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has, perhaps, more merit in it than the generality of readers imagine; did they know how many thoughts occur in a point of humour, which a discreet author in modesty suppresses; how many strokes of raillery present themselves, which could not fail to please the ordinary taste of mankind, but are stified in their birth by reason of some remote tendency which they carry in them to corrupt the minds of those who read them; did they know how many glances of ill-nature are industriously avoided for fear of doing injury to the reputation of another, they would be apt to think kindly of those writers, who endeavour to make themselves diverting, without being immoral. One may apply to these authors that passage in Waller:
Poets lose half the praise they would have got,
As nothing is more easy than to be a wit, with all the above-mentioned liberties, it requires some genius and invention to appear such without them.
What I have here said is not only in regard to the public, but with an eye to my particular correspondent, who has sent me the following letter, which I have castrated in some places upon these considerations :
• Having lately seen your discourse upon a match of grinning, I cannot forbear giving you an account of a whistling match, which, with many others, I was entertained with about three years since at the Bath. The prize was a guinea, to be conferred upon the ablest Whistler, that is, on him who could whistle clearest, and go through his tune without laughing, to which at the same time he was provoked by the antick postures of a merry-andrew, who was to stand upon the stage and play his tricks in the eye of the performer. There were three competitors for the ring. The first was a ploughman of a very promising aspect; his features were steady, and his muscles composed in so inflexible stupidity, that upon his first appearance every one gave the guinea for lost. The pickled herring however found the way to shake him; for upon his whistling a country jig, this unlucky wag danced to it with such variety of distortions and grimaces, that the countryman could not forbear smiling upon him, and by that means spoiled his whistle, and lost the prize.
• The next that mounted the stage was an undercitizen of the Bath, a person remarkable among the inferior people of that place for his great wisdom, and his broad band.* He contracted his mouth with much gravity, and, that he might dispose his mind to be more serious than ordinary, began the tune of the Children in the Wood.
He went through part of it with good success, when on a sudden the wit at his elbow, who had appeared wonderfully grave and attentive for some time, gave him a touch upon the left shoulder, and stared him in the face with so bewitching a grin, that the whistler relaxed his fibres into a kind of simper, and at length burst out into an open laugh. The third who entered the lists was a footman, who in defiance of the merry-andrew and all his arts, whistled a Scotch tune, and an Italian sonata, with so settled a countenance that he bore away the prize, to the great admiration of some hundreds of persons, who, as well as myself, were present at this trial of skill. Now, sir, I humbly conceive, whatever you have
determined of the grinners, the whistlers ought to be encouraged, not only as their art is practised without distortion, but as it improves country music, promotes gravity, and teaches ordinary people to keep their countenances, if they see any thing ridiculous in their betters; besides that it seems an entertainment very particularly adapted to the Bath, as it is usual for a rider to whistle to his horse when he would make his water pass.
· I am, sir, &c.'
POSTSCRIPT. • After having dispatched these two important points of grinning and whistling, I hope you will oblige the world with some reflections upon yawning, as I have seen it practised on a twelfth-night among other. Christmas gambols at the house of a very worthy gentleman, who always entertains his tenants at that time of the year. They yawn for a Cheshire cheese, and begin about midnight, when the whole company is disposed to be drowsy. He that yawns widest, and at the same time so naturally as to produce the most yawns among the spectators, carries home the cheese. If you handle this subject as you ought, I question not but your paper will set half the kingdom a yawning, though I dare promise you it will never make any body fall asleep.'
N° 180. WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 26, 1711.
Delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi.
Hor. 1 Ep. ii. 14. The monarch's folly makes the people rue.
The following letter has so much weight and good sense, that I cannot forbear inserting it, though it relates to a hardened sinner, whom I have very little hopes of reforming, viz. Lewis XIV. of France.
Amidst the variety of subjects of which you have treated, I could wish it had fallen in your way to expose the vanity of conquests. This thought would naturally lead one to the French king, who has been generally esteemed the greatest conqueror of our age, till her majesty's armies had torn from him so many of his countries, and deprived him of the fruit of all his former victories. For my own part, if I were to draw his picture, I should be for taking him no lower than to the peace of Ryswick, just at the end of his triumphs, and before his reverse of fortune: and even then I should not forbear thinking his ambition had been vain, and unprofitable to himself and his people.
• As for himself, it is certain he can have gained nothing by his conquests, if they have not rendered him master of more subjects, more riches, or greater power. What I shall be able to offer
upon these heads, I resolve to submit to your consideration. To begin then with his increase of subjects.
From the time he came of age, and has been a manager for himself, all the people he had acquired were such only as he had reduced by his wars, and were left in his possession by the peace; he had conquered not above one third part of Flanders, and consequently no more than one third part of the inhabitants of that province.
* About one hundred years ago the houses in that country were all numbered, and by a just computation the inhabitants of all sorts could not then exceed 750,000 souls. And if any man will consider the desolation by almost perpetual wars,
the numerous armies that have lived almost ever since at discretion upon the people, and how much of their commerce has been removed for more security to other places, he will have little reason to imagine that their numbers have since increased; and therefore with one third part of that province that prince can have gained no more than one third part of the inhabitants, or 250,000 new subjects, even though it should be supposed they were all contented to live still in their native country, and transfer their allegiance to a new master.
. The fertility of this province, its convenient situation for trade and commerce, its capacity for furnishing employment and subsistence to great numbers, and the vast armies that have been maintained here, make it credible that the remaining two thirds of Flanders are equal to all his other conquests ; and consequently by all, he cannot have gained more than 750,000 new subjects, men, women and children, especially if a deduction shall be made of such as have retired from the conqueror, to live under their old masters.
• It is time now to set his loss against his profit, and to shew for the new subjects he had acquired, how many old ones he had lost in the acquisition.