroachment of the
appetites upon the understanding is hourly perceived; and the state of
those, whom sensuality has enslaved, is known to be in the highest
degree despicable and wretched.
The dread of such shameful captivity may justly raise alarms, and wisdom
will endeavour to keep danger at a distance. By timely caution and
suspicious vigilance those desires may be repressed, to which indulgence
would soon give absolute dominion; those enemies may be overcome, which,
when they have been a while accustomed to victory, can no longer be
Nothing is more fatal to happiness or virtue, than that confidence which
flatters us with an opinion of our own strength, and, by assuring us of
the power of retreat, precipitates us into hazard. Some may safely
venture farther than others into the regions of delight, lay themselves
more open to the golden shafts of pleasure, and advance nearer to the
residence of the Syrens; but he that is best armed with constancy and
reason is yet vulnerable in one part or other, and to every man there is
a point fixed, beyond which, if he passes, he will not easily return. It
is certainly most wise, as it is most safe, to stop before he touches
the utmost limit, since every step of advance will more and more entice
him to go forward, till he shall at last enter into the recesses of
voluptuousness, and sloth and despondency close the passage behind him.
To deny early and inflexibly, is the only art of checking the
importunity of desire, and of preserving quiet and innocence. Innocent
gratifications must be sometimes withheld; he that complies with all
lawful desires will certainly lose his empire over himself, and, in
time, either submit his reason to his wishes, and think all his desires
lawful, or dismiss his reason as troublesome and intrusive, and resolve
to snatch what he may happen to wish, without inquiring about right and
No man, whose appetites are his masters, can perform the duties of his
nature with strictness and regularity; he that would be superior to
external influences must first become superior to his own passions.
When the Roman general, sitting at supper with a plate of turnips before
him, was solicited by large presents to betray his trust, he asked the
messengers whether he that could sup on turnips was a man likely to sell
his own country. Upon him who has reduced his senses to obedience,
temptation has lost its power; he is able to attend impartially to
virtue, and execute her commands without hesitation.
To set the mind above the appetites is the end of abstinence, which one
of the Fathers observes to be not a virtue, but the ground-work of
virtue. By forbearing to do what may innocently be done, we may add
hourly new vigour to resolution, and secure the power of resistance when
pleasure or interest shall lend their charms to guilt.
 See Rambler 110 and Note. Read also the splendid passage on monastic
seclusion in Adventurer 127. The recluses of the Certosa and
Chartreuse forsook the world for abodes lordly as those of princes.
No. 53. SATURDAY, APRIL 21, 1759.
TO THE IDLER.
I have a wife that keeps good company. You know that the word _good_
varies its meaning according to the value set upon different qualities
in different places. To be a good man in a college, is to be learned; in
a camp, to be brave; and in the city, to be rich. By good company in the
place which I have the misfortune to inhabit, we understand not only
those from whom any good can be learned, whether wisdom or virtue; or by
whom any good can be conferred, whether profit or reputation:--good
company is the company of those whose birth is high, and whose riches
are great; or of those whom the rich and noble admit to familiarity.
I am a gentleman of a fortune by no means exuberant, but more than equal
to the wants of my family, and for some years equal to our desires. My
wife, who had never been accustomed to splendour, joined her endeavours
to mine in the superintendence of our economy; we lived in decent
plenty, and were not excluded from moderate pleasures.
But slight causes produce great effects. All my happiness has been
destroyed by change of place: virtue is too often merely local; in some
situations the air diseases the body, and in others poisons the mind.
Being obliged to remove my habitation, I was led by my evil genius to a
convenient house in a street where many of the nobility reside. We had
scarcely ranged our furniture, and aired our rooms, when my wife began
to grow discontented, and to wonder what the neighbours would think,
when they saw so few chairs and chariots at her door.
