The Works of Samuel Johnson in Nine Volumes
Part 7 out of 9
either power or honour. It quenches that ardour of enterprise, by which
every thing is done that can claim praise or admiration; and represses
that generous temerity which often fails, and often succeeds. Rules may
obviate faults, but can never confer beauties; and prudence keeps life
safe, but does not often make it happy. The world is not amazed with
prodigies of excellence, but when wit tramples upon rules, and
magnanimity breaks the chains of prudence.
One of the most prudent of all that have fallen within my observation,
is my old companion Sophron, who has passed through the world in quiet,
by perpetual adherence to a few plain maxims, and wonders how contention
and distress can so often happen.
The first principle of Sophron is, _to run no hazards_. Though he loves
money, he is of opinion that frugality is a more certain source of
riches than industry. It is to no purpose that any prospect of large
profit is set before him; he believes little about futurity, and does
not love to trust his money out of his sight, for _nobody knows what may
happen_. He has a small estate, which he lets at the old rent, because
_it is better to have a little than nothing_; but he rigorously demands
payment on the stated day, for _he that cannot pay one quarter cannot
pay two_. If he is told of any improvements in agriculture, he likes the
old way, has observed that changes very seldom answer expectation, is of
opinion that our forefathers knew how to till the ground as well as we;
and concludes with an argument that nothing can overpower, that the
expense of planting and fencing is immediate, and the advantage distant,
and that _he is no wise man who will quit a certainty for an
Another of Sophron's rules is, _to mind no business but his own_. In the
state, he is of no party; but hears and speaks of publick affairs with
the same coldness as of the administration of some ancient republick. If
any flagrant act of fraud or oppression is mentioned, he hopes that _all
is not true that is told_: if misconduct or corruption puts the nation
in a flame, he hopes _every man means well_. At elections he leaves his
dependants to their own choice, and declines to vote himself, for every
candidate is a good man, whom he is unwilling to oppose or offend.
If disputes happen among his neighbours, he observes an invariable and
cold neutrality. His punctuality has gained him the reputation of
honesty, and his caution that of wisdom; and few would refuse to refer
their claims to his award. He might have prevented many expensive
law-suits, and quenched many a feud in its first smoke; but always refuses
the office of arbitration, because he must decide against one or the
With the affairs of other families he is always unacquainted. He sees
estates bought and sold, squandered and increased, without praising the
economist, or censuring the spendthrift. He never courts the rising,
lest they should fall; nor insults the fallen, lest they should rise
again. His caution has the appearance of virtue, and all who do not want
his help praise his benevolence; but, if any man solicits his
assistance, he has just sent away all his money; and, when the
petitioner is gone, declares to his family that he is sorry for his
misfortunes, has always looked upon him with particular kindness, and,
therefore, could not lend him money, lest he should destroy their
friendship by the necessity of enforcing payment.
Of domestick misfortunes he has never heard. When he is told the
hundredth time of a gentleman's daughter who has married the coachman,
he lifts up his hands with astonishment, for he always thought her a
When nuptial quarrels, after having filled the country with talk and
laughter, at last end in separation, he never can conceive how it
happened, for he looked upon them as a happy couple.
If his advice is asked, he never gives any particular direction, because
events are uncertain, and he will bring no blame upon himself; but he
takes the consulter tenderly by the hand, tells him he makes his case
his own, and advises him not to act rashly, but to weigh the reasons on
both sides; observes, that a man may be as easily too hasty as too slow;
and that as many fail by doing too much as too little; that _a wise man
has two ears and one tongue_; and that _little said is soon mended_;
that he could tell him this and that, but that after all every man is
the best judge of his own affairs.
With this some are satisfied, and go home with great reverence of
Sophron's wisdom; and none are offended, because every one is left in
full possession of his own opinion.
Sophron gives no characters. It is equally vain to tell him of vice and
virtue; for he has remarked, that no man likes to be censured, and that
very few are delighted with the praises of another. He has a few terms
which he uses to all alike. With respect to fortune, he believes every
one to be in good circumstances; he never exalts any understanding by
lavish praise, yet he meets with none but very sensible people. Every
man is honest and hearty; and every woman is a good creature.
Thus Sophron creeps along, neither loved nor hated, neither favoured nor
opposed: he has never attempted to grow rich, for fear of growing poor;
and has raised no friends, for fear of making enemies.
No. 58. SATURDAY, MAY 26, 1759.
Pleasure is very seldom found where it is sought. Our brightest blazes
of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks. The flowers which
scatter their odours, from time to time, in the paths of life, grow up
without culture from seeds scattered by chance.
Nothing is more hopeless than a scheme of merriment. Wits and humourists
are brought together from distant quarters by preconcerted invitations;
they come, attended by their admirers, prepared to laugh and to applaud;
they gaze awhile on each other, ashamed to be silent, and afraid to
speak; every man is discontented with himself, grows angry with those
that give him pain, and resolves that he will contribute nothing to the
merriment of such worthless company. Wine inflames the general
malignity, and changes sullenness to petulance, till at last none can
bear any longer the presence of the rest. They retire to vent their
indignation in safer places, where they are heard with attention; their
importance is restored, they recover their good humour, and gladden the
night with wit and jocularity.
Merriment is always the effect of a sudden impression. The jest which is
expected is already destroyed. The most active imagination will be
sometimes torpid, under the frigid influence of melancholy, and
sometimes occasions will be wanting to tempt the mind, however volatile,
to sallies and excursions. Nothing was ever said with uncommon felicity,
but by the co-operation of chance; and, therefore, wit, as well as
valour, must be content to share its honours with fortune.
All other pleasures are equally uncertain; the general remedy of
uneasiness is change of place; almost every one has some journey of
pleasure in his mind, with which he flatters his expectation. He that
travels in theory has no inconvenience; he has shade and sunshine at his
disposal, and wherever he alights finds tables of plenty and looks of
gaiety. These ideas are indulged till the day of departure arrives, the
chaise is called, and the progress of happiness begins.
A few miles teach him the fallacies of imagination. The road is dusty,
the air is sultry, the horses are sluggish, and the postillion brutal.
He longs for the time of dinner, that he may eat and rest. The inn is
crowded, his orders are neglected, and nothing remains but that he
devour in haste what the cook has spoiled, and drive on in quest of
better entertainment. He finds at night a more commodious house, but the
best is always worse than he expected.
He at last enters his native province, and resolves to feast his mind
with the conversation of his old friends, and the recollection of
juvenile frolicks. He stops at the house of his friend, whom he designs
to overpower with pleasure by the unexpected interview. He is not known
till he tells his name, and revives the memory of himself by a gradual
explanation. He is then coldly received, and ceremoniously feasted. He
hastes away to another, whom his affairs have called to a distant place,
and, having seen the empty house, goes away disgusted by a
disappointment which could not be intended, because it could not be
foreseen. At the next house he finds every face clouded with misfortune,
and is regarded with malevolence as an unreasonable intruder, who comes
not to visit but to insult them. It is seldom that we find either men
or places such as we expect them. He that has pictured a prospect upon
his fancy, will receive little pleasure from his eyes; he that has
anticipated the conversation of a wit, will wonder to what prejudice he
owes his reputation. Yet it is necessary to hope, though hope should
always be deluded; for hope itself is happiness, and its frustrations,
however frequent, are less dreadful than its extinction.
No. 59. SATURDAY, JUNE 2, 1759.
In the common enjoyments of life, we cannot very liberally indulge the
present hour, but by anticipating part of the pleasure which might have
relieved the tediousness of another day; and any uncommon exertion of
strength, or perseverance in labour, is succeeded by a long interval of
languor and weariness. Whatever advantage we snatch beyond the certain
portion allotted us by nature, is like money spent before it is due,
which, at the time of regular payment, will be missed and regretted.
Fame, like all other things which are supposed to give or to increase
happiness, is dispensed with the same equality of distribution. He that
is loudly praised will be clamorously censured; he that rises hastily
into fame will be in danger of sinking suddenly into oblivion.
Of many writers who filled their age with wonder, and whose names we
find celebrated in the books of their contemporaries, the works are now
no longer to be seen, or are seen only amidst the lumber of libraries
which are seldom visited, where they lie only to show the deceitfulness
of hope, and the uncertainty of honour.
Of the decline of reputation many causes may be assigned. It is commonly
lost because it never was deserved; and was conferred at first, not by
the suffrage of criticism, but by the fondness of friendship, or
servility of flattery. The great and popular are very freely applauded;
but all soon grow weary of echoing to each other a name which has no
other claim to notice, but that many mouths are pronouncing it at once.
But many have lost the final reward of their labours, because they were
too hasty to enjoy it. They have laid hold on recent occurrences, and
eminent names, and delighted their readers with allusions and remarks,
in which all were interested, and to which all, therefore, were
attentive. But the effect ceased with its cause; the time quickly came
when new events drove the former from memory, when the vicissitudes of
the world brought new hopes and fears, transferred the love and hatred
of the publick to other agents; and the writer, whose works were no
longer assisted by gratitude or resentment, was left to the cold regard
of idle curiosity.
He that writes upon general principles, or delivers universal truths,
may hope to be often read, because his work will be equally useful at
all times and in every country; but he cannot expect it to be received
with eagerness, or to spread with rapidity, because desire can have no
particular stimulation: that which is to be loved long, must be loved
with reason rather than with passion. He that lays his labours out upon
temporary subjects, easily finds readers, and quickly loses them; for
what should make the book valued when the subject is no more?
These observations will show the reason why the poem of Hudibras is
almost forgotten, however embellished with sentiments and diversified
with allusions, however bright with wit, and however solid with truth.
The hypocrisy which it detected, and the folly which it ridiculed, have
long vanished from publick notice. Those who had felt the mischief of
discord, and the tyranny of usurpation, read it with rapture; for every
line brought back to memory something known, and gratified resentment by
the just censure of something hated. But the book, which was once quoted
by princes, and which supplied conversation to all the assemblies of the
gay and witty, is now seldom mentioned, and even by those that affect to
mention it, is seldom read. So vainly is wit lavished upon fugitive
topicks; so little can architecture secure duration when the ground is
No. 60. SATURDAY, JUNE 9, 1759.
Criticism is a study by which men grow important and formidable at a
very small expense. The power of invention has been conferred by nature
upon few, and the labour of learning those sciences, which may by mere
labour be obtained, is too great to be willingly endured; but every man
can exert such judgment as he has upon the works of others; and he whom
nature has made weak, and idleness keeps ignorant, may yet support his
vanity by the name of a Critick.
I hope it will give comfort to great numbers who are passing through the
world in obscurity, when I inform them how easily distinction may be
obtained. All the other powers of literature are coy and haughty, they
must be long courted, and at last are not always gained; but Criticism
is a goddess easy of access and forward of advance, who will meet the
slow, and encourage the timorous; the want of meaning she supplies with
words, and the want of spirit she recompenses with malignity.
