The Works of Samuel Johnson
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THE WORKS OF SAMUEL JOHNSON
IN SIXTEEN VOLUMES
BY SAMUEL JOHNSON
171 Misella's description of the life of a prostitute.
172 The effect of sudden riches upon the manners.
173 Unreasonable fears of pedantry.
174 The mischiefs of unbounded raillery. History of Dicaculus
175 The majority are wicked.
176 Directions to authors attacked by criticks. The various
degrees of critical perspicacity.
177 An account of a club of antiquaries.
178 Many advantages not to be enjoyed together.
179 The awkward merriment of a student.
180 The study of life not to be neglected for the sake of books.
181 The history of an adventurer in lotteries.
182 The history of Leviculus, the fortune-hunter.
183 The influence of envy and interest compared.
184 The subject of essays often suggested by chance.
Chance equally prevalent in other affairs
185 The prohibition of revenge justifiable by reason. The
meanness of regulating our conduct by the opinions of men
186 Anningait and Ajut; a Greenland history
187 The history of Anningait and Ajut concluded
188 Favour often gained with little assistance from understanding.
189 The mischiefs of falsehood. The character of Turpicula.
190 The history of Abouzaid, the son of Morad.
191 The busy life of a young lady.
192 Love unsuccessful without riches.
193 The author's art of praising himself.
194 A young nobleman's progress in politeness..
195 A young nobleman's introduction to the knowledge of the town.
196 Human opinions mutable. The hopes of youth fallacious.
197 The history of a legacy-hunter.
198 The legacy-hunter's history concluded.
199 The virtues of Rabbi Abraham's magnet.
200 Asper's complaint of the insolence of Prospero
Unpoliteness not always the effect of pride.
201 The importance of punctuality.
202 The different acceptations of poverty. Cynicks and Monks not poor.
203 The pleasures of life to be sought in prospects of futurity.
Future fame uncertain.
204 The history of ten days of Seged, emperour of Ethiopia.
205 The history of Seged concluded.
206 The art of living at the cost of others.
207 The folly of continuing too long upon the stage.
208 The Rambler's reception. His design.
34 Folly of extravagance. The story of Misargyrus.
39 On sleep.
41 Sequel of the story of Misargyrus.
45 The difficulty of forming confederacies.
50 On lying.
53 Misargyrus' account of his companions in the Fleet.
58 Presumption of modern criticism censured.
Ancient poetry necessarily obscure. Examples from Horace.
62 Misargyrus' account of his companions concluded.
67 On the trades of Londo.
69 Idle hope.
74 Apology for neglecting officious advice.
81 Incitement to enterprise and emulation.
Some account of the admirable Crichton.
84 Folly of false pretences to importance. A journey in a stage coach.
85 Study, composition and converse equally necessary
to intellectual accomplishment.
92 Criticism on the Pastorals of Virgil.
95 Apology for apparent plagiarism. Sources of literary variety.
99 Projectors injudiciously censured and applauded.
102 Infelicities of retirement to men of business.
107 Different opinions equally plausible.
108 On the uncertainty of human things.
THE WORKS OF SAMUEL JOHNSON
IN SIXTEEN VOLUMES
BY SAMUEL JOHNSON
No. 171. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 1751
Toeet coeli convexa tueri. VIRG. AEn. iv. 451.
Dark is the sun, and loathsome is the day.
TO THE RAMBLER.
MISELLA now sits down to continue her
narrative. I am convinced that nothing would
more powerfully preserve youth from irregularity,
or guard inexperience from seduction, than a just
description of the condition into which the wanton
plunges herself; and therefore hope that my letter
may be a sufficient antidote to my example.
After the distraction, hesitation, and delays which
the timidity of guilt naturally produces, I was
removed to lodgings in a distant part of the town,
under one of the characters commonly assumed upon
such occasions. Here being by my circumstances
condemned to solitude, I passed most of my hours
in bitterness and anguish. The conversation of the
people with whom I was placed was not at all capable
of engaging my attention, or dispossessing the
reigning ideas. The books which I carried to my
retreat were such as heightened my abhorrence of
myself; for I was not so far abandoned as to sink
voluntarily into corruption, or endeavour to conceal
from my own mind the enormity of my crime.
My relation remitted none of his fondness, but
visited me so often, that I was sometimes afraid
lest his assiduity should expose him to suspicion.
Whenever he came he found me weeping, and was
therefore less delightfully entertained than he
expected. After frequent expostulations upon the
unreasonableness of my sorrow, and innumerable
protestations of everlasting regard, he at last found
that I was more affected with the loss of my
innocence, than the danger of my fame, and that he
might not be disturbed by my remorse, began to
lull my conscience with the opiates of irreligion.
His arguments were such as my course of life has
since exposed me often to the necessity of hearing,
vulgar, empty, and fallacious; yet they at first
confounded me by their novelty, filled me with doubt
and perplexity, and interrupted that peace which I
began to feel from the sincerity of my repentance,
without substituting any other support. I listened
a while to his impious gabble, but its influence was
soon overpowered by natural reason and early education,
and the convictions which this new attempt
gave me of his baseness completed my abhorrence.
I have heard of barbarians, who, when tempests
drive ships upon their coast, decoy them to the rocks
that they may plunder their lading, and have always
thought that wretches, thus merciless in their
depredations, ought to be destroyed by a general
insurrection of all social beings; yet how light is this
guilt to the crime of him, who, in the agitations of
remorse, cuts away the anchor of piety, and, when
he has drawn aside credulity from the paths of
virtue, hides the light of heaven which would direct
her to return. I had hitherto considered him as a man
equally betrayed with myself by the concurrence of
appetite and opportunity; but I now saw with horrour
that he was contriving to perpetuate his gratification,
and was desirous to fit me to his purpose,
by complete and radical corruption.
To escape, however, was not yet in my power. I
could support the expenses of my condition only
by the continuance of his favour. He provided all
that was necessary, and in a few weeks congratulated
me upon my escape from the danger which
we had both expected with so much anxiety. I
then began to remind him of his promise to restore
me with my fame uninjured to the world. He promised
me in general terms, that nothing should be
wanting which his power could add to my happiness,
but forbore to release me from my confinement.
I knew how much my reception in the world
depended upon my speedy return, and was therefore
outrageously impatient of his delays, which I
now perceived to be only artifices of lewdness. He
told me at last, with an appearance of sorrow, that
all hopes of restoration to my former state were for
ever precluded; that chance had discovered my
secret, and malice divulged it; and that nothing
now remained, but to seek a retreat more private,
where curiosity or hatred could never find us.
The rage, anguish, and resentment, which I felt
at this account are not to be expressed. I was in so
much dread of reproach and infamy, which he represented
as pursuing me with full cry, that I yielded
myself implicitly to his disposal and was removed,
with a thousand studied precautions, through by-
ways and dark passages to another house, where I
harassed him with perpetual solicitations for a small
annuity that might enable me to live in the country
in obscurity and innocence.
This demand he at first evaded with ardent
professions, but in time appeared offended at my
importunity and distrust; and having one day
endeavoured to sooth me with uncommon expressions
of tenderness, when he found my discontent
immoveable, left me with some inarticulate murmurs
of anger. I was pleased that he was at last roused
to sensibility, and expecting that at his next visit
he would comply with my request, lived with great
tranquillity upon the money in my hands, and was
so much pleased with this pause of persecution, that
I did not reflect how much his absence had exceeded
the usual intervals, till I was alarmed with
the danger of wanting subsistence. I then suddenly
contracted my expenses, but was unwilling to
supplicate for assistance. Necessity, however, soon
overcame my modesty or my pride, and I applied to
him by a letter, but had no answer. I writ in terms
more pressing, but without effect. I then sent an
agent to inquire after him, who informed me, that
he had quitted his house, and was gone with his
family to reside for some time on his estate in
However shocked at this abrupt departure, I was
yet unwilling to believe that he could wholly abandon
me, and therefore, by the sale of my clothes, I
supported myself, expecting that every post would
bring me relief. Thus I passed seven months
between hope and dejection, in a gradual approach to
poverty and distress, emaciated with discontent, and
bewildered with uncertainty. At last my landlady,
after many hints of the necessity of a new lover,
took the opportunity of my absence to search my
boxes, and missing some of my apparel, seized the
remainder for rent, and led me to the door.
