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NO.228. WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 21.
Percun&torem fugito, nam garrulus idem eft.
Hor. Ep. xviii. lib. 1. ver. 69. Shun the inquisitive and curious man;
For what he hears he will relate again. POOLY. THERE is a creature who has all the organs of
speech, a tolerable good capacity for conceiving what is said to it, together with a pretty proper behaviour in all the occurrences of common life ; but naturally very vacant of thought in itfelf, and therefore forced to apply itself to foreign affistances. Of this make is that man who is very inquisitive. You may often observe, that though he speaks as good sense as any man upon any thing with which he is well acquainted, "he cannot trust to the range of his own fancy to entertain himfelf upon that foundation, but goes on ftill to new inquiries. Thus, though you know he is fit for the most polite conversation, you shall see him very well contented to fit by a jockey, giving an account of the many revolutions in his horse's health, what potion he made him 'take, how that agreed with him, how afterwards he came to his stomach and his exercise, or any the like impertinence; and be as well pleased as if you talked to him on the moft important truths. This humour is far from making a man unhappy, though it may subject him to rallery; for he generally falls in with a person who seems to be born for him, which is your talkative fellow. It is so ordered that there is a secret bent, as natural as the meeting of different fexes, in thofe two characters, to supply each other's wants. I had the honour the other day to fit in a publick room, and saw an inquisitive man look with an air of satisfaction upon the approach of one of thefe talk
ers. The man of ready utterance sat down by him, and rubbing his head, leaning on his arm, and making an uneasy countenance, he began : "There is
no manner of news to-day. I cannot tell what • is the matter with me, but I slept very ill last
night; whether I caught cold or no I know not, but I fancy I do not wear shoes thick enough for
the weather, and I have coughed all this week : • It must be fo, for the custom of washing my head
winter and summer with cold water, prevents any injury from the feason entering that way; so it must come in at my feet; but I take no notice of • it : As it comes so it goes. Most of our evils
proceed from too much tenderness; and our faces are naturally as little able to resist the cold as other parts. The Indian answered very
well to an European, who asked him how he could go na: ked; I am all face.'
I observed this discourse was as welcome to my general inquirer as any other of more consequence could have been; but somebody calling our talker to another part of the room, the inquirer told the next man who sat by him, that Mr. Such-a-one, who was just gone from him, used to wash his head in cold water every morning; and fo repeated almost verbatim all that had been said to him. The truth is, the inquisitive are the funnels of conversation; they do not take in any thing for their own ufe, but merely to pass it to another : They are the channels through which all the good and evil that is spoken in town are conveyed. Such as are offended at them, or think they suffer by their behaviour, may themselves mend that inconvenience; for they are not a malicious people, and if you will supply them, you may contradi&t any thing That they have said before by their own mouths. A farther account of a thing is one of the gratefuileit goods that can arrive to them; and it is fel. clom that they are more particular than to fay, The
town will have it so, or I have it from a good hand: So that there is room for the town to know the matter more particularly, and for a better hand to contradict what was said by a good one.
I have not known this humour more ridiculous than in a father, who has been earnestly follicitous to have an account how his fon has pailed his leisure hours ; if it be in a way thoroughly insignificant, there cannot be a greater joy than an inquirer discovers in seeing him follow so hopefully his own steps : But this humour among nen is most pleafant when they are saying something which is not wholly proper for a third person to hear, and yet is in itself indifferent. The other day there came in a well-dressed young fellow, and two gentlemen of this species inmediately fell a whispering his pedigree. I could overhe?r, by breaks, She was his aunt; then an answer, Ay, she was of the mother's fide: Then again, in a little lower voice, His father wore generally a darker wig; answer, Not much. But this gentleman wears higher heels to his lhoes.
As the inquisitive, in my opinion, are fuch merely from a vacancy in their own imaginations, there is nothing, methinks, fo dangerous as to communicate secrets to them; for the same temper of inquiry makes them as impertinently communicative : But no man, though he converies with them, need put himself in their power, for they will be contented with matters of less moment as well. When there is fuel enough, no matter what it is-Thus the ends of sentences in the news-papers, as, This wants. confirmation, This occasions many speculations, and Time will discover the event, are read by them, and considered not as inere expletives.
One may fee now and then this humour accompanied with an infatiable desire of knowing what passes, without turning it to any use in the world, but merely their own entertainment. A..mind
which is gratified this way is adapted to humour and pleasantry, and forined for an unconcerned character in the world'; and, like myself, to be a mere spectator. This curiosity, without malice or felf-interest, lays up in the imagination a magazine of circumstances which cannot but entertain when they are produced in conversation. If one were to know, from the man of the first quality to the meanest servants, the different intrigues, fentiments, pleasures and interests of mankind, would it not be the most pleasing entertainment imaginable to enjoy so constant a farce, as the observing mankind much more different from themselves in their secret thoughts and publick actions, than in their night-caps and long periwigs?
• Mr. SPECTATOR, PLUT LUTARCH tells us, that Caius Gracchus, the
Roman, was frequently hurried by his passion « into fo loud and tumultuous a way of speaking, • and so strained his voice as not to be able to pro• ceed. To remedy this excefs, he had an ingenious • servant, by name Licinius, always attending him • with a pitch-pipe or instrument to regulate the • voice ; who, whenever he heard his master begin . to be high, immediately touched a soft note; at which, it is faid, Gaius would presently abate and
' Upon recollecting this story, I have frequently • wondered that this useful instrument should have • been so long discontinued; especially since we find
that this good office of Licinius has preserved his • memory for many hundred years, which, me• thinks, should have encouraged fome one to have · revived it, if not for the publick good, yet for his • own credit. It may be objected, that our loud • talkers are so fond of their own noife, that they
would not take it well to be checked by their • fervants : But granting this to be true, surely any
i of their hearers have a very good title to play a + soft note in their own defence. To be short, no • Licinius appearing and the noise increasing, I was resolved to give this late long vacation to the good
my country; and I have at length, by the ar• fistance of an ingenious artist, (who works to the * Royal Society) almost compleated my design, and * shall be ready in a short time to furnish the pub
lick with what number of these instruments they
please, either to lodge at coffeehouses, or carry * for their own private use. In the mean time I
fliall pay that refpect to several gentlemen, who I • know will be in danger of offending against this • inftrument, to give them notice of it by private
letters, in which I shall only write, Get a Lici
' I fhould now trouble you no longer, but that " I must not conclude without defiring you to ac
cept one of these pipes, which shall be left for you with Buckley; and which I hope will be ferviceable to you, fince as you are filent yourself you are most open to the insults of the noisy.
. I am, Sir, &c. W. B. • I had almost forgot to inform you, that as an
improvement in this instrument, there will be a • particular note, which I call a hush-note; and - this is to be made use of against a long story, fwearing, obscencnefs, and the like.'