This profession has one recommendation peculiar to itself, that it gives
vent to malignity without real mischief. No genius was ever blasted by
the breath of criticks. The poison which, if confined, would have burst
the heart, fumes away in empty hisses, and malice is set at ease with
very little danger to merit. The critick is the only man whose triumph
is without another's pain, and whose greatness does not rise upon
To a study at once so easy and so reputable, so malicious and so
harmless, it cannot be necessary to invite my readers by a long or
laboured exhortation; it is sufficient, since all would be criticks if
they could, to show, by one eminent example, that all can be criticks if
Dick Minim, after the common course of puerile studies, in which he was
no great proficient, was put an apprentice to a brewer, with whom he had
lived two years, when his uncle died in the city, and left him a large
fortune in the stocks. Dick had for six months before used the company
of the lower players, of whom he had learned to scorn a trade, and,
being now at liberty to follow his genius, he resolved to be a man of
wit and humour. That he might be properly initiated in his new
character, he frequented the coffee-houses near the theatres, where he
listened very diligently, day after day, to those who talked of language
and sentiments, and unities and catastrophes, till, by slow degrees, he
began to think that be understood something of the stage, and hoped in
time to talk himself.
But he did not trust so much to natural sagacity as wholly to neglect
the help of books. When the theatres were shut, he retired to Richmond
with a few select writers, whose opinions he impressed upon his memory
by unwearied diligence; and, when he returned with other wits to the
town, was able to tell, in very proper phrases, that the chief business
of art is to copy nature; that a perfect writer is not to be expected,
because genius decays as judgment increases; that the great art is the
art of blotting; and that, according to the rule of Horace, every piece
should be kept nine years.
Of the great authors he now began to display the characters, laying down
as an universal position, that all had beauties and defects. His opinion
was, that Shakespeare, committing himself wholly to the impulse of
nature, wanted that correctness which learning would have given him; and
that Jonson, trusting to learning, did not sufficiently cast his eyes on
nature. He blamed the stanzas of Spenser, and could not bear the
hexameters of Sidney. Denham and Waller he held the first reformers of
English numbers; and thought that if Waller could have obtained the
strength of Denham, or Denham the sweetness of Waller, there had been
nothing wanting to complete a poet. He often expressed his commiseration
of Dryden's poverty, and his indignation at the age which suffered him
to write for bread; he repeated with rapture the first lines of All for
Love, but wondered at the corruption of taste which could bear any thing
so unnatural as rhyming tragedies.
In Otway he found uncommon powers of moving the passions, but was
disgusted by his general negligence, and blamed him for making a
conspirator his hero; and never concluded his disquisition, without
remarking how happily the sound of the clock is made to alarm the
audience. Southern would have been his favourite, but that he mixes
comick with tragick scenes, intercepts the natural course of the
passions, and fills the mind with a wild confusion of mirth and
melancholy. The versification of Rowe he thought too melodious for the
stage, and too little varied in different passions. He made it the great
fault of Congreve, that all his persons were wits, and that he always
wrote with more art than nature. He considered Cato rather as a poem
than a play, and allowed Addison to be the complete master of allegory
and grave humour, but paid no great deference to him as a critick. He
thought the chief merit of Prior was in his easy tales and lighter
poems, though he allowed that his Solomon had many noble sentiments
elegantly expressed. In Swift he discovered an inimitable vein of irony,
and an easiness which all would hope and few would attain. Pope he was
inclined to degrade from a poet to a versifier, and thought his numbers
rather luscious than sweet. He often lamented the neglect of Phaedra and
Hippolytus, and wished to see the stage under better regulations.
These assertions passed commonly uncontradicted; and if now and then an
opponent started up, he was quickly repressed by the suffrages of the
company, and Minim went away from every dispute with elation of heart
and increase of confidence.
He now grew conscious of his abilities, and began to talk of the present
state of dramatick poetry; wondered what had become of the comick genius
which supplied our ancestors with wit and pleasantry, and why no writer
could be found that durst now venture beyond a farce. He saw no reason
for thinking that the vein of humour was exhausted, since we live in a
country, where liberty suffers every character to spread itself to its
utmost bulk, and which, therefore, produces more originals than all the
rest of the world together. Of tragedy he concluded business to be the
soul, and yet often hinted that love predominates too much upon the
He was now an acknowledged critick, and had his own seat in a
coffee-house, and headed a party in the pit. Minim has more vanity than
ill-nature, and seldom desires to do much mischief; he will, perhaps,
murmur a little in the ear of him that sits next him, but endeavours to
influence the audience to favour, by clapping when an actor exclaims,
_Ye gods!_ or laments the misery of his country.
By degrees he was admitted to rehearsals; and many of his friends are of
opinion, that our present poets are indebted to him for their happiest
thoughts; by his contrivance the bell was rung twice in Barbarossa, and
by his persuasion the author of Cleone concluded his play without a
couplet; for what can be more absurd, said Minim, than that part of a
play should be rhymed, and part written in blank verse? and by what
acquisition of faculties is the speaker, who never could find rhymes
before, enabled to rhyme at the conclusion of an act?
He is the great investigator of hidden beauties, and is particularly
delighted when he finds "the sound an echo to the sense." He has read
all our poets, with particular attention to this delicacy of
versification, and wonders at the supineness with which their works have
been hitherto perused, so that no man has found the sound of a drum in
"When pulpit, drum ecclesiastic,
Was beat with fist instead of a stick;"
and that the wonderful lines upon honour and a bubble have hitherto
passed without notice:
"Honour is like the glassy bubble,
Which costs philosophers such trouble;
Where, one part crack'd, the whole does fly,
And wits are crack'd to find out why."
In these verses, says Minim, we have two striking accommodations of the
sound to the sense. It is impossible to utter the first two lines
emphatically without an act like that which they describe; _bubble_ and
_trouble_ causing a momentary inflation of the cheeks by the retention
of the breath, which is afterwards forcibly emitted, as in the practice
of _blowing bubbles_. But the greatest excellence is in the third line,
which is _crack'd_ in the middle to express a crack, and then shivers
into monosyllables. Yet has this diamond lain neglected with common
stones, and among the innumerable admirers of Hudibras the observation
of this superlative passage has been reserved for the sagacity of Minim.
No. 61. SATURDAY, JUNE 15, 1759.
Mr. Minim had now advanced himself to the zenith of critical reputation;
when he was in the pit, every eye in the boxes was fixed upon him; when
he entered his coffee-house, he was surrounded by circles of candidates,
who passed their noviciate of literature under his tuition: his opinion
was asked by all who had no opinion of their own, and yet loved to
debate and decide; and no composition was supposed to pass in safety to
posterity, till it had been secured by Minim's approbation.
Minim professes great admiration of the wisdom and munificence by which
the academies of the continent were raised; and often wishes for some
standard of taste, for some tribunal, to which merit may appeal from
caprice, prejudice and malignity. He has formed a plan for an academy of
criticism, where every work of imagination may be read before it is
printed, and which shall authoritatively direct the theatres what pieces
to receive or reject, to exclude or to revive.
Such an institution would, in Dick's opinion, spread the fame of English
literature over Europe, and make London the metropolis of elegance and
politeness, the place to which the learned and ingenious of all
countries would repair for instruction and improvement, and where
nothing would any longer be applauded or endured that was not conformed
to the nicest rules, and finished with the highest elegance.
Till some happy conjunction of the planets shall dispose our princes or
ministers to make themselves immortal by such an academy, Minim contents
himself to preside four nights in a week in a critical society selected
by himself, where he is heard without contradiction, and whence his
judgment is disseminated through the great vulgar and the small.
When he is placed in the chair of criticism, he declares loudly for the
noble simplicity of our ancestors, in opposition to the petty
refinements, and ornamental luxuriance. Sometimes he is sunk in despair,
and perceives false delicacy daily gaining ground, and sometimes
brightens his countenance with a gleam of hope, and predicts the revival
of the true sublime. He then fulminates his loudest censures against the
monkish barbarity of rhyme; wonders how beings that pretend to reason
can be pleased with one line always ending like another; tells how
unjustly and unnaturally sense is sacrificed to sound; how often the
best thoughts are mangled by the necessity of confining or extending
them to the dimensions of a couplet; and rejoices that genius has, in
our days, shaken off the shackles which had encumbered it so long. Yet
he allows that rhyme may sometimes be borne, if the lines be often
broken, and the pauses judiciously diversified.
From blank verse he makes an easy transition to Milton, whom he produces
as an example of the slow advance of lasting reputation. Milton is the
only writer in whose books Minim can read for ever without weariness.
What cause it is that exempts this pleasure from satiety he has long and
diligently inquired, and believes it to consist in the perpetual
variation of the numbers, by which the ear is gratified and the
attention awakened. The lines that are commonly thought rugged and
unmusical, he conceives to have been written to temper the melodious
luxury of the rest, or to express things by a proper cadence: for he
scarcely finds a verse that has not this favourite beauty; he declares
that he could shiver in a hot-house when he reads that
Burns frore, and cold performs th' effect of fire;"
and that, when Milton bewails his blindness, the verse,
"So thick a drop serene has quench'd these orbs,"
has, he knows not how, something that strikes him with an obscure
sensation like that which he fancies would be felt from the sound of
Minim is not so confident of his rules of judgment as not very eagerly
to catch new light from the name of the author. He is commonly so
prudent as to spare those whom he cannot resist, unless, as will
sometimes happen, he finds the publick combined against them. But a
fresh pretender to fame he is strongly inclined to censure, till his own
honour requires that he commend him. Till he knows the success of a
composition, he intrenches himself in general terms; there are some new
thoughts and beautiful passages, but there is likewise much which he
would have advised the author to expunge. He has several favourite
epithets, of which he has never settled the meaning, but which are very
commodiously applied to books which he has not read, or cannot
understand. One is _manly_, another is _dry_, another _stiff_, and
another _flimsy_; sometimes he discovers delicacy of style, and
sometimes meets with _strange expressions_.
He is never so great, or so happy, as when a youth of promising parts is
brought to receive his directions for the prosecution of his studies. He
then puts on a very serious air; he advises the pupil to read none but
the best authors; and when he finds one congenial to his own mind, to
study his beauties, but avoid his faults; and, when he sits down to
write, to consider how his favourite author would think at the present
time on the present occasion. He exhorts him to catch those moments when
he finds his thoughts expanded and his genius exalted, but to take care
lest imagination hurry him beyond the bounds of nature. He holds
diligence the mother of success; yet enjoins him, with great
earnestness, not to read more than he can digest, and not to confuse his
mind by pursuing studies of contrary tendencies. He tells him, that
every man has his genius, and that Cicero could never be a poet. The boy
retires illuminated, resolves to follow his genius, and to think how
Milton would have thought: and Minim feasts upon his own beneficence
till another day brings another pupil.
No. 62. SATURDAY, JUNE 23, 1759.
_Quid faciam, proescribe. Quiescas_.--HOR. Lib. ii. Sat. i. 5.