Her acquaintance, who came to see her from the quarter that we had left,
mortified her without design, by continual inquiries about the ladies
whose houses they viewed from our windows. She was ashamed to confess
that she had no intercourse with them, and sheltered her distress under
general answers, which always tended to raise suspicion that she knew
more than she would tell; but she was often reduced to difficulties,
when the course of talk introduced questions about the furniture or
ornaments of their houses, which, when she could get no intelligence,
she was forced to pass slightly over, as things which she saw so often
that she never minded them.
To all these vexations she was resolved to put an end, and redoubled her
visits to those few of her friends who visited those who kept good
company; and, if ever she met a lady of quality, forced herself into
notice by respect and assiduity. Her advances were generally rejected;
and she heard them, as they went down stairs, talk how some creatures
put themselves forward.
She was not discouraged, but crept forward from one to another; and, as
perseverance will do great things, sapped her way unperceived, till,
unexpectedly, she appeared at the card-table of lady Biddy Porpoise, a
lethargick virgin of seventy-six, whom all the families in the next
square visited very punctually when she was not at home.
This was the first step of that elevation to which my wife has since
ascended. For five months she had no name in her mouth but that of lady
Biddy, who, let the world say what it would, had a fine understanding,
and such a command of her temper, that, whether she won or lost, she
slept over her cards.
At lady Biddy's she met with lady Tawdry, whose favour she gained by
estimating her ear-rings, which were counterfeit, at twice the value of
real diamonds. When she had once entered two houses of distinction, she
was easily admitted into more, and in ten weeks had all her time
anticipated by parties and engagements. Every morning she is bespoke, in
the summer, for the gardens, in the winter, for a sale; every afternoon
she has visits to pay, and every night brings an inviolable appointment,
or an assembly in which the best company in the town are to appear.
You will easily imagine that much of my domestick comfort is withdrawn.
I never see my wife but in the hurry of preparation, or the languor of
weariness. To dress and to undress is almost her whole business in
private, and the servants take advantage of her negligence to increase
expense. But I can supply her omissions by my own diligence, and should
not much regret this new course of life, if it did nothing more than
transfer to me the care of our accounts. The changes which it has made
are more vexatious. My wife has no longer the use of her understanding.
She has no rule of action but the fashion. She has no opinion but that
of the people of quality. She has no language but the dialect of her own
set of company. She hates and admires in humble imitation; and echoes
the words _charming_ and _detestable_ without consulting her own
If for a few minutes we sit down together, she entertains me with the
repartees of lady Cackle, or the conversation of lord Whiffler and Miss
Quick, and wonders to find me receiving with indifference sayings which
put all the company into laughter.
By her old friends she is no longer very willing to be seen, but she
must not rid herself of them all at once; and is sometimes surprised by
her best visitants in company which she would not show, and cannot hide;
but from the moment that a countess enters, she takes care neither to
hear nor see them: they soon find themselves neglected, and retire; and
she tells her ladyship that they are somehow related at a great
distance, and that, as they are a good sort of people, she cannot be
rude to them.
As by this ambitious union with those that are above her, she is always
forced upon disadvantageous comparisons of her condition with theirs,
she has a constant source of misery within; and never returns from
glittering assemblies and magnificent apartments but she growls out her
discontent, and wonders why she was doomed to so indigent a state. When
she attends the duchess to a sale, she always sees something that she
cannot buy; and, that she may not seem wholly insignificant, she will
sometimes venture to bid, and often make acquisitions which she did not
want at prices which she cannot afford.
What adds to all this uneasiness is, that this expense is without use,
and this vanity without honour; she forsakes houses where she might be
courted, for those where she is only suffered; her equals are daily made
her enemies, and her superiors will never be her friends.
I am, Sir, yours, &c.
No. 54. SATURDAY, APRIL 28, 1759.
TO THE IDLER.