To remonstrate against legal cruelty, was vain; to
supplicate obdurate brutality, was hopeless. I went
away I knew not whither, and wandered about without
any settled purpose, unacquainted with the usual
expedients of misery, unqualified for laborious
offices, afraid to meet an eye that had seen me
before, and hopeless of relief from those who were
strangers to my former condition. Night came on
in the midst of my distraction, and I still continued
to wander till the menaces of the watch obliged me
to shelter myself in a covered passage.
Next day, I procured a lodging in the backward
garret of a mean house, and employed my landlady
to inquire for a service. My applications were
generally rejected for want of a character. At length
I was received at a draper's, but when it was known
to my mistress that I had only one gown, and that
of silk, she was of opinion that I looked like a thief,
and without warning hurried me away. I then tried
to support myself by my needle; and, by my landlady's
recommendation obtained a little work from
a shop, and for three weeks lived without repining;
but when my punctuality had gained me so much
reputation, that I was trusted to make up a head of
some value, one of my fellow-lodgers stole the lace,
and I was obliged to fly from a prosecution.
Thus driven again into the streets, I lived upon
the least that could support me, and at night
accommodated myself under pent-houses as well as I
could. At length I became absolutely pennyless,
and having strolled all day without sustenance, was,
at the close of evening, accosted by an elderly man,
with an invitation to a tavern. I refused him with
hesitation; he seized me by the hand, and drew me
into a neigbouring house, where, when he saw my
face pale with hunger, and my eyes swelling with
tears, he spurned me from him, and bade me cant
and whine in some other place; he for his part would
take care of his pockets.
I still continued to stand in the way, having
scarcely strength to walk further, when another soon
addressed me in the same manner. When he saw
the same tokens of calamity, he considered that I
might be obtained at a cheap rate, and therefore
quickly made overtures, which I no longer had
firmness to reject. By this man I was maintained four
months in penurious wickedness, and then abandoned
to my former condition, from which I was
delivered by another keeper.
In this abject state I have now passed four years,
the drudge of extortion and the sport of drunkenness;
sometimes the property of one man, and
sometimes the common prey of accidental lewdness;
at one time tricked up for sale by the mistress of a
brothel, at another begging in the streets to be
relieved from hunger by wickedness; without any
hope in the day but of finding some whom folly or
excess may expose to my allurements, and without
any reflections at night, but such as guilt and terrour
impress upon me.
If those who pass their days in plenty and
security, could visit for an hour the dismal receptacles
to which the prostitute retires from her nocturnal
excursions, and see the wretches that lie crowded
together, mad with intemperance, ghastly with
famine, nauseous with filth, and noisome with disease;
it would not be easy for any degree of abhorrence
to harden them against compassion, or to
repress the desire which they must immediately feel
to rescue such numbers of human beings from a state
It is said, that in France they annually evacuate
their streets, and ship their prostitutes and vagabonds
to their colonies. If the women that infest this city
had the same opportunity of escaping from their
miseries, I believe very little force would be
necessary; for who among them can dread any change?
Many of us indeed are wholly unqualified for any
but the most servile employments, and those perhaps
would require the care of a magistrate to hinder
them from following the same practices in another
country; but others are only precluded by infamy
from reformation, and would gladly be delivered on
any terms from the necessity of guilt, and the
tyranny of chance. No place but a populous city,
can afford opportunities for open prostitution; and
where the eye of justice can attend to individuals,
those who cannot be made good may be restrained
from mischief. For my part, I should exult at the
privilege of banishment, and think myself happy in
any region that should restore me once again to
honesty and peace.
I am, Sir, &c.
No. 172. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 1751
Saepe rogare soles, qualis sim, Prisce, futurus,
Si fiam locuples, simque repente potens.
Quemquam poss putas mores narrare futuros?
Dic mihi, si tu leo, qualis eris?
MART. Lib. xii. Ep. 93.
Priseus, you've often ask'd me how I'd live,
Should fate at once both wealth and honour give.
What soul his future conduct can foresee?
Tell me what sort of lion you would be. F. LEWIS.
NOTHING has been longer observed, than that
a change of fortune causes a change of manners;
and that it is difficult to conjecture from the
conduct of him whom we see in a low condition,
how he would act, if wealth and power were put
into his hands. But it is generally agreed, that few
men are made better by affluence or exaltation;
and that the powers of the mind, when they are
unbound and expanded by the sunshine of felicity,
more frequently luxuriate into follies, than blossom
Many observations have concurred to establish
this opinion, and it is not likely soon to become
obsolete, for want of new occasions to revive it. The
greater part of mankind are corrupt in every condition,
and differ in high and in low stations, only
as they have more or fewer opportunities of gratifying
their desires, or as they are more or less
restrained by human censures. Many vitiate their
principles in the acquisition of riches; and who can
wonder that what is gained by fraud and extortion
is enjoyed with tyranny and excess?
Yet I am willing to believe that the depravation
of the mind by external advantages, though certainly
not uncommon, yet approaches not so nearly
to universality, as some have asserted in the
bitterness of resentness, or heat of declamation.
Whoever rises above those who once pleased
themselves with equality, will have many malevolent
gazers at his eminence. To gain sooner than
others that which all pursue with the same ardour,
and to which all imagine themselves entitled, will
for ever be a crime. When those who started with
us in the race of life, leave us so far behind, that we
have little hope to overtake them, we revenge our
disappointment by remarks on the arts of supplantation
by which they gained the advantage, or on
the folly and arrogance with which they possess it.
Of them, whose rise we could not hinder, we solace
ourselves by prognosticating the fall.
It is impossible for human purity not to betray
to an eye, thus sharpened by malignity, some stains
which lay concealed and unregarded, while none
thought it their interest to discover them; nor can
the most circumspect attention, or steady rectitude,
escape blame from censors, who have no inclination
to approve. Riches therefore, perhaps, do not so
often produce crimes as incite accusers.
The common charge against those who rise above
their original condition, is that of pride. It is
certain that success naturally confirms us in a
favourable opinion of our own abilities. Scarce any man
is willing to allot to accident, friendship, and a
thousand causes, which concur in every event without
human contrivance or interposition, the part
which they may justly claim in his advancement.
We rate ourselves by our fortune rather than our
virtues, and exorbitant claims are quickly produced
by imaginary merit. But captiousness and jealousy
are likewise easily offended, and to him who
studiously looks for an affront, every mode of behaviour
will supply it; freedom will be rudeness, and reserve
sullenness; mirth will be negligence, and seriousness
formality; when he is received with ceremony, distance
and respect are inculcated; if he is treated
with familiarity, he concludes himself insulted by
It must however be confessed, that as all sudden
changes are dangerous, a quick transition from
poverty to abundance can seldom be made with safety.
He that has long lived within sight of pleasures
which he could not reach, will need more than
common moderation, not to lose his reason in unbounded
riot, when they are first put into his power.
Every possession is endeared by novelty; every
gratification is exaggerated by desire. It is difficult
not to estimate what is lately gained above its real
value; it is impossible not to annex greater happiness
to that condition from which we are unwillingly
excluded, than nature has qualified us to
obtain. For this reason, the remote inheritor of an
unexpected fortune, may be generally distinguished
from those who are enriched in the common course
of lineal descent, by his greater haste to enjoy his
wealth, by the finery of his dress, the pomp of
his equipage, the splendour of his furniture, and the
luxury of his table.
A thousand things which familiarity discovers to
be of little value, have power for a time to seize
the imagination. A Virginian king, when the Europeans
had fixed a lock on his door, was so delighted
to find his subjects admitted or excluded with such
facility, that it was from morning to evening his
whole employment to turn the key. We, among
whom locks and keys have been longer in use, are
inclined to laugh at this American amusement; yet
I doubt whether this paper will have a single reader
that may not apply the story to himself, and
recollect some hours of his life in which he has been
equally overpowered by the transitory charms of
Some indulgence is due to him whom a happy
gale of fortune has suddenly transported into new
regions, where unaccustomed lustre dazzles his eyes,
and untasted delicacies solicit his appetite. Let him
not be considered as lost in hopeless degeneracy,
though he for a while forgets the regard due to
others, to indulge the contemplation of himself,
and in the extravagance of his first raptures
expects that his eye should regulate the motions of
all that approach him, and his opinion be received
as decisive and oraculous. His intoxication will give
way to time; the madness of joy will fume
imperceptibly away; the sense of his insufficiency will
soon return; he will remember that the co-operation
of others is necessary to his happiness,
and learn to conciliate their regard by reciprocal
There is, at least, one consideration which ought
to alleviate our censures of the powerful and rich.
To imagine them chargeable with all the guilt and
folly of their own actions, is to be very little
acquainted with the world.