TO THE IDLER.
An opinion prevails almost universally in the world, that he who has
money has every thing. This is not a modern paradox, or the tenet of a
small and obscure sect, but a persuasion which appears to have operated
upon most minds in all ages, and which is supported by authorities so
numerous and so cogent, that nothing but long experience could have
given me confidence to question its truth.
But experience is the test by which all the philosophers of the present
age agree, that speculation must be tried; and I may be, therefore,
allowed to doubt the power of money, since I have been a long time rich,
and have not yet found that riches can make me happy.
My father was a farmer neither wealthy nor indigent, who gave me a
better education than was suitable to my birth, because my uncle in the
city designed me for his heir, and desired that I might be bred a
gentleman. My uncle's wealth was the perpetual subject of conversation
in the house; and when any little misfortune befell us, or any
mortification dejected us, my father always exhorted me to hold up my
head, for my uncle would never marry.
My uncle, indeed, kept his promise. Having his mind completely busied
between his warehouse and the 'Change, he felt no tediousness of life,
nor any want of domestick amusements. When my father died, he received
me kindly; but, after a few months, finding no great pleasure in the
conversation of each other, we parted; and he remitted me a small
annuity, on which I lived a quiet and studious life, without any wish to
grow great by the death of my benefactor.
But though I never suffered any malignant impatience to take hold on my
mind, I could not forbear sometimes to imagine to myself the pleasure of
being rich; and, when I read of diversions and magnificence, resolved to
try, when time should put the trial in my power, what pleasure they
My uncle, in the latter spring of his life, when his ruddy cheek and his
firm nerves promised him a long and healthy age, died of an apoplexy.
His death gave me neither joy nor sorrow. He did me good, and I regarded
him with gratitude; but I could not please him, and, therefore, could
not love him.
He had the policy of little minds, who love to surprise; and, having
always represented his fortune as less than it was, had, I suppose,
often gratified himself with thinking, how I should be delighted to find
myself twice as rich as I expected. My wealth was such as exceeded all
the schemes of expense which I had formed; and I soon began to expand my
thoughts, and look round for some purchase of felicity.
The most striking effect of riches is the splendour of dress, which
every man has observed to enforce respect, and facilitate reception; and
my first desire was to be fine. I sent for a tailor who was employed by
the nobility, and ordered such a suit of clothes as I had often looked
on with involuntary submission, and am ashamed to remember with what
flutters of expectation I waited for the hour, when I should issue forth
in all the splendour of embroidery. The clothes were brought, and for
three days I observed many eyes turned towards me as I passed: but I
felt myself obstructed in the common intercourse of civility by an
uneasy consciousness of my new appearance; as I thought myself more
observed, I was more anxious about my mien and behaviour; and the mien
which is formed by care is commonly ridiculous. A short time accustomed
me to myself, and my dress was without pain, and without pleasure.
For a little while I tried to be a rake, but I began too late; and
having by nature no turn for a frolick, was in great danger of ending in
a drunkard. A fever, in which not one of my companions paid me a visit,
gave me time for reflection. I found that there was no great pleasure in
breaking windows and lying in the round-house; and resolved to associate
no longer with those whom, though I had treated and bailed them, I could
not make friends.
I then changed my measures, kept running horses, and had the comfort of
seeing my name very often in the news. I had a chesnut horse, the
grandson of Childers, who won four plates, and ten by-matches; and a bay
filly, who carried off the five years' old plate, and was expected to
perform much greater exploits, when my groom broke her wind, because I
happened to catch him selling oats for beer. This happiness was soon at
an end; there was no pleasure when I lost, and, when I won, I could not
much exalt myself by the virtues of my horse. I grew ashamed of the
company of jockey-lords, and resolved to spend no more of my time in the
It was now known that I had money, and would spend it, and I passed four
months in the company of architects, whose whole business was to
persuade me to build a house. I told them that I had more room than I
wanted, but could not get rid of their importunities. A new plan was
brought me every morning; till at last my constancy was overpowered, and
I began to build. The happiness of building lasted but a little while,
for though I love to spend, I hate to be cheated; and I soon found, that
to build is to be robbed.
How I proceed in the pursuit of happiness, you shall hear when I find
myself disposed to write.
I am, Sir, &c.
No. 63. SATURDAY, JUNE 30, 1759.
The natural progress of the works of men is from rudeness to
convenience, from convenience to elegance, and from elegance to nicety.
The first labour is enforced by necessity. The savage finds himself
incommoded by heat and cold, by rain and wind; he shelters himself in
the hollow of a rock, and learns to dig a cave where there was none
before. He finds the sun and the wind excluded by the thicket; and when
the accidents of the chase, or the convenience of pasturage, leads him
into more open places, he forms a thicket for himself, by planting
stakes at proper distances, and laying branches from one to another.
The next gradation of skill and industry produces a house closed with
doors, and divided by partitions; and apartments are multiplied and
disposed according to the various degrees of power or invention;
improvement succeeds improvement, as he that is freed from a greater
evil grows impatient of a less, till ease in time is advanced to
The mind, set free from the importunities of natural want, gains leisure
to go in search of superfluous gratifications, and adds to the uses of
habitation the delights of prospect. Then begins the reign of symmetry;
orders of architecture are invented, and one part of the edifice is
conformed to another, without any other reason, than that the eye may
not be offended.
The passage is very short from elegance to luxury, Ionick and Corinthian
columns are soon succeeded by gilt cornices, inlaid floors and petty
ornaments, which show rather the wealth than the taste of the
Language proceeds, like every thing else, through improvement to
degeneracy. The rovers who first took possession of a country, having
not many ideas, and those not nicely modified or discriminated, were
contented, if by general terms and abrupt sentences they could make
their thoughts known to one another: as life begins to be more
regulated, and property to become limited, disputes must be decided, and
claims adjusted; the differences of things are noted, and distinctness
and propriety of expression become necessary. In time, happiness and
plenty give rise to curiosity, and the sciences are cultivated for ease
and pleasure; to the arts, which are now to be taught, emulation soon
adds the art of teaching; and the studious and ambitious contend not
only who shall think best, but who shall tell their thoughts in the most
Then begin the arts of rhetorick and poetry, the regulation of figures,
the selection of words, the modulation of periods, the graces of
transition, the complication of clauses, and all the delicacies of style
and subtilties of composition, useful while they advance perspicuity,
and laudable while they increase pleasure, but easy to be refined by
needless scrupulosity till they shall more embarrass the writer than
assist the reader or delight him.
The first state is commonly antecedent to the practice of writing; the
ignorant essays of imperfect diction pass away with the savage
generation that uttered them. No nation can trace their language beyond
the second period, and even of that it does not often happen that many
The fate of the English tongue is like that of others. We know nothing
of the scanty jargon of our barbarous ancestors; but we have specimens
of our language when it began to be adapted to civil and religious
purposes, and find it such as might naturally be expected, artless and
simple, unconnected and concise. The writers seem to have desired little
more than to be understood, and, perhaps, seldom aspired to the praise
of pleasing. Their verses were considered chiefly as memorial, and,
therefore, did not differ from prose but by the measure or the rhyme.
In this state, varied a little according to the different purposes or
abilities of writers, our language may be said to have continued to the
time of Gower, whom Chaucer calls his master, and who, however obscured
by his scholar's popularity, seems justly to claim the honour which has
been hitherto denied him, of showing his countrymen that something more
was to be desired, and that English verse might be exalted into poetry.
From the time of Gower and Chaucer, the English writers have studied
elegance, and advanced their language, by successive improvements, to as
much harmony as it can easily receive, and as much copiousness as human
knowledge has hitherto required. These advances have not been made at
all times with the same diligence or the same success. Negligence has
suspended the course of improvement, or affectation turned it aside;
time has elapsed with little change, or change has been made without
amendment. But elegance has been long kept in view with attention as
near to constancy as life permits, till every man now endeavours to
excel others in accuracy, or outshine them in splendour of style, and
the danger is, lest care should too soon pass to affectation.
No. 64. SATURDAY, JULY 1, 1759.
_Quid faciam, praescribe. Quiescas_.--HOR. Lib. ii. Sat. i. 5.
TO THE IDLER.
As nature has made every man desirous of happiness, I flatter myself,
that you and your readers cannot but feel some curiosity to know the
sequel of my story; for though, by trying the different schemes of
pleasure, I have yet found nothing in which I could finally acquiesce;
yet the narrative of my attempts will not be wholly without use, since
we always approach nearer to truth as we detect more and more varieties
When I had sold my racers, and put the orders of architecture out of my
head, my next resolution was to be a _fine gentleman_. I frequented the
polite coffee-houses, grew acquainted with all the men of humour, and
gained the right of bowing familiarly to half the nobility. In this new
scene of life my great labour was to learn to laugh. I had been used to
consider laughter as the effect of merriment; but I soon learned that it
is one of the arts of adulation, and, from laughing only to show that I
was pleased, I now began to laugh when I wished to please. This was at
first very difficult. I sometimes heard the story with dull
indifference, and, not exalting myself to merriment by due gradations,
burst out suddenly into an awkward noise, which was not always
favourably interpreted. Sometimes I was behind the rest of the company,
and lost the grace of laughing by delay, and sometimes, when I began at
the right time, was deficient in loudness or in length. But, by diligent
imitation of the best models, I attained at last such flexibility of
muscles, that I was always a welcome auditor of a story, and got the
reputation of a good-natured fellow.
This was something; but much more was to be done, that I might be
universally allowed to be a fine gentleman. I appeared at court on all
publick days; betted at gaming-tables; and played at all the routs of
eminence. I went every night to the opera, took a fiddler of disputed
merit under my protection, became the head of a musical faction, and had
sometimes concerts at my own house. I once thought to have attained the
highest rank of elegance, by taking a foreign singer into keeping. But
my favourite fiddler contrived to be arrested, on the night of a
concert, for a finer suit of clothes than I had ever presumed to wear,
and I lost all the fame of patronage by refusing to bail him.
My next ambition was to sit for my picture. I spent a whole winter in
going from painter to painter, to bespeak a whole length of one, and a
half length of another; I talked of nothing but attitudes, draperies and
proper lights; took my friends to see the pictures after every sitting;
heard every day of a wonderful performer in crayons and miniature, and
sent my pictures to be copied; was told by the judges that they were not
like, and was recommended to other artists. At length, being not able to
please my friends, I grew less pleased myself, and at last resolved to
think no more about it.