You have lately entertained your admirers with the case of an
unfortunate husband, and, thereby, given a demonstrative proof you are
not averse even to hear appeals and terminate differences between man
and wife; I, therefore, take the liberty to present you with the case of
an injured lady, which, as it chiefly relates to what I think the
lawyers call a point of law, I shall do in as juridical a manner as I am
capable, and submit it to the consideration of the learned gentlemen of
_Imprimis_. In the style of my marriage articles, a marriage was _had
and solemnized_ about six months ago, between me and Mr. Savecharges, a
gentleman possessed of a plentiful fortune of his own, and one who, I
was persuaded, would improve, and not spend, mine.
Before our marriage, Mr. Savecharges had all along preferred the
salutary exercise of walking on foot to the distempered ease, as he
terms it, of lolling in a chariot; but, notwithstanding his fine
panegyricks on walking, the great advantages the infantry were in the
sole possession of, and the many dreadful dangers they escaped, he found
I had very different notions of an equipage, and was not easily to be
converted, or gained over to his party.
An equipage I was determined to have, whenever I married. I too well
knew the disposition of my intended consort to leave the providing one
entirely to his honour, and flatter myself Mr. Savecharges has, in the
articles made previous to our marriage, _agreed to keep me a coach_; but
lest I should be mistaken, or the attorneys should not have done me
justice in methodizing or legalizing these half dozen words, I will set
about and transcribe that part of the agreement, which will explain the
matter to you much better than can be done by one who is so deeply
interested in the event; and show on what foundation I build my hopes of
being soon under the transporting, delightful denomination of a
fashionable lady, who enjoys the exalted and much-envied felicity of
bowling about in her own coach.
"And further the said Solomon Savecharges, for divers good causes and
considerations him hereunto moving, hath agreed, and doth hereby agree,
that the said Solomon Savecharges shall and will, so soon as
conveniently may be after the solemnization of the said intended
marriage, at his own proper cost and charges, find and provide a
_certain vehicle, or four-wheel-carriage, commonly called or known by
the name of a coach_; which said vehicle, or wheel-carriage, so called
or known by the name of a coach, shall be _used and enjoyed_ by the said
Sukey Modish, his intended wife," [pray mind that, Mr. Idler,] "at such
times and in such manner as she, the said Sukey Modish, shall think fit
Such, Mr. Idler, is the agreement my passionate admirer entered into;
and what the dear, frugal husband calls a performance of it, remains to
be described. Soon after the ceremony of signing and sealing was over,
our wedding-clothes being sent home, and, in short, every thing in
readiness except the coach, my own shadow was scarcely more constant
than my passionate lover in his attendance on me: wearied by his
perpetual importunities for what he called a completion of his bliss, I
consented to make him happy; in a few days I gave him my hand, and,
attended by Hymen in his saffron robes, retired to a country-seat of my
husband's, where the honey-moon flew over our heads ere we had time to
recollect ourselves, or think of our engagements in town. Well, to town
we came, and you may be sure, Sir, I expected to step into my coach on
my arrival here; but, what was my surprise and disappointment, when,
instead of this, he began to sound in my ears? "that the interest of
money was low, very low; and what a terrible thing it was to be
encumbered with a little regiment of servants in these hard times!" I
could easily perceive what all this tended to, but would not seem to
understand him; which made it highly necessary for Mr. Savecharges to
explain himself more intelligibly; to harp upon and protest he dreaded
the expense of keeping a coach. And truly, for his part, he could not
conceive how the pleasure resulting from such a convenience could be any
way adequate to the heavy expense attending it. I now thought it high
time to speak with equal plainness, and told him, as the fortune I
brought fairly entitled me to ride in my own coach, and as I was
sensible his circumstances would very well afford it, he must pardon me
if I insisted on a performance of his agreement.
