Page images
PDF
EPUB

they first come to town (at which time they are usually curious that way) in the inscriptions on sign posts. I have cause to know this matter as well as any body ; for I have, when I went to Merchant Taylors' school?, suffered stripes for spelling after the signs I observed in my way; though at the same time I must confess staring at those inscriptions first gave me an idea and curiosity for medals : in which I have since arrived at some knowledge. Many a man has lost his way and his dinner by this general want of skill in orthography : for, considering that the painters are usually so very bad, that you cannot know the animal under whose sign you are to live that day, how must the stranger be misled, if it be wrong spelled, as well as ill painted ? I have a cousin now in town, who has answered under batchelor at Queen's college, whose name is Humphrey Mopstaff (he is a-kin to us by his mother): this young man, going to see a relation in Barbican, wandered a whole day by the mistake of one letter, for it was written, this is the Beer,' instead of this is the Bear. He was set right at last, by inquiring for the house, of a fellow who could not read, and knew the place niechanically, only by having been often drunk there. But, in the name of goodness, let us make our learning of use to us, or not. Was not this a shame, that a philosopher should be thus directed by a cobler ? I will be sworn, if it were known how many have suffered in this kind by false spelling since the Union, this matter would not long lie thus. What makes these evils the more insupportable is, that they are so easily amended, and no

2 Founded by the worshipful company whose name it bears, 1561,

· thing done in it. But it is so far from that, that the

evil goes on in other arts as well as orthography; places are confounded, as well for want of proper distinctions, as things for want of true characters. Had I not come by the other day very early in the morning, there might have been mischief done: for a worthy North Briton was swearing at Stocks-market, that they would not let him in at his lodgings; but I, knowing the gentleman, and observing him look often at the king on horseback, and then double his oaths, that he was sure he was right, found he mistook that for Charing-cross, by the erection of the like statue in each place 3. I grant, private men may distinguish their abodes as they please: as one of my acquaintance who lives at Marybone 4, has put a good sentence of his own invention upon his dwelling-place', to find out where he lives : he is so near

3 These two equestrian statues were very unlike. The one was made by the famous La Seur, for king Charles I. ; the other was originally intended for John Sobieski, king of Poland, and, mutatis mutandis, erected in honour of king Charles II. The Turk underneath the horse was cleverly metamorphosed into Oliver Cromwell; but his turban escaped unnoticed, or unaltered, to testify the truth. The one is of brass blackened, the other was of white marble, &c. See Spec. N° 462, note.

4 The duke of Buckingham was humorously said to have lived at Marybone; as he was almost every day on the bowling-green there, and seldom left it till he could see no longer.

s On Buckingham-house (now the Queen's palace) were originally these inscriptions: On the front, Sic siti lætantur Lares: On the back front, Rus in urbe. On the side next the road, Spectator fastidiosus sibi molesius. On the north side, Lente incepit, citò perfecit.

London, that his conceit is this, the country in town; or, the town in the country; for you know, if they are both in one, they are all one. Besides that the ambiguity is not of great consequence ; if you are safe at the place, it is no matter if you do not distinctly know where the place is. But to return to the orthography of public places; I propose, that every tradesman in the cities of London and Westminster shall give me six-pence a quarter for keeping their signs in repair, as to the grammatical part; and I will take into my house a Swiss count of my acquaintance, who can remember all their names without book, for dispatch sake, setting up the head of the said foreigner for my sign; the features being strong, and fit for hanging high.

St. James's Coffee-house, May 20. The approach of the peace strikes a panic through our armies, though that of a battle could never do it, and they almost repent of their bravery, that made such haste to humble themselves and the French king. The duke of Marlborough, though otherwise the greatest general of the age, has plainly shewn himself unacquainted with the arts of husbanding a war. He might have grown as old as the duke of Alva, or prince Waldeck in the Low Countries, and yet have got reputation enough every year for any reasonable man : for the command of general in Flanders hath been ever looked upon as a provision for life. For my part, I cannot see how his grace can answer it to the world, for the great eagerness he hath shewn to

6 A hit at John James Heidegger, esq. remarkable for his strong memory and strange features. See No 12, note. The title of Count was given to him in ridicule.

VOL. I.

[ocr errors]

send an hundred thousand of the bravest fellows in Europe a-begging. But the private gentlemen of the infantry will be able to shift for themselves; a brave man can never starve in a country stocked with henroosts. "There is not a yard of linen,' says my honoured progenitor Sir John Falstaff?, “in my whole company; but as for that,' says this worthy knight, • I am in no great pain ; we shall find shirts on every hedge. There is another sort of gentlemen whom I am much more concerned for, and that is the ingenious fraternity of which I have the honour to be an unworthy member; I mean the news-writers 8 of Great Britain, whether Post-men or Post-boys', or by what other name or title soever dignified, or distinguished. The case of these gentlemen is, I think, more hard than that of the soldiers, considering that they have taken more towns, and fought more battles. They have been upon parties and skirmishes, when our armies have lain still; and given the general assault to many a place, when the besiegers were quiet in their trenches. They have made us masters of

7 Shakspeare, Hen. IV. act iv. scene 2. The words, however, are misquoted. In this, as well as his citations from scripture, Steele evidently trusted to his memory.

8 In the year 1709 there were fifty-five regular papers published every week, besides a vast number of postscripts, &c. that were hawked about the streets. At present, there are published in London eleven daily-papers, and ten which appear three evenings in the week; besides the Gazette, nine Sunday papers, and a variety of other Weekly Papers, Provincial news-papers also, almost unknown in the time of the Tatler, are very numerous.

9 The Post-Boy was a scandalous paper, by Abel Roper; and The Flying Post was conducted by George Ridpath. -Roper and Ridpath died on the same day.

several strong towns many weeks before our generals could do it; and completed victories, when our greatest captains have been glad to come off with a drawn battle. Where prince Eugene has slain his thousands, Boyer to has slain his ten thousands. This gentleman can indeed be never enough commended for his courage and intrepidity during this whole war: he has laid about him with an inexpressible fury; and, like the offended Marius of ancient Rome, made such havoc among his countrymen, as must be the work of two or three ages to repair. It must be confessed, the redoubted Mr. Buckley " has shed as much blood as the former ; but I cannot forbear saying (and I hope it will not look like envy) that we regard our brother Buckley as a kind of Drawcansir ">, who spares neither friend nor foe; but generally kills as many of his own side as the enemies. It is impossible for this ingenious sort of men to subsist after a peace: every one remembers the shifts they were driven to in the reign of king Charles the Second, when they could not furnish out a single paper of news, without lighting up a comet in Germany, or a fire in Moscow. There scarce appeared a letter without a paragraph on an earthquake. Prodigies were grown so familiar, that they had lost their name, as a great poet of that age has it. I remember Mr.

10. Abel Boyer, author of “ The Political State of Great Britain :" but better known in our time by his French Dictionary and Grammar.

1 Samuel Buckley, who was printer of The London Gazette, and also of the Daily Courant.

12 A character so named in the comedy of The Rehearsal,

« PreviousContinue »