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obliged to my books for helping me through more rainy hours in the course of years last past, than I have been accustomed to be, or indeed than I could wish; for you must know I never read, when I can amuse myself out of doors.
* My studies are but trifling, for I am no scholar, but in bad weather and dark evenings they have served to fill up time; a very little discouragement however suffices to put me out of conceit with my books, and I have thoughts of laying them totally on the shelf, as soon as ever I can provide some harmless substitute in their place: this, you see, is not so easy for me to do, being a solitary man, and one that hates drinking, especially by myself; add to this, that I smoke no tobacco, and have more reasons than I choose to explain against engaging in the nuptial state: my housekeeper, it is true, is a decent conversable woman, and plays a good game at all-fours; and I had begun to fill up an hour in her company, till I was surprised unawares by a neighbour, who is a wag, and has never ceased jeering me upon it ever since: I took next to making nets for my currant bushes, but alas! I have worked myself out of all employ, and am got weary of the trade: I have thought of making fishingrods : but I have a neighbour so tenacious of his trout, that I should only breed a quarrel, and fish in troubled waters, were I to attempt it. To make short of my story, Sir, I have been obliged, after many efforts, to go back to my books, though I have lost all the little relish I had for them ever since I have been honoured with the visits of a learned gentleman, who is lately settled in my neighbourhood. He must be a prodigious scholar, for I believe in my conscience he knows every thing that ever was written, and every body that ever writes. He has taken a world of kind pains, I must confess, to set
me right in a thousand things, that I was ignorant enough to be pleased with; he is a fine spoken man, and in spite of my stupidity has the patience to convince me of the faults and blunders of every author in his turn. When he shews them to me, I see them as clear as day, and never take up
the book again ; he has now gone pretty nearly through my whole nest of shelves, pointing out as he proceeds, what I, like a fool, never saw before, nor ever should have seen but for him. I used to like a Spectator now and then, and generally sought out for Clio, which I was told, were Mr. Addison's papers; but I have been in a gross mistake, to lose my time with a man that cannot write common English; for my friend has proved this to me out of a fine book, three times as big as the Spectator, and, which is more, this great book is made by a foreign gentleman, who writes and speaks clear another language from Mr. Addison ; surely he must be a dunce indeed, who is to be taught his mother tongue by a stranger! I was apt to be tickled with some of our English poets, Dryden, and Pope, and Milton, and one Gray, that turns out to be a very contemptible fellow truly, for he has shewn me all their secret histories in print, written by a learned man greater than them all put together, and now I would not give a rush for one of them; I could find in my heart to send Bell and all his books to the devil. As for all the writers now living, my neighbour, who by the way has a hand in reviewing their works, assures me he can make nothing of them, and indeed I wonder that a man of his genius will have any thing to say to them. custom to read a chapter or two in the Bible on a Sunday night: but there I'am wrong again ; I shall not enter upon the subject here, but it won't do, that I am convinced of, Šir, it positively will not do.
It was my
• The reason of my writing to you at all is only to let you know, that I received a volume of your Observer by the coach; my friend has cast his eye over it, and I have returned it by the waggon, which he says is the fittest conveyance for waste paper. I am, Sir, your humble servant,
I shall give no other answer to my correspondent but to lament his loss of so innocent a resource as reading, which I suspect his new acquirements will hardly compensate. I still think that half an hour passed with Mr. Addison over a Spectator, notwithstanding all his false grammar, or even with one of the poets, notwithstanding their infirmities, might be as well employed as in weaving nets for the currant bushes, or playing at all-fours with his housekeeper. No man has a right to complain of the critic, whose sagacity discovers inaccuracies in a favourite author, and some readers may probably be edified by such discoveries; but the bulk of them, like my correspondent Rusticus, will get nothing but disgust by the information : every man's work is fair game for the critic; but let the critic beware that his own production is not open to retaliation. As for our late ingenious biographer of the poets, when I compare his life of Savage with that of Gray, I must own he has exalted the low, and brought down the lofty; with what justice he has done this the world must judge. On the part of our authors now living, whom the learned gentleman in the letter condemns in the lump, I have only this to observe, that the worse they fare now, the better they will succeed with posterity; for the critics love the sport too well to hunt any but those who can stand a good chase: and authors are the only objects in nature, which are magnified by distance and diminished by
approach: let the illustrious dead change places with the illustrious living, and they shall escape no better than they have done who make room for them; the more merit they bring amongst us, the heavier the tax they shall pay for it.
Let us suppose for a moment that Shakspeare was now an untried poet, and opened his career with any one of his best plays; the next morning, ushers into the world the following, or something like the following critique.
Last night was presented, for the first time, a tragedy called Othello, or the Moor of Venice, avowedly the production of Mr. William Shakspeare, the actor. This gentleman's reputation in his profession is of the mediocre sort, and we predict that his present tragedy will not add much to it in any way.-Mediocribus esse poetis—the reader can supply the rest-verb. sap. As we profess ourselves to be friendly to the players in general, we shall reserve our fuller critique of this piece, till after its third night; for we hold it very stuff of the conscience (to use Mr. Shakspeare's own words) not to war against the poet's purse; though we might apply the author's quaint conceit to himself
Who steals his purse, steals trash ; 'tis something; nothing. In this last reply we agree with Mr. Shakspeare that 'tis nothing, and our philosophy tells us ex nihilo nihil fit.
* For the plot of this tragedy the most we can say is, that it is certainly of the moving sort, for it is here and there and every where ; a kind of theatrical hocus-pocus; a creature of the pye-ball breed, like Jacob's muttons, between a black ram and a white
It brought to our mind the children's game of-I love my love with an A,- with this difference only, that the young lady in this play loves her love with a B, because he is black.-- Risum teneatis?
• There is one lago, a bloody minded-fellow, who stabs men in the dark behind their backs; now this is a thing we hold to be most vile and ever to be abhorred. Othello smothers his white wife in bed : our readers
may think this a shabby kind of an action for a general of his high calling: but we beg leave to observe, that it shews some spirit at least in Othello to attack the enemy in her strong quarters at once. There was an incident of a pocket handkerchief, which Othello called out for most lustily, and we were rather sorry that his lady could not produce it, as we might then have seen one handkerchief at least employed in the tragedy. There were some vernacular phrases, which caught our ear, such as where the black damns his wife twice in a breath-Ok damn her, damn her !—which we thought savoured more of the language spoken at the doors, than within the doors of the theatre; but when we recollect that the author used to amuse a leisure hour with calling up gentlemen's coaches after the play was over, before he was promoted to take a part in it, we could readily account for old habits. Though we have seen many gentlemen and ladies kill themselves on the stage, yet we must give the author credit for the new way in which his hero puts himself out of the world: Othello having smothered his wife, and being taken up by the officers of the state, prepares to dispatch himself and escape from the hands of justice; to bring this about, he begins a story about his killing a man in Aleppo, which he illustrates par example by stabbing himself, and so winds
his story and his life in the same moment. The author made his appearance in the person
of one Brabantio, an old man, who makes his first entry from a window : this occasioned some risibility in the audience: the part is of an inferior kind, and Mr. Shakspeare was more indebted to the exertions of