I appeal to you, Mr. Idler, whether any thing could be more civil, more
complaisant, than this? And, would you believe it, the creature in
return, a few days after, accosted me, in an offended tone, with,
"Madam, I can now tell you, your coach is ready; and since you are so
passionately fond of one, I intend you the honour of keeping a pair of
horses.--You insisted upon having an article of pin-money, and horses
are no part of my agreement." Base, designing wretch!--I beg your
pardon, Mr. Idler, the very recital of such mean, ungentleman-like
behaviour fires my blood, and lights up a flame within me. But hence,
thou worst of monsters, ill-timed Rage! and let me not spoil my cause
for want of temper.
Now, though I am convinced I might make a worse use of part of the
pin-money, than by extending my bounty towards the support of so useful a
part of the brute creation; yet, like a true-born Englishwoman, I am so
tenacious of my rights and privileges, and moreover so good a friend to
the gentlemen of the law, that I protest, Mr. Idler, sooner than tamely
give up the point, and be quibbled out of my right, I will receive my
pin-money, as it were, with one hand, and pay it to them with the other;
provided they will give me, or, which is the same thing, my trustees,
encouragement to commence a suit against this dear, frugal husband of
And of this I can't have the least shadow of doubt, inasmuch as I have
been told by very good authority, it is somewhere or other laid down as
a rule "_That whenever_ the law doth give any thing to one, it giveth
impliedly whatever is necessary for taking and enjoying the same."
Now, I would gladly know what enjoyment I, or any lady in the kingdom,
can have of a coach without horses? The answer is obvious--None at all!
For, as Serjeant Catlyne very wisely observes, "though a coach has
wheels, to the end it may thereby and by virtue thereof be enabled to
move; yet in point of utility it may as well have none, if they are not
put in motion by means of its vital parts, that is, the horses."
And, therefore, Sir, I humbly hope you and the learned in the law will
be of opinion, that two certain animals, or quadruped creatures,
commonly called or known by the name of horses, ought to be annexed to,
and go along with, the coach. SUKEY SAVECHARGES
 Quando lex aliquid alicui concedit, concedere videtur et id, sine
quo res ipsa esse non potest. Coke on Littleton, 56. a.--ED.
 An unknown correspondent.
No. 55. SATURDAY, MAY 5, 1759.
TO THE IDLER.
I have taken the liberty of laying before you my complaint, and of
desiring advice or consolation with the greater confidence, because I
believe many other writers have suffered the same indignities with
myself, and hope my quarrel will be regarded by you and your readers as
the common cause of literature.
Having been long a student, I thought myself qualified in time to become
an author. My inquiries have been much diversified and far extended, and
not finding my genius directing me by irresistible impulse to any
particular subject, I deliberated three years which part of knowledge to
illustrate by my labours. Choice is more often determined by accident
than by reason: I walked abroad one morning with a curious lady, and, by
her inquiries and observations, was incited to write the natural history
of the country in which I reside.
Natural history is no work for one that loves his chair or his bed.
Speculation may be pursued on a soft couch, but nature must be observed
in the open air. I have collected materials with indefatigable
pertinacity. I have gathered glow-worms in the evening, and snails in
the morning; I have seen the daisy close and open, I have heard the owl
shriek at midnight, and hunted insects in the heat of noon.
Seven years I was employed in collecting animals and vegetables, and
then found that my design was yet imperfect. The subterranean treasures
of the place had been passed unobserved, and another year was to be
spent in mines and coal-pits. What I had already done supplied a
sufficient motive to do more. I acquainted myself with the black
inhabitants of metallick caverns, and, in defiance of damps and floods,
wandered through the gloomy labyrinths, and gathered fossils from every
At last I began to write, and as I finished any section of my book, read
it to such of my friends, as were most skilful in the matter which it
treated. None of them were satisfied; one disliked the disposition of
the parts, another the colours of the style; one advised me to enlarge,
another to abridge. I resolved to read no more, but to take my own way
and write on, for by consultation I only perplexed my thoughts and
retarded my work.