De l'absolu pouvoir vous ignorez l'yvresse,
Et du lache flateur la voix enchanteresse.
Thou hast not known the giddy whirls of fate,
Nor servile flatteries which enchant the great. MISS A. W.
He that can do much good or harm, will not find
many whom ambition or cowardice will suffer to
be sincere. While we live upon the level with the
rest of mankind, we are reminded of our duty by
the admonitions of friends and reproaches of
enemies; but men who stand in the highest ranks of
society, seldom hear of their faults; if by any
accident an opprobrious clamour reaches their ears,
flattery is always at hand to pour in her opiates, to
quiet conviction, and obtund remorse.
Favour is seldom gained but by conformity in
vice. Virtue can stand without assistance, and
considers herself as very little obliged by countenance
and approbation: but vice, spiritless and timorous,
seeks the shelter of crowds, and support of
confederacy. The sycophant, therefore, neglects the good
qualities of his patron, and employs all his art on
his weaknesses and follies, regales his reigning vanity,
or stimulates his prevalent desires.
Virtue is sufficiently difficult with any
circumstances, but the difficulty is increased when reproof
and advice are frighted away. In common life, reason
and conscience have only the appetites and
passions to encounter; but in higher stations, they
must oppose artifice and adulation. He, therefore,
that yields to such temptations, cannot give those
who look upon his miscarriage much reason for
exultation, since few can justly presume that from the
same snare they should have been able to escape.
No. 173. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 1751
Quo virtus, quo ferat error. HOR. De Ar. Poet. 308.
Now say, where virtue stops, and vice begins?
AS any action or posture, long continued, will
distort and disfigure the limbs; so the mind
likewise is crippled and contracted by perpetual
application to the same set of ideas. It is easy to guess
the trade of an artizan by his knees, his fingers, or
his shoulders: and there are few among men of
the more liberal professions, whose minds do not
carry the brand of their calling, or whose conversation
does not quickly discover to what class of the
community they belong.
These peculiarities have been of great use, in the
general hostility which every part of mankind exercises
against the rest, to furnish insults and sarcasms.
Every art has its dialect, uncouth and ungrateful to
all whom custom has not reconciled to its sound, and
which therefore becomes ridiculous by a slight
misapplication, or unnecessary repetition.
The general reproach with which ignorance
revenges the superciliousness of learning, is that of
pedantry; a censure which every man incurs, who
has at any time the misfortune to talk to those who
cannot understand him, and by which the modest
and timorous are sometimes frighted from the display
of their acquisitions, and the exertion of their
The name of a pedant is so formidable to young
men when they first sally from their colleges, and
is so liberally scattered by those who mean to boast
their elegance of education, easiness of manners,
and knowledge of the world, that it seems to require
particular consideration; since, perhaps, if it were
once understood, many a heart might be freed from
painful apprehensions, and many a tongue delivered
Pedantry is the unseasonable ostentation of
learning. It may be discovered either in the choice of a
subject, or in the manner of treating it. He is
undoubtedly guilty of pedantry, who, when he has
made himself master of some abstruse and uncultivated
part of knowledge, obtrudes his remarks and
discoveries upon those whom he believes unable to
judge of his proficiency, and from whom, as he
cannot fear contradiction, he cannot properly expect
To this error the student is sometimes betrayed
by the natural recurrence of the mind to its common
employment, by the pleasure which every man receives
from the recollection of pleasing images, and
the desire of dwelling upon topicks, on which he
knows himself able to speak with justness. But
because we are seldom so far prejudiced in favour of
each other, as to search out for palliations, this failure
of politeness is imputed always to vanity; and the
harmless collegiate, who, perhaps, intended
entertainment and instruction, or at worst only spoke
without sufficient reflection upon the character of
his hearers, is censured as arrogant or overbearing,
and eager to extend his renown, in contempt of the
convenience of society and the laws of conversation.
All discourse of which others cannot partake, is
not only an irksome usurpation of the time devoted
to pleasure and entertainment, but what never fails
to excite very keen resentment, an insolent assertion
of superiority, and a triumph over less enlightened
understandings. The pedant is, therefore, not only
heard with weariness, but malignity; and those who
conceive themselves insulted by his knowledge,
never fail to tell with acrimony how injudiciously
it was exerted.
To avoid this dangerous imputation, scholars
sometimes divest themselves with too much haste
of their academical formality, and in their
endeavours to accommodate their notions and their style
to common conceptions, talk rather of any thing
than of that which they understand, and sink into
insipidity of sentiment and meanness of expression.
There prevails among men of letters an opinion,
that all appearance of science is particularly hateful
to women; and that therefore, whoever desires to
be well received in female assemblies, must qualify
himself by a total rejection of all that is serious,
rational, or important; must consider argument or
criticism, as perpetually interdicted; and devote all
his attention to trifles, and all his eloquence to
Students often form their notions of the present
generation from the writings of the past, and are
not very early informed of those changes which the
gradual diffusion of knowledge, or the sudden
caprice of fashion, produces in the world. Whatever
might be the state of female literature in the last
century, there is now no longer any danger lest the
scholar should want an adequate audience at the
tea-table; and whoever thinks it necessary to
regulate his conversation by antiquated rules, will be
rather despised for his futility than caressed for his
To talk intentionally in a manner above the
comprehension of those whom we address, is unquestionable
pedantry; but surely complaisance requires,
that no man should, without proof, conclude his
company incapable of following him to the highest
elevation of his fancy, or the utmost extent of his
knowledge. It is always safer to err in favour of
others than of ourselves, and therefore we seldom
hazard much by endeavouring to excel.
It ought at least to be the care of learning, when
she quits her exaltation, to descend with dignity.
Nothing is more despicable than the airiness and
jocularity of a man bred to severe science, and
solitary meditation. To trifle agreeably is a secret
which schools cannot impart; that gay negligence
and vivacious levity, which charm down resistance
whenever they appear, are never attainable by him
who, having spent his first years among the dust
of libraries, enters late into the gay world with an
unpliant attention and established habits.
It is observed in the panegyrick on Fabricus the
mechanist, that, though forced by publick employments
into mingled conversation, he never lost the
modesty and seriousness of the convent, nor drew
ridicule upon himself by an affected imitation of
fashionable life. To the same praise every man
devoted to learning ought to aspire. If he attempts
the softer arts of pleasing, and endeavours to learn
the graceful bow and the familiar embrace, the
insinuating accent and the general smile, he will
lose the respect due to the character of learning,
without arriving at the envied honour of doing any
thing with elegance and facility.
Theophrastus was discovered not to be a native
of Athens, by so strict an adherence to the Attick
dialect, as shewed that he had learned it not by
custom, but by rule. A man not early formed to habitual
elegance, betrays, in like manner, the effects of his
education, by an unnecessary anxiety of behaviour.
It is as possible to become pedantick, by fear of
pedantry, as to be troublesome by ill-timed civility.
There is no kind of impertinence more justly
censurable than his who is always labouring to level
thoughts to intellects higher than his own; who
apologizes for every word which his own narrowness
of converse inclines him to think unusual;
keeps the exuberance of his faculties under visible
restraint; is solicitous to anticipate inquiries by
needless explanations; and endeavours to shade his
own abilities, lest weak eyes should be dazzled with
No. 174. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 1751
Faenum habet vn cornu, longe fuge; dummodo risum
Excutiat sibi, non hic cuiquam parcet amico.
HOR. Lib. i. Sat. iv. 34.
Yonder he drives--avoid that furious beast:
If he may have his jest, he never cares
At whose expense; nor friend nor patron spares. FRANCIS.
TO THE RAMBLER.
THE laws of social benevolence require, that
every man should endeavour to assist others
by his experience. He that has at last escaped into
port from the fluctuations of chances and the gusts
of opposition, ought to make some improvements
in the chart of life, by marking the rocks on which
he has been dashed, and the shallows where he has
The errour into which I was betrayed, when
custom first gave me up to my own direction, is very
frequently incident to the quick, the sprightly, the
fearless, and the gay; to all whose ardour hurries
them into precipitate execution of their designs,
and imprudent declaration of their opinions; who
seldom count the cost of pleasure, or examine the
distant consequences of any practice that flatters
them with immediate gratification.
I came forth into the crowded world with the
usual juvenile ambition, and desired nothing
beyond the title of a wit. Money I considered as
below my care; for I saw such multitudes grow rich
without understanding, that I could not forbear to
look on wealth as an acquisition easy to industry
directed by genius, and therefore threw it aside as
a secondary convenience, to be procured when my
principal wish should be satisfied, and the claim to
intellectual excellence universally acknowledged.
