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friendship! thou fond soother of the human breast, to thee the wretched seek for succour; on thee the care-tired son of misery fondly relies; from thy kind assistance the unfortunate always hopes relief, and may be ever sure of – disappointment! My first application was to a city scrivener, who had frequently offered to lend me money, when he knew I did not want it. I informed him, that now was the time to put his friendship to the test; that I wanted to borrow a couple of hundreds for a certain occasion, and was reSolved to take it up from him. “And pray, Sir, cried my friend, “do you want all this money?' – ‘Indeed, I never wanted it more,’ returned I. “I am sorry for that,' cries the Scrivener, with all my heart; for they who want money when they come to borrow, will always want money when they should come to
“From him I flew with indignation, to one of the best friends I had in the world, and made the same request. ‘Indeed, Mr. Drybone, cries my friend, ‘I always thought it would come to this. You know, Sir, I would not advise you but for your own good; but your conduct has hitherto been ridiculous in the highest degree, and some of your acquaintance always thought you a very silly fellow. Let me see – you want two hundred pounds. Do you only want two hundred, Sir, exactly?’ - ‘To confess a truth,' returned I, ‘I shall want three hundred; but then I have another friend, from whom I can borrow the rest.” – ‘Why, then, replied my friend, “if you would take my advice (and you know I should not presume to advise you but for your own good,) I would recommend it to you to borrow the whole sum from that other friend, and then one note will serve for all, you know.’
“Poverty now began to come fast upon me; yet instead of growing more provident or cautious as I grew poor, I became every day more indolent and simple. A friend was arrested for fifty pounds; I was unable to extricate him, except by becoming his bail. When at liberty, he fled from his creditors, and left me to take his place. In prison I expected greater satisfactions than I had enjoyed at large. I hoped to converse with men in this new world, simple and believing like myself; but I found them as cunning and as cautious as those in the world I had left. behind. They spunged up my money while it lasted, borrowed my coals and never Paid for them, and cheated me when I played
at cribbage. All this was done because they believed me to be very good-natured, and knew that I had no harm in me. “Upon my first entrance into this mansion, which is to some the abode of despair, I felt no sensations different from those I experienced abroad. I was now on one side the door, and those who were unconfined were on the other: this was all the difference between us. At first, indeed, I felt some uneasiness, in considering how I should be able to provide this week for the wants of the week ensuing; but, after some time, if I found myself sure of eating one day, I never troubled my head how I was to be supplied another. I seized every precarious meal with the utmost good-humour; indulged no rants of spleen at my situation; never called down heaven and all the stars to behold me dining upon a halfpenny worth of radishes; my very companions were taught to believe that I liked salad better than mutton. I contented myself with thinking, that all my life I should either eat white bread or brown; considered that all that happened was best; laughed when I was not in pain, took the world as it went, and read Tacitus often, for want of more books and company. “How long I might have continued in this torpid state of simplicity I cannot tell, had I not been roused by seeing an old acquaintance, whom I knew to be a prudent blockhead, preferred to a place in the government. I now found that I had pursued a wrong track, and that the true way of being able to relieve others, was first to aim at independence myself. My immediate care, therefore, was to leave my present habitation, and make an entire reformation in my conduct and behaviour. For a free, open, undesigning deportment, I put on that of closeness, prudence, and economy. One of the most heroic actions I ever performed, and for which I shall praise myself as long as I live, was the refusing halfa-crown to an old acquaintance, at the time when he wanted it, and I had it to spare: for this alone I deserve to be decreed an ovation. “I now therefore pursued a course of uninterrupted frugality, seldom wanted a dinner, and was consequently invited to twenty. i soon began to get the character of a saving hunks that had money, and insensibly grew into esteem. Neighbours have asked my advice in the disposal of their daughters; and I have always taken care not to give any. I have contracted a friendship with an alderman, only by observing, that if we take a farthing from a thousand pounds, it will be a thousand pounds no longer. I have been invited to a pawnbroker's table, by pretending to hate gravy; and am now actually upon treaty of marriage with a rich widow, for only having observed that the bread was rising. If ever I am asked a question, whether I know it or not, instead of answering, I only smile and look wise. If a charity is proposed, I go about with the hat, but put nothing in myself. If a wretch solicits my pity, I observe that the world is filled with impostors, and take a certain method of not being deceived, by never relieving. In short, I now find the truest way of finding esteem, even from the indigent, is – to give away nothing, and thus have much in our power to give.”