The book was at last finished, and I did not doubt but my labour would
be repaid by profit, and my ambition satisfied with honours. I
considered that natural history is neither temporary nor local, and that
though I limited my inquiries to my own country, yet every part of the
earth has productions common to all the rest. Civil history may be
partially studied, the revolutions of one nation may be neglected by
another; but after that in which all have an interest, all must be
inquisitive. No man can have sunk so far into stupidity as not to
consider the properties of the ground on which he walks, of the plants
on which he feeds, or the animals that delight his ear, or amuse his
eye; and, therefore, I computed that universal curiosity would call for
many editions of my book, and that in five years I should gain fifteen
thousand pounds by the sale of thirty thousand copies.
When I began to write, I insured the house; and suffered the utmost
solicitude when I entrusted my book to the carrier, though I had secured
it against mischances by lodging two transcripts in different places. At
my arrival, I expected that the patrons of learning would contend for
the honour of a dedication, and resolved to maintain the dignity of
letters, by a haughty contempt of pecuniary solicitations.
I took my lodgings near the house of the Royal Society, and expected
every morning a visit from the president. I walked in the Park, and
wondered that I overheard no mention of the great naturalist. At last I
visited a noble earl, and told him of my work: he answered, that he was
under an engagement never to subscribe. I was angry to have that refused
which I did not mean to ask, and concealed my design of making him
immortal. I went next day to another, and, in resentment of my late
affront, offered to prefix his name to my new book. He said, coldly,
that _he did not understand those things_; another thought, _there were
too many books_; and another would _talk with me when the races were
Being amazed to find a man of learning so indecently slighted, I
resolved to indulge the philosophical pride of retirement and
independence. I then sent to some of the principal booksellers the plan
of my book, and bespoke a large room in the next tavern, that I might
more commodiously see them together, and enjoy the contest, while they
were outbidding one another. I drank my coffee, and yet nobody was come;
at last I received a note from one, to tell me that he was going out of
town; and from another, that natural history was out of his way. At last
there came a grave man, who desired to see the work, and, without
opening it, told me, that a book of that size _would never do_.
I then condescended to step into shops, and mentioned my work to the
masters. Some never dealt with authors; others had their hands full;
some never had known such a dead time; others had lost by all that they
had published for the last twelvemonth. One offered to print my work, if
I could procure subscriptions for five hundred, and would allow me two
hundred copies for my property. I lost my patience, and gave him a kick;
for which he has indicted me.
I can easily perceive, that there is a combination among them to defeat
my expectations; and I find it so general, that I am sure it must have
been long concerted. I suppose some of my friends, to whom I read the
first part, gave notice of my design, and, perhaps, sold the treacherous
intelligence at a higher price than the fraudulence of trade will now
allow me for my book.
Inform me, Mr. Idler, what I must do; where must knowledge and industry
find their recompense, thus neglected by the high, and cheated by the
low? I sometimes resolve to print my book at my own expense, and, like
the Sibyl, double the price; and sometimes am tempted, in emulation of
Raleigh, to throw it into the fire, and leave this sordid generation to
the curses of posterity. Tell me, dear Idler, what I shall do.
I am, Sir, &c.
No. 56. SATURDAY, MAY 12, 1759.
There is such difference between the pursuits of men, that one part of
the inhabitants of a great city lives to little other purpose than to
wonder at the rest. Some have hopes and fears, wishes and aversions,
which never enter into the thoughts of others, and inquiry is
laboriously exerted to gain that which those who possess it are ready to
To those who are accustomed to value every thing by its use, and have no
such superfluity of time or money, as may prompt them to unnatural wants
or capricious emulations, nothing appears more improbable or extravagant
than the love of curiosities, or that desire of accumulating trifles,
which distinguishes many by whom no other distinction could have ever
He that has lived without knowing to what height desire may be raised by
vanity, with what rapture baubles are snatched out of the hands of rival
collectors, how the eagerness of one raises eagerness in another, and
one worthless purchase makes a second necessary, may, by passing a few
hours at an auction, learn more than can be shown by many volumes of
maxims or essays.