It was impossible to live in total idleness: and wandering about in
search of something to do, I was invited to a weekly meeting of
virtuosos, and felt myself instantaneously seized with an
unextinguishable ardour for all natural curiosities. I ran from auction
to auction, became a critick in shells and fossils, bought a _Hortus
siccus_ of inestimable value, and purchased a secret art of preserving
insects, which made my collection the envy of the other philosophers. I
found this pleasure mingled with much vexation. All the faults of my
life were for nine months circulated through the town with the most
active malignity, because I happened to catch a moth of peculiar
variegation; and because I once out-bid all the lovers of shells, and
carried off a nautilus, it was hinted that the validity of my uncle's
will ought to be disputed. I will not deny that I was very proud both of
the moth and of the shell, and gratified myself with the envy of my
companions, perhaps, more than became a benevolent being. But in time I
grew weary of being hated for that which produced no advantage, gave my
shells to children that wanted play-things, and suppressed the art of
drying butterflies, because I would not tempt idleness and cruelty to
I now began to feel life tedious, and wished to store myself with
friends, with whom I might grow old in the interchange of benevolence. I
had observed that popularity was most easily gained by an open table,
and, therefore, hired a French cook, furnished my sideboard with great
magnificence, filled my cellar with wines of pompous appellations,
bought every thing that was dear before it was good, and invited all
those who were most famous for judging of a dinner. In three weeks my
cook gave me warning, and, upon inquiry, told me that Lord Queasy, who
dined with me the day before, had sent him an offer of double wages. My
pride prevailed; I raised his wages, and invited his lordship to another
feast. I love plain meat, and was, therefore, soon weary of spreading a
table of which I could not partake. I found that my guests, when they
went away, criticised their entertainment, and censured my profusion; my
cook thought himself necessary, and took upon him the direction of the
house; and I could not rid myself of flatterers, or break from slavery,
but by shutting up my house, and declaring my resolution to live in
After all this, tell me, dear Idler, what I must do next; I have health,
I have money, and I hope that I have understanding; yet, with all these,
I have never been able to pass a single day which I did not wish at an
end before sun-set. Tell me, dear Idler, what I shall do.
Your humble servant,
No. 65. SATURDAY, JULY 14, 1759.
This sequel of Clarendon's history, at last happily published, is an
accession to English literature equally agreeable to the admirers of
elegance and the lovers of truth; many doubtful facts may now be
ascertained, and many questions, after long debate, may be determined by
decisive authority. He that records transactions in which himself was
engaged, has not only an opportunity of knowing innumerable particulars
which escape spectators, but has his natural powers exalted by that
ardour which always rises at the remembrance of our own importance, and
by which every man is enabled to relate his own actions better than
The difficulties through which this work has struggled into light, and
the delays with which our hopes have been long mocked, naturally lead
the mind to the consideration of the common fate of posthumous
He who sees himself surrounded by admirers, and whose vanity is hourly
feasted with all the luxuries of studied praise, is easily persuaded
that his influence will be extended beyond his life; that they who
cringe in his presence will reverence his memory, and that those who are
proud to be numbered among his friends, will endeavour to vindicate his
choice by zeal for his reputation.
With hopes like these, to the executors of Swift was committed the
history of the last years of queen Anne, and to those of Pope, the works
which remained unprinted in his closet. The performances of Pope were
burnt by those whom he had, perhaps, selected from all mankind as most
likely to publish them; and the history had likewise perished, had not a
straggling transcript fallen into busy hands.
The papers left in the closet of Pieresc supplied his heirs with a whole
winter's fuel; and many of the labours of the learned Bishop Lloyd were
consumed in the kitchen of his descendants.
Some works, indeed, have escaped total destruction, but yet have had
reason to lament the fate of orphans exposed to the frauds of unfaithful
guardians. How Hale would have borne the mutilations which his Pleas of
the Crown have suffered from the editor, they who know his character
will easily conceive.
The original copy of Burnet's history, though promised to some publick
library, has been never given; and who then can prove the fidelity of
the publication, when the authenticity of Clarendon's history, though
printed with the sanction of one of the first universities of the world,
had not an unexpected manuscript been happily discovered, would, with
the help of factious credulity, have been brought into question by the
two lowest of all human beings, a scribbler for a party, and a
commissioner of excise?
Vanity is often no less mischievous than negligence or dishonesty. He
that possesses a valuable manuscript, hopes to raise its esteem by
concealment, and delights in the distinction which he imagines himself
to obtain by keeping the key of a treasure which he neither uses nor
imparts. From him it falls to some other owner, less vain but more
negligent, who considers it as useless lumber, and rids himself of the
Yet there are some works which the authors must consign unpublished to
posterity, however uncertain be the event, however hopeless be the
trust. He that writes the history of his own times, if he adheres
steadily to truth, will write that which his own times will not easily
endure. He must be content to reposite his book, till all private
passions shall cease, and love and hatred give way to curiosity.
But many leave the labours of half their life to their executors and to
chance, because they will not send them abroad unfinished, and are
unable to finish them, having prescribed to themselves such a degree of
exactness as human diligence can scarcely attain. "Lloyd", says Burnet,
"did not lay out his learning with the same diligence as he laid it in."
He was always hesitating and inquiring, raising objections and removing
them, and waiting for clearer light and fuller discovery. Baker, after
many years passed in biography, left his manuscripts to be buried in a
library, because that was imperfect which could never be perfected.
Of these learned men, let those who aspire to the same praise imitate
the diligence, and avoid the scrupulosity. Let it be always remembered
that life is short, that knowledge is endless, and that many doubts
deserve not to be cleared. Let those whom nature and study have
qualified to teach mankind, tell us what they have learned while they
are yet able to tell it, and trust their reputation only to themselves.
 See Preface.
 It would be proper to reposite, in some public place, the manuscript
of Clarendon, which has not escaped all suspicion of unfaithful
The manuscript of Clarendon is now in the Bodleian library at
Oxford, and the editor of the present edition has it before him
while writing this note. He may likewise add, that a new and emended
edition is now printing from the original MS. at the Clarendon
press. December, 1824.
 See Preface.
Dr. Johnson's hatred of the excise reminds us of John Wesley's
wailing philippic against turnpike gates, which he denounced as the
most cruel of impositions on the way-faring man.
No. 66. SATURDAY, JULY 21, 1759.
No complaint is more frequently repeated among the learned, than that
of the waste made by time among the labours of antiquity. Of those who
once filled the civilized world with their renown, nothing is now left
but their names, which are left only to raise desires that never can be
satisfied, and sorrow which never can be comforted.
Had all the writings of the ancients been faithfully delivered down from
age to age, had the Alexandrian library been spared, and the Palatine
repositories remained unimpaired, how much might we have known of which
we are now doomed to be ignorant! how many laborious inquiries, and dark
conjectures; how many collations of broken hints and mutilated passages
might have been spared! We should have known the successions of princes,
the revolutions of empires, the actions of the great, and opinions of
the wise, the laws and constitutions of every state, and the arts by
which publick grandeur and happiness are acquired and preserved; we
should have traced the progress of life, seen colonies from distant
regions take possession of European deserts, and troops of savages
settled into communities by the desire of keeping what they had
acquired; we should have traced the gradations of civility, and
travelled upward to the original of things by the light of history, till
in remoter times it had glimmered in fable, and at last sunk into
If the works of imagination had been less diminished, it is likely that
all future times might have been supplied with inexhaustible amusement
by the fictions of antiquity. The tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides
would all have shown the stronger passions in all their diversities; and
the comedies of Menander would have furnished all the maxims of
domestick life. Nothing would have been necessary to moral wisdom but to
have studied these great masters, whose knowledge would have guided
doubt, and whose authority would have silenced cavils.
Such are the thoughts that rise in every student, when his curiosity is
eluded, and his searches are frustrated; yet it may, perhaps, be
doubted, whether our complaints are not sometimes inconsiderate, and
whether we do not imagine more evil than we feel. Of the ancients,
enough remains to excite our emulation and direct our endeavours. Many
of the works which time has left us, we know to have been these that
were most esteemed, and which antiquity itself considered as models; so
that, having the originals, we may without much regret lose the
imitations. The obscurity which the want of contemporary writers often
produces, only darkens single passages, and those commonly of slight
importance. The general tendency of every piece may be known; and though
that diligence deserves praise which leaves nothing unexamined, yet its
miscarriages are not much to be lamented; for the most useful truths are
always universal, and unconnected with accidents and customs.
Such is the general conspiracy of human nature against contemporary
merit, that, if we had inherited from antiquity enough to afford
employment for the laborious, and amusement for the idle, I know not
what room would have been left for modern genius or modern industry;
almost every subject would have been pre-occupied, and every style would
have been fixed by a precedent from which few would have ventured to
depart. Every writer would have had a rival, whose superiority was
already acknowledged, and to whose fame his work would, even before it
was seen, be marked out for a sacrifice.
We see how little the united experience of mankind hath been able to add
to the heroick characters displayed by Homer, and how few incidents the
fertile imagination of modern Italy has yet produced, which may not be
found in the Iliad and Odyssey. It is likely, that if all the works of
the Athenian philosophers had been extant, Malbranche and Locke would
have been condemned to be silent readers of the ancient metaphysicians;
and it is apparent, that, if the old writers had all remained, the Idler
could not have written a disquisition on the loss.
 There was a weighty meaning in that fiction of the Stoics, of a
grand periodic year, in which all events should be re-acted in the same
mode and order as before. There is nothing new under the sun. Whatever
is, or shall be, is only an imitation, or, at best, a re-production of
something that has been. The moralist who speculates on the
contingencies of human conduct can only divine the future from what has
already been acted on the earth. The philosopher, leaning on principles
which Science styles immutable, is confined within the narrow bounds of
created matter. Why then should Reason make us undervalue that
Revelation which carries us upwards to Creation's birth, and bears us
downward to a period when time shall be no longer? ED.
No. 67. SATURDAY, JULY 28, 1759.
TO THE IDLER.
In the observations which you have made on the various opinions and
pursuits of mankind, you must often, in literary conversations, have met
with men who consider dissipation as the great enemy of the intellect;
and maintain, that, in proportion as the student keeps himself within
the bounds of a settled plan, he will more certainly advance in science.
This opinion is, perhaps, generally true; yet, when we contemplate the
inquisitive nature of the human mind, and its perpetual impatience of
all restraint, it may be doubted whether the faculties may not be
contracted by confining the attention; and whether it may not sometimes
be proper to risk the certainty of little for the chance of much.
Acquisitions of knowledge, like blazes of genius, are often fortuitous.
Those who had proposed to themselves a methodical course of reading,
light by accident on a new book, which seizes their thoughts and kindles
their curiosity, and opens an unexpected prospect, to which the way
which they had prescribed to themselves would never have conducted them.
To enforce and illustrate my meaning, I have sent you a journal of three
days' employment, found among the papers of a late intimate
acquaintance; who, as will plainly appear, was a man of vast designs,
and of vast performances, though he sometimes designed one thing, and
performed another. I allow that the Spectator's inimitable productions
of this kind may well discourage all subsequent journalists; but, as the
subject of this is different from that of any which the Spectator has
given us, I leave it to you to publish or suppress it.
