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For women born to be controll'd
[Spectator, No. 148.
Don Quirote in the Coffee houses
When we look into the delightful history of the most ingenious Don Quixote of the Mancha, and consider the exercises and manner of life of that renowned gentleman, we cannot but admire the exquisite genius and discerning spirit of Michael Cervantes ; who has not only painted his adventurer with great mastery in the conspicuous parts of his story, which relate to love and honour; but also intimated in his ordinary life, in his economy and furniture, the infallible symptoms he gave of his growing frenzy, before he declared himself a Knight Errant. His hall was furnished with old lances, halberds, and morions; his food, lentils; his dress, amorous. He slept moderately, rose early, and spent his time in hunting. When by watchfulness and exercise he was thus qualified for the hardships of his intended peregrinations, he had nothing more to do but to fall hard to study; and before he should apply himself to the practical part, get into the methods of making love and war by reading books of knighthood. As for raising tender passions in him, Cervantes reports that he was wonderfully delighted with a smooth intricate sentence; and when they listened at his study-door, they could frequently hear him read aloud, “The reason of the unreasonableness, which against my reason is wrought, doth so weaken my
reason, as with all reason I do justly complain of your beauty. Again, he would pause until he came to another charming sentence, and, with the most pleasing accent imaginable, be loud at a new paragraph : “The high heavens, which with your divinity, do fortify you divinely with the stars, make you deserveress of the deserts that your greatness deserves.' With these and other such passages, says my author, the poor gentleman grew distracted, and was breaking his brains day and night to understand and unravel their sense.
As much as the case of this distempered knight is received by all the readers of his history as the most incurable and ridiculous of all frenzies ; it is very certain, we have crowds among us far gone in as visible a madness as his, though they are not observed to be in that condition. As great and useful discoveries are sometimes made by accidental and small beginnings, I came to the knowledge of the most epidemic ill of this sort, by falling into a coffee-house, where I saw my friend the upholsterer, whose crack towards politics I have heretofore mentioned. This touch in the brain of the British subject is as certainly owing to the reading newspapers, as that of the Spanish worthy above-mentioned to the reading works of chivalry. My contemporaries, the novelists, have, for the better spinning out paragraphs, and working down to the end of their columns, a most happy art in saying and unsaying, giving hints of intelligence, and interpretations of indifferent actions, to the great disturbance of the brains of ordinary readers. This way of going on in the words, and making no progress in the sense, is more particularly the excellency of my
most ingenious and renowned fellow - labourer, the Postman : and it is to this talent in him that I impute the loss of my upholsterer's intellects. That unfortunate tradesman has, for years past, been the chief orator in ragged assemblies, and the reader in alley coffee-houses. He was yesterday surrounded by an audience of that sort, among whom I sat unobserved, through the favour of a cloud of tobacco, and saw him with the Postman in his hand, and all the other papers safe under his elbow.
He was intermixing remarks, and reading the Paris article of May the thirtieth, which says, “That it is given out that an express arrived this day with advice, that the armies were so near in the plain of Lens, that they cannonaded each other.' 'Ay, ay, here we shall have sport.' “And that it was highly probable the next express would bring us an account of an engagement.' “They are welcome as soon as they please.' 'Though some
that the same will be put off until the second or third of June, because the Marshal Villars expects some further reinforcements from Germany, and other parts, before that time.' 'What does he put it off for? Does he think our horse is not marching up at the same time?
But let us see what he says further.' ‘They hope that Monsieur Albergotti, being encouraged by the presence of so great an army, will make an extraordinary defence.' 'Why then, I find Albergotti is one of those that love to have a great many on their side. Nay, I say that for this paper, he makes the most natural inferences of any of them all.'
“The Elector of Bavaria, being uneasy to be without any command, has desired leave to come to court, to communicate a certain project to his majesty.
-Whatever it be, it is said, that prince is suddenly expected ; and then we shall have a more certain account of his project, if this report has any foundation.' 'Nay, this paper never imposes upon us; he goes upon sure grounds ; for he will not be positive the Elector has a project, or that he will come, or if he does come at all ; for he doubts, you see, whether the report has any foundation.'
What makes this the more lamentable is, that this way of writing falls in with the imaginations of the cooler and duller part of her Majesty's subjects. The being kept up with one line contradicting another ; and the whole, after many sentences of conjecture, vanishing in a doubt whether there is anything at all in what the person has been reading, puts an ordinary head into a vertigo, which his natural dulness would have secured him from. Next to the labours of the Postman, the upholsterer took from under his elbow honest Ichabod Dawks's Letter, and there, among other speculations, the historian takes upon him to say, “That it is discoursed that there will be a battle in Flanders before the armies separate, and many
will have it to be to-morrow, the great battle of Ramillies being fought on a Whitsunday.' A gentleman, who was a wag in this company, laughed at the expression, and said, “By Mr. Dawks's favour, I warrant you, if we meet them on Whitsunday or Monday we shall not stand upon the day with them, whether it be before or after the holidays.'
An admirer of this gentleman stood up, and told a neighbour at a distant table the conceit; at which indeed we were all very merry. These reflections, in the writers of the transactions of the times, seize the noddles of such as were not born