With this view I regulated my behaviour in
publick, and exercised my meditations in solitude. My
life was divided between the care of providing
topicks for the entertainment of my company, and
that of collecting company worthy to be entertained;
for I soon found, that wit, like every other
power, has its boundaries; that its success depends
upon the aptitude of others to receive impressions;
and that as some bodies, indissoluble by heat, can
set the furnace and crucible at defiance, there are
minds upon which the rays of fancy may be pointed
without effect, and which no fire of sentiment can
agitate or exalt.
It was, however, not long before I fitted myself
with a set of companions who knew how to laugh,
and to whom no other recommendation was necessary
than the power of striking out a jest. Among
those I fixed my residence, and for a time enjoyed
the felicity of disturbing the neighbours every night
with the obstreperous applause which my sallies
forced from the audience. The reputation of our club
every day increased, and as my flights and remarks
were circulated by my admirers, every day brought
new solicitations for admission into our society.
To support this perpetual fund of merriment, I
frequented every place of concourse, cultivated the
acquaintance of all the fashionable race, and passed
the day in a continual succession of visits, in which
I collected a treasure of pleasantry for the expenses
of the evening. Whatever errour of conduct I could
discover, whatever peculiarity of manner I could
observe, whatever weakness was betrayed by confidence,
whatever lapse was suffered by neglect, all
was drawn together for the diversion of my wild
companions, who when they had been taught the
art of ridicule, never failed to signalize themselves
by a zealous imitation, and filled the town on
the ensuing day with scandal and vexation, with
merriment and shame.
I can scarcely believe, when I recollect my own
practice, that I could have been so far deluded with
petty praise, as to divulge the secrets of trust, and
to expose the levities of frankness; to waylay the
walks of the cautious, and surprise the security of
the thoughtless. Yet it is certain, that for many
years I heard nothing but with design to tell it, and
saw nothing with any other curiosity than after some
failure that might furnish out a jest.
My heart, indeed, acquits me of deliberate
malignity, or interested insidiousness. I had no other
purpose than to heighten the pleasure of laughter by
communication, nor ever raised any pecuniary
advantage from the calamities of others. I led weakness
and negligence into difficulties, only that I might
divert myself with their perplexities and distresses;
and violated every law of friendship, with no other
hope than that of gaining the reputation of smartness
I would not be understood to charge myself with
any crimes of the atrocious or destructive kind. I
never betrayed an heir to gamesters, or a girl to
debauchees; never intercepted the kindness of a
patron, or sported away the reputation of innocence.
My delight was only in petty mischief, and momentary
vexations, and my acuteness was employed not
upon fraud and oppression, which it had been
meritorious to detect, but upon harmless ignorance or
absurdity, prejudice or mistake.
This inquiry I pursued with so much diligence
and sagacity, that I was able to relate, of every man
whom I knew, some blunder or miscarriage; to
betray the most circumspect of my friends into follies,
by a judicious flattery of his predominant passion;
or expose him to contempt, by placing him in
circumstances which put his prejudices into action,
brought to view his natural defects, or drew the
attention of the company on his airs of affectation.
The power had been possessed in vain if it had
never been exerted; and it was not my custom to
let any arts of jocularity remain unemployed. My
impatience of applause brought me always early to
the place of entertainment; and I seldom failed to
lay a scheme with the small knot that first gathered
round me, by which some of those whom we expected
might be made subservient to our sport.
Every man has some favourite topick of conversation,
on which, by a feigned seriousness of attention,
he may be drawn to expatiate without end. Every
man has some habitual contortion of body, or
established mode of expression, which never fails to raise
mirth if it be pointed out to notice. By premonitions
of these particularities I secured our pleasantry. Our
companion entered with his usual gaiety, and began
to partake of our noisy cheerfulness, when the
conversation was imperceptibly diverted to a subject
which pressed upon his tender part, and extorted
the expected shrug, the customary exclamation, or
the predicted remark. A general clamour of joy
then burst from all that were admitted to the
stratagem. Our mirth was often increased by the triumph
of him that occasioned it; for as we do not hastily
form conclusions against ourselves, seldom any one
suspected, that he had exhilarated us otherwise than
You will hear, I believe, with very little surprise,
that by this conduct I had in a short time united
mankind against me, and that every tongue was
diligent in prevention or revenge. I soon perceived
myself regarded with malevolence or distrust, but
wondered what had been discovered in me either
terrible or hateful. I had invaded no man's property;
I had rivalled no man's claims: nor had ever engaged
in any of those attempts which provoke the jealousy
of ambition or the rage of faction. I had lived but
to laugh, and make others laugh; and believed that
I was loved by all who caressed, and favoured by
all who applauded me. I never imagined, that he
who, in the mirth of a nocturnal revel, concurred in
ridiculing his friend, would consider, in a cooler
hour, that the same trick might be played against
himself; or that even where there is no sense of
danger, the natural pride of human nature rises
against him, who, by general censures, lays claim to
I was convinced, by a total desertion, of the
impropriety of my conduct; every man avoided, and
cautioned others to avoid me. Wherever I came, I
found silence and dejection, coldness and terrour.
No one would venture to speak, lest he should lay
himself open to unfavourable representations; the
company, however numerous, dropped off at my
entrance upon various pretences; and, if I retired
to avoid the shame of being left, I heard confidence
and mirth revive at my departure.
If those whom I had thus offended could have
contented themselves with repaying one insult for
another, and kept up the war only by a reciprocation
of sarcasms, they might have perhaps vexed,
but would never have much hurt me; for no man
heartily hates him at whom he can laugh. But these
wounds which they give me as they fly, are without
cure; this alarm which they spread by their solicitude
to escape me, excludes me from all friendship
and from all pleasure. I am condemned to pass a
long interval of my life in solitude, as a man
suspected of infection is refused admission into cities;
and must linger in obscurity, till my conduct shall
convince the world, that I may be approached
I am, &c.
No. 175. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 1751
Rari quippe boni, numerus vix est totidem quot
Thebarum portoe, vel divitis ostia Nili. JUV. Sat. xiii. 26.
Good men are scarce, the just are thinly sown:
They thrive but ill, nor can they last when grown.
And should we count them, and our store compile,
Yet Thebes more gates could shew, more mouths the Nile.
NONE of the axioms of wisdom which recommend
the ancient sages to veneration, seem to
have required less extent of knowledge or
perspicacity of penetration, than the remarks of Bias,
The depravity of mankind is so easily
discoverable, that nothing but the desert or the cell can
exclude it from notice. The knowledge of crimes
intrudes uncalled and undesired. They whom their
abstraction from common occurrences hinders from
seeing iniquity, will quickly have their attention
awakened by feeling it. Even he who ventures not
into the world, may learn its corruption in his closet.
For what are treatises of morality, but persuasives
to the practice of duties, for which no arguments
would be necessary, but that we are continually
tempted to violate or neglect them ? What are all
the records of history, but narratives of successive
villanies, of treasons and usurpations, massacres
But, perhaps, the excellence of aphorisms
consists not so much in the expression of some rare
and abstruse sentiment, as in the comprehension of
some obvious and useful truths in a few words. We
frequently fall into errour and folly, not because
the true principles of action are not known, but
because, for a time, they are not remembered;
and he may therefore be justly numbered among
the benefactors of mankind, who contracts the great
rules of life into short sentences, that may be easily
impressed on the memory, and taught by frequent
recollection to recur habitually to the mind.
However those who have passed through half the
life of man, may now wonder that any should require
to be cautioned against corruption, they will
find that they have themselves purchased their
conviction by many disappointments and vexations
which an earlier knowledge would have spared them;
and may see, on every side, some entangling themselves
in perplexities, and some sinking into ruin,
by ignorance or neglect of the maxim of Bias.
Every day sends out, in quest of pleasure and
distinction, some heir fondled in ignorance, and
flattered into pride. He comes forth with all the
confidence of a spirit unacquainted with superiors, and
all the benevolence of a mind not yet irritated by
opposition, alarmed by fraud, or embittered by
cruelty. He loves all, because he imagines himself
the universal favourite. Every exchange of salutation
produces new acquaintance, and every acquaintance
kindles into friendship.
Every season brings a new flight of beauties into
the world, who have hitherto heard only of their own
charms, and imagine that the heart feels no passion
but that of love. They are soon surrounded by
admirers whom they credit, because they tell them
only what is heard with delight. Whoever gazes
upon them is a lover; and whoever forces a sigh, is
pining in despair.