Mem. The following three days I purpose to give up to reading; and
intend, after all the delays which have obtruded themselves upon me, to
finish my Essay on the Extent of the Mental powers; to revise my
Treatise on Logick; to begin the Epick which I have long projected; to
proceed in my perusal of the Scriptures with Grotius's Comment; and at
my leisure to regale myself with the works of classicks, ancient and
modern, and to finish my Ode to Astronomy.
Monday.] Designed to rise at six, but, by my servant's laziness, my fire
was not lighted before eight, when I dropped into a slumber that lasted
till nine; at which time I arose, and, after breakfast, at ten, sat down
to study, purposing to begin upon my Essay; but, finding occasion to
consult a passage in Plato, was absorbed in the perusal of the Republick
till twelve. I had neglected to forbid company, and now enters Tom
Careless, who, after half an hour's chat, insisted upon my going with
him to enjoy an absurd character, that he had appointed, by an
advertisement, to meet him at a particular coffee-house. After we had
for some time entertained ourselves with him, we sallied out, designing
each to repair to his home; but, as it fell out, coming up in the street
to a man whose steel by his side declared him a butcher, we overheard
him opening an address to a genteelish sort of young lady, whom he
walked with: "Miss, though your father is master of a coal-lighter, and
you will be a great fortune, 'tis true; yet I wish I may be cut into
quarters if it is not only love, and not lucre of gain, that is my
motive for offering terms of marriage." As this lover proceeded in his
speech, he misled us the length of three streets, in admiration at the
unlimited power of the tender passion, that could soften even the heart
of a butcher. We then adjourned to a tavern, and from thence to one of
the publick gardens, where I was regaled with a most amusing variety of
men possessing great talents, so discoloured by affectation, that they
only made them eminently ridiculous; shallow things, who, by continual
dissipation, had annihilated the few ideas nature had given them, and
yet were celebrated for wonderful pretty gentlemen; young ladies
extolled for their wit, because they were handsome; illiterate empty
women as well as men, in high life, admired for their knowledge, from
their being resolutely positive; and women of real understanding so far
from pleasing the polite million, that they frightened them away, and
were left solitary. When we quitted this entertaining scene, Tom pressed
me, irresistibly, to sup with him. I reached home at twelve, and then
reflected, that, though indeed I had, by remarking various characters,
improved my insight into human nature, yet still I had neglected the
studies proposed, and accordingly took up my Treatise on Logick, to give
it the intended revisal, but found my spirits too much agitated, and
could not forbear a few satirical lines, under the title of The
Tuesday.] At breakfast, seeing my Ode to Astronomy lying on my desk, I
was struck with a train of ideas, that I thought might contribute to its
improvement. I immediately rang my bell to forbid all visitants, when my
servant opened the door, with, "Sir, Mr. Jeffery Gape." My cup dropped
out of one hand, and my poem out of the other. I could scarcely ask him
to sit; he told me he was going to walk, but, as there was a likelihood
of rain, he would sit with me; he said, he intended at first to have
called at Mr. Vacant's, but as he had not seen me a great while, he did
not mind coming out of his way to wait on me; I made him a bow, but
thanks for the favour stuck in my throat. I asked him if he had been to
the coffee-house; he replied, Two hours.
Under the oppression of this dull interruption, I sat looking wishfully
at the clock; for which, to increase my satisfaction, I had chosen the
inscription, "Art is long, and life is short;" exchanging questions and
answers at long intervals, and not without some hints that the
weather-glass promised fair weather. At half an hour after three he told
me he would trespass on me for a dinner, and desired me to send to his
house for a bundle of papers, about inclosing a common upon his estate,
which he would read to me in the evening. I declared myself busy, and Mr.
Gape went away.
Having dined, to compose my chagrin I took up Virgil, and several other
classicks, but could not calm my mind, or proceed in my scheme. At about
five I laid my hand on a Bible that lay on my table, at first with
coldness and insensibility; but was imperceptibly engaged in a close
attention to its sublime morality, and felt my heart expanded by warm
philanthropy, and exalted to dignity of sentiment. I then censured my
too great solicitude, and my disgust conceived at my acquaintance, who
had been so far from designing to offend, that he only meant to show
kindness and respect. In this strain of mind I wrote An Essay on
Benevolence, and An Elegy on Sublunary Disappointments. When I had
finished these, at eleven, I supped, and recollected how little I had
adhered to my plan, and almost questioned the possibility of pursuing
any settled and uniform design; however, I was not so far persuaded of
the truth of these suggestions, but that I resolved to try once more at
my scheme. As I observed the moon shining through my window, from a calm
and bright sky spangled with innumerable stars, I indulged a pleasing
meditation on the splendid scene, and finished my Ode to Astronomy.
Wednesday.] Rose at seven, and employed three hours in perusal of the
Scriptures with Grotius's Comment; and after breakfast fell into
meditation concerning my projected Epick; and being in some doubt as to
the particular lives of some heroes, whom I proposed to celebrate, I
consulted Bayle and Moreri, and was engaged two hours in examining
various lives and characters, but then resolved to go to my employment.
When I was seated at my desk, and began to feel the glowing succession
of poetical ideas, my servant brought me a letter from a lawyer,
requiring my instant attendance at Gray's Inn for half an hour. I went
full of vexation, and was involved in business till eight at night; and
then, being too much fatigued to study, supped, and went to bed.
Here my friend's Journal concludes, which, perhaps, is pretty much a
picture of the manner in which many prosecute their studies. I therefore
resolved to send it you, imagining, that, if you think it worthy of
appearing in your paper, some of your readers may receive entertainment
by recognising a resemblance between my friend's conduct and their own.
It must be left to the Idler accurately to ascertain the proper methods
of advancing in literature; but this one position, deducible from what
has been said above, may, I think, be reasonably asserted, that he who
finds himself strongly attracted to any particular study, though it may
happen to be out of his proposed scheme, if it is not trifling or
vicious, had better continue his application to it, since it is likely
that he will, with much more ease and expedition, attain that which a
warm inclination stimulates him to pursue, than that at which a
prescribed law compels him to toil.
I am, &c.
 This paper, which is evidently throughout allusive to the Idler's
own broken resolutions, was the composition of Bennet Langton, for
whom Johnson cherished the fondest regard. In his admiration he
ventured even to exclaim, "Sit anima mea cum Langtono." Boswell,
No. 68. SATURDAY, AUGUST 4, 1759.
Among the studies which have exercised the ingenious and the learned for
more than three centuries, none has been more diligently or more
successfully cultivated than the art of translation; by which the
impediments which bar the way to science are, in some measure, removed,
and the multiplicity of languages become less incommodious.
Of every other kind of writing the ancients have left us models which
all succeeding ages have laboured to imitate; but translation may justly
be claimed by the moderns as their own. In the first ages of the world
instruction was commonly oral, and learning traditional, and what was
not written could not be translated. When alphabetical writing made the
conveyance of opinions and the transmission of events more easy and
certain, literature did not flourish in more than one country at once,
or distant nations had little commerce with each other; and those few
whom curiosity sent abroad in quest of improvement, delivered their
acquisitions in their own manner, desirous, perhaps, to be considered as
the inventors of that which they had learned from others.
The Greeks for a time travelled into Egypt, but they translated no books
from the Egyptian language; and when the Macedonians had overthrown the
empire of Persia, the countries that became subject to Grecian dominion
studied only the Grecian literature. The books of the conquered nations,
if they had any among them, sunk into oblivion; Greece considered
herself as the mistress, if not as the parent of arts, her language
contained all that was supposed to be known, and, except the sacred
writings of the Old Testament, I know not that the library of Alexandria
adopted any thing from a foreign tongue.
The Romans confessed themselves the scholars of the Greeks, and do not
appear to have expected, what has since happened, that the ignorance of
succeeding ages would prefer them to their teachers. Every man, who in
Rome aspired to the praise of literature, thought it necessary to learn
Greek, and had no need of versions when they could study the originals.
Translation, however, was not wholly neglected. Dramatick poems could be
understood by the people in no language but their own, and the Romans
were sometimes entertained with the tragedies of Euripides and the
comedies of Menander. Other works were sometimes attempted; in an old
scholiast there is mention of a Latin Iliad; and we have not wholly lost
Tully's version of the poem of Aratus; but it does not appear that any
man grew eminent by interpreting another, and perhaps it was more
frequent to translate for exercise or amusement, than for fame.
The Arabs were the first nation who felt the ardour of translation: when
they had subdued the eastern provinces of the Greek empire, they found
their captives wiser than themselves, and made haste to relieve their
wants by imparted knowledge. They discovered that many might grow wise
by the labour of a few, and that improvements might be made with speed,
when they had the knowledge of former ages in their own language. They,
therefore, made haste to lay hold on medicine end philosophy, and turned
their chief authors into Arabick. Whether they attempted the poets is
not known; their literary zeal was vehement, but it was short, and
probably expired before they had time to add the arts of elegance to
those of necessity.
The study of ancient literature was interrupted in Europe by the
irruption of the Northern nations, who subverted the Roman empire, and
erected new kingdoms with new languages. It is not strange that such
confusion should suspend literary attention; those who lost, and those
who gained dominion, had immediate difficulties to encounter, and
immediate miseries to redress, and had little leisure, amidst the
violence of war, the trepidation of flight, the distresses of forced
migration, or the tumults of unsettled conquest, to inquire after
speculative truth, to enjoy the amusement of imaginary adventures, to
know the history of former ages, or study the events of any other lives.
But no sooner had this chaos of dominion sunk into order, than learning
began again to flourish in the calm of peace. When life and possessions
were secure, convenience and enjoyment were soon sought, learning was
found the highest gratification of the mind, and translation became one
of the means by which it was imparted.
At last, by a concurrence of many causes, the European world was roused
from its lethargy; those arts which had been long obscurely studied in
the gloom of monasteries became the general favourites of mankind; every
nation vied with its neighbour for the prize of learning; the epidemical
emulation spread from south to north, and curiosity and translation
found their way to Britain.
 Some popular information on the interesting subject of Arabian
Literature, is collected in the third part of Harris's Philological
Inquiries. Mr. Hallam's History of the Middle Ages is a rich storehouse
for these points.--ED.
No. 69. SATURDAY, AUGUST 11, 1759.
He that reviews the progress of English literature, will find that
translation was very early cultivated among us, but that some
principles, either wholly erroneous or too far extended, hindered our
success from being always equal to our diligence.
Chaucer, who is generally considered as the father of our poetry, has
left a version of Boethius on the Comforts of Philosophy, the book which
seems to have been the favourite of the middle ages, which had been
translated into Saxon by King Alfred, and illustrated with a copious
comment ascribed to Aquinas. It may be supposed that Chaucer would apply
more than common attention to an author of so much celebrity, yet he has
attempted nothing higher than a version strictly literal, and has
degraded the poetical parts to prose, that the constraint of
versification might not obstruct his zeal for fidelity.
