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larities and accidental discriminations, deviate from the universal rule, and pollute his canvass with deformity
No. 83. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 1759
TO THE IDLER.
SIR, SUPPOSE you have forgotten that many weeks ago I promised to send you an account of my companions at the Wells. You would not deny me a place among the most faithful votaries of idleness, if you knew how often I have recollected my engagement, and contented myself to delay the performance for some reason which I durst not examine because I knew it to be false; how often I have sat down to write, and rejoiced at interruption; and how often I have praised the dignity of resolution, determined at night to write in the morning, and deferred it in the morning to the quiet hours of night.
I have at last begun what I have long wished at an end, and find it more easy than I expected to continue my narration.
Our assembly could boast no such constellation of intellects as Clarendon's band of associates. We had among us no Selden, Falkland or Waller; but we had men not less important in their own eyes, though less distinguished by the publick; and many a time have we lamented the partiality of mankind, and agreed that men of the deepest inquiry sometimes let their discoveries die away in silence, that the most
• By Sir Joshua Reynolds.
comprehensive observers have seldom opportunities of imparting their remarks, and that modest merit passes in the crowd unknown and unheeded.
One of the greatest men of the society was Sim Scruple, who lives in a continual equipoise of doubt, and is a constant enemy to confidence and dogmatism. Sim's favourite topick of conversation is the narrowness of the human mind, the fallaciousness of our senses, the prevalence of early prejudice, and the uncertainty of appearances. Sim has many doubts about the nature of death, and is sometimes inclined to believe that sensation may survive motion, and that a dead man may feel though he cannot stir. He has sometimes hinted that man might, perhaps, have been naturally a quadruped; and thinks it would be very proper, that at the Foundling Hospital some children should be inclosed in an apartment in which the nurses should be obliged to walk half upon four and half upon two legs, that the younglings, being bred without the prejudice of example, might have no other guide than nature, and might at last come forth into the world as genius should direct, erect or prone, on two legs or on four.
The next, in dignity of mien and fluency of talk, was Dick Wormwood, whose sole delight is to find every thing wrong. Dick never enters a room but he shows that the door and the chimney are ill-placed. He never walks into the fields but he finds ground ploughed which is fitter for pasture. He is always an enemy to the present fashion. He holds that all the beauty and virtue of women will soon be destroyed by the use of tead. He triumphs when he talks on the present system of education, and tell us, with great vehemence, that we are learning words when we should learn things. He is of opinion that we suck in errours at the nurse's breast, and thinks it extremely ridiculous that children should be taught to use the right hand rather than the left.
Bob Sturdy considers it as a point of honour to say again what he has once said, and wonders how any man, that has been known to alter his opinion, can look his neighbours in the face. Bob is the most formidable disputant of the whole company; for, without troubling himself to search for reasons, he tires his antagonist with repeated affirmations. When Bob has been attacked for an hour with all the powers of eloquence and reason, and his position appears to all but himself utterly untenable, he always closes the debate with his first declaration, introduced by a stout preface of contemptuous civility. “All this is very judicious; you may talk, Sir, as you please; but I will still say what I said at first.” Bob deals much in universals, which he has now obliged us to let pass without exceptions. He lives on an annuity, and holds that there are as many thieves as traders; he is of loyalty unshaken, and always maintains, that he who sees a Jacobite sees a rascal.
Phil Gentle is an enemy to the rudeness of cond Dr. Johnson was, as he has humourously described himself, “ a hardened and shameless tea drinker.” See his amusing Review of a Journal of Eight Days' Journey and his Reply to a paper in the Gazetteer, May 26, 1757.
tradiction and the turbulence of debate. Phil has no notions of his own, and, therefore, willingly catches from the last speaker such as he shall drop. This flexibility of ignorance is easily accommodated to any tenet; his only difficulty is, when the disputants grow zealous, how to be of two contrary opinions at once. If no appeal is made to his judgment, he has the art of distributing his attention and his smiles in such a manner, that each thinks him of his own party; but if he is obliged to speak, he then observes that the question is difficult; that he never received so much pleasure from a debate before; that neither of the controvertists could have found his match in any other company; that Mr. Wormwood's assertion is very well supported, and yet there is great force in what Mr. Scruple advanced against it. By this indefinite declaration both are commonly satisfied; for he that has prevailed is in good humour; and he that has felt his own weakness is very glad to have escaped so well.
I am, Sir, yours, &c.
No. 84. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 1759 IOGRAPHY is, of the various kinds of narra
tive writing, that which is most eagerly read, and most easily applied to the purposes of life.
In romances, when the wide field of possibility lies open to invention, the incidents may easily be made more numerous, the vicissitudes more sudden, and the events more wonderful; but from the time of
life when fancy begins to be overruled by reason and corrected by experience, the most artful tale raises little curiosity when it is known to be false®; though it may, perhaps, be sometimes read as a model of a neat or elegant style, not for the sake of knowing what it contains, but how it is written; or those that are weary of themselves, may have recourse to it as a pleasing dream, of which, when they awake, they voluntarily dismiss the images from their minds.
The examples and events of history press, indeed, upon the mind with the weight of truth; but when they are reposited in the memory, they are oftener employed for show than use, and rather diversify conversation than regulate life. Few are engaged in such scenes as give them opportunities of growing wiser by the downfall of statesmen or the defeat of generals. The stratagems of war, and the intrigues of courts, are read by far the greater part of mankind with the same indifference as the adventures of fabled heroes, or the revolutions of a fairy region. Between falsehood and useless truth there is little difference. As gold which he cannot spend will make no man rich, so knowledge which he cannot apply will make no man wise.
e It is somewhere recorded of a retired citizen, that he was in the habit of again and again perusing the incomparable story of Robinson Crusoe without a suspicion of its authenticity. At length a friend assured him of its being a work of fiction. What you say, replied the old man mournfully, may be true; but your information has taken away the only comfort of my age.
Pol, me occidistis, amici,
HOR. Lib. ii. Ep. ii. 138.