He surely is a useful monitor, who inculcates to
these thoughtless strangers, that the MAJORITY ARE
WICKED; who informs them, that the train which
wealth and beauty draw after them, is lured only
by the scent of prey; and that, perhaps, among all
those who crowd about them with professions and
flatteries, there is not one who does not hope for
some opportunity to devour or betray them, to glut
himself by their destruction, or to share their spoils
with a stronger savage.
Virtue presented singly to the imagination or the
reason, is so well recommended by its own graces,
and so strongly supported by arguments, that a
good man wonders how any can be bad; and they
who are ignorant of the force of passion and interest,
who never observed the arts of seduction, the
contagion of example, the gradual descent from one
crime to another, or the insensible depravation
of the principles by loose conversation, naturally
expect to find integrity in every bosom, and
veracity on every tongue.
It is, indeed, impossible not to hear from those
who have lived longer, of wrongs and falsehoods,
of violence and circumvention; but such narratives
are commonly regarded by the young, the heady,
and the confident, as nothing more than the murmurs
of peevishness, or the dreams of dotage; and,
notwithstanding all the documents of hoary wisdom,
we commonly plunge into the world fearless and
credulous, without any foresight of danger, or
apprehension of deceit.
I have remarked, in a former paper, that credulity
is the common failing of unexperienced virtue; and
that he who is spontaneously suspicious, may be
justly charged with radical corruption; for, if he has
not known the prevalence of dishonesty by information,
nor had time to observe it with his own eyes,
whence can he take his measures of judgment but
They who best deserve to escape the snares of
artifice, are most likely to be entangled. He that
endeavours to live for the good of others, must
always be exposed to the arts of them who live only
for themselves, unless he is taught by timely
precepts the caution required in common transactions,
and shewn at a distance the pitfalls of treachery.
To youth, therefore, it should be carefully
inculcated, that, to enter the road of life without caution
or reserve, in expectation of general fidelity and
justice, is to launch on the wide ocean without the
instruments of steerage, and to hope that every wind
will be prosperous, and that every coast will afford
To enumerate the various motives to deceit and
injury, would be to count all the desires that prevail
among the sons of men; since there is no ambition
however petty, no wish however absurd, that
by indulgence will not be enabled to overpower the
influence of virtue. Many there are, who openly and
almost professedly regulate all their conduct by their
love of money; who have no other reason for action
or forbearance, for compliance or refusal, than that
they hope to gain more by one than by the other.
These are indeed the meanest and cruellest of human
beings, a race with whom, as with some pestiferous
animals, the whole creation seems to be at war; but
who, however detested or scorned, long continue to
add heap to heap, and when they have reduced one
to beggary, are still permitted to fasten on another.
Others, yet less rationally wicked, pass their lives
in mischief, because they cannot bear the sight of
success, and mark out every man for hatred, whose
fame or fortune they believe increasing.
Many who have not advanced to these degrees
of guilt are yet wholly unqualified for friendship,
and unable to maintain any constant or regular
course of kindness. Happiness may be destroyed
not only by union with the man who is apparently
the slave of interest, but with whom a wild opinion
of the dignity of perseverance, in whatever cause,
disposes to pursue every injury with unwearied and
perpetual resentment; with him whose vanity inclines
him to consider every man as a rival in every
pretension; with him whose airy negligence puts
his friend's affairs or secrets in continual hazard,
and who thinks his forgetfulness of others excused
by his inattention to himself; and with him whose
inconstancy ranges without any settled rule of
choice through varieties of friendship, and who
adopts and dismisses favourites by the sudden
impulse of caprice.
Thus numerous are the dangers to which the
converse of mankind exposes us, and which can be
avoided only by prudent distrust. He therefore that,
remembering this salutary maxim, learns early to
withhold his fondness from fair appearances, will
have reason to pay some honours to Bias of Priene,
who enabled him to become wise without the cost
No. 176. SATURDAY. NOVEMBER 23, 1751
--------Naso suspendis adunco.
HOR. Lib. i. Sat. vi. 5.
On me you turn the nose.--------
THERE are many vexatious accidents and uneasy
situations which raise little compassion for
the sufferer, and which no man but those whom
they immediately distress can regard with
seriousness. Petty mischiefs, that have no influence on
futurity, nor extend their effects to the rest of life,
are always seen with a kind of malicious pleasure.
A mistake or embarrassment, which for the present
moment fills the face with blushes, and the mind
with confusion, will have no other effect upon those
who observe it, than that of convulsing them with
irresistible laughter. Some circumstances of misery
are so powerfully ridiculous, that neither kindness
nor duty can withstand them; they bear down love,
interest, and reverence, and force the friend, the
dependent, or the child, to give way to instantaneous
motions of merriment.
Among the principal of comick calamities, may
be reckoned the pain which an author, not yet
hardened into insensibility, feels at the onset of a
furious critick, whose age, rank, or fortune, gives him
confidence to speak without reserve; who heaps
one objection upon another, and obtrudes his remarks,
and enforces his corrections, without tenderness or awe.
The author, full of the importance of his work,
and anxious for the justification of every syllable,
starts and kindles at the slightest attack; the
critick, eager to establish his superiority, triumphing
in every discovery of failure, and zealous to
impress the cogency of his arguments, pursues him
from line to line without cessation or remorse. The
critick, who hazards little, proceeds with vehemence,
impetuosity, and fearlessness; the author, whose
quiet and fame, and life and immortality, are
involved in the controversy, tries every art of
subterfuge and defence; maintains modestly what he
resolves never to yield, and yields unwillingly what
cannot be maintained. The critick's purpose is to
conquer, the author only hopes to escape; the critick
therefore knits his brow, and raises his voice,
and rejoices whenever he perceives any tokens of
pain excited by the pressure of his assertions, or the
point of his sarcasms. The author, whose endeavour
is at once to mollify and elude his persecutor,
composes his features and softens his accent, breaks the
force of assault by retreat, and rather steps aside
than flies or advances.
As it very seldom happens that the rage of
extemporary criticism inflicts fatal or lasting wounds,
I know not that the laws of benevolence entitle
this distress to much sympathy. The diversion of
baiting an author has the sanction of all ages and
nations, and is more lawful than the sport of teasing
other animals, because, for the most part, he
comes voluntarily to the stake, furnished, as he
imagines, by the patron powers of literature, with
resistless weapons, and impenetrable armour, with
the mail of the boar of Erymanth, and the paws of
the lion of Nemea.
But the works of genius are sometimes produced
by other motives than vanity; and he whom necessity
or duty enforces to write, is not always so well
satisfied with himself, as not to be discouraged by
censorious impudence. It may therefore be necessary
to consider, how they whom publication lays open
to the insults of such as their obscurity secures
against reprisals, may extricate themselves from
Vida, a man of considerable skill in the politicks
of literature, directs his pupil wholly to abandon
his defence, and even when he can irrefragably refute
all objections, to suffer tamely the exultations
of his antagonist.
This rule may perhaps be just, when advice is
asked, and severity solicited, because no man tells
his opinion so freely as when he imagines it received
with implicit veneration; and criticks ought never
to be consulted, but while errours may yet be rectified
or insipidity suppressed. But when the book
has once been dismissed into the world, and can be
no more retouched, I know not whether a very different
conduct should not be prescribed, and whether
firmness and spirit may not sometimes be of use to
overpower arrogance and repel brutality. Softness,
diffidence, and moderation, will often be mistaken
for imbecility and dejection; they lure cowardice
to the attack by the hopes of easy victory, and it
will soon be found that he whom every man thinks
he can conquer, shall never be at peace.
The animadversions of criticks are commonly
such as may easily provoke the sedatest writer to
some quickness of resentment and asperity of reply.
A man, who by long consideration has familiarized
a subject to his own mind, carefully surveyed the
series of his thoughts, and planned all the parts of
his composition into a regular dependance on each
other, will often start at the sinistrous interpretations
or absurd remarks of haste and ignorance, and
wonder by what infatuation they have been led
away from the obvious sense, and upon what peculiar
principles of judgment they decide against him.
The eye of the intellect, like that of the body, is
not equally perfect in all, nor equally adapted in
any to all objects; the end of criticism is to supply
its defects; rules are the instruments of mental
vision, which may indeed assist our faculties when
properly used, but produce confusion and obscurity
by unskilful application.
