Part 2 out of 3
painstakers among our British wits, who can tell what it may end in?
If we must lash one another, let it be with the manly strokes of wit
and satire: for I am of the old philosopher's opinion, that, if I
must suffer from one or the other, I would rather it should be from
the paw of a lion than from the hoof of an ass. I do not speak this
out of any spirit of party. There is a most crying dulness on both
sides. I have seen Tory acrostics and Whig anagrams, and do not
quarrel with either of them because they are Whigs or Tories, but
because they are anagrams and acrostics.
But to return to punning. Having pursued the history of a pun, from
its original to its downfall, I shall here define it to be a conceit
arising from the use of two words that agree in the sound, but
differ in the sense. The only way, therefore, to try a piece of wit
is to translate it into a different language. If it bears the test,
you may pronounce it true; but if it vanishes in the experiment, you
may conclude it to have been a pun. In short, one may say of a pun,
as the countryman described his nightingale, that it is "vox et
praeterea nihil"--"a sound, and nothing but a sound." On the
contrary, one may represent true wit by the description which
Aristaenetus makes of a fine woman:- "When she is dressed she is
beautiful: when she is undressed she is beautiful;" or, as Mercerus
has translated it more emphatically, Induitur, formosa est:
exuitur, ipsa forma est.
Scribendi recte sapere est et principium, et fons.
HOR., Ars Poet. 309.
Sound judgment is the ground of writing well.--ROSCOMMON.
Mr. Locke has an admirable reflection upon the difference of wit and
judgment, whereby he endeavours to show the reason why they are not
always the talents of the same person. His words are as follow:-
"And hence, perhaps, may be given some reason of that common
observation, 'That men who have a great deal of wit, and prompt
memories, have not always the clearest judgment or deepest reason.'
For wit lying most in the assemblage of ideas, and putting those
together with quickness and variety wherein can be found any
resemblance or congruity, thereby to make up pleasant pictures and
agreeable visions in the fancy: judgment, on the contrary, lies
quite on the other side, in separating carefully one from another,
ideas wherein can be found the least difference, thereby to avoid
being misled by similitude, and by affinity to take one thing for
another. This is a way of proceeding quite contrary to metaphor and
allusion, wherein, for the most part, lies that entertainment and
pleasantry of wit which strikes so lively on the fancy, and is
therefore so acceptable to all people."
This is, I think, the best and most philosophical account that I
have ever met with of wit, which generally, though not always,
consists in such a resemblance and congruity of ideas as this author
mentions. I shall only add to it, by way of explanation, that every
resemblance of ideas is not that which we call wit, unless it be
such an one that gives delight and surprise to the reader. These
two properties seem essential to wit, more particularly the last of
them. In order, therefore, that the resemblance in the ideas be
wit, it is necessary that the ideas should not lie too near one
another in the nature of things; for, where the likeness is obvious,
it gives no surprise. To compare one man's singing to that of
another, or to represent the whiteness of any object by that of milk
and snow, or the variety of its colours by those of the rainbow,
cannot be called wit, unless, besides this obvious resemblance,
there be some further congruity discovered in the two ideas that is
capable of giving the reader some surprise. Thus, when a poet tells
us the bosom of his mistress is as white as snow, there is no wit in
the comparison; but when he adds, with a sigh, it is as cold too, it
then grows into wit. Every reader's memory may supply him with
innumerable instances of the same nature. For this reason, the
similitudes in heroic poets, who endeavour rather to fill the mind
with great conceptions than to divert it with such as are new and
surprising, have seldom anything in them that can be called wit.
Mr. Locke's account of wit, with this short explanation, comprehends
most of the species of wit, as metaphors, similitudes, allegories,
enigmas, mottoes, parables, fables, dreams, visions, dramatic
writings, burlesque, and all the methods of allusion: as there are
many other pieces of wit, how remote soever they may appear at first
sight from the foregoing description, which upon examination will be
found to agree with it.
As true wit generally consists in this resemblance and congruity of
ideas, false wit chiefly consists in the resemblance and congruity
sometimes of single letters, as in anagrams, chronograms, lipograms,
and acrostics; sometimes of syllables, as in echoes and doggrel
rhymes; sometimes of words, as in puns and quibbles; and sometimes
of whole sentences or poems, cast into the figures of eggs, axes, or
altars; nay, some carry the notion of wit so far as to ascribe it
even to external mimicry, and to look upon a man as an ingenious
person that can resemble the tone, posture, or face of another.
As true wit consists in the resemblance of ideas, and false wit in
the resemblance of words, according to the foregoing instances,
there is another kind of wit which consists partly in the
resemblance of ideas and partly in the resemblance of words, which
for distinction sake I shall call mixed wit. This kind of wit is
that which abounds in Cowley more than in any author that ever
wrote. Mr. Waller has likewise a great deal of it. Mr. Dryden is
very sparing in it. Milton had a genius much above it. Spenser is
in the same class with Milton. The Italians, even in their epic
poetry, are full of it. Monsieur Boileau, who formed himself upon
the ancient poets, has everywhere rejected it with scorn. If we
look after mixed wit among the Greek writers, we shall find it
nowhere but in the epigrammatists. There are indeed some strokes of
it in the little poem ascribed to Musaeus, which by that as well as
many other marks betrays itself to be a modern composition. If we
look into the Latin writers we find none of this mixed wit in
Virgil, Lucretius, or Catullus; very little in Horace, but a great
deal of it in Ovid, and scarce anything else in Martial.
Out of the innumerable branches of mixed wit, I shall choose one
instance which may be met with in all the writers of this class.
The passion of love in its nature has been thought to resemble fire,
for which reason the words "fire" and "flame" are made use of to
signify love. The witty poets, therefore, have taken an advantage,
from the doubtful meaning of the word "fire," to make an infinite
number of witticisms. Cowley observing the cold regard of his
mistress's eyes, and at the same time the power of producing love in
him, considers them as burning-glasses made of ice; and, finding
himself able to live in the greatest extremities of love, concludes
the torrid zone to be habitable. When his mistress has read his
letter written in juice of lemon, by holding it to the fire, he
desires her to read it over a second time by love's flames. When
she weeps, he wishes it were inward heat that distilled those drops
from the limbec. When she is absent, he is beyond eighty, that is,
thirty degrees nearer the pole than when she is with him. His
ambitious love is a fire that naturally mounts upwards; his happy
love is the beams of heaven, and his unhappy love flames of hell.
When it does not let him sleep, it is a flame that sends up no
smoke; when it is opposed by counsel and advice, it is a fire that
rages the more by the winds blowing upon it. Upon the dying of a
tree, in which he had cut his loves, he observes that his written
flames had burnt up and withered the tree. When he resolves to give
over his passion, he tells us that one burnt like him for ever
dreads the fire. His heart is an AEtna, that, instead of Vulcan's
shop, encloses Cupid's forge in it. His endeavouring to drown his
love in wine is throwing oil upon the fire. He would insinuate to
his mistress that the fire of love, like that of the sun, which
produces so many living creatures, should not only warm, but beget.
Love in another place cooks Pleasure at his fire. Sometimes the
poet's heart is frozen in every breast, and sometimes scorched in
every eye. Sometimes he is drowned in tears and burnt in love, like
a ship set on fire in the middle of the sea.
The reader may observe in every one of these instances that the poet
mixes the qualities of fire with those of love; and in the same
sentence, speaking of it both as a passion and as real fire,
surprises the reader with those seeming resemblances or
contradictions that make up all the wit in this kind of writing.
Mixed wit, therefore, is a composition of pun and true wit, and is
more or less perfect as the resemblance lies in the ideas or in the
words. Its foundations are laid partly in falsehood and partly in
truth; reason puts in her claim for one half of it, and extravagance
for the other. The only province, therefore, for this kind of wit
is epigram, or those little occasional poems that in their own
nature are nothing else but a tissue of epigrams. I cannot conclude
this head of mixed wit without owning that the admirable poet, out
of whom I have taken the examples of it, had as much true wit as any
author that ever wrote; and indeed all other talents of an
It may be expected, since I am upon this subject, that I should take
notice of Mr. Dryden's definition of wit, which, with all the
deference that is due to the judgment of so great a man, is not so
properly a definition of wit as of good writing in general. Wit, as
he defines it, is "a propriety of words and thoughts adapted to the
subject." If this be a true definition of wit, I am apt to think
that Euclid was the greatest wit that ever set pen to paper. It is
certain there never was a greater propriety of words and thoughts
adapted to the subject than what that author has made use of in his
Elements. I shall only appeal to my reader if this definition
agrees with any notion he has of wit. If it be a true one, I am
sure Mr. Dryden was not only a better poet, but a greater wit than
Mr. Cowley, and Virgil a much more facetious man than either Ovid or
Bouhours, whom I look upon to be the most penetrating of all the
French critics, has taken pains to show that it is impossible for
any thought to be beautiful which is not just, and has not its
foundation in the nature of things; that the basis of all wit is
truth; and that no thought can be valuable of which good sense is
not the groundwork. Boileau has endeavoured to inculcate the same
notion in several parts of his writings, both in prose and verse.