ON THE GREAT NUMBER or OLD MAIDS AND
Lately, in company with my friend in black, whose conversation is now both my amusement and instruction, I could not avoid observing the great numbers of old bachelors and maiden ladies with which this city seems to be overrun. “Sure, marriage,” said I, “is not sufficiently encouraged, or we should never behold such crowds of battered beaux and decayed coquettes, still attempting to drive a trade they have been so long unfit for, and swarming upon the gaiety of the age. I behold an old bachelor in the most contemptible light, as an animal that lives upon the common stock without contributing his share: he is a beast of prey, and the laws should make use of as many stratagems, and as much force, to drive the reluctant savage into the toils, as the Indians when they hunt the rhinoceros. The mob should be permitted to halloo after him, boys might play tricks on him with impunity, every well-bred company should laugh at him; and if, when turned of sixty, he offered to make love, his mistress might spit in his face, or, what would be perhaps a greater punishment, should fairly grant the favour.
“As for old maids,” continued I, “they should not be treated with so much severity, because I suppose none would be so if they could. No lady in her senses would choose to make a subordinate figure at christenings or lyings-in, when she might be the principal
herself; nor curry favour with a sister-in-law, when she might command a husband; nor toil in preparing custards, when she might lie a-bed, and give directions how they ought to be made; nor stifle all her sensations in demure formality, when she might, with matrimonial freedom, shake her acquaintance by the hand, and wink at a double entendre. No lady could be so very silly as to live single, if she could help it. I consider an unmarried lady, declining into the vale of years, as one of those charming countries bordering on China, that lies waste for want of proper inhabitants. We are not to accuse the country, but the ignorance of its neighbours, who are insensible of its beauties, though at liberty to enter and cultivate the soil.” “Indeed, Sir,” replied my companion, “you are very little acquainted with the English ladies, to think they are old maids against their will. I dare venture to affirm, that you can hardly select one of them all, but has had frequent offers of marriage, which either pride or avarice has not made her reject. Instead of thinking it a disgrace, they take every occasion to boast of their former cruelty; a soldier does not exult more when he counts over the wounds he has received, than a female veteran when she relates the wounds she has formerly given: exhaustless when she begins a narrative of the former death-dealing power of her eyes, she tells of the knight in gold lace, who died with a single frown, and never rose again till — he was married to his maid; of the squire who, being cruelly denied, in a rage
flew to the window, and lifting up the sash,
threw himself, in an agony — into his arm. chair; of the parson, who, crossed in love, resolutely swallowed opium, which banished the stings of despised love by – making him sleep. In short, she talks over her former losses with pleasure, and, like some trado men, finds consolation in the many bankruptcies she has suffered. “For this reason, whenever I see a supo. annuated beauty still unmarried, I tacity accuse her either of pride, avarice, coquelo or affectation. There's Miss Jenny Tinderbox: I once remember her to have had som" beauty, and a moderate fortune. Her elder sister happened to marry a man of quality: and this seemed as a statute of virginity again. poor Jane. Because there was one lucky it in the family, she was resolved not to do grace it by introducing a tradesman; thus, rejecting her equals, and neglected or * spised by her superiors, she now acts in the capacity of tutoress to her sister's children, and undergoes the drudgery of three servants without receiving the wages of one. “Miss Squeeze was a pawnbroker's daughter; her father had early taught her that money was a very good thing, and left her a moderate fortune at his death. She was so perfectly sensible of the value of what she had got, that she was resolved never to part with a farthing without an equality on the part of her suitor; she thus refused several offers made her by people who wanted to better themselves, as the saying is, and grew old and ill-natured, without ever considering that she should have made an abatement in her pretensions, from her face being pale, and marked with the small-pox. “Lady Betty Tempest, on the contrary, had beauty, with fortune and family. But, fond of conquest, she passed from triumph to triumph: she had read plays and romances, and there had learned, that a plain man of common sense was no better than a fool. Such she refused, and sighed only for the gay, giddy, inconstant, and thoughtless. After she had thus rejected hundreds who liked her, and Sighed for hundreds who despised her, she found herself insensibly deserted. At present she is company only for her aunts and cousins, and sometimes makes one in a country-dance, with only one of the chairs for a partner, casts off round a joint-stool, and sets to a corner cupboard. In a word, she is treated with civil contempt from every quarter, and placed, like a piece of old-fashioned lumber, merely to fill up a corner. “But Sophronia, the sagacious Sophronia! how shall I mention her? She was taught to love Greek, and hate the men from her very infancy. She has rejected fine gentlemen because they were not pedants, and pedants because they were not fine gentlemen; her exquisite sensibility has taught her to discover every fault in every lover, and her inflexible justice has prevented her pardoning them: thus she rejected several offers, till the wrinkles of age had overtaken her; and now, without one good feature in her face, she talks incessantly of the beauties of the mind.” — Farewell.