Some seem always to read with the microscope
of criticism, and employ their whole attention upon
minute elegance, or faults scarcely visible to
common observation. The dissonance of a syllable, the
recurrence of the same sound, the repetition of a
particle, the smallest deviation from propriety, the
slightest defect in construction or arrangement,
swell before their eyes into enormities. As they
discern with great exactness, they comprehend but
a narrow compass, and know nothing of the justness
of the design, the general spirit of the performance,
the artifice of connection, or the harmony of the
parts; they never conceive how small a proportion
that which they are busy in contemplating bears to
the whole, or how the petty inaccuracies, with which
they are offended, are absorbed and lost in general
Others are furnished by criticism with a telescope.
They see with great clearness whatever is too remote
to be discovered by the rest of mankind, but are
totally blind to all that lies immediately before them.
They discover in every passage some secret meaning,
some remote allusion, some artful allegory,
or some occult imitation, which no other reader
ever suspected; but they have no perception of the
cogency of arguments, the force of pathetick sentiments,
the various colours of diction, or the flowery
embellishments of fancy; of all that engages the
attention of others they are totally insensible, while
they pry into worlds of conjecture, and amuse themselves
with phantoms in the clouds.
In criticism, as in every other art, we fail
sometimes by our weakness, but more frequently by our
fault. We are sometimes bewildered by ignorance,
and sometimes by prejudice, but we seldom deviate
far from the right, but when we deliver ourselves
up to the direction of vanity.
No. 177. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 1751
Turpe est difficiles habere nugas.
MART. Lib. ii. Ep. lxxxvi. 9.
Those things which now seem frivolous and slight,
Will be of serious consequence to you,
When they have made you once ridiculous. ROSCOMMON.
TO THE RAMBLER.
WHEN I was, at the usual time, about to enter
upon the profession to which my friends had
destined me, being summoned, by the death of
my father, into the country, I found myself master
of an unexpected sum of money, and of an estate,
which, though not large, was, in my opinion,
sufficient to support me in a condition far preferable
to the fatigue, dependance, and uncertainty of any
gainful occupation. I therefore resolved to devote
the rest of my life wholly to curiosity, and without
any confinement of my excursions, or termination of
my views, to wander over the boundless regions of
This scheme of life seemed pregnant with
inexhaustible variety, and therefore I could not forbear
to congratulate myself upon the wisdom of my
choice. I furnished a large room with all
conveniencies for study; collected books of every kind;
quitted every science at the first perception of disgust;
returned to it again as soon as my former ardour
happened to revive; and having no rival to
depress me by comparison, nor any critick to alarm
me with objections, I spent day after day in profound
tranquillity, with only so much complaisance
in my own improvements, as served to excite and
animate my application.
Thus I lived for some years with complete
acquiescence in my own plan of conduct, rising early
to read, and dividing the latter part of the day
between economy, exercise, and reflection. But, in
time, I began to find my mind contracted and
stiffened by solitude. My ease and elegance were
sensibly impaired; I was no longer able to accommodate
myself with readiness to the accidental current
of conversation; my notions grew particular
and paradoxical, and my phraseology formal and
unfashionable; I spoke, on common occasions, the
language of books. My quickness of apprehension,
and celerity of reply, had entirely deserted me;
when I delivered my opinion, or detailed my knowledge,
I was bewildered by an unseasonable interrogatory,
disconcerted by any slight opposition, and
overwhelmed and lost in dejection, when the smallest
advantage was gained against me in dispute. I
became decisive and dogmatical, impatient of
contradiction, perpetually jealous of my character,
insolent to such as acknowledged my superiority, and
sullen and malignant to all who refused to receive
This I soon discovered to be one of those
intellectual diseases which a wise man should make haste
to cure. I therefore resolved for a time to shut my
books, and learn again the art of conversation; to
defecate and clear my mind by brisker motions, and
stronger impulses; and to unite myself once more
to the living generation.
For this purpose I hasted to London, and
entreated one of my academical acquaintances to
introduce me into some of the little societies of
literature which are formed in taverns and coffee-
houses. He was pleased with an opportunity of
shewing me to his friends, and soon obtained me
admission among a select company of curious men,
who met once a week to exhilarate their studies,
and compare their acquisitions.
The eldest and most venerable of this society was
Hirsutus, who, after the first civilities of my
reception, found means to introduce the mention of his
favourite studies, by a severe censure of those who
want the due regard for their native country. He
informed me, that he had early withdrawn his
attention from foreign trifles, and that since he began
to addict his mind to serious and manly studies, he
had very carefully amassed all the English books
that were printed in the black character. This search
he had pursued so diligently, that he was able to
shew the deficiencies of the best catalogues. He had
long since completed his Caxton, had three sheets
of Treveris unknown to the antiquaries, and wanted
to a perfect Pynson but two volumes, of which one
was promised him as a legacy by its present possessor,
and the other he was resolved to buy, at whatever
price, when Quisquilius's library should be sold.
Hirsutus had no other reason for the valuing or
slighting a book, than that it was printed in the
Roman or the Gothic letter, nor any ideas but such
as his favourite volumes had supplied; when he was
serious he expatiated on the narratives "of Johan
de Trevisa," and when he was merry, regaled us
with a quotation from the "Shippe of Foles."
While I was listening to this hoary student,
Ferratus entered in a hurry, and informed us with
the abruptness of ecstasy, that his set of halfpence
was now complete; he had just received in a handful
of change, the piece that he had so long been
seeking, and could now defy mankind to outgo his
collection of English copper.
Chartophylax then observed how fatally human
sagacity was sometimes baffled, and how often the
most valuable discoveries are made by chance. He
had employed himself and his emissaries seven years
at great expense to perfect his series of Gazettes,
but had long wanted a single paper, which, when
he despaired of obtaining it, was sent him wrapped
round a parcel of tobacco.
Cantilenus turned all his thoughts upon old
ballads, for he considered them as the genuine records
of the national taste. He offered to shew me a copy
of "The Children in the Wood," which he firmly
believed to be of the first edition, and, by the help
of which, the text might be freed from several
corruptions, if this age of barbarity had any claim to
such favours from him.
Many were admitted into this society as inferior
members, because they had collected old prints and
neglected pamphlets, or possessed some fragment
of antiquity, as the seal of an ancient corporation, the
charter of a religious house, the genealogy of a family
extinct, or a letter written in the reign of Elizabeth.
Every one of these virtuosos looked on all his
associates as wretches of depraved taste and narrow
notions. Their conversation was, therefore, fretful
and waspish, their behaviour brutal, their merriment
bluntly sarcastick, and their seriousness gloomy and
suspicious. They were totally ignorant of all that
passes, or has lately passed, in the world; unable to
discuss any question of religious, political, or military
knowledge; equally strangers to science and politer
learning, and without any wish to improve their
minds, or any other pleasure than that of displaying
rarities, of which they would not suffer others to
make the proper use.
Hirsutus graciously informed me, that the number
of their society was limited, but that I might
sometimes attend as an auditor. I was pleased to
find myself in no danger of an honour, which I could
not have willingly accepted, nor gracefully refused,
and left them without any intention of returning;
for I soon found that the suppression of those
habits with which I was vitiated, required association
with men very different from this solemn race.
I am, Sir, &c.
It is natural to feel grief or indignation when
any thing necessary or useful is wantonly wasted,
or negligently destroyed; and therefore my
correspondent cannot be blamed for looking with
uneasiness on the waste of life. Leisure and curiosity
might soon make great advances in useful knowledge,
were they not diverted by minute emulation
and laborious trifles. It may, however, somewhat
mollify his anger to reflect, that perhaps none of the
assembly which he describes, was capable of any
nobler employment, and that he who does his best,
however little, is always to be distinguished from
him who does nothing. Whatever busies the mind
without corrupting it, has at least this use, that it
rescues the day from idleness, and he that is never
idle will not often be vicious.
No. 178. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 1751
Pars sanitatis velle sanari fuit. SENECA.
To yield to remedies is half the cure.
PYTHAGORAS is reported to have required
from those whom he instructed in philosophy a
probationary silence of five years. Whether this
prohibition of speech extended to all the parts of
this time, as seems generally to be supposed, or
was to be observed only in the school or in the
presence of their master, as is more probable, it was
sufficient to discover the pupil's disposition; to try
whether he was willing to pay the price of learning,
or whether he was one of those whose ardour was
rather violent than lasting, and who expected to
grow wise on other terms than those of patience
Many of the blessings universally desired, are
very frequently wanted, because most men, when
they should labour, content themselves to complain,
and rather linger in a state in which they
cannot be at rest, than improve their condition by
vigour and resolution.