This is that natural way of writing, that beautiful simplicity which
we so much admire in the compositions of the ancients, and which
nobody deviates from but those who want strength of genius to make a
thought shine in its own natural beauties. Poets who want this
strength of genius to give that majestic simplicity to nature, which
we so much admire in the works of the ancients, are forced to hunt
after foreign ornaments, and not to let any piece of wit of what
kind soever escape them. I look upon these writers as Goths in
poetry, who, like those in architecture, not being able to come up
to the beautiful simplicity of the old Greeks and Romans, have
endeavoured to supply its place with all the extravagancies of an
irregular fancy. Mr. Dryden makes a very handsome observation on
Ovid's writing a letter from Dido to AEneas, in the following words:
"Ovid," says he, speaking of Virgil's fiction of Dido and AEneas,
"takes it up after him, even in the same age, and makes an ancient
heroine of Virgil's new-created Dido; dictates a letter for her just
before her death to the ungrateful fugitive, and, very unluckily for
himself, is for measuring a sword with a man so much superior in
force to him on the same subject. I think I may be judge of this,
because I have translated both. The famous author of 'The Art of
Love' has nothing of his own; he borrows all from a greater master
in his own profession, and, which is worse, improves nothing which
he finds. Nature fails him; and, being forced to his old shift, he
has recourse to witticism. This passes indeed with his soft
admirers, and gives him the preference to Virgil in their esteem."
Were not I supported by so great an authority as that of Mr. Dryden,
I should not venture to observe that the taste of most of our
English poets, as well as readers, is extremely Gothic. He quotes
Monsieur Segrais for a threefold distinction of the readers of
poetry; in the first of which he comprehends the rabble of readers,
whom he does not treat as such with regard to their quality, but to
their numbers and the coarseness of their taste. His words are as
follows: "Segrais has distinguished the readers of poetry,
according to their capacity of judging, into three classes." [He
might have said the same of writers too if he had pleased.] "In the
lowest form he places those whom he calls Les Petits Esprits, such
things as our upper-gallery audience in a playhouse, who like
nothing but the husk and rind of wit, and prefer a quibble, a
conceit, an epigram, before solid sense and elegant expression.
These are mob readers. If Virgil and Martial stood for Parliament-
men, we know already who would carry it. But though they made the
greatest appearance in the field, and cried the loudest, the best of
it is they are but a sort of French Huguenots, or Dutch boors,
brought over in herds, but not naturalised: who have not lands of
two pounds per annum in Parnassus, and therefore are not privileged
to poll. Their authors are of the same level, fit to represent them
on a mountebank's stage, or to be masters of the ceremonies in a
bear-garden; yet these are they who have the most admirers. But it
often happens, to their mortification, that as their readers improve
their stock of sense, as they may by reading better books, and by
conversation with men of judgment, they soon forsake them."
I must not dismiss this subject without observing that, as Mr.
Locke, in the passage above-mentioned, has discovered the most
fruitful source of wit, so there is another of a quite contrary
nature to it, which does likewise branch itself into several kinds.
For not only the resemblance, but the opposition of ideas does very
often produce wit, as I could show in several little points, turns,
and antitheses that I may possibly enlarge upon in some future
Humano capiti cervicem pictor equinam
Jungere si velit, et varias inducere plumas,
Undique collatis membris, ut turpiter atrum
Desinat in piscem mulier formosa superne;
Spectatum admissi risum teneatis, amici?
Credite, Pisones, isti tabulae, fore librum
Persimilem, cujus, velut aegri somnia, vanae
HOR., Ars Poet. 1.
If in a picture, Piso, you should see
A handsome woman with a fish's tail,
Or a man's head upon a horse's neck,
Or limbs of beasts, of the most different kinds,
Cover'd with feathers of all sorts of birds, -
Would you not laugh, and think the painter mad?
Trust me, that book is as ridiculous
Whose incoherent style, like sick men's dreams,
Varies all shapes, and mixes all extremes.
It is very hard for the mind to disengage itself from a subject in
which it has been long employed. The thoughts will be rising of
themselves from time to time, though we give them no encouragement:
as the tossings and fluctuations of the sea continue several hours
after the winds are laid.
It is to this that I impute my last night's dream or vision, which
formed into one continued allegory the several schemes of wit,
whether false, mixed, or true, that have been the subject of my late
Methought I was transported into a country that was filled with
prodigies and enchantments, governed by the goddess of Falsehood,
and entitled the Region of False Wit. There was nothing in the
fields, the woods, and the rivers, that appeared natural. Several
of the trees blossomed in leaf-gold, some of them produced bone-
lace, and some of them precious stones. The fountains bubbled in an
opera tune, and were filled with stags, wild bears, and mermaids,
that lived among the waters; at the same time that dolphins and
several kinds of fish played upon the banks, or took their pastime
in the meadows. The birds had many of them golden beaks, and human
voices. The flowers perfumed the air with smells of incense,
ambergris, and pulvillios; and were so interwoven with one another,
that they grew up in pieces of embroidery. The winds were filled
with sighs and messages of distant lovers. As I was walking to and
fro in this enchanted wilderness, I could not forbear breaking out
into soliloquies upon the several wonders which lay before me, when,
to my great surprise, I found there were artificial echoes in every
walk, that, by repetitions of certain words which I spoke, agreed
with me or contradicted me in everything I said. In the midst of my
conversation with these invisible companions, I discovered in the
centre of a very dark grove a monstrous fabric built after the
Gothic manner, and covered with innumerable devices in that
barbarous kind of sculpture. I immediately went up to it, and found
it to be a kind of heathen temple consecrated to the god of Dulness.
Upon my entrance I saw the deity of the place, dressed in the habit
of a monk, with a book in one hand and a rattle in the other. Upon
his right hand was Industry, with a lamp burning before her; and on
his left, Caprice, with a monkey sitting on her shoulder. Before
his feet there stood an altar of a very odd make, which, as I
afterwards found, was shaped in that manner to comply with the
inscription that surrounded it. Upon the altar there lay several
offerings of axes, wings, and eggs, cut in paper, and inscribed with
verses. The temple was filled with votaries, who applied themselves
to different diversions, as their fancies directed them. In one
part of it I saw a regiment of anagrams, who were continually in
motion, turning to the right or to the left, facing about, doubling
their ranks, shifting their stations, and throwing themselves into
all the figures and counter-marches of the most changeable and
Not far from these was the body of acrostics, made up of very
disproportioned persons. It was disposed into three columns, the
officers planting themselves in a line on the left hand of each
column. The officers were all of them at least six feet high, and
made three rows of very proper men; but the common soldiers, who
filled up the spaces between the officers, were such dwarfs,
cripples, and scarecrows, that one could hardly look upon them
without laughing. There were behind the acrostics two or three
files of chronograms, which differed only from the former as their
officers were equipped, like the figure of Time, with an hour-glass
in one hand, and a scythe in the other, and took their posts
promiscuously among the private men whom they commanded.
In the body of the temple, and before the very face of the deity,
methought I saw the phantom of Tryphiodorus, the lipogrammatist,
engaged in a ball with four-and-twenty persons, who pursued him by
turns through all the intricacies and labyrinths of a country dance,
without being able to overtake him.
Observing several to be very busy at the western end of the temple,
I inquired into what they were doing, and found there was in that
quarter the great magazine of rebuses. These were several things of
the most different natures tied up in bundles, and thrown upon one
another in heaps like fagots. You might behold an anchor, a night-
rail, and a hobby-horse bound up together. One of the workmen,
seeing me very much surprised, told me there was an infinite deal of
wit in several of those bundles, and that he would explain them to
me if I pleased; I thanked him for his civility, but told him I was
in very great haste at that time. As I was going out of the temple,
I observed in one corner of it a cluster of men and women laughing
very heartily, and diverting themselves at a game of crambo. I
heard several double rhymes as I passed by them, which raised a
great deal of mirth.