Caxton taught us typography about the year 1474. The first book printed
in English was a translation. Caxton was both the translator and printer
of the Destruction of Troye; a book which, in that infancy of learning,
was considered as the best account of the fabulous ages, and which,
though now driven out of notice by authors of no greater use or value,
still continued to be read in Caxton's English to the beginning of the
Caxton proceeded as he began, and, except the poems of Gower and
Chaucer, printed nothing but translations from the French, in which the
original is so scrupulously followed, that they afford us little
knowledge of our own language: though the words are English, the phrase
As learning advanced, new works were adopted into our language, but I
think with little improvement of the art of translation, though foreign
nations and other languages offered us models of a better method; till
in the age of Elizabeth we began to find that greater liberty was
necessary to elegance, and that elegance was necessary to general
reception; some essays were then made upon the Italian poets, which
deserve the praise and gratitude of posterity.
But the old practice was not suddenly forsaken: Holland filled the
nation with literal translation; and, what is yet more strange, the same
exactness was obstinately practised in the versions of the poets. This
absurd labour of construing into rhyme was countenanced by Jonson in his
version of Horace; and whether it be that more men have learning than
genius, or that the endeavours of that time were more directed towards
knowledge than delight, the accuracy of Jonson found more imitators than
the elegance of Fairfax; and May, Sandys and Holiday, confined
themselves to the toil of rendering line for line, not indeed with equal
felicity, for May and Sandys were poets, and Holiday only a scholar and
Feltham appears to consider it as the established law of poetical
translation, that the lines should be neither more nor fewer than those
of the original; and so long had this prejudice prevailed, that Denham
praises Fanshaw's version of Guarini as the example of a _new and noble
way_, as the first attempt to break the boundaries of custom, and assert
the natural freedom of the Muse.
In the general emulation of wit and genius which the festivity of the
Restoration produced, the poets shook off their constraint, and
considered translation as no longer confined to servile closeness. But
reformation is seldom the work of pure virtue or unassisted reason.
Translation was improved more by accident than conviction. The writers
of the foregoing age had at least learning equal to their genius; and,
being often more able to explain the sentiments or illustrate the
allusions of the ancients, than to exhibit their graces and transfuse
their spirit, were, perhaps, willing sometimes to conceal their want of
poetry by profusion of literature, and, therefore, translated literally,
that their fidelity might shelter their insipidity or harshness. The
wits of Charles's time had seldom more than slight and superficial
views; and their care was to hide their want of learning behind the
colours of a gay imagination; they, therefore, translated always with
freedom, sometimes with licentiousness, and, perhaps, expected that
their readers should accept sprightliness for knowledge, and consider
ignorance and mistake as the impatience and negligence of a mind too
rapid to stop at difficulties, and too elevated to descend to
Thus was translation made more easy to the writer, and more delightful
to the reader; and there is no wonder if ease and pleasure have found
their advocates. The paraphrastick liberties have been almost
universally admitted; and Sherbourn, whose learning was eminent, and who
had no need of any excuse to pass slightly over obscurities, is the only
writer who, in later times, has attempted to justify or revive the
There is undoubtedly a mean to be observed. Dryden saw very early that
closeness best preserved an author's sense, and that freedom best
exhibited his spirit; he, therefore, will deserve the highest praise,
who can give a representation at once faithful and pleasing, who can
convey the same thoughts with the same graces, and who, when he
translates, changes nothing but the language.
 Much research on this branch of literature is exhibited in Lord
Woodhouselee's Principles of Translation.
No. 70. SATURDAY, AUGUST 18, 1759.
Few faults of style, whether real or imaginary, excite the malignity of
a more numerous class of readers, than the use of hard words.
If an author be supposed to involve his thoughts in voluntary obscurity,
and to obstruct, by unnecessary difficulties, a mind eager in pursuit of
truth; if he writes not to make others learned, but to boast the
learning which he possesses himself, and wishes to be admired rather
than understood, he counteracts the first end of writing, and justly
suffers the utmost severity of censure, or the more afflictive severity
But words are hard only to those who do not understand them; and the
critick ought always to inquire, whether he is incommoded by the fault
of the writer or by his own.
Every author does not write for every reader; many questions are such as
the illiterate part of mankind can have neither interest nor pleasure in
discussing, and which, therefore, it would be an useless endeavour to
level with common minds, by tiresome circumlocutions or laborious
explanations; and many subjects of general use may be treated in a
different manner, as the book is intended for the learned or the
ignorant. Diffusion and explication are necessary to the instruction of
those who, being neither able nor accustomed to think for themselves,
can learn only what is expressly taught; but they who can form
parallels, discover consequences, and multiply conclusions, are best
pleased with involution of argument and compression of thought; they
desire only to receive the seeds of knowledge which they may branch out
by their own power, to have the way to truth pointed out, which they can
then follow without a guide.
The Guardian directs one of his pupils, "to think with the wise, but
speak with the vulgar." This is a precept specious enough, but not
always practicable. Difference of thoughts will produce difference of
language. He that thinks with more extent than another will want words
of larger meaning; he that thinks with more subtilty will seek for terms
of more nice discrimination; and where is the wonder, since words are
but the images of things, that he who never knew the original should not
know the copies?
Yet vanity inclines us to find faults any where rather than in
ourselves. He that reads and grows no wiser, seldom suspects his own
deficiency; but complains of hard words and obscure sentences, and asks
why books are written which cannot be understood?
Among the hard words which are no longer to be used, it has been long
the custom to number terms of art. "Every man," says Swift, "is more
able to explain the subject of an art than its professors; a farmer will
tell you, in two words, that he has broken his leg; but a surgeon, after
a long discourse, shall leave you as ignorant as you were before." This
could only have been said, by such an exact observer of life, in
gratification of malignity, or in ostentation of acuteness. Every hour
produces instances of the necessity of terms of art. Mankind could never
conspire in uniform affectation; it is not but by necessity that every
science and every trade has its peculiar language. They that content
themselves with general ideas may rest in general terms; but those,
whose studies or employments force them upon closer inspection, must
have names for particular parts, and words by which they may express
various modes of combination, such as none but themselves have occasion
Artists are indeed sometimes ready to suppose that none can be strangers
to words to which themselves are familiar, talk to an incidental
inquirer as they talk to one another, and make their knowledge
ridiculous by injudicious obtrusion. An art cannot be taught but by its
proper terms, but it is not always necessary to teach the art.
That the vulgar express their thoughts clearly, is far from true; and
what perspicuity can be found among them proceeds not from the easiness
of their language, but the shallowness of their thoughts. He that sees a
building as a common spectator, contents himself with relating that it
is great or little, mean or splendid, lofty or low; all these words are
intelligible and common, but they convey no distinct or limited ideas;
if he attempts, without the terms of architecture, to delineate the
parts, or enumerate the ornaments, his narration at once becomes
unintelligible. The terms, indeed, generally displease, because they are
understood by few; but they are little understood, only because few that
look upon an edifice examine its parts, or analyze its columns into
The state of every other art is the same; as it is cursorily surveyed or
accurately examined, different forms of expression become proper. In
morality it is one thing to discuss the niceties of the casuist, and
another to direct the practice of common life. In agriculture, he that
instructs the farmer to plough and sow, may convey his notions without
the words which he would find necessary in explaining to philosophers
the process of vegetation; and if he, who has nothing to do but to be
honest by the shortest way, will perplex his mind with subtile
speculations; or if he, whose task is to reap and thrash, will not be
contented without examining the evolution of the seed and circulation of
the sap; the writers whom either shall consult are very little to be
blamed, though it should sometimes happen that they are read in vain.
No. 71. SATURDAY, AUGUST 25, 1759.
Celan le selve angui, leoni, ed orsi
Dentro il lor verde. TASSO, L'AMINTA.
Dick Shifter was born in Cheapside, and, having passed reputably through
all the classes of St. Paul's school, has been for some years a student
in the Temple. He is of opinion, that intense application dulls the
faculties, and thinks it necessary to temper the severity of the law by
books that engage the mind, but do not fatigue it. He has, therefore,
made a copious collection of plays, poems, and romances, to which he has
recourse when he fancies himself tired with statutes and reports; and he
seldom inquires very nicely whether he is weary or idle.
Dick has received from his favourite authors very strong impressions of
a country life; and though his furthest excursions have been to
Greenwich on one side, and Chelsea on the other, he has talked for
several years, with great pomp of language and elevation of sentiments,
about a state too high for contempt and too low for envy, about homely
quiet and blameless simplicity, pastoral delights and rural innocence.
His friends, who, had estates in the country, often invited him to pass
the summer among them, but something or other had always hindered him;
and he considered, that to reside in the house of another man was to
incur a kind of dependence inconsistent with that laxity of life which
he had imaged as the chief good.
This summer he resolved to be happy, and procured a lodging to be taken
for him at a solitary house, situated about thirty miles from London, on
the banks of a small river, with corn-fields before it and a hill on
each side covered with wood. He concealed the place of his retirement,
that none might violate his obscurity, and promised himself many a happy
day when he should hide himself among the trees, and contemplate the
tumults and vexations of the town.
He stepped into the post-chaise with his heart beating and his eyes
sparkling, was conveyed through many varieties of delightful prospects,
saw hills and meadows, cornfields and pasture, succeed each other, and
for four hours charged none of his poets with fiction or exaggeration.
He was now within six miles of happiness, when, having never felt so
much agitation before, he began to wish his journey at an end, and the
last hour was passed in changing his posture and quarrelling with his
An hour may be tedious, but cannot be long. He at length alighted at his
new dwelling, and was received as he expected; he looked round upon the
hills and rivulets, but his joints were stiff and his muscles sore, and
his first request was to see his bed-chamber.
He rested well, and ascribed the soundness of his sleep to the stillness
of the country. He expected from that time nothing but nights of quiet
and days of rapture, and, as soon as he had risen, wrote an account of
his new state to one of his friends in the Temple.
"I never pitied thee before. I am now, as I could wish every man of
wisdom and virtue to be, in the regions of calm content and placid
meditation; with all the beauties of nature soliciting my notice, and
all the diversities of pleasure courting my acceptance; the birds are
chirping in the hedges, and the flowers blooming in the mead; the breeze
is whistling in the wood, and the sun dancing on the water. I can now
say, with truth, that a man, capable of enjoying the purity of
happiness, is never more busy than in his hours of leisure, nor ever
less solitary than in a place of solitude.
I am, dear Frank, &c."
When he had sent away his letter, he walked into the wood, with some
inconvenience, from the furze that pricked his legs, and the briars that
scratched his face. He at last sat down under a tree, and heard with
great delight a shower, by which he was not wet, rattling among the
branches: This, said he, is the true image of obscurity; we hear of
troubles and commotions, but never feel them.
His amusement did not overpower the calls of nature, and he, therefore,
went back to order his dinner. He knew that the country produces
whatever is eaten or drunk, and, imagining that he was now at the source
of luxury, resolved to indulge himself with dainties which he supposed
might be procured at a price next to nothing, if any price at all was
expected; and intended to amaze the rusticks with his generosity, by
paying more than they would ask. Of twenty dishes which he named, he was
amazed to find that scarcely one was to be had; and heard, with
astonishment and indignation, that all the fruits of the earth were sold
at a higher price than in the streets of London.
