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it did not suit the purpose of the work to make a display of these authorities, as it was my wish to level it to readers of all descriptions. The translations I shall occasionally give will be of such authors, or rather fragments of authors, as come under few people's review, and have never been seen in an English version : these passages therefore will have the merit of novelty at least with most readers, and if I succeed in naturalizing to any degree authors, whose names only foat amongst us, I shall not think that what has been the heaviest part of my undertaking has been the most unprofitable. As I mean this to be a kind of liber circumcurrens, I have thought it not amiss to entitle it The Observer.
There is a pretty numerous sect of philosophers in this kingdom, whom I cannot describe by any apter denomination, than that of Dampers. They are to be known in society by a sudden damp, which they are sure to cast upon all companies, where they enter. The human heart, that comes within their atmosphere, never fails to be chilled; and the quickest sense of feeling is as effectually benumbed, as the touch is with the torpedo. As this sect is of very ancient standing in the world, and has been taken notice of by several heathen writers, I have sometimes thought that it might originate in the school of Thales, who held water to be the first principle of all things. If I were certain that this ancient philosopher always administered his water cold to his disciples, I should incline to think the
present sect of Dampers was really a branch from the Thalesian root, for it is certain they make great use of his first principle in the philosophy they practise.
The business of these philosophers in society is to check the flights and sallies of those volatile beings, who are subject to be carried away by imagination and fancy, or, in other words, to act as a counterpoise against genius; of the vices of mankind they take little notice, but they are at great pains to correct their vanity. They have various receipts for curing this evil; the ordinary method is, by keeping stern silence and an unmoved visage in companies which are disposed to be cheerful. This taciturnity, if well kept up, never fails in the end to work a cure upon festivity according to the first principle of Thales; if the Damper looks morose, every body wonders what the moody gentleman is displeased with, and each in his turn suspects himself in the fault; if he only looks wise, all are expecting when the dumb oracle will utter, and in the mean time his silence infects the whole circle; if the Damper seasons his taciturnity with a shrug of the shoulders, or a shake of the head, judiciously thrown in, when any talkative fellow raises a laugh, 'tis ten to one if the mortified wit ever opens his mouth again for that evening; if a story is told in his company, and the teller makes a slip in a date, or a name, a true Damper may open, provided it is done agreeably to the rules of his order, by setting the story-teller right with much gravity, and adjusting the mistake so deliberately, that the spirit of the story shall be sure to evaporate, before the commentator has properly settled his correction of the text. If any lucky wit chances to say what is called a good thing, and the table applauds, it is a Damper's duty to ask an explanation of the joke, or whether
that was all, and what t’other gentleman said, who was the butt of the jest, and other proper questions of the like sort. If one of the company risks a sally for the sake of good-fellowship, which is a little on the wrong side of truth, or not strictly reducible to proof, a Damper may with great propriety set him right in the matter of fact, and demonstrate, as clear as two and two make four, that what he has said may be mathematically confuted, and that the merry gentleman is mistaken. A Damper is to keep strict watch over the morals of the company, and not to suffer the least indiscretion to escape in the warmth of conviviality; on this occasion he must be ready to call to order, and to answer for his friend to the company, that he has better principles than he affects to have; that he should be sorry such and such an opinion went out against him; and that he is certain he forgot himself, when he said so and so. If any glance is made at private characters, however notorious, a Damper steps in with a recommendation of candour, and inveighs most pathetically against the sin of evil-speaking. He is never merry in company, except when any one in it is apparently out of spirits, and with such a one he is always exceedingly pleasant.
A Damper is so profest an enemy to flattery, that he never applies it in ever so small a degree even to the most diffident; he never cheers a young author for fear of marring his modesty, never sinks truths because they are disagreeable, and if any one is rashly enjoying the transports of public fame on account of some successful production in art or science, the Damper kindly tells him what such and such a critic has scoffingly said on the occasion, and if nothing better offers, lowers his triumphs with a paragraph from a newspaper, which his thoughtless friend might else have overlooked. He is remark
ably careful not to spoil young people by making allowances for spirits or inexperience, or by indulging them in an opinion of their persons or accomplishments. He has many excellent apophthegms in his mouth ready to recommend to those, who want them, such as “to be merry and wise:' a grain of truth is better than an ounce of wit;—' a fool's bolt is soon
hot, but a wise man keeps his within the quiver :'--' he that was only taught by himself had a fool to his master;'—and many more of the like sort.
The following letter will serve to shew in what sort of estimation this sect of Dampers was held by a Roman author, who was one of the finest gentlemen of his time.
PLINY TO RESTITUTUS.* “ I cannot forbear pouring out my indignation before you in a letter, since I have no opportunity of doing so in person, against a certain behaviour which gave me some offence in an assembly, where I was lately present. The company was entertained with the recital of a very finished performance: but there were two or three persons among the audience, men of great genius in their own and a few of their friends' estimation, who sat like so many mutes, without so much as moving a lip or a hand, or once rising from their seats, even to shift their posture. But to what purpose, in the name of good sense, all this wondrous air of wisdom and solemnity, or rather indeed (to give it its true appellation) of this proud indolence? Is it not downright folly, or even madness, thus to be at the expense of a whole day merely to commit a piece of rudeness, and leave
visited as a friend ? Is a man conscious that he possesses a superior degree
* Melmoth's translation.
him an enemy,
of eloquence than the person whom he attends upon on such an occasion ? So much the rather ought he to guard against every appearance of envy, as a passion that always implies inferiority wherever it resides. But whatever a man's talent may be, whether greater, or equal, or less, than his friend's, still it is his interest to give him the approbation he deserves : if greater or equal, because the higher his glory rises, whom you equal or excel, the more considerable yours must necessarily be : if less, because if one of more exalted abilities does not meet with applause, neither possibly can you. For my own part, I honour and revere all, who discover any degree of merit in the painful and laborious art of oratory; for eloquence is a high and haughty dame, who scorns to reside with those that despise her. But perhaps you are not of this opinion; yet who has a greater regard for this glorious science, or is a more candid judge of it, than yourself? In confi- . dence of which, I choose to vent my indignation particularly to you, as not doubting you would be the first to share with me in the same sentiments. Farewell.”
The Romans were much in the habit of reading their unpublished performances to select parties, and sometimes no doubt put the patience and politeness of their hearers to a severe trial : I conceive that this practice does not obtain to any great degree amongst us at present: neither is it a thing to be recommended to young authors; except under peculiar circumstances; for they certainly expose themselves and their hearers to a situation very delicate at best, and which sometimes leads to unpleasant consequences. I am aware how much is to be expected from the judicious remark of a critic, who will correct' with all the malice of a friend;' yet a man so qualified and disposed is not easily found, and does