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I HAVE received this short epistle from an unknown hand.
‘SIR, ‘I have no more to trouble you with than to desire you would in your next help me to some answer to the enclosed concerning yourself. In the meantime I congratulate you upon the increase of your fame, which you see has extended itself beyond the bills of mortality.’
‘That the country is barren of news has been the excuse, time out of mind, for dropping a correspondence with our friends in London; as if it were impossible out of a coffee-house to write an agreeable letter. I am too ingenuous to endeavour at the covering of my negligence with so common an excuse. Doubtless, amongst friends, bred, as we have been, to the better knowledge of books as well as men, a letter dated from a garden, a grotto, a fountain, a wood, a meadow, or the banks of a river, may be more entertaining than one from Tom's, Will's, White's, or St. James's. I promise, therefore, to be frequent for the future in my rural dates to you. But from fear you should, from what I have said, be induced to believe I shun the commerce of men, I must inform you, that there is a fresh topic of discourse lately arisen amongst the ingenious in our part of the world, and is become the more fashionable for the ladies giving in to it. This we owe to Isaac Bickerstaff, who is very much censured by some, and as much justified by others. Some criticise his style, his humour, and his matter ; others admire the whole man. Some pretend, from the informations of their friends in town, to decipher the author; and others confess they are lost in their guesses. For my part, I must own myself a professed admirer of the paper, and desire you to send me a complete set, together with your thoughts of the squire and his lucubrations.”
There is no pleasure like that of receiving praise from the praiseworthy; and I own it a very solid happiness, that these my lucubrations are approved by a person of so fine a taste as the author of this letter, who is capable of enjoying the world in the simplicity of its natural beauties. This pastoral letter, if I may so call it, must be written by a man who carries his entertainment wherever he goes, and is undoubtedly one of those happy men who appear far otherwise to the vulgar. I dare say, he is not envied by the vicious, the vain, the frolic, and the loud; but is continually blessed with that strong and serious delight, which flows from a well-taught and liberal mind. With great respect to country sports, I may say, this gentleman could pass his time agreeably, if there were not a hare or a fox in his county. That calm and elegant satisfaction which the vulgar call melancholy is the true and proper delight of men of knowledge and virtue. What we take for diversion, which is a kind of forgetting ourselves, is but a mean way of entertainment, in comparison of that which is considering, knowing, and enjoying ourselves. The pleasures of ordinary people are in their passions; but the seat of this delight is in the reason and understanding. Such a frame of mind raises that sweet enthusiasm, which warms the imagination at the sight of every work of nature, and turns all round you into a picture and landscape. I shall be ever proud of advices from this gentleman ; for I profess writing news from the learned, as well as the busy world. As for my labours, which he is pleased to inquire after, if they can but wear one impertinence out of human life, destroy a single vice, or give a morning's cheerfulness to an honest mind—in short, if the world can be but one virtue the better, or in any degree less vicious, or receive from them the smallest addition to their innocent diversions—I shall not think my pains, or indeed my life, to have been spent in vain. Thus far as to my studies. It will be expected I should in the next place give some account of my life. I shall therefore, for the satisfaction of the present age, and the benefit of posterity, present the world with the following abridgment of it. It is remarkable, that I was bred by hand, and ate nothing but milk until I was a twelvemonth old ; from which time, to the eighth year of my age, I was observed to delight in pudding and potatoes ; and indeed I retain a benevolence for that sort of food to this day. I do not remember that I distinguished myself in anything at those years, but by my great skill at taw, for which I was so barbarously used, that it has ever since given me an aversion to gaming. In my twelfth year, I suffered very much for two or three false concords. At fifteen I was sent to the University, and stayed there for some time ; but a drum passing by, being a lover of music, I enlisted myself for a soldier. As years came on, I began to examine things, and grew discontented at the times. This made me quit the sword, and take to the study of the occult sciences, in which I was so wrapped up, that Oliver Cromwell had been buried, and taken up again, five years before I heard he was dead. This gave me first the reputation of a conjurer, which has been of great disadvantage to me ever since, and kept me out of all public employments. The greater part of my later years has been divided between Dick's coffeehouse, the Trumpet in Sheer Lane, and my own lodgings. [Tatler, No. 89.