His meal was short and sullen; and he retired again to his tree, to
inquire how dearness could be consistent with abundance, or how fraud
should be practised by simplicity. He was not satisfied with his own
speculations, and, returning home early in the evening, went a while
from window to window, and found that he wanted something to do.
He inquired for a newspaper, and was told that farmers never minded
news, but that they could send for it from the alehouse. A messenger was
despatched, who ran away at full speed, but loitered an hour behind the
hedges, and at last coming back with his feet purposely bemired, instead
of expressing the gratitude which Mr. Shifter expected for the bounty of
a shilling, said, that the night was wet, and the way dirty, and he
hoped that his worship would not think it much to give him half-a-crown.
Dick now went to bed with some abatement of his expectations; but sleep,
I know not how, revives our hopes, and rekindles our desires. He rose
early in the morning, surveyed the landscape, and was pleased. He walked
out, and passed from field to field, without observing any beaten path,
and wondered that he had not seen the shepherdesses dancing, nor heard
the swains piping to their flocks.
At last he saw some reapers and harvest-women at dinner. Here, said he,
are the true Arcadians; and advanced courteously towards them, as afraid
of confusing them by the dignity of his presence. They acknowledged his
superiority by no other token than that of asking him for something to
drink. He imagined that he had now purchased the privilege of discourse,
and began to descend to familiar questions, endeavouring to accommodate
his discourse to the grossness of rustick understandings. The clowns
soon found, that he did not know wheat from rye, and began to despise
him; one of the boys, by pretending to show him a bird's nest, decoyed
him into a ditch; and one of the wenches sold him a bargain.
This walk had given him no great pleasure; but he hoped to find other
rusticks less coarse of manners, and less mischievous of disposition.
Next morning he was accosted by an attorney, who told him that, unless
he made farmer Dobson satisfaction for trampling his grass, he had
orders to indict him. Shifter was offended, but not terrified; and,
telling the attorney that he was himself a lawyer, talked so volubly of
pettyfoggers and barrators, that he drove him away.
Finding his walks thus interrupted, he was inclined to ride, and, being
pleased with the appearance of a horse that was grazing in a
neighbouring meadow, inquired the owner, who warranted him sound, and
would not sell him, but that he was too fine for a plain man. Dick paid
down the price, and, riding out to enjoy the evening, fell with his new
horse into a ditch; they got out with difficulty, and, as he was going
to mount again, a countryman looked at the horse, and perceived him to
be blind. Dick went to the seller, and demanded back his money; but was
told, that a man who rented his ground must do the best for himself;
that his landlord had his rent though the year was barren; and that,
whether horses had eyes or no, he should sell them to the highest
Shifter now began to be tired with rustick simplicity, and on the fifth
day took possession again of his chambers, and bade farewell to the
regions of calm content and placid meditation.
No. 72. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 1759.
Men complain of nothing more frequently than of deficient memory; and,
indeed, every one finds that many of the ideas which he desired to
retain have slipped irretrievably away; that the acquisitions of the
mind are sometimes equally fugitive with the gifts of fortune; and that
a short intermission of attention more certainly lessens knowledge than
impairs an estate.
To assist this weakness of our nature, many methods have been proposed,
all of which may be justly suspected of being ineffectual; for no art of
memory, however its effects have been boasted or admired, has been ever
adopted into general use, nor have those who possessed it appeared to
excel others in readiness of recollection or multiplicity of
There is another art of which all have felt the want, though
Themistocles only confessed it. We suffer equal pain from the
pertinacious adhesion of unwelcome images, as from the evanescence of
those which are pleasing and useful; and it may be doubted whether we
should be more benefited by the art of memory or the art of
Forgetfulness is necessary to remembrance. Ideas are retained by
renovation of that impression which time is always wearing away, and
which new images are striving to obliterate. If useless thoughts could
be expelled from the mind, all the valuable parts of our knowledge would
more frequently recur, and every recurrence would reinstate them in
their former place.
It is impossible to consider, without some regret, how much might have
been learned, or how much might have been invented, by a rational and
vigorous application of time, uselessly or painfully passed in the
revocation of events, which have left neither good nor evil behind them,
in grief for misfortunes either repaired or irreparable, in resentment
of injuries known only to ourselves, of which death has put the authors
beyond our power.
Philosophy has accumulated precept upon precept, to warn us against the
anticipation of future calamities. All useless misery is certainly
folly, and he that feels evils before they come may be deservedly
censured; yet surely to dread the future is more reasonable than to
lament the past. The business of life is to go forwards: he who sees
evil in prospect meets it in his way; but he who catches it by
retrospection turns back to find it. That which is feared may sometimes
be avoided, but that which is regretted to-day may be regretted again
Regret is indeed useful and virtuous, and not only allowable but
necessary, when it tends to the amendment of life, or to admonition of
errour which we may be again in danger of committing. But a very small
part of the moments spent in meditation on the past, produce any
reasonable caution or salutary sorrow. Most of the mortifications that
we have suffered, arose from the concurrence of local and temporary
circumstances, which can never meet again; and most of our
disappointments have succeeded those expectations, which life allows not
to be formed a second time.
It would add much to human happiness, if an art could be taught of
forgetting all of which the remembrance is at once useless and
afflictive; if that pain which never can end in pleasure could be driven
totally away, that the mind might perform its functions without
incumbrance, and the past might no longer encroach upon the present.
Little can be done well to which the whole mind is not applied; the
business of every day calls for the day to which it is assigned; and he
will have no leisure to regret yesterday's vexations who resolves not to
have a new subject of regret to-morrow.
But to forget or to remember at pleasure, are equally beyond the power
of man. Yet as memory may be assisted by method, and the decays of
knowledge repaired by stated times of recollection, so the power of
forgetting is capable of improvement. Reason will, by a resolute
contest, prevail over imagination, and the power may be obtained of
transferring the attention as judgment shall direct.
The incursions of troublesome thoughts are often violent and
importunate; and it is not easy to a mind accustomed to their inroads to
expel them immediately by putting better images into motion; but this
enemy of quiet is above all others weakened by every defeat; the
reflection which has been once overpowered and ejected, seldom returns
with any formidable vehemence.
Employment is the great instrument of intellectual dominion. The mind
cannot retire from its enemy into total vacancy, or turn aside from one
object but by passing to another. The gloomy and the resentful are
always found among those who have nothing to do, or who do nothing. We
must be busy about good or evil, and he to whom the present offers
nothing will often be looking backward on the past.
No. 73. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 1759.
That every man would be rich if a wish could obtain riches, is a
position which I believe few will contest, at least in a nation like
ours, in which commerce has kindled an universal emulation of wealth,
and in which money receives all the honours which are the proper right
of knowledge and of virtue.
Yet, though we are all labouring for gold as for the chief good, and, by
the natural effort of unwearied diligence, have found many expeditious
methods of obtaining it, we have not been able to improve the art of
using it, or to make it produce more happiness than it afforded in
former times, when every declaimer expatiated on its mischiefs, and
every philosopher taught his followers to despise it.
Many of the dangers imputed of old to exorbitant wealth, are now at an
end. The rich are neither waylaid by robbers, nor watched by informers;
there is nothing to be dreaded from proscriptions, or seizures. The
necessity of concealing treasure has long ceased; no man now needs
counterfeit mediocrity, and condemn his plate and jewels to caverns and
darkness, or feast his mind with the consciousness of clouded splendour,
of finery which is useless till it is shown, and which he dares not
In our time, the poor are strongly tempted to assume the appearance of
wealth, but the wealthy very rarely desire to be thought poor; for we
are all at full liberty to display riches by every mode of ostentation.
We fill our houses with useless ornaments, only to show that we can buy
them; we cover our coaches with gold, and employ artists in the
discovery of new fashions of expense; and yet it cannot be found that
riches produce happiness.
Of riches, as of every thing else, the hope is more than the enjoyment:
while we consider them as the means to be used, at some future time, for
the attainment of felicity, we press on our pursuit ardently and
vigorously, and that ardour secures us from weariness of ourselves; but
no sooner do we sit down to enjoy our acquisitions, than we find them
insufficient to fill up the vacuities of life.
One cause which is not always observed of the insufficiency of riches
is, that they very seldom make their owner rich. To be rich, is to have
more than is desired, and more than is wanted, to have something which
may be spent without reluctance, and scattered without care, with which
the sudden demands of desire may be gratified, the casual freaks of
fancy indulged, or the unexpected opportunities of benevolence improved.
Avarice is always poor, but poor by her own fault. There is another
poverty to which the rich are exposed with less guilt by the
officiousness of others. Every man, eminent for exuberance of fortune,
is surrounded from morning to evening, and from evening to midnight, by
flatterers, whose art of adulation consists in exciting artificial
wants, and in forming new schemes of profusion.
Tom Tranquil, when he came to age, found himself in possession of a
fortune, of which the twentieth part might perhaps have made him rich.
His temper is easy, and his affections soft; he receives every man with
kindness, and hears him with credulity. His friends took care to settle
him by giving him a wife, whom, having no particular inclination, he
rather accepted than chose, because he was told that she was proper for
He was now to live with dignity proportionate to his fortune. What his
fortune requires or admits Tom does not know, for he has little skill in
computation, and none of his friends think it their interest to improve
it. If he was suffered to live by his own choice, he would leave every
thing as he finds it, and pass through the world distinguished only by
inoffensive gentleness. But the ministers of luxury have marked him out
as one at whose expense they may exercise their arts. A companion, who
had just learned the names of the Italian masters, runs from sale to
sale, and buys pictures, for which Mr. Tranquil pays, without inquiring
where they shall be hung. Another fills his garden with statues, which
Tranquil wishes away, but dares not remove. One of his friends is
learning architecture by building him a house, which he passed by, and
inquired to whom it belonged; another has been for three years digging
canals and raising mounts, cutting trees down in one place, and planting
them in another, on which Tranquil looks with a serene indifference,
without asking what will be the cost. Another projector tells him that a
waterwork, like that of Versailles, will complete the beauties of his
seat, and lays his draughts before him: Tranquil turns his eyes upon
them, and the artist begins his explanations; Tranquil raises no
objections, but orders him to begin the work, that he may escape from
talk which he does not understand.
Thus a thousand hands are busy at his expense, without adding to his
pleasures. He pays and receives visits, and has loitered in publick or
in solitude, talking in summer of the town, and in winter of the
country, without knowing that his fortune is impaired, till his steward
told him this morning, that he could pay the workmen no longer but by
mortgaging a manor.
No. 74. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 1759.