The advertisement of a sale is a signal which, at once, puts a thousand
hearts in motion, and brings contenders from every part to the scene of
distribution. He that had resolved to buy no more, feels his constancy
subdued; there is now something in the catalogue which completes his
cabinet, and which he was never before able to find. He whose sober
reflections inform him, that of adding collection to collection there is
no end, and that it is wise to leave early that which must be left
imperfect at last, yet cannot withhold himself from coming to see what
it is that brings so many together, and when he comes is soon
overpowered by his habitual passion; he is attracted by rarity, seduced
by example, and inflamed by competition.
While the stores of pride and happiness are surveyed, one looks with
longing eyes and gloomy countenance on that which he despairs to gain
from a richer bidder; another keeps his eye with care from settling too
long on that which he most earnestly desires; and another, with more art
than virtue, depreciates that which he values most, in hope to have it
at an easy rate.
The novice is often surprised to see what minute and unimportant
discriminations increase or diminish value. An irregular contortion of a
turbinated shell, which common eyes pass unregarded, will ten times
treble its price in the imagination of philosophers. Beauty is far from
operating upon collectors as upon low and vulgar minds, even where
beauty might be thought the only quality that could deserve notice.
Among the shells that please by their variety of colours, if one can be
found accidentally deformed by a cloudy spot, it is boasted as the pride
of the collection. China is sometimes purchased for little less than its
weight in gold, only because it is old, though neither less brittle, nor
better painted, than the modern; and brown china is caught up with
ecstasy, though no reason can be imagined for which it should be
preferred to common vessels of common clay.
The fate of prints and coins is equally inexplicable. Some prints are
treasured up as inestimably valuable, because the impression was made
before the plate was finished. Of coins the price rises not from the
purity of the metal, the excellence of the workmanship, the elegance of
the legend, or the chronological use. A piece, of which neither the
inscription can be read, nor the face distinguished, if there remain of
it but enough to show that it is rare, will be sought by contending
nations, and dignify the treasury in which it shall be shown.
Whether this curiosity, so barren of immediate advantage, and so liable
to depravation, does more harm or good, is not easily decided. Its harm
is apparent at first view. It fills the mind with trifling ambition;
fixes the attention upon things which have seldom any tendency towards
virtue or wisdom; employs in idle inquiries the time that is given for
better purposes; and often ends in mean and dishonest practices, when
desire increases by indulgence beyond the power of honest gratification.
These are the effects of curiosity in excess; but what passion in excess
will not become vicious? All indifferent qualities and practices are
bad, if they are compared with those which are good, and good, if they
are opposed to those that are bad. The pride or the pleasure of making
collections, if it be restrained by prudence and morality, produces a
pleasing remission after more laborious studies; furnishes an amusement
not wholly unprofitable for that part of life, the greater part of many
lives, which would otherwise be lost in idleness or vice; it produces an
useful traffick between the industry of indigence and the curiosity of
wealth; it brings many things to notice that would be neglected, and, by
fixing the thoughts upon intellectual pleasures, resists the natural
encroachments of sensuality, and maintains the mind in her lawful
No. 57. SATURDAY, MAY 19, 1759.
Prudence is of more frequent use than any other intellectual quality; it
is exerted on slight occasions, and called into act by the cursory
business of common life.
Whatever is universally necessary, has been granted to mankind on easy
terms. Prudence, as it is always wanted, is without great difficulty
obtained. It requires neither extensive view nor profound search, but
forces itself, by spontaneous impulse, upon a mind neither great nor
busy, neither engrossed by vast designs, nor distracted by multiplicity
Prudence operates on life in the same manner as rules on composition: it
produces vigilance rather than elevation, rather prevents loss than
procures advantage; and often escapes miscarriages, but seldom reaches
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