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The greatest plague of coxcombs is, that they often break upon you with an impertinent piece of good sense, as this jackanapes hás hit me in a right place enough. I must confess, I am as likely to play such a trick as another; but that letter he speaks of was really genuine. When I first set up, I thought it fair enough to let myself know from all parts, that my works were wonderfully inquired for, and were become the diversion, as well as instruction, of all the Choice Spirits in every county of Great-Britain. I do not doubt but the more intel. ligent of my readers found it, before this jackanapes, I can call him no better, took upon him to observe upon my style and my basket-hilt. A very pleasant gentleman of my acquaintance told me one day a story of this kind of falsehood and vanity in an author.
Mævius showed him a paper of verses, which he said he had received that morning by the pennypost from an unknown hand. My friend admired them extremely. “ Sir," said he, “this must come from a man that is eminent: you see fire, life, and spirit run through the whole, and at the same time a correctness, which shows he is used to writing. Pray, Sir, read them over again.” He begins again, title and all; “ To Mævius, on his incomparable poems.” The second reading was performed with much more vehemence and action than the former; after which my friend fell into downright raptures-“ Why, they are truly sublime! there is energy in this line! description in that! Why! it is the thing itself! this is perfect picture!” Mævius could bear no more; but, « Faith,” says he, “ Ned, to tell you the plain truth, I writ them myself.” · There goes just such another story of the same paternal tenderness in Bavius, an ingenious contemporary of mine, who had writ several comedies, which were rejected by the players. This my friend Bavius took for envy, and therefore prevailed uport a gentleman to go with him to the play-house, and gave him a new play of his, desiring he would personate the author, and read it, to baffle the spite of the actors. The friend consented, and to reading they went. They had not gone over three similies, before Roscius the player made the acting author, stop, and desired to know, « what he meant by such a rapture? and how it came to pass, that in this condition of the lover, instead of acting according to his circumstances, he spent his time in considering what his present state was like?"-" That is very true,” says the mock author; “ I believe we had as good strike these lines out.”-“ By your leave,” says Bavius, “ you shall not spoil your play, you are too modest; those very lines, for aught I know, are as good as any in your play, and they shall stand.” Well, they go on, and the particle “ and” stood unfortunately at the end of a verse, and was made to rhyme to the word “stand.” This Roscius excepted against. The new poet gave up that too, and said “ he would not dispute for a monosyllable.”-“ For a monosyllable!” says the real author; “I can assure you, a monosyllable may be of as great force as a word of ten syllables. I tell you, Sir, and is the connexion of the matter in that place; without that word, you may put all that follows into any other play as well as this. Besides, if you leave it out, it will look as if you had put it in only for the sake of the rhyme.” Roscius persisted, assuring the gentleman, “ that it was impossible to speak it, but the and must be lost, so it might as well be blotted out.” Bavius snatched his play out of their hands, said “ they were both blockheads,” and went off; repeating a couplet, because he would not make his exit irregularly. A
witty man of these days compared this true and feigned poet to the contending mothers before Solomon; the true one was easily discovered from the pretender, by refusing to see his offspring dissected.
No 92. THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 1709.
Falsus honor juvat, et mendax infamia terret
HOR. I. Ep. xvi.
R. WYNNÉ. White's Chocolate-house, November 9. I know no manner of speaking so offensive as that of giving praise, and closing it with an exception; which proceeds (where men do not do it to introduce malice, and make calumny more effectual) from the common error of considering man as a perfect creature. But, if we rightly examine things, we shall find that there is a sort of economy in Providence, that one shall excel where another is defective, in order to make men more useful to each other, and mix them in society. This man having this talent, and than man another, is as necessary in conversation, as one professing one trade, and ano, ther another, is beneficial in commerce. The happiest climate does not produce all things; and it was so ordered, that one part of the earth should want the product of another, for uniting mankind in a general correspondence and good understanding. It is, therefore, want of good sense as well as good nature, to say Simplicius has a better judgement, but not so much wit as Latius; for that these have not each other's capacities is no more a diminution to either, than if you should say, Simplicius is not Latius, or Latius not Simplicius. The heathen world had so little notion that perfection was to be expected amongst men, that among them any one quality or endowment in an heroic degree made a God. Hercules had strength; but it was never ob. jected to him that he wanted wit. Apollo presided over wit, and it was never asked whether he had strength. We hear no exceptions against the beauty of Minerva, or the wisdom of Venus. These wise heathens were glad to immortalise any one serviceable gift, and overlook all imperfections in the person who had it. But with us it is far otherwise, for we reject many eminent virtues, if they are accom, panied with one apparent weakness. The reflecting after this manner made me account for the strange delight men take in reading lampoons and scandal, with which the age abounds, and of which I receive frequent complaints. Upon mature consideration, I find it is principally for this reason, that the worst of mankind, the libellers, receive so much encou: ragement in the world. The low race of men take a secret pleasure in finding an eminent character levelled to their condition by a report of its defects; and keep themselves in countenance, though they are excelled in a thousand virtues, if they believe they have in common with a great person any one fault. The libeller falls in with this humour, and gratifies the baseness of temper, which is naturally an enemy to extraordinary merit. It is from this, that libel and satire are promiscuously joined together
in the notions of the vulgar, though the satirist and libeller differ as much as the magistrate and the mur. derer. In the consideration of human life, the satirist never falls upon persons who are not glaringly faulty, and the libeller on none but who are conspicuously commendable. Were I to expose any vice in a good or great man, it should certainly be by correcting it in some one where that crime was the most distinguishing part of the cha acter; as pages are chastised for the admonition of princes*. When it is performed otherwise, the vicious are kept in credit, by placing men of merit in the same accusation. But all the pasquils, lampoons, and lia bels we meet with now-a-days, are a sort of playing with the four-and-twenty letters, and throwing them into names, and characters, without sense, truth, or wit. In this case I am in great perplexity to know whom they mean, and should be in distress for those they abuse, if I did not see their judgement and ingenuity in those they commend. This is the true way of examining a libel; and when men consider, that no one inan living thinks the better of their heroes and patrons for the panegyric given them, none can think themselves lessened by their invective. The hero or patron in a libel is but a scavenger to carry off the dirt, and by that very em. ployment is the filthiest creature in the street. Dedications and panegyrics are frequently ridiculous, let them be addressed where they will; but at the front, or in the body of a libel, to commend a man, is saying to the persons applauded, “ My Lord, on Sir, I have pulled down all men that the rest of the world think great and honourable, and here is a clear atage; you may, as you please, be valiant or wise;
* This alludes to a practice long prevalent in England of whipping the royal children by proxy