In the mythological pedigree of learning, memory is made the mother of
the muses, by which the masters of ancient wisdom, perhaps, meant to
show the necessity of storing the mind copiously with true notions,
before the imagination should be suffered to form fictions or collect
embellishments; for the works of an ignorant poet can afford nothing
higher than pleasing sound, and fiction is of no other use than to
display the treasures of memory.
The necessity of memory to the acquisition of knowledge is inevitably
felt and universally allowed, so that scarcely any other of the mental
faculties are commonly considered as necessary to a student: he that
admires the proficiency of another, always attributes it to the
happiness of his memory; and he that laments his own defects, concludes
with a wish that his memory was better.
It is evident, that when the power of retention is weak, all the
attempts at eminence of knowledge must be vain; and as few are willing
to be doomed to perpetual ignorance, I may, perhaps, afford consolation
to some that have fallen too easily into despondence, by observing that
such weakness is, in my opinion, very rare, and that few have reason to
complain of nature as unkindly sparing of the gifts of memory.
In the common business of life, we find the memory of one like that of
another, and honestly impute omissions not to involuntary forgetfulness,
but culpable inattention; but in literary inquiries, failure is imputed
rather to want of memory than of diligence.
We consider ourselves as defective in memory, either because we remember
less than we desire, or less than we suppose others to remember.
Memory is like all other human powers, with which no man can be
satisfied who measures them by what he can conceive, or by what he can
desire. He whose mind is most capacious, finds it much too narrow for
his wishes; he that remembers most, remembers little compared with what
he forgets. He, therefore, that, after the perusal of a book, finds few
ideas remaining in his mind, is not to consider the disappointment as
peculiar to himself, or to resign all hopes of improvement, because he
does not retain what even the author has, perhaps, forgotten.
He who compares his memory with that of others, is often too hasty to
lament the inequality. Nature has sometimes, indeed, afforded examples
of enormous, wonderful and gigantick memory. Scaliger reports of
himself, that, in his youth, he could repeat above a hundred verses,
having once read them; and Barthicus declares, that he wrote his comment
upon Claudian without consulting the text. But not to have such degrees
of memory is no more to be lamented, than not to have the strength of
Hercules, or the swiftness of Achilles. He that, in the distribution of
good, has an equal share with common men, may justly be contented. Where
there is no striking disparity, it is difficult to know of two which
remembers most, and still more difficult to discover which reads with
greater attention, which has renewed the first impression by more
frequent repetitions, or by what accidental combination of ideas either
mind might have united any particular narrative or argument to its
But memory, however impartially distributed, so often deceives our
trust, that almost every man attempts, by some artifice or other, to
secure its fidelity.
It is the practice of many readers to note, in the margin of their
books, the most important passages, the strongest arguments, or the
brightest sentiments. Thus they load their minds with superfluous
attention, repress the vehemence of curiosity by useless deliberation,
and by frequent interruption break the current of narration or the chain
of reason, and at last close the volume, and forget the passages and
Others I have found unalterably persuaded, that nothing is certainly
remembered but what is transcribed; and they have, therefore, passed
weeks and months in transferring large quotations to a commonplace-book.
Yet, why any part of a book, which can be consulted at pleasure, should
be copied, I was never able to discover. The hand has no closer
correspondence with the memory than the eye. The act of writing itself
distracts the thoughts, and what is read twice is commonly better
remembered than what is transcribed. This method, therefore, consumes
time without assisting memory.
The true art of memory is the art of attention. No man will read with
much advantage, who is not able, at pleasure, to evacuate his mind, or
who brings not to his author an intellect defecated and pure, neither
turbid with care, nor agitated by pleasure. If the repositories of
thought are already full, what can they receive? If the mind is employed
on the past or future, the book will be held before the eyes in vain.
What is read with delight is commonly retained, because pleasure always
secures attention; but the books which are consulted by occasional
necessity, and perused with impatience, seldom leave any traces on the
No. 75. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 1759.
In the time when Bassora was considered as the school of Asia, and
flourished by the reputation of its professors and the confluence of its
students, among the pupils that listened round the chair of Albumazar
was Gelaleddin, a native of Tauris, in Persia, a young man amiable in
his manners and beautiful in his form, of boundless curiosity, incessant
diligence, and irresistible genius, of quick apprehension and tenacious
memory, accurate without narrowness, and eager for novelty without
No sooner did Gelaleddin appear at Bassora, than his virtues and
abilities raised him to distinction. He passed from class to class
rather admired than envied by those whom the rapidity of his progress
left behind; he was consulted by his fellow-students as an oraculous
guide, and admitted as a competent auditor to the conferences of the
After a few years, having passed through all the exercises of probation,
Gelaleddin was invited to a professor's seat, and entreated to increase
the splendour of Bassora. Gelaleddin affected to deliberate on the
proposal, with which, before he considered it, he resolved to comply;
and next morning retired to a garden planted for the recreation of the
students, and, entering a solitary walk, began to meditate upon his
"If I am thus eminent," said he, "in the regions of literature, I shall
be yet more conspicuous in any other place; if I should now devote
myself to study and retirement, I must pass my life in silence,
unacquainted with the delights of wealth, the influence of power, the
pomp of greatness, and the charms of elegance, with all that man envies
and desires, with all that keeps the world in motion, by the hope of
gaining or the fear of losing it. I will, therefore, depart to Tauris,
where the Persian monarch resides in all the splendour of absolute
dominion: my reputation will fly before me, my arrival will be
congratulated by my kinsmen and my friends; I shall see the eyes of
those who predict my greatness sparkling with exultation, and the faces
of those that once despised me clouded with envy, or counterfeiting
kindness by artificial smiles. I will show my wisdom by my discourse,
and my moderation by my silence; I will instruct the modest with easy
gentleness, and repress the ostentatious by seasonable superciliousness.
My apartments will be crowded by the inquisitive and the vain, by those
that honour and those that rival me; my name will soon reach the court;
I shall stand before the throne of the emperour: the judges of the law
will confess my wisdom, and the nobles will contend to heap gifts upon
me. If I shall find that my merit, like that of others, excites
malignity, or feel myself tottering on the seat of elevation, I may at
last retire to academical obscurity, and become, in my lowest state, a
professor of Bassora."
Having thus settled his determination, he declared to his friends his
design of visiting Tauris, and saw with more pleasure than he ventured
to express, the regret with which he was dismissed. He could not bear to
delay the honours to which he was destined, and, therefore, hastened
away, and in a short time entered the capital of Persia. He was
immediately immersed in the crowd, and passed unobserved to his father's
house. He entered, and was received, though not unkindly, yet without
any excess of fondness or exclamations of rapture. His father had, in
his absence, suffered many losses, and Gelaleddin was considered as an
additional burden to a falling family.
When he recovered from his surprise, he began to display his
acquisitions, and practised all the arts of narration and disquisition:
but the poor have no leisure to be pleased with eloquence; they heard
his arguments without reflection, and his pleasantries without a smile.
He then applied himself singly to his brothers and sisters, but found
them all chained down by invariable attention to their own fortunes, and
insensible of any other excellence than that which could bring some
remedy for indigence.
It was now known in the neighbourhood that Gelaleddin was returned, and
he sat for some days in expectation that the learned would visit him for
consultation, or the great for entertainment. But who will be pleased or
instructed in the mansions of poverty? He then frequented places of
publick resort, and endeavoured to attract notice by the copiousness of
his talk. The sprightly were silenced, and went away to censure, in some
other place, his arrogance and his pedantry; and the dull listened
quietly for a while, and then wondered why any man should take pains to
obtain so much knowledge which would never do him good.
He next solicited the visiers for employment, not doubting but his
service would be eagerly accepted. He was told by one that there was no
vacancy in his office; by another, that his merit was above any
patronage but that of the emperour; by a third, that he would not forget
him; and by the chief visier, that he did not think literature of any
great use in publick business. He was sometimes admitted to their
tables, where he exerted his wit and diffused his knowledge; but he
observed, that where, by endeavour or accident, he had remarkably
excelled, he was seldom invited a second time.
He now returned to Bassora, wearied and disgusted, but confident of
resuming his former rank, and revelling again in satiety of praise. But
he who had been neglected at Tauris, was not much regarded at Bassora;
he was considered as a fugitive, who returned only because he could live
in no other place; his companions found that they had formerly overrated
his abilities, and he lived long without notice or esteem.
No. 76. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 1759.
TO THE IDLER,
I was much pleased with your ridicule of those shallow criticks, whose
judgment, though often right as far as it goes, yet reaches only to
inferior beauties, and who, unable to comprehend the whole, judge only
by parts, and from thence determine the merit of extensive works. But
there is another kind of critick still worse, who judges by narrow
rules, and those too often false, and which, though they should be true,
and founded on nature, will lead him but a very little way toward the
just estimation of the sublime beauties in works of genius; for whatever
part of an art can be executed or criticised by rules, that part is no
longer the work of genius, which implies excellence out of the reach of
rules. For my own part, I profess myself an Idler, and love to give my
judgment, such as it is, from my immediate perceptions, without much
fatigue of thinking; and I am of opinion that, if a man has not those
perceptions right, it will be vain for him to endeavour to supply their
place by rules, which may enable him to talk more learnedly, but not to
distinguish more acutely. Another reason which has lessened my affection
for the study of criticism is, that criticks, so far as I have observed,
debar themselves from receiving any pleasure from the polite arts, at
the same time, that they profess to love and admire them: for these
rules, being always uppermost, give them such a propensity to criticise,
that, instead of giving up the reins of their imagination into their
author's hands, their frigid minds are employed in examining whether the
performance be according to the rules of art.
To those who are resolved to be criticks in spite of nature, and, at the
same time, have no great disposition to much reading and study, I would
recommend to them to assume the character of connoisseur, which may be
purchased at a much cheaper rate than that of a critick in poetry. The
remembrance of a few names of painters, with their general characters,
with a few rules of the academy, which they may pick up among the
painters, will go a great way towards making a very notable connoisseur.
With a gentleman of this cast, I visited last week the Cartoons at
Hampton-court; he was just returned from Italy, a connoisseur of course,
and of course his mouth full of nothing but the grace of Raffaelle, the
purity of Domenichino, the learning of Poussin, the air of Guido, the
greatness of taste of the Carraccis, and the sublimity and grand
contorno of Michael Angelo; with all the rest of the cant of criticism,
which he emitted with that volubility which generally those orators have
who annex no ideas to their words.
As we were passing through the rooms, in our way to the gallery, I made
him observe a whole length of Charles the First by Vandyke, as a perfect
representation of the character as well as the figure of the man. He
agreed it was very fine, but it wanted spirit and contrast, and had not
the flowing line, without which a figure could not possibly be graceful.
When we entered the gallery, I thought I could perceive him recollecting
his rules by which he was to criticise Raffaelle. I shall pass over his
observation of the boats being too little, and other criticisms of that
kind, till we arrive at St. Paul preaching.
"This," says he, "is esteemed the most excellent of all the cartoons;
what nobleness, what dignity, there is in that figure of St. Paul! and
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