Not far from these was another set of merry people engaged at a
diversion, in which the whole jest was to mistake one person for
another. To give occasion for these ludicrous mistakes, they were
divided into pairs, every pair being covered from head to foot with
the same kind of dress, though perhaps there was not the least
resemblance in their faces. By this means an old man was sometimes
mistaken for a boy, a woman for a man, and a blackamoor for an
European, which very often produced great peals of laughter. These
I guessed to be a party of puns. But being very desirous to get out
of this world of magic, which had almost turned my brain, I left the
temple and crossed over the fields that lay about it with all the
speed I could make. I was not gone far before I heard the sound of
trumpets and alarms, which seemed to proclaim the march of an enemy:
and, as I afterwards found, was in reality what I apprehended it.
There appeared at a great distance a very shining light, and in the
midst of it a person of a most beautiful aspect; her name was Truth.
On her right hand there marched a male deity, who bore several
quivers on his shoulders, and grasped several arrows in his hand;
his name was Wit. The approach of these two enemies filled all the
territories of False Wit with an unspeakable consternation, insomuch
that the goddess of those regions appeared in person upon her
frontiers, with the several inferior deities and the different
bodies of forces which I had before seen in the temple, who were now
drawn up in array, and prepared to give their foes a warm reception.
As the march of the enemy was very slow, it gave time to the several
inhabitants who bordered upon the regions of Falsehood to draw their
forces into a body, with a design to stand upon their guard as
neuters, and attend the issue of the combat.
I must here inform my reader that the frontiers of the enchanted
region, which I have before described, were inhabited by the species
of Mixed Wit, who made a very odd appearance when they were mustered
together in an army. There were men whose bodies were stuck full of
darts, and women whose eyes were burning-glasses; men that had
hearts of fire, and women that had breasts of snow. It would be
endless to describe several monsters of the like nature that
composed this great army, which immediately fell asunder, and
divided itself into two parts, the one half throwing themselves
behind the banners of Truth, and the others behind those of
The goddess of Falsehood was of a gigantic stature, and advanced
some paces before the front of the army; but as the dazzling light
which flowed from Truth began to shine upon her, she faded
insensibly; insomuch that in a little space she looked rather like a
huge phantom than a real substance. At length, as the goddess of
Truth approached still nearer to her, she fell away entirely, and
vanished amidst the brightness of her presence; so that there did
not remain the least trace or impression of her figure in the place
where she had been seen.
As at the rising of the sun the constellations grow thin, and the
stars go out one after another, till the whole hemisphere is
extinguished; such was the vanishing of the goddess, and not only of
the goddess herself, but of the whole army that attended her, which
sympathised with their leader, and shrunk into nothing, in
proportion as the goddess disappeared. At the same time the whole
temple sunk, the fish betook themselves to the streams, and the wild
beasts to the woods, the fountains recovered their murmurs, the
birds their voices, the trees their leaves, the flowers their
scents, and the whole face of nature its true and genuine
appearance. Though I still continued asleep, I fancied myself, as
it were, awakened out of a dream, when I saw this region of
prodigies restored to woods and rivers, fields and meadows.
Upon the removal of that wild scene of wonders, which had very much
disturbed my imagination, I took a full survey of the persons of Wit
and Truth; for indeed it was impossible to look upon the first
without seeing the other at the same time. There was behind them a
strong compact body of figures. The genius of Heroic Poetry
appeared with a sword in her hand, and a laurel on her head.
Tragedy was crowned with cypress, and covered with robes dipped in
blood. Satire had smiles in her look, and a dagger under her
garment. Rhetoric was known by her thunderbolt, and Comedy by her
mask. After several other figures, Epigram marched up in the rear,
who had been posted there at the beginning of the expedition, that
he might not revolt to the enemy, whom he was suspected to favour in
his heart. I was very much awed and delighted with the appearance
of the god of Wit; there was something so amiable, and yet so
piercing in his looks, as inspired me at once with love and terror.
As I was gazing on him, to my unspeakable joy, he took a quiver of
arrows from his shoulder, in order to make me a present of it; but
as I was reaching out my hand to receive it of him, I knocked it
against a chair, and by that means awaked.
Nos duo turba sumus.
OVID, Met. i. 355.
We two are a multitude.
One would think that the larger the company is, in which we are
engaged, the greater variety of thoughts and subjects would be
started in discourse; but instead of this, we find that conversation
is never so much straitened and confined as in numerous assemblies.
When a multitude meet together upon any subject of discourse, their
debates are taken up chiefly with forms and general positions; nay,
if we come into a more contracted assembly of men and women, the
talk generally runs upon the weather, fashions, news, and the like
public topics. In proportion as conversation gets into clubs and
knots of friends, it descends into particulars, and grows more free
and communicative: but the most open, instructive, and unreserved
discourse is that which passes between two persons who are familiar
and intimate friends. On these occasions, a man gives a loose to
every passion and every thought that is uppermost, discovers his
most retired opinions of persons and things, tries the beauty and
strength of his sentiments, and exposes his whole soul to the
examination of his friend.
Tully was the first who observed that friendship improves happiness
and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and dividing of our
grief; a thought in which he hath been followed by all the essayists
upon friendship that have written since his time. Sir Francis Bacon
has finely described other advantages, or, as he calls them, fruits
of friendship; and, indeed, there is no subject of morality which
has been better handled and more exhausted than this. Among the
several fine things which have been spoken of it, I shall beg leave
to quote some out of a very ancient author, whose book would be
regarded by our modern wits as one of the most shining tracts of
morality that is extant, if it appeared under the name of a
Confucius, or of any celebrated Grecian philosopher; I mean the
little apocryphal treatise entitled The Wisdom of the Son of Sirach.
How finely has he described the art of making friends by an obliging
and affable behaviour; and laid down that precept, which a late
excellent author has delivered as his own, That we should have many
well-wishers, but few friends. "Sweet language will multiply
friends; and a fair-speaking tongue will increase kind greetings.
Be in peace with many, nevertheless have but one counsellor of a
thousand." With what prudence does he caution us in the choice of
our friends! And with what strokes of nature, I could almost say of
humour, has he described the behaviour of a treacherous and self-
interested friend! "If thou wouldest get a friend, prove him first,
and be not hasty to credit him: for some man is a friend for his
own occasion, and will not abide in the day of thy trouble. And
there is a friend who, being turned to enmity and strife, will
discover thy reproach." Again, "Some friend is a companion at the
table, and will not continue in the day of thy affliction: but in
thy prosperity he will be as thyself, and will be bold over thy
servants. If thou be brought low, he will be against thee, and hide
himself from thy face." What can be more strong and pointed than
the following verse?--"Separate thyself from thine enemies, and take
heed of thy friends." In the next words he particularises one of
those fruits of friendship which is described at length by the two
famous authors above-mentioned, and falls into a general eulogium of
friendship, which is very just as well as very sublime. "A faithful
friend is a strong defence; and he that hath found such an one hath
found a treasure. Nothing doth countervail a faithful friend, and
his excellency is unvaluable. A faithful friend is the medicine of
life; and they that fear the Lord shall find him. Whose feareth the
Lord shall direct his friendship aright; for as he is, so shall his
neighbour, that is his friend, be also." I do not remember to have
met with any saying that has pleased me more than that of a friend's
being the medicine of life, to express the efficacy of friendship in
healing the pains and anguish which naturally cleave to our
existence in this world; and am wonderfully pleased with the turn in
the last sentence, that a virtuous man shall as a blessing meet with
a friend who is as virtuous as himself. There is another saying in
the same author, which would have been very much admired in a
heathen writer: "Forsake not an old friend, for the new is not
comparable to him: a new friend is as new wine; when it is old thou
shalt drink it with pleasure." With what strength of allusion and
force of thought has he described the breaches and violations of
friendship!--"Whoso casteth a stone at the birds, frayeth them away;
and he that upbraideth his friend, breaketh friendship. Though thou
drawest a sword at a friend, yet despair not, for there may be a
returning to favour. If thou hast opened thy mouth against thy
friend, fear not, for there may be a reconciliation: except for
upbraiding, or pride, or disclosing of secrets, or a treacherous
wound; for, for these things every friend will depart." We may
observe in this, and several other precepts in this author, those
little familiar instances and illustrations which are so much
admired in the moral writings of Horace and Epictetus. There are
very beautiful instances of this nature in the following passages,
which are likewise written upon the same subject: "Whose
discovereth secrets, loseth his credit, and shall never find a
friend to his mind. Love thy friend, and be faithful unto him; but
if thou bewrayeth his secrets, follow no more after him: for as a
man hath destroyed his enemy, so hast thou lost the love of thy
friend; as one that letteth a bird go out of his hand, so hast thou
let thy friend go, and shall not get him again: follow after him no
more, for he is too far off; he is as a roe escaped out of the
snare. As for a wound it may be bound up, and after reviling there
may be reconciliation; but he that bewrayeth secrets, is without
Among the several qualifications of a good friend, this wise man has
very justly singled out constancy and faithfulness as the principal:
to these, others have added virtue, knowledge, discretion, equality
in age and fortune, and, as Cicero calls it, Morum comitas, "a
pleasantness of temper." If I were to give my opinion upon such an
exhausted subject, I should join to these other qualifications a
certain equability or evenness of behaviour. A man often contracts
a friendship with one whom perhaps he does not find out till after a
year's conversation; when on a sudden some latent ill-humour breaks
out upon him, which he never discovered or suspected at his first
entering into an intimacy with him. There are several persons who
in some certain periods of their lives are inexpressibly agreeable,
and in others as odious and detestable. Martial has given us a very
pretty picture of one of this species, in the following epigram:
Difficilis, facilis, jucundus, acerbus es idem,
Nec tecum possum vivere, nec sine te.