LETTER XXIX A DESCRIPTION of A CLUB of AUTHORS
Were we to estimate the learning of the English by the number of books that are
every day published among them, perhaps no country, not even China itself, could equal them in this particular. I have reckoned not less than twenty-three new books published in one day, which, upon computation, makes eight thousand three hundred and ninety-five in one year. Most of these are not confined to one single science, but embrace the whole circle. History, politics, poetry, mathematics, metaphysics, and the philosophy of nature, are all comprised in a manual not larger than that in which our children are taught the letters. If, then, we suppose the learned of England to read but an eighth part of the works-which daily come from the press (and surely none can pretend to learning upon less easy terms), at this rate every scholar will read a thousand books in one year. From such a calculation, you may conjecture what an amazing fund of literature a man must be possessed of, who thus reads three new books every day, not one of which but contains all the good things that ever were said or written. And yet I know not how it happens, but the English are not, in reality, so learned as would seem from this calculation. We meet but few who know all arts and sciences to perfection; whether it is that the generality are incapable of such extensive knowledge, or that the authors of those books are not adequate in structors. In China, the Emperor himself takes cognisance of all the doctors in the kingdom who profess authorship. In England, every man may be an author, that can write; for they have by law a liberty, not only of saying what they please, but of being also as dull as they please. Yesterday, I testified my surprise, to the man in black, where writers could be found in sufficient number to throw off the books I daily saw crowding from the press. I at first imagined that their learned seminaries might take this method of instructing the world, But to obviate this objection, my companion assured me, that the doctors of colleges never wrote, and that some of them had actually forgot their reading; “but if you desire,” continued he, “to see a collection of authors, I fancy I can introduce you this evening to a club, which assembles every Saturday at seven, at the sign of The Broom, near Islington, to talk over the business of the last, and the entertainment of the week ensuing.” I accepted his invitation; we walked together, and entered the house some time before the usual hour for the company assembling.
My friend took this opportunity of letting me into the characters of the principal members of the club, not even the host excepted, who, it seems, was once an author himself, but preferred by a bookseller to this situation as a reward for his former services.
“The first person,” said he, “of our society, is Doctor Nonentity, a metaphysician. Most people think him a profound scholar; but, as he seldom speaks, I cannot be positive in that particular; he generally spreads himself before the fire, sucks his pipe, talks little, drinks much, and is reckoned very good company. I'm told he writes indexes to perfection: he makes essays on the origin of evil, philosophical inquiries upon any subject, and draws up an answer to any book upon twenty-four hours' warning. You may distinguish him from the rest of the company by his long gray wig, and the blue handkerchief round his neck.
“The next to him in merit and esteem is Tim Syllabub, a droll creature: he sometimes shines as a star of the first magnitude among the choice spirits of the age: he is reckoned equally excellent at a rebus, a riddle, a bawdy song, and a hymn for the Tabernacle. You will know him by his shabby finery, his powdered wig, dirty shirt, and broken silk stockings.
“After him succeeds Mr. Tibs, a very useful hand: he writes receipts for the bite of a mad dog, and throws off an Eastern tale to perfection; he understands the business of an author as well as any man; for no bookseller alive can cheat him. You may distinguish him by the peculiar clumsiness of his figure, and the coarseness of his coat; however, though it be coarse (as he frequently tells the company), he has paid for it.
“iawyer Squint is the politician of the society: he makes speeches for Parliament, writes addresses to his fellow-subjects, and letters to noble commanders; he gives the history of every new play, and finds seasonable thoughts upon every occasion.” My companion was proceeding in his description, when the host came running in, with terror on his countenance, to tell us that the door was beset with bailiffs. “If that be the case, then,” says my companion, “we had as good be going; for I am positive we shall not see one of the company this night.” Wherefore, disappointed, we were both obliged to return home – he to enjoy the oddities which com
se his character alone, and I to write as usual to my friend the occurrences of the day. Adieu.
THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE CLUB OF AUTHORS
By my last advices from Moscow, I find the caravan has not yet departed for China: I still continue to write, expecting that you may receive a large number of letters at once. In them you will find rather a minute detail of English peculiarities, than a general picture of their manners or disposition. Happy it were for mankind, if all travellers would thus, instead of characterising a people in general terms, lead us into a detail of those minute circumstances which first influenced their opinion. The genius of a country should be investigated with a kind of experimental inquiry: by this means, we should have more precise and just notions of foreign nations, and detect travellers themselves when they happened to form wrong conclusions. My friend and I repeated our visit to the club of authors; where, upon our entrance, we found the members all assembled, and engaged in a loud debate, The poet, in shabby finery, holding a manuscript in his hand, was earnestly endeavouring to persuade the company to hear him read the first book of an heroic poem, which he had composed the day before. But against this all the members very warmly objected. They knew no reason why any member of the club should be indulged with a particular hearing when many of them had published whole volumes which had never been looked into. They insisted that the law should be observed where reading in company was express, noticed. It was in vain that the plaint pleaded the peculiar merit of his piece; ho spoke to an assembly insensible to all ho remonstrances: the book of laws was opened and read by the secretary, where it was to pressly enacted, “That whatsoever, poet, speech-maker, critic, or historian, should Pso sume to engage the company by reading * own works, he was to lay down sixpence Pro. vious to opening the manuscript, and should be charged one shilling an hour while he to tinued reading: the said shilling to be equally distributed among the company, as a reco" pense for their trouble.” Our poet seemed at first to shrink A to penalty, hesitating for some time whether he should deposit the fine, or shut up the Poo". but, looking round, and perceiving two straß
in the room, his love of fame outweighed ho
prudence, and, laying down the sum by law established, he insisted on his prerogative. A profound silence ensuing, he began by explaining his design. “Gentlemen,” says he, “the present piece is not one of pour common epic poems, which come from the press like paper-kites in summer: there are none of your Turnuses or Didos in it; it is an heroical description of nature. I only beg you'll endeavour to make your souls unison with mine, and hear with the same enthusiasm with which I have written. The poem begins with the description of an author's bed-chamber: the picture was sketched in my own apartment; for you must know, gentlemen, that I am myself the hero.” Then putting himself into the attitude of an orator, with all the emphasis of voice and action, he proceeded:
“Where the Red Lion, flaring o'er the way,
With this last line he seemed so much elated, that he was unable to proceed. “There, gentlemen,” cries he, “there is a description for you; Rabelais's bed-chamber is but a fool to it:
‘A cap by night — a stocking all the day !’
There is sound, and sense, and truth, and nature in the trifling compass of ten little syllables.” . He was too much employed in self-admiration to observe the company; who, by nods, winks, shrugs, and stifled laughter, testified overy mark of contempt. He turned severally to each for their opinion, and found all, how
ever, ready to applaud. One swore it was inimitable; another said it was damned fine; and a third cried out in a rapture, “Carissimo /” At last, addressing himself to the president, “And pray, Mr. Squint,” says he, “let us have your opinion.” – “Mine !” answered the president (taking the manuscript out of the author's hand); “may this glass suffocate me, but I think it equal to anything I have seen; and I fancy” (continued he, doubling up the poem and forcing it into the author's pocket) “that you will get great honour when it comes out; so I shall beg leave to put it in. We will not intrude upon your good-nature, in desiring to hear more of it at present; ex ungue Herculem, we are satisfied, perfectly satisfied.” The author made two or three attempts to pull it out a second time, and the president made as many to prevent him. Thus, though with reluctance, he was at last obliged to sit down, contented with the commendations for which he had paid. When this tempest of poetry and praise was blown over, one of the company changed the subject, by wondering how any man could be so dull as to write poetry at present, since prose itself would hardly pay. “Would you think it, gentlemen,” continued he, “I have actually written, last week, sixteen prayers, twelve bawdy jests, and three sermons, all at the rate of sixpence a-piece; and, what is still more extraordinary, the bookseller has lost by the bargain. Such sermons would once have gained me a prebend's stall; but now, alas ! we have neither piety, taste, nor humour among us! Positively, if this season does not turn out better than it has begun, unless the ministry commit some blunders to furnish us with a new topic of abuse, I shall resume my old business of working at the press, instead of finding it employment.”
The whole club seemed to join in condemning the season, as one of the worst that had come for some time: a gentleman particularly observed that the nobility were never known to subscribe worse than at present. “I know not how it happens,” said he, “though I follow them up as close as possible, yet I can hardly get a single subscription in a week. The houses of the great are as inaccessible as a frontier garrison at midnight. I never see a nobleman's door half opened, that some surly porter or footman does not stand full in the breach. I was yesterday to wait with a subscription proposal upon my Lord Squash, the Creolian. I had posted myself at his door