Providence has fixed the limits of human
enjoyment by immoveable boundaries, and has set
different gratifications at such a distance from each other,
that no art or power can bring them together. This
great law it is the business of every rational being
to understand, that life may not pass away in an
attempt to make contradictions consistent, to combine
opposite qualities, and to unite things which
the nature of their being must always keep asunder.
Of two objects tempting at a distance on
contrary sides, it is impossible to approach one but by
receding from the other; by long deliberation and
dilatory projects, they may be both lost, but can
never be both gained. It is, therefore, necessary to
compare them, and, when we have determined the
preference, to withdraw our eyes and our thoughts
at once from that which reason directs us to reject.
This is more necessary, if that which we are forsaking
has the power of delighting the senses, or firing
the fancy. He that once turns aside to the
allurements of unlawful pleasure, can have no security
that he shall ever regain the paths of virtue.
The philosophick goddess of Boethius, having
related the story of Orpheus, who, when he had
recovered his wife from the dominions of death, lost
her again by looking back upon her in the confines
of light, concludes with a very elegant and forcible
application. "Whoever you are that endeavour to
elevate your minds to the illuminations of Heaven,
consider yourselves as represented in this fable; for
he that is once so far overcome as to turn back his
eyes towards the infernal caverns, loses at the first
sight all that influence which attracted him on high:"
Vos haec fabula respicit,
Quicunque in superum diem
Mentem ducere quaeritis.
Nam qui Tartareum in specus
Victus lumina flexerit,
Quidquid praecipuum trahit,
Perdit, dum videt inferos.
It may be observed, in general, that the future is
purchased by the present. It is not possible to secure
instant or permanent happiness but by the forbearance
of some immediate gratification. This is
so evidently true with regard to the whole of our
existence, that all the precepts of theology have no
other tendency than to enforce a life of faith; a life
regulated not by our senses but our belief; a life in
which pleasures are to be refused for fear of
invisible punishments, and calamities sometimes to be
sought, and always endured, in hope of rewards
that shall be obtained in another state.
Even if we take into our view only that particle
of our duration which is terminated by the grave,
it will be found that we cannot enjoy one part of
life beyond the common limitations of pleasure,
but by anticipating some of the satisfaction which
should exhilarate the following years. The heat of
youth may spread happiness into wild luxuriance,
but the radical vigour requisite to make it perennial
is exhausted, and all that can be hoped afterwards
is languor and sterility.
The reigning errour of mankind is, that we are
not content with the conditions on which the goods
of life are granted. No man is insensible of the
value of knowledge, the advantages of health, or
the convenience of plenty, but every day shews us
those on whom the conviction is without effect.
Knowledge is praised and desired by multitudes
whom her charms could never rouse from the couch
of sloth; whom the faintest invitation of pleasure
draws away from their studies; to whom any other
method of wearing out the day is more eligible than
the use of books, and who are more easily engaged
by any conversation, than such as may rectify their
notions or enlarge their comprehension.
Every man that has felt pain, knows how little
all other comforts can gladden him to whom health
is denied. Yet who is there does not sometimes
hazard it for the enjoyment of an hour? All
assemblies of jollity, all places of public entertainment,
exhibit examples of strength wasting in riot, and
beauty withering in irregularity; nor is it easy to
enter a house in which part of the family is not
groaning in repentance of past intemperance, and
part admitting disease by negligence, or soliciting
it by luxury.
There is no pleasure which men of every age and
sect have more generally agreed to mention with
contempt, than the gratifications of the palate; an
entertainment so far removed from intellectual
happiness, that scarcely the most shameless of the
sensual herd have dared to defend it: yet even to
this, the lowest of our delights, to this, though
neither quick nor lasting, is health with all its
activity and sprightliness daily sacrificed; and for this
are half the miseries endured which urge impatience
to call on death.
The whole world is put in motion by the wish
for the riches and the dread of poverty. Who, then,
would not imagine that such conduct as will inevitably
destroy what all are thus labouring to acquire,
must generally be avoided? That he who spends
more than he receives, must in time become
indigent, cannot be doubted; but, how evident soever
this consequence may appear, the spendthrift moves
in the whirl of pleasure with too much rapidity to
keep it before his eyes, and, in the intoxication of
gaiety, grows every day poorer without any such
sense of approaching ruin as is sufficient to wake
him into caution.
Many complaints are made of the misery of life;
and indeed it must be confessed that we are subject
to calamities by which the good and bad, the
diligent and slothful, the vigilant and heedless, are
equally afflicted. But surely, though some
indulgence may be allowed to groans extorted by
inevitable misery, no man has a right to repine at evils
which, against warning, against experience, he
deliberately and leisurely brings upon his own
head; or to consider himself as debarred from
happiness by such obstacles as resolution may break
or dexterity may put aside.
Great numbers who quarrel with their condition,
have wanted not the power but the will to obtain a
better state. They have never contemplated the
difference between good and evil sufficiently to
quicken aversion, or invigorate desire; they have
indulged a drowsy thoughtlessness or giddy levity;
have committed the balance of choice to the
management of caprice; and when they have long
accustomed themselves to receive all that chance
offered them, without examination, lament at last
that they find themselves deceived.
No. 179. TUESDAY, DECEMBER 3, 1751
Perpetuo risu pulmonem agitare solebat. JUV. Sat. x. 33.
Democritus would feed his spleen, and shake
His sides and shoulders till he felt them ake. DRYDEN.
EVERY man, says Tully, has two characters;
one which he partakes with all mankind, and
by which he is distinguished from brute animals;
another which discriminates him from the rest of
his own species, and impresses on him a manner and
temper peculiar to himself; this particular character,
if it be not repugnant to the laws of general
humanity, it is always his business to cultivate and
Every hour furnishes some confirmation of Tully's
precept. It seldom happens, that an assembly of
pleasure is so happily selected, but that some one
finds admission, with whom the rest are deservedly
offended; and it will appear, on a close inspection,
that scarce any man becomes eminently disagreeable,
but by a departure from his real character, and
an attempt at something for which nature or
education have left him unqualified.
Ignorance or dulness have indeed no power of
affording delight, but they never give disgust except
when they assume the dignity of knowledge, or ape
the sprightliness of wit. Awkwardness and inelegance
have none of those attractions by which ease
and politeness take possession of the heart; but
ridicule and censure seldom rise against them,
unless they appear associated with that confidence
which belongs only to long acquaintance with the
modes of life, and to consciousness of unfailing
propriety of behaviour. Deformity itself is regarded
with tenderness rather than aversion, when it does
not attempt to deceive the sight by dress and
decoration, and to seize upon fictitious claims the
prerogatives of beauty.
He that stands to contemplate the crowds that
fill the streets of a populous city, will see many
passengers whose air and motion it will be difficult
to behold without contempt and laughter; but if he
examines what are the appearances that thus
powerfully excite his risibility, he will find among them
neither poverty nor disease, nor any involuntary or
painful defect. The disposition to derision and insult
is awakened by the softness of foppery, the swell
of insolence, the liveliness of levity, or the solemnity
of grandeur; by the sprightly trip, the stately stalk,
the formal strut, the lofty mien; by gestures
intended to catch the eye, and by looks elaborately
formed as evidences of importance.
It has, I think, been sometimes urged in favour
of affectation, that it is only a mistake of the means
to a good end, and that the intention with which it
is practised is always to please. If all attempts to
innovate the constitutional or habitual character
have really proceeded from public spirit and love of
others, the world has hitherto been sufficiently
ungrateful, since no return but scorn has yet been
made to the most difficult of all enterprises, a
contest with nature; nor has any pity been shown to
the fatigues of labour which never succeeded, and
the uneasiness of disguise by which nothing was
It seems therefore to be determined by the
general suffrage of mankind, that he who decks
himself in adscititious qualities rather purposes to
command applause than impart pleasure: and he is
therefore treated as a man who, by an unreasonable
ambition, usurps the place in society to which he
has no right. Praise is seldom paid with willingness
even to incontestable merit, and it can be no wonder
that he who calls for it without desert is repulsed
with universal indignation.
Affectation naturally counterfeits those
excellencies which are placed at the greatest distance from
possibility of attainment. We are conscious of our
own defects, and eagerly endeavour to supply them
by artificial excellence; nor would such efforts be
wholly without excuse, were they not often excited
by ornamental trifles, which he, that thus anxiously
struggles for the reputation of possessing them,
would not have been known to want, had not his
industry quickened observation.