Ep. xii. 47.
In all thy humours, whether grave or mellow,
Thou'rt such a touchy, testy, pleasant fellow;
Hast so much wit, and mirth, and spleen about thee,
There is no living with thee, nor without thee.
It is very unlucky for a man to be entangled in a friendship with
one who, by these changes and vicissitudes of humour, is sometimes
amiable and sometimes odious: and as most men are at some times in
admirable frame and disposition of mind, it should be one of the
greatest tasks of wisdom to keep ourselves well when we are so, and
never to go out of that which is the agreeable part of our
Interdum vulgus rectum videt.
HOR., Ep. ii. 1, 63.
Sometimes the vulgar see and judge aright. When I travelled I took
a particular delight in hearing the songs and fables that are come
from father to son, and are most in vogue among the common people of
the countries through which I passed; for it is impossible that
anything should be universally tasted and approved by a multitude,
though they are only the rabble of a nation, which hath not in it
some peculiar aptness to please and gratify the mind of man. Human
nature is the same in all reasonable creatures; and whatever falls
in with it will meet with admirers amongst readers of all qualities
and conditions. Moliere, as we are told by Monsieur Boileau, used
to read all his comedies to an old woman who was his housekeeper as
she sat with him at her work by the chimney-corner, and could
foretell the success of his play in the theatre from the reception
it met at his fireside; for he tells us the audience always followed
the old woman, and never failed to laugh in the same place.
I know nothing which more shows the essential and inherent
perfection of simplicity of thought, above that which I call the
Gothic manner in writing, than this, that the first pleases all
kinds of palates, and the latter only such as have formed to
themselves a wrong artificial taste upon little fanciful authors and
writers of epigram. Homer, Virgil, or Milton, so far as the
language of their poems is understood, will please a reader of plain
common sense, who would neither relish nor comprehend an epigram of
Martial, or a poem of Cowley; so, on the contrary, an ordinary song
or ballad that is the delight of the common people cannot fail to
please all such readers as are not unqualified for the entertainment
by their affectation of ignorance; and the reason is plain, because
the same paintings of nature which recommend it to the most ordinary
reader will appear beautiful to the most refined.
The old song of "Chevy-Chase" is the favourite ballad of the common
people of England, and Ben Jonson used to say he had rather have
been the author of it than of all his works. Sir Philip Sidney, in
his discourse of Poetry, speaks of it in the following words: "I
never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas that I found not my
heart more moved than with a trumpet; and yet it is sung by some
blind crowder with no rougher voice than rude style, which being so
evil apparelled in the dust and cobweb of that uncivil age, what
would it work trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar?" For my
own part, I am so professed an admirer of this antiquated song, that
I shall give my reader a critique upon it without any further
apology for so doing.
The greatest modern critics have laid it down as a rule that an
heroic poem should be founded upon some important precept of
morality adapted to the constitution of the country in which the
poet writes. Homer and Virgil have formed their plans in this view.
As Greece was a collection of many governments, who suffered very
much among themselves, and gave the Persian emperor, who was their
common enemy, many advantages over them by their mutual jealousies
and animosities, Homer, in order to establish among them an union
which was so necessary for their safety, grounds his poem upon the
discords of the several Grecian princes who were engaged in a
confederacy against an Asiatic prince, and the several advantages
which the enemy gained by such discords. At the time the poem we
are now treating of was written, the dissensions of the barons, who
were then so many petty princes, ran very high, whether they
quarrelled among themselves or with their neighbours, and produced
unspeakable calamities to the country. The poet, to deter men from
such unnatural contentions, describes a bloody battle and dreadful
scene of death, occasioned by the mutual feuds which reigned in the
families of an English and Scotch nobleman. That he designed this
for the instruction of his poem we may learn from his four last
lines, in which, after the example of the modern tragedians, he
draws from it a precept for the benefit of his readers:
God save the king, and bless the land
In plenty, joy, and peace;
And grant henceforth that foul debate
'Twixt noblemen may cease.
The next point observed by the greatest heroic poets hath been to
celebrate persons and actions which do honour to their country:
thus Virgil's hero was the founder of Rome; Homer's a prince of
Greece; and for this reason Valerius Flaccus and Statius, who were
both Romans, might be justly derided for having chosen the
expedition of the Golden Fleece and the Wars of Thebes for the
subjects of their epic writings.
The poet before us has not only found out a hero in his own country,
but raises the reputation of it by several beautiful incidents. The
English are the first who take the field and the last who quit it.
The English bring only fifteen hundred to the battle, the Scotch two
thousand. The English keep the field with fifty-three, the Scotch
retire with fifty-five; all the rest on each side being slain in
battle. But the most remarkable circumstance of this kind is the
different manner in which the Scotch and English kings receive the
news of this fight, and of the great men's deaths who commanded in
This news was brought to Edinburgh,
Where Scotland's king did reign,
That brave Earl Douglas suddenly
Was with an arrow slain.
"O heavy news!" King James did say,
"Scotland can witness be,
I have not any captain more
Of such account as he."
Like tidings to King Henry came,
Within as short a space,
That Percy of Northumberland
Was slain in Chevy-Chase.
"Now God be with him," said our king,
"Sith 'twill no better be,
I trust I have within my realm
Five hundred as good as he.
"Yet shall not Scot nor Scotland say
But I will vengeance take,
And be revenged on them all
For brave Lord Percy's sake."
This vow full well the king performed
After on Humble-down,
In one day fifty knights were slain,
With lords of great renown.
And of the rest of small account
Did many thousands die, &c.
At the same time that our poet shows a laudable partiality to his
countrymen, he represents the Scots after a manner not unbecoming so
bold and brave a people:
Earl Douglas on a milk-white steed,
Most like a baron bold,
Rode foremost of the company,
Whose armour shone like gold.
His sentiments and actions are every way suitable to a hero. "One
of us two," says he, "must die: I am an earl as well as yourself,
so that you can have no pretence for refusing the combat; however,"
says he, "it is pity, and indeed would be a sin, that so many
innocent men should perish for our sakes: rather let you and I end
our quarrel in single fight:"
"Ere thus I will out-braved be,
One of us two shall die;
I know thee well, an earl thou art,
Lord Percy, so am I.
"But trust me, Percy, pity it were
And great offence to kill
Any of these our harmless men,
For they have done no ill.
"Let thou and I the battle try,
And set our men aside."
"Accurst be he," Lord Percy said,
"By whom this is deny'd."
When these brave men had distinguished themselves in the battle and
in single combat with each other, in the midst of a generous parley,
full of heroic sentiments, the Scotch earl falls, and with his dying
words encourages his men to revenge his death, representing to them,
as the most bitter circumstance of it, that his rival saw him fall:
With that there came an arrow keen
Out of an English bow,
Which struck Earl Douglas to the heart
A deep and deadly blow.
Who never spoke more words than these,
"Fight on, my merry men all,
For why, my life is at an end,
Lord Percy sees my fall."
Merry men, in the language of those times, is no more than a
cheerful word for companions and fellow-soldiers. A passage in the
eleventh book of Virgil's "AEneid" is very much to be admired, where
Camilla, in her last agonies, instead of weeping over the wound she
had received, as one might have expected from a warrior of her sex,
considers only, like the hero of whom we are now speaking, how the
battle should be continued after her death:
Tum sic exspirans, &c.
VIRG., AEn. xi. 820.
A gath'ring mist o'erclouds her cheerful eyes;
And from her cheeks the rosy colour flies,
Then turns to her, whom of her female train
She trusted most, and thus she speaks with pain:
"Acca, 'tis past! he swims before my sight,
Inexorable Death, and claims his right.
