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When a man breaks in
upon a company
of strangers, to which he is not invited, the intrusion does or does not demand an apology, according to the nature of the business which brings him thither: if it imports the company only, and he has no interest in the errand, the less time he spends in ceremony the better; and he must be a very silly fellow indeed, who stands shuffling and apologizing, when he ought either to warn the people of their danger, or inform them of their good fortune: but where this is not the case, and the man, so intruding, has nothing more to say for himself than that he is come to sit down in their company, to prattle and tell stories, and club his share to the general festivity of the table, it will behove him to recommend himself very speedily to the good graces of his new acquaintance; and if his conversation furnishes neither instruction nor amusement, if he starts no new topics, or does not talk agreeably upon old ones, 'tis well if he does not make his exit as abruptly as he entered.
In like manner, every author finds a material difference in his first approaches to the public, whether
his subject recommends him, or he is to recommend his subject: if he has any thing new in art or science to produce, any thing important to communicate for the benefit of mankind, he need be under no difficulty in demanding their attention to a business, which it is so much their interest to hear and understand; on the contrary, if he has nothing to tell his readers but what they knew before he told it, there must be some candour on their part, and great address on his, to secure to such an author a good reception in the world.
I am at this instant under all the embarrassments incident to a man in the last mentioned predicament: I am exceedingly desirous to make my best bow to the good company I am intruding myself upon, and yet equally anxious, that in so doing I may neither make my
first advances with the stiff grimace of a dancing master, nor with the too familiar air of a self important. As I pretend to nothing more in these pages than to tell my readers what I have observed of men and books, in the most amusing manner I am able, I know not what to say to them more than humbly to request a hearing; and, as I am in perfect charity and good humour with them, sincerely to hope that they on their parts will be in like good humour and charity with me.
My first wish was, to have followed the steps of those essayists, who have so successfully set the fashion of publishing their lucubrations from day to day in separate papers. This mode of marching into the world by detachments has been happily taken up by men of great generalship in literature, of whom some are yet amongst us. Though Mr. Addison, in his Spectator, No. 124, has asserted that a man who publishes his works in a volume has an infinite advantage over one who communicates his writings to the world in loose sheets and single pieces, it does not
appear that he is serious in his assertion; or, if he is, it is plain that his argument draws one way and his example another; I must confess, says he, I am amazed that the press should be only made use of in this way by news writers and the zealots of parties ; as if it were not more advantageous to mankind to be instructed in wisdom and virtue than in politics; and to be made good fathers, husbands, and sons, than counsellors and statesmen. This will suffice to convince us that Mr. Addison saw the advantages of this mode of publication in such a light as led him to make choice of it himself, and to recommend it to others: for it is not to be supposed, that he would have prefixed a motto to this very paper, purporting that a great book is a great evil, and then argued seriously in recommendation of that evil.
Some of the most pleasing volumes now in our hands are collections of essays published in this manner, and the plan is still capable of a variety that is in no danger of being exhausted ; add to this, that many years have now elapsed since any papers of this sort have been published: the present time therefore on this account, as well as from other circumstances peculiar to it, may seem favourable to the undertaking: but there are good reasons why writers have desisted from pursuing any further these attempts of working through a channel which others are in possession of, who might chance to levy such a toll upon their merchandise as would effectually spoil their market.
The miscellaneous matter I propose to give in these sheets naturally coincides with the method I have taken of disposing them into distinct papers, and I shall proceed to publish in like manner till my plan is completed, or till any unforeseen event cuts short the prosecution of it. For me to conceive in any age so enlightened as the present, that I can
offer any thing to the public, which many of my readers will not be as well informed of as myself, would be a very silly presumption indeed: simply to say that I have written nothing but with a moral design would be saying very little, for it is not the vice of the time to countenance publications of an opposite tendency; to administer moral precepts through a pleasing vehicle seems now the general study of our essayists, dramatists, and novelists. The preacher may enforce his doctrines in the style of authority, for it is his profession to summon mankind to their duty; but an uncommissioned instructor will study to conciliate, whilst he attempts to correct. Even the satirist, who declares war against vice and folly, seldom commits himself to the attack without keeping some retiring place open in the quarter of panegyric; if he cuts deep it is with the hand of a surgeon, not of an assassin. Few authors now undertake to mend the world by severity, many make it their study by some new and ingenious device to soften the rigour of pbilosophy, and to bind the rod of the moralist with the roses of the muse.
I have endeavoured to relieve and chequer these familiar essays in a manner that I hope will be approved of; I allude to those papers, in which I treat of the literature of the Greeks, carrying down my history in a chain of anecdotes from the earliest poets to the death of Menander; to this part of my work I have addressed my greatest pains and attention. I believe the plan is so far my own that nobody has yet given the account in so compressed and upmixed a state as I shall do, and none I think will envy me the labour of turning over such a mass of heavy materials for the sake of selecting what I hoped would be acceptable in the relation. Though I cannot suppose I am free from error, I can safely say I have asserted nothing without authority; but 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 float 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 intitle 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
ent 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.