Gelasimus passed the first part of his life in
academical privacy and rural retirement, without any
other conversation than that of scholars, grave,
studious, and abstracted as himself. He cultivated
the mathematical sciences with indefatigable diligence,
discovered many useful theorems, discussed
with great accuracy the resistance of fluids, and,
though his priority was not generally acknowledged,
was the first who fully explained all the properties
of the catenarian curve.
Learning, when it rises to eminence, will be
observed in time, whatever mists may happen to
surround it. Gelasimus, in his forty-ninth year, was
distinguished by those who have the rewards of
knowledge in their hands, and called out to display
his acquisitions for the honour of his country, and
add dignity by his presence to philosophical
assemblies. As he did not suspect his unfitness for
common affairs, he felt no reluctance to obey the
invitation, and what he did not feel he had yet too
much honesty to feign. He entered into the world
as a larger and more populous college, where his
performances would be more publick, and his
renown further extended; and imagined that he should
find his reputation universally prevalent, and the
influence of learning every where the same.
His merit introduced him to splendid tables and
elegant acquaintance; but he did not find himself
always qualified to join in the conversation. He was
distressed by civilities, which he knew not how to
repay, and entangled in many ceremonial perplexities,
from which his books and diagrams could not
extricate him. He was sometimes unluckily
engaged in disputes with ladies, with whom algebraick
axioms had no great weight, and saw many whose
favour and esteem he could not but desire, to whom
he was very little recommended by his theories of
the tides, or his approximations to the quadrature
of the circle.
Gelasimus did not want penetration to discover,
that no charm was more generally irresistible than
that of easy facetiousness and flowing hilarity. He
saw that diversion was more frequently welcome
than improvement; that authority and seriousness
were rather feared than loved; and that the grave
scholar was a kind of imperious ally, hastily
dismissed when his assistance was no longer necessary.
He came to a sudden resolution of throwing off
those cumbrous ornaments of learning which
hindered his reception, and commenced a man of wit
and jocularity. Utterly unacquainted with every
topick of merriment, ignorant of the modes and
follies, the vices and virtues of mankind, and
unfurnished with any ideas but such as Pappas and
Archimedes had given him, he began to silence all inquiries
with a jest instead of a solution, extended his face
with a grin, which he mistook for a smile, and in the
place of scientifick discourse, retailed in a new
language, formed between the college and the tavern,
the intelligence of the newspaper.
Laughter, he knew, was a token of alacrity; and,
therefore, whatever he said or heard, he was careful
not to fail in that great duty of a wit. If he asked
or told the hour of the day, if he complained of
heat or cold, stirred the fire, or filled a glass,
removed his chair, or snuffed a candle, he always found
some occasion to laugh. The jest was indeed a secret
to all but himself; but habitual confidence in his
own discernment hindered him from suspecting any
weakness or mistake. He wondered that his wit was
so little understood, but expected that his audience
would comprehend it by degrees, and persisted all
his life to shew by gross buffoonery, how little the
strongest faculties can perform beyond the limits of
their own province.
No. 180. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 7. 1751
On life, on morals, be thy thoughts employ'd;
Leave to the schools their atoms and their void.
IT is somewhere related by Le Clerc, that a wealthy
trader of good understanding, having the common
ambition to breed his son a scholar, carried him to
an university, resolving to use his own judgment
in the choice of a tutor. He had been taught, by
whatever intelligence, the nearest way to the heart
of an academick, and at his arrival entertained all
who came about him with such profusion, that the
professors were lured by the smell of his table from
their books, and flocked round him with all the
cringes of awkward complaisance. This eagerness
answered the merchant's purpose: he glutted them
with delicacies, and softened them with caresses,
till he prevailed upon one after another to open his
bosom, and make a discovery of his competitions,
jealousies, and resentments. Having thus learned
each man's character, partly from himself, and partly
from his acquaintances, he resolved to find some
other education for his son, and went away convinced,
that a scholastick life has no other tendency
than to vitiate the morals and contract the
understanding: nor would he afterwards hear with patience
the praises of the ancient authors, being persuaded
that scholars of all ages must have been the same,
and that Xenophon and Cicero were professors of
some former university, and therefore mean and
selfish, ignorant and servile, like those whom he had
lately visited and forsaken.
Envy, curiosity, and a sense of the imperfection
of our present state, incline us to estimate the
advantages which are in the possession of others above
their real value. Every one must have remarked,
what powers and prerogatives the vulgar imagine
to be conferred by learning. A man of science is
expected to excel the unlettered and unenlightened
even on occasions where literature is of no use,
and among weak minds, loses part of his reverence,
by discovering no superiority in those parts
of life, in which all are unavoidably equal; as
when a monarch makes a progress to the remoter
provinces, the rustics are said sometimes to
wonder that they find him of the same size with
These demands of prejudice and folly can never be
satisfied; and therefore many of the imputations
which learning suffers from disappointed ignorance,
are without reproach. But there are some failures,
to which men of study are peculiarly exposed. Every
condition has its disadvantages. The circle of
knowledge is too wide for the most active and diligent
intellect, and while science is pursued, other
accomplishments are neglected; as a small garrison must
leave one part of an extensive fortress naked, when
an alarm calls them to another.
The learned, however, might generally support
their dignity with more success, if they suffered not
themselves to be misled by the desire of superfluous
attainments. Raphael, in return to Adam's inquiries
into the courses of the stars, and the revolutions of
heaven, counsels him to withdraw his mind from
idle speculations, and employ his faculties upon
nearer and more interesting objects, the survey
of his own life, the subjection of his passions, the
knowledge of duties which must daily be performed,
and the detection of dangers which must daily be
This angelick counsel every man of letters should
always have before him. He that devotes himself
to retired study naturally sinks from omission to
forgetfulness of social duties; he must be therefore
sometimes awakened and recalled to the general
condition of mankind.
I am far from any intention to limit curiosity, or
confine the labours of learning to arts of immediate
and necessary use. It is only from the various
essays of experimental industry, and the vague
excursions of minds sent out upon discovery, that
any advancement of knowledge can be expected;
and, though many must be disappointed in their
labours, yet they are not to be charged with having
spent their time in vain; their example contributed
to inspire emulation, and their miscarriages taught
others the way to success.
But the distant hope of being one day useful or
eminent, ought not to mislead us too far from that
study which is equally requisite to the great and
mean, to the celebrated and obscure; the art of
moderating the desires, of repressing the appetites,
and of conciliating or retaining the favour of
No man can imagine the course of his own life,
or the conduct of the world around him, unworthy
his attention; yet, among the sons of learning,
many seem to have thought of every thing rather
than of themselves, and to have observed every
thing but what passes before their eyes: many who
toil through the intricacy of complicated systems,
are insuperably embarrassed with the least perplexity
in common affairs; many who compare the
actions, and ascertain the characters of ancient
heroes, let their own days glide away without
examination, and suffer vicious habits to encroach upon
their minds without resistance or detection,
The most frequent reproach of the scholastick race
is the want of fortitude, not martial but philosophick.
Men bred in shades and silence, taught to immure
themselves at sunset, and accustomed to no
other weapon than syllogism, may be allowed to
feel terrour at personal danger, and to be
disconcerted by tumult and alarm. But why should he
whose life is spent in contemplation, and whose
business is only to discover truth, be unable to
rectify the fallacies of imagination, or contend
successfully against prejudice and passion? To what
end has he read and meditated, if he gives up his
understanding to false appearances, and suffers
himself to be enslaved by fear of evils to which
only folly or vanity can expose him, or elated
by advantages to which, as they are equally
conferred upon the good and the bad, no real dignity
Such, however, is the state of the world, that the
most obsequious of the slaves of pride, the most
rapturous of the gazers upon wealth, the most
officious of the whisperers of greatness, are collected
from seminaries appropriated to the study of wisdom
and of virtue, where it was intended that
appetite should learn to be content with little, and
that hope should aspire only to honours which no
human power can give or take away[a].
[a] "Such are a sort of sacrilegious ministers in the temple of
intellect. They profane its shew-bread to pamper the palate, its
everlasting lamp they use to light unholy fires within their
breast, and show them the way to the sensual chambers of sense
and worldliness." IRVING.
The student, when he comes forth into the world,
instead of congratulating himself upon his exemption
from the errours of those whose opinions have
been formed by accident or custom, and who live
without any certain principles of conduct, is
commonly in haste to mingle with the multitude, and
shew his sprightliness and ductility by an
expeditious compliance with fashions or vices. The first
smile of a man, whose fortune gives him power to
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