Bear my last words to Turnus; fly with speed
And bid him timely to my charge succeed;
Repel the Trojans, and the town relieve:
Turnus did not die in so heroic a manner, though our poet seems to
have had his eye upon Turnus's speech in the last verse:
Lord Percy sees my fall.
- Vicisti, et victum tendere palmas
VIRG., AEn. xii. 936.
The Latin chiefs have seen me beg my life.
Earl Percy's lamentation over his enemy is generous, beautiful, and
passionate. I must only caution the reader not to let the
simplicity of the style, which one may well pardon in so old a poet,
prejudice him against the greatness of the thought:
Then leaving life, Earl Percy took
The dead man by the hand,
And said, "Earl Douglas, for thy life
Would I had lost my land.
"O Christ! my very heart doth bleed
With sorrow for thy sake;
For sure a more renowned knight
Mischance did never take."
That beautiful line, "Taking the dead man by the hand," will put the
reader in mind of AEneas's behaviour towards Lausus, whom he himself
had slain as he came to the rescue of his aged father:
At vero ut vultum vidit morientis et ora,
Ora modis Anchisiades pallentia miris;
Ingemuit, miserans graviter, dextramqne tetendit.
VIRG., AEn. x. 821.
The pious prince beheld young Lausus dead;
He grieved, he wept, then grasped his hand and said,
"Poor hapless youth! what praises can be paid
To worth so great?"
I shall take another opportunity to consider the other parts of this
- Pendent opera interrupta.
VIRG., AEn. iv. 88.
The works unfinished and neglected lie.
In my last Monday's paper I gave some general instances of those
beautiful strokes which please the reader in the old song of "Chevy-
Chase;" I shall here, according to my promise, be more particular,
and show that the sentiments in that ballad are extremely natural
and poetical, and full of the majestic simplicity which we admire in
the greatest of the ancient poets: for which reason I shall quote
several passages of it, in which the thought is altogether the same
with what we meet in several passages of the "AEneid;" not that I
would infer from thence that the poet, whoever he was, proposed to
himself any imitation of those passages, but that he was directed to
them in general by the same kind of poetical genius, and by the same
copyings after nature.
Had this old song been filled with epigrammatical turns and points
of wit, it might perhaps have pleased the wrong taste of some
readers; but it would never have become the delight of the common
people, nor have warmed the heart of Sir Philip Sidney like the
sound of a trumpet; it is only nature that can have this effect, and
please those tastes which are the most unprejudiced, or the most
refined. I must, however, beg leave to dissent from so great an
authority as that of Sir Philip Sidney, in the judgment which he has
passed as to the rude style and evil apparel of this antiquated
song; for there are several parts in it where not only the thought
but the language is majestic, and the numbers sonorous; at least the
apparel is much more gorgeous than many of the poets made use of in
Queen Elizabeth's time, as the reader will see in several of the
What can be greater than either the thought or the expression in
To drive the deer with hound and horn
Earl Percy took his way;
The child may rue that is unborn
The hunting of that day!
This way of considering the misfortunes which this battle would
bring upon posterity, not only on those who were born immediately
after the battle, and lost their fathers in it, but on those also
who perished in future battles which took their rise from this
quarrel of the two earls, is wonderfully beautiful and conformable
to the way of thinking among the ancient poets.
Audiet pugnas vitio parentum.
HOR., Od. i. 2, 23.
Posterity, thinn'd by their fathers' crimes,
Shall read, with grief, the story of their times.
What can be more sounding and poetical, or resemble more the
majestic simplicity of the ancients, than the following stanzas?--
The stout Earl of Northumberland
A vow to God did make,
His pleasure in the Scottish woods
Three summer's days to take.
With fifteen hundred bowmen bold,
All chosen men of might,
Who knew full well, in time of need,
To aim their shafts aright.
The hounds ran swiftly through the woods
The nimble deer to take,
And with their cries the hills and dales
An echo shrill did make.
- Vocat ingenti clamore Cithaeron,
Taygetique canes, domitrixque Epidaurus equorum:
Et vox assensu memorum ingeminata remugit.
VIRG., Georg. iii. 43.
Cithaeron loudly calls me to my way:
Thy hounds, Taygetus, open, and pursue their prey:
High Epidaurus urges on my speed,
Famed for his hills, and for his horses' breed:
From hills and dales the cheerful cries rebound:
For Echo hunts along, and propagates the sound.
Lo, yonder doth Earl Douglas come,
His men in armour bright;
Full twenty hundred Scottish spears,
All marching in our sight.
All men of pleasant Tividale,
Fast by the river Tweed, &c.
The country of the Scotch warrior, described in these two last
verses, has a fine romantic situation, and affords a couple of
smooth words for verse. If the reader compares the foregoing six
lines of the song with the following Latin verses, he will see how
much they are written in the spirit of Virgil:
Adversi campo apparent: hastasque reductis
Protendunt longe dextris, et spicula vibrant:-
Quique altum Praeneste viri, quique arva Gabinae
Junonis, gelidumque Anienem, et roscida rivis
Hernica saxa colunt:- qui rosea rura Velini;
Qui Tetricae horrentes rupes, montemq ue Severum,
Casperiamque colunt, porulosque et flumen Himellae:
Qui Tyberim Fabarimque bibunt.
AEn. xi. 605, vii. 682, 712.
Advancing in a line they couch their spears--
- Praeneste sends a chosen band,
With those who plough Saturnia's Gabine land:
Besides the succours which cold Anien yields:
The rocks of Hernicus--besides a band
That followed from Velinum's dewy land -
And mountaineers that from Severus came:
And from the craggy cliffs of Tetrica;
And those where yellow Tiber takes his way,
And where Himella's wanton waters play:
Casperia sends her arms, with those that lie
By Fabaris, and fruitful Foruli.
But to proceed:
Earl Douglas on a milk-white steed,
Most like a baron bold,
Rode foremost of the company,
Whose armour shone like gold.
Turnus, ut antevolans tardum praecesserat agmen, &c.
Vidisti, quo Turnus equo, quibus ibat in armis
Aurcus--AEn. ix. 47, 269.
Our English archers bent their bows,
Their hearts were good and true;
At the first flight of arrows sent,
Full threescore Scots they slew.
They closed full fast on ev'ry side,
No slackness there was found;
And many a gallant gentleman
Lay gasping on the ground.
With that there came an arrow keen
Out of an English bow,
Which struck Earl Douglas to the heart,
A deep and deadly blow.
AEneas was wounded after the same manner by an unknown hand in the
midst of a parley.
Has inter voces, media inter talia verba,
Ecce viro stridens alis allapsa sagitta est,
Incertum qua pulsa manu--AEn. xii. 318.
Thus, while he spake, unmindful of defence,
A winged arrow struck the pious prince;
But whether from a human hand it came,
Or hostile god, is left unknown by fame.
But of all the descriptive parts of this song, there are none more
beautiful than the four following stanzas, which have a great force
and spirit in them, and are filled with very natural circumstances.
The thought in the third stanza was never touched by any other poet,
and is such a one as would have shone in Homer or in Virgil:
So thus did both these nobles die,
Whose courage none could stain;
An English archer then perceived
The noble Earl was slain.
He had a bow bent in his hand,
Made of a trusty tree,
An arrow of a cloth-yard long
Unto the head drew he.
Against Sir Hugh Montgomery
So right his shaft he set,
The gray-goose wing that was thereon
In his heart-blood was wet.
This fight did last from break of day
Till setting of the sun;
For when they rung the ev'ning bell
The battle scarce was done.
One may observe, likewise, that in the catalogue of the slain, the
author has followed the example of the greatest ancient poets, not
only in giving a long list of the dead, but by diversifying it with
little characters of particular persons.
And with Earl Douglas there was slain
Sir Hugh Montgomery,
Sir Charles Carrel, that from the field
One foot would never fly.
Sir Charles Murrel of Ratcliff too,
His sister's son was he;
Sir David Lamb so well esteem'd,
Yet saved could not be.
The familiar sound in these names destroys the majesty of the
description; for this reason I do not mention this part of the poem
but to show the natural cast of thought which appears in it, as the
two last verses look almost like a translation of Virgil.
- Cadit et Ripheus justissimus unus
Qui fuit in Teucris et servantissimus aequi.
Diis aliter visum.
AEn. ii. 426.
Then Ripheus fell in the unequal fight,
Just of his word, observant of the right:
Heav'n thought not so.
In the catalogue of the English who fell, Witherington's behaviour
is in the same manner particularised very artfully, as the reader is
prepared for it by that account which is given of him in the
beginning of the battle; though I am satisfied your little buffoon
readers, who have seen that passage ridiculed in "Hudibras," will
not be able to take the beauty of it: for which reason I dare not
so much as quote it.
Then stept a gallant 'squire forth,
Witherington was his name,
Who said, "I would not have it told
To Henry our king for shame,
"That e'er my captain fought on foot,
And I stood looking on."
We meet with the same heroic sentiment in Virgil:
Non pudet, O Rutuli, cunctis pro talibus unam
Objectare animam? numerone an viribus aequi
AEn. xii. 229
For shame, Rutilians, can you hear the sight
Of one exposed for all, in single fight?
Can we before the face of heav'n confess
Our courage colder, or our numbers less?
What can be more natural, or more moving, than the circumstances in
which he describes the behaviour of those women who had lost their
husbands on this fatal day?
Next day did many widows come
Their husbands to bewail;
They wash'd their wounds in brinish tears,
But all would not prevail.
Their bodies bathed in purple blood,
They bore with them away;
They kiss'd them dead a thousand times,
When they were clad in clay.
Thus we see how the thoughts of this poem, which naturally arise
from the subject, are always simple, and sometimes exquisitely
noble; that the language is often very sounding, and that the whole
is written with a true poetical spirit.
If this song had been written in the Gothic manner which is the
delight of all our little wits, whether writers or readers, it would
not have hit the taste of so many ages, and have pleased the readers
of all ranks and conditions. I shall only beg pardon for such a
profusion of Latin quotations; which I should not have made use of,
but that I feared my own judgment would have looked too singular on
such a subject, had not I supported it by the practice and authority
A DREAM OF THE PAINTERS.
- Animum pictura pascit inani.
VIRG., AEn. i. 464.
And with the shadowy picture feeds his mind.
When the weather hinders me from taking my diversions without-doors,
I frequently make a little party, with two or three select friends,
to visit anything curious that may be seen under cover. My
principal entertainments of this nature are pictures, insomuch that
when I have found the weather set in to be very bad, I have taken a
whole day's journey to see a gallery that is furnished by the hands
of great masters. By this means, when the heavens are filled with
clouds, when the earth swims in rain, and all nature wears a
lowering countenance, I withdraw myself from these uncomfortable
scenes, into the visionary worlds of art; where I meet with shining
landscapes, gilded triumphs, beautiful faces, and all those other
objects that fill the mind with gay ideas, and disperse that
gloominess which is apt to hang upon it in those dark disconsolate
I was some weeks ago in a course of these diversions, which had
taken such an entire possession of my imagination that they formed
in it a short morning's dream, which I shall communicate to my
reader, rather as the first sketch and outlines of a vision, than as
a finished piece.
I dreamt that I was admitted into a long, spacious gallery, which
had one side covered with pieces of all the famous painters who are
now living, and the other with the works of the greatest masters
that are dead.
On the side of the living, I saw several persons busy in drawing,
colouring, and designing. On the side of the dead painters, I could
not discover more than one person at work, who was exceeding slow in
his motions, and wonderfully nice in his touches.
I was resolved to examine the several artists that stood before me,
and accordingly applied myself to the side of the living. The first
I observed at work in this part of the gallery was Vanity, with his
hair tied behind him in a riband, and dressed like a Frenchman. All
the faces he drew were very remarkable for their smiles, and a
certain smirking air which he bestowed indifferently on every age
and degree of either sex. The toujours gai appeared even in his
judges, bishops, and Privy Councillors. In a word, all his men were
petits maitres, and all his women coquettes. The drapery of his
figures was extremely well suited to his faces, and was made up of
all the glaring colours that could be mixed together; every part of
the dress was in a flutter, and endeavoured to distinguish itself
above the rest.
On the left hand of Vanity stood a laborious workman, who I found
was his humble admirer, and copied after him. He was dressed like a
German, and had a very hard name that sounded something like
The third artist that I looked over was Fantasque, dressed like a
Venetian scaramouch. He had an excellent hand at chimera, and dealt
very much in distortions and grimaces. He would sometimes affright
himself with the phantoms that flowed from his pencil. In short,
the most elaborate of his pieces was at best but a terrifying dream:
and one could say nothing more of his finest figures than that they
were agreeable monsters.
The fourth person I examined was very remarkable for his hasty hand,
which left his pictures so unfinished that the beauty in the
picture, which was designed to continue as a monument of it to
posterity, faded sooner than in the person after whom it was drawn.
He made so much haste to despatch his business that he neither gave
himself time to clean his pencils nor mix his colours. The name of
this expeditious workman was Avarice.
Not far from this artist I saw another of a quite different nature,
who was dressed in the habit of a Dutchman, and known by the name of
Industry. His figures were wonderfully laboured. If he drew the
portraiture of a man, he did not omit a single hair in his face; if
the figure of a ship, there was not a rope among the tackle that
escaped him. He had likewise hung a great part of the wall with
night-pieces, that seemed to show themselves by the candles which
were lighted up in several parts of them; and were so inflamed by
the sunshine which accidentally fell upon them, that at first sight
I could scarce forbear crying out "Fire!"
The five foregoing artists were the most considerable on this side
the gallery; there were indeed several others whom I had not time to
look into. One of them, however, I could not forbear observing, who
was very busy in retouching the finest pieces, though he produced no
originals of his own. His pencil aggravated every feature that was
before overcharged, loaded every defect, and poisoned every colour
it touched. Though this workman did so much mischief on the side of
the living, he never turned his eye towards that of the dead. His
name was Envy.
Having taken a cursory view of one side of the gallery, I turned
myself to that which was filled by the works of those great masters
that were dead; when immediately I fancied myself standing before a
multitude of spectators, and thousands of eyes looking upon me at
once: for all before me appeared so like men and women, that I
almost forgot they were pictures. Raphael's pictures stood in one
row, Titian's in another, Guido Rheni's in a third. One part of the
wall was peopled by Hannabal Carrache, another by Correggio, and
another by Rubens. To be short, there was not a great master among
the dead who had not contributed to the embellishment of this side
of the gallery. The persons that owed their being to these several
masters appeared all of them to be real and alive, and differed
among one another only in the variety of their shapes, complexions,
and clothes; so that they looked like different nations of the same
Observing an old man, who was the same person I before mentioned, as
the only artist that was at work on this side of the gallery,
creeping up and down from one picture to another, and retouching all
the fine pieces that stood before me, I could not but be very
attentive to all his motions. I found his pencil was so very light
that it worked imperceptibly, and after a thousand touches scarce
produced any visible effect in the picture on which he was employed.
However, as he busied himself incessantly, and repeated touch after
touch without rest or intermission, he wore off insensibly every
little disagreeable gloss that hung upon a figure. He also added
such a beautiful brown to the shades, and mellowness to the colours,
that he made every picture appear more perfect than when it came
fresh from the master's pencil. I could not forbear looking upon
the face of this ancient workman, and immediately by the long lock
of hair upon his forehead, discovered him to be Time.
Whether it were because the thread of my dream was at an end I
cannot tell, but, upon my taking a survey of this imaginary old man,
my sleep left me.
- Spatio brevi
Spem longam reseces: dum loquimur, fugerit invida
AEtas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.
HOR., Od. i. 11, 6.
Thy lengthen'd hope with prudence bound,
Proportion'd to the flying hour:
While thus we talk in careless ease,
Our envious minutes wing their flight;
Then swift the fleeting pleasure seize,
Nor trust to-morrow's doubtful light.
We all of us complain of the shortness of time, saith Seneca, and
yet have much more than we know what to do with. Our lives, says
he, are spent either in doing nothing at all, or in doing nothing to
the purpose, or in doing nothing that we ought to do. We are always
complaining our days are few, and acting as though there would be no
end of them. That noble philosopher described our inconsistency
with ourselves in this particular, by all those various turns of
expression and thoughts which are peculiar to his writings.
I often consider mankind as wholly inconsistent with itself in a
point that bears some affinity to the former. Though we seem
grieved at the shortness of life in general, we are wishing every
period of it at an end. The minor longs to be of age, then to be a
man of business, then to make up an estate, then to arrive at
honours, then to retire. Thus, although the whole of life is
allowed by every one to be short, the several divisions of it appear
long and tedious. We are for lengthening our span in general, but
would fain contract the parts of which it is composed. The usurer
would be very well satisfied to have all the time annihilated that
lies between the present moment and next quarter-day. The
politician would be contented to lose three years in his life, could
he place things in the posture which he fancies they will stand in
after such a revolution of time. The lover would be glad to strike
out of his existence all the moments that are to pass away before
the happy meeting. Thus, as fast as our time runs, we should be
very glad, in most part of our lives, that it ran much faster than
it does. Several hours of the day hang upon our hands, nay, we wish
away whole years; and travel through time as through a country
filled with many wild and empty wastes, which we would fain hurry
over, that we may arrive at those several little settlements or
imaginary points of rest which are dispersed up and down in it.
If we divide the life of most men into twenty parts, we shall find
that at least nineteen of them are mere gaps and chasms, which are
neither filled with pleasure nor business. I do not, however,
include in this calculation the life of those men who are in a
perpetual hurry of affairs, but of those only who are not always
engaged in scenes of action; and I hope I shall not do an
unacceptable piece of service to these persons, if I point out to
them certain methods for the filling up their empty spaces of life.
The methods I shall propose to them are as follow.
The first is the exercise of virtue, in the most general acceptation
of the word. That particular scheme which comprehends the social
virtues may give employment to the most industrious temper, and find
a man in business more than the most active station of life. To
advise the ignorant, relieve the needy, comfort the afflicted, are
duties that fall in our way almost every day of our lives. A man
has frequent opportunities of mitigating the fierceness of a party;
of doing justice to the character of a deserving man; of softening
the envious, quieting the angry, and rectifying the prejudiced;
which are all of them employments suited to a reasonable nature, and
bring great satisfaction to the person who can busy himself in them
There is another kind of virtue that may find employment for those
retired hours in which we are altogether left to ourselves, and
destitute of company and conversation; I mean that intercourse and
communication which every reasonable creature ought to maintain with
the great Author of his being. The man who lives under an habitual
sense of the Divine presence, keeps up a perpetual cheerfulness of
temper, and enjoys every moment the satisfaction of thinking himself
in company with his dearest and best of friends. The time never
lies heavy upon him: it is impossible for him to be alone. His
thoughts and passions are the most busied at such hours when those
of other men are the most inactive. He no sooner steps out of the
world but his heart burns with devotion, swells with hope, and
triumphs in the consciousness of that Presence which everywhere
surrounds him; or, on the contrary, pours out its fears, its
sorrows, its apprehensions, to the great Supporter of its existence.
I have here only considered the necessity of a man's being virtuous,
that he may have something to do; but if we consider further that
the exercise of virtue is not only an amusement for the time it
lasts, but that its influence extends to those parts of our
existence which lie beyond the grave, and that our whole eternity is
to take its colour from those hours which we here employ in virtue
or in vice, the argument redoubles upon us for putting in practice
this method of passing away our time.
When a man has but a little stock to improve, and has opportunities
of turning it all to good account, what shall we think of him if he
suffers nineteen parts of it to lie dead, and perhaps employs even
the twentieth to his ruin or disadvantage? But, because the mind
cannot be always in its fervours, nor strained up to a pitch of
virtue, it is necessary to find out proper employments for it in its
The next method, therefore, that I would propose to fill up our
time, should be useful and innocent diversions. I must confess I
think it is below reasonable creatures to be altogether conversant
in such diversions as are merely innocent, and have nothing else to
recommend them but that there is no hurt in them. Whether any kind
of gaming has even thus much to say for itself, I shall not
determine; but I think it is very wonderful to see persons of the
best sense passing away a dozen hours together in shuffling and
dividing a pack of cards, with no other conversation but what is
made up of a few game phrases, and no other ideas but those of black
or red spots ranged together in different figures. Would not a man
laugh to hear any one of this species complaining that life is
The stage might be made a perpetual source of the most noble and
useful entertainments, were it under proper regulations.
But the mind never unbends itself so agreeably as in the
conversation of a well-chosen friend. There is indeed no blessing
of life that is any way comparable to the enjoyment of a discreet
and virtuous friend. It eases and unloads the mind, clears and
improves the understanding, engenders thoughts and knowledge,
animates virtue and good resolutions, soothes and allays the
passions, and finds employment for most of the vacant hours of life.
Next to such an intimacy with a particular person, one would
endeavour after a more general conversation with such as are able to
entertain and improve those with whom they converse, which are
qualifications that seldom go asunder.
There are many other useful amusements of life which one would
endeavour to multiply, that one might on all occasions have recourse
to something rather than suffer the mind to lie idle, or run adrift
with any passion that chances to rise in it.
A man that has a taste of music, painting, or architecture, is like
one that has another sense, when compared with such as have no
relish of those arts. The florist, the planter, the gardener, the
husbandman, when they are only as accomplishments to the man of
fortune, are great reliefs to a country life, and many ways useful
to those who are possessed of them.
But of all the diversions of life, there is none so proper to fill
up its empty spaces as the reading of useful and entertaining
authors. But this I shall only touch upon, because it in some
measure interferes with the third method, which I shall propose in
another paper, for the employment of our dead, inactive hours, and
which I shall only mention in general to be the pursuit of
- Hoc est
Vivere bis, vita posse priore frui.
MART., Ep. x. 23.
The present joys of life we doubly taste,
By looking back with pleasure to the past.
The last method which I proposed in my Saturday's paper, for filing
up those empty spaces of life which are so tedious and burthensome
to idle people, is the employing ourselves in the pursuit of
knowledge. I remember Mr. Boyle, speaking of a certain mineral,
tells us that a man may consume his whole life in the study of it
without arriving at the knowledge of all its qualities. The truth
of it is, there is not a single science, or any branch of it, that
might not furnish a man with business for life, though it were much
longer than it is.
I shall not here engage on those beaten subjects of the usefulness
of knowledge, nor of the pleasure and perfection it gives the mind,
nor on the methods of attaining it, nor recommend any particular
branch of it; all which have been the topics of many other writers;
but shall indulge myself in a speculation that is more uncommon, and
may therefore, perhaps, be more entertaining.
I have before shown how the unemployed parts of life appear long and
tedious, and shall here endeavour to show how those parts of life
which are exercised in study, reading, and the pursuits of
knowledge, are long, but not tedious, and by that means discover a
method of lengthening our lives, and at the same time of turning all
the parts of them to our advantage.
Mr. Locke observes, "That we get the idea of time or duration, by
reflecting on that train of ideas which succeed one another in our
minds: that, for this reason, when we sleep soundly without
dreaming, we have no perception of time, or the length of it whilst
we sleep; and that the moment wherein we leave off to think, till
the moment we begin to think again, seems to have no distance." To
which the author adds, "and so I doubt not but it would be to a
waking man, if it were possible for him to keep only one idea in his
mind, without variation and the succession of others; and we see
that one who fixes his thoughts very intently on one thing, so as to
take but little notice of the succession of ideas that pass in his
mind whilst he is taken up with that earnest contemplation, lets
slip out of his account a good part of that duration, and thinks
that time shorter than it is."
We might carry this thought further, and consider a man as on one
side, shortening his time by thinking on nothing, or but a few
things; so, on the other, as lengthening it, by employing his
thoughts on many subjects, or by entertaining a quick and constant
succession of ideas. Accordingly, Monsieur Malebranche, in his
"Inquiry after Truth," which was published several years before Mr.
Locke's Essay on "Human Understanding," tells us, "that it is
possible some creatures may think half an hour as long as we do a
thousand years; or look upon that space of duration which we call a
minute, as an hour, a week, a month, or a whole age."
This notion of Monsieur Malebranche is capable of some little
explanation from what I have quoted out of Mr. Locke; for if our
notion of time is produced by our reflecting on the succession of
ideas in our mind, and this succession may be infinitely accelerated
or retarded, it will follow that different beings may have different
notions of the same parts of duration, according as their ideas,
which we suppose are equally distinct in each of them, follow one
another in a greater or less degree of rapidity.
There is a famous passage in the Alcoran, which looks as if Mahomet
had been possessed of the notion we are now speaking of. It is
there said that the Angel Gabriel took Mahomet out of his bed one
morning to give him a sight of all things in the seven heavens, in
paradise, and in hell, which the prophet took a distinct view of;
and, after having held ninety thousand conferences with God, was
brought back again to his bed. All this, says the Alcoran, was
transacted in so small a space of time, that Mahomet at his return
found his bed still warm, and took up an earthen pitcher, which was
thrown down at the very instant that the Angel Gabriel carried him
away, before the water was all spilt.
There is a very pretty story in the Turkish Tales, which relates to
this passage of that famous impostor, and bears some affinity to the
subject we are now upon. A sultan of Egypt, who was an infidel,
used to laugh at this circumstance in Mahomet's life, as what was
altogether impossible and absurd: but conversing one day with a
great doctor in the law, who had the gift of working miracles, the
doctor told him he would quickly convince him of the truth of this
passage in the history of Mahomet, if he would consent to do what he
should desire of him. Upon this the sultan was directed to place
himself by a huge tub of water, which he did accordingly; and as he
stood by the tub amidst a circle of his great men, the holy man bade
him plunge his head into the water and draw it up again. The king
accordingly thrust his head into the water, and at the same time
found himself at the foot of a mountain on the sea-shore. The king
immediately began to rage against his doctor for this piece of
treachery and witchcraft; but at length, knowing it was in vain to
be angry, he set himself to think on proper methods for getting a
livelihood in this strange country. Accordingly he applied himself
to some people whom he saw at work in a neighbouring wood: these
people conducted him to a town that stood at a little distance from
the wood, where, after some adventures, he married a woman of great
beauty and fortune. He lived with this woman so long that he had by
her seven sons and seven daughters. He was afterwards reduced to
great want, and forced to think of plying in the streets as a porter
for his livelihood. One day as he was walking alone by the sea-
side, being seized with many melancholy reflections upon his former
and his present state of life, which had raised a fit of devotion in
him, he threw off his clothes with a design to wash himself,
according to the custom of the Mahometans, before he said his
After his first plunge into the sea, he no sooner raised his head
above the water but he found himself standing by the side of the
tub, with the great men of his court about him, and the holy man at
his side. He immediately upbraided his teacher for having sent him
on such a course of adventures, and betrayed him into so long a
state of misery and servitude; but was wonderfully surprised when he
heard that the state he talked of was only a dream and delusion;
that he had not stirred from the place where he then stood; and that
he had only dipped his head into the water, and immediately taken it
The Mahometan doctor took this occasion of instructing the sultan
that nothing was impossible with God; and that He, with whom a
thousand years are but as one day, can, if He pleases, make a single
day--nay, a single moment--appear to any of His creatures as a
I shall leave my reader to compare these Eastern fables with the
notions of those two great philosophers whom I have quoted in this
paper; and shall only, by way of application, desire him to consider
how we may extend life beyond its natural dimensions, by applying
ourselves diligently to the pursuit of knowledge.
The hours of a wise man are lengthened by his ideas, as those of a
fool are by his passions. The time of the one is long, because he
does not know what to do with it; so is that of the other, because
he distinguishes every moment of it with useful or amusing thoughts;
or, in other words, because the one is always wishing it away, and
the other always enjoying it.
How different is the view of past life, in the man who is grown old
in knowledge and wisdom, from that of him who is grown old in
ignorance and folly! The latter is like the owner of a barren
country, that fills his eye with the prospect of naked hills and
plains, which produce nothing either profitable or ornamental; the
other beholds a beautiful and spacious landscape divided into
delightful gardens, green meadows, fruitful fields, and can scarce
cast his eye on a single spot of his possessions that is not covered
with some beautiful plant or flower.
Romulus, et Liber pater, et cum Castore Pollux,
Post ingentia facta, deorum in templa recepti;
Dum terras hominumque colunt genus, aspera bella
Componunt, agros assignant, oppida condunt;
Ploravere suis non respondere favorem
HOR., Epist. ii. 1, 5.
Edward and Henry, now the boast of fame,
And virtuous Alfred, a more sacred name,
After a life of generous toils endured,
The Gaul subdued, or property secured,
Ambition humbled, mighty cities storm'd,
Or laws establish'd, and the world reform'd;
Closed their long glories with a sigh to find
Th' unwilling gratitude of base mankind.
"Censure," says a late ingenious author, "is the tax a man pays to
the public for being eminent." It is a folly for an eminent man to
think of escaping it, and a weakness to be affected with it. All
the illustrious persons of antiquity, and indeed of every age in the
world, have passed through this fiery persecution. There is no
defence against reproach but obscurity; it is a kind of concomitant
to greatness, as satires and invectives were an essential part of a
If men of eminence are exposed to censure on one hand, they are as
much liable to flattery on the other. If they receive reproaches
which are not due to them, they likewise receive praises which they
do not deserve. In a word, the man in a high post is never regarded
with an indifferent eye, but always considered as a friend or an
enemy. For this reason persons in great stations have seldom their
true characters drawn till several years after their deaths. Their
personal friendships and enmities must cease, and the parties they
were engaged in be at an end, before their faults or their virtues
can have justice done them. When writers have the least opportunity
of knowing the truth, they are in the best disposition to tell it.
It is therefore the privilege of posterity to adjust the characters
of illustrious persons, and to set matters right between those
antagonists who by their rivalry for greatness divided a whole age
into factions. We can now allow Caesar to be a great man, without
derogating from Pompey; and celebrate the virtues of Cato, without
detracting from those of Caesar. Every one that has been long dead
has a due proportion of praise allotted him, in which, whilst he
lived, his friends were too profuse, and his enemies too sparing.
According to Sir Isaac Newton's calculations, the last comet that
made its appearance, in 1680, imbibed so much heat by its approaches
to the sun, that it would have been two thousand times hotter than
red-hot iron, had it been a globe of that metal; and that supposing
it as big as the earth, and at the same distance from the sun, it
would be fifty thousand years in cooling, before it recovered its
natural temper. In the like manner, if an Englishman considers the
great ferment into which our political world is thrown at present,
and how intensely it is heated in all its parts, he cannot suppose
that it will cool again in less than three hundred years. In such a
tract of time it is possible that the heats of the present age may
be extinguished, and our several classes of great men represented
under their proper characters. Some eminent historian may then
probably arise that will not write recentibus odiis, as Tacitus
expresses it, with the passions and prejudices of a contemporary
author, but make an impartial distribution of fame among the great
men of the present age.
I cannot forbear entertaining myself very often with the idea of
such an imaginary historian describing the reign of Anne the First,
and introducing it with a preface to his reader, that he is now
entering upon the most shining part of the English story. The great
rivals in fame will be then distinguished according to their
respective merits, and shine in their proper points of light. Such
an one, says the historian, though variously represented by the
writers of his own age, appears to have been a man of more than
ordinary abilities, great application, and uncommon integrity: nor
was such an one, though of an opposite party and interest, inferior
to him in any of these respects. The several antagonists who now
endeavour to depreciate one another, and are celebrated or traduced
by different parties, will then have the same body of admirers, and
appear illustrious in the opinion of the whole British nation. The
deserving man, who can now recommend himself to the esteem of but
half his countrymen, will then receive the approbations and
applauses of a whole age.
Among the several persons that flourish in this glorious reign,
there is no question but such a future historian, as the person of
whom I am speaking, will make mention of the men of genius and
learning who have now any figure in the British nation. For my own
part, I often flatter myself with the honourable mention which will
then be made of me; and have drawn up a paragraph in my own
imagination, that I fancy will not be altogether unlike what will be
found in some page or other of this imaginary historian.
It was under this reign, says he, that the Spectator published those
little diurnal essays which are still extant. We know very little
of the name or person of this author, except only that he was a man
of a very short face, extremely addicted to silence, and so great a
lover of knowledge, that he made a voyage to Grand Cairo for no
other reason but to take the measure of a pyramid. His chief friend
was one Sir Roger De Coverley, a whimsical country knight, and a
Templar, whose name he has not transmitted to us. He lived as a
lodger at the house of a widow-woman, and was a great humorist in
all parts of his life. This is all we can affirm with any certainty
of his person and character. As for his speculations,
notwithstanding the several obsolete words and obscure phrases of
the age in which he lived, we still understand enough of them to see
the diversions and characters of the English nation in his time:
not but that we are to make allowance for the mirth and humour of
the author, who has doubtless strained many representations of
things beyond the truth. For if we interpret his words in their
literal meaning, we must suppose that women of the first quality
used to pass away whole mornings at a puppet-show; that they
attested their principles by their patches; that an audience would
sit out an evening to hear a dramatical performance written in a
language which they did not understand; that chairs and flower-pots
were introduced as actors upon the British stage; that a promiscuous
assembly of men and women were allowed to meet at midnight in masks
within the verge of the Court; with many improbabilities of the like
nature. We must therefore, in these and the like cases, suppose
that these remote hints and allusions aimed at some certain follies
which were then in vogue, and which at present we have not any
notion of. We may guess by several passages in the speculations,
that there were writers who endeavoured to detract from the works of
this author; but as nothing of this nature is come down to us, we
cannot guess at any objections that could be made to his paper. If
we consider his style with that indulgence which we must show to old
English writers, or if we look into the variety of his subjects,
with those several critical dissertations, moral reflections, -
* * *
The following part of the paragraph is so much to my advantage, and
beyond anything I can pretend to, that I hope my reader will excuse
me for not inserting it.
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
Est brevitate opus, ut currat sententia,
HOR., Sat. i. 10, 9.
Let brevity despatch the rapid thought.
I have somewhere read of an eminent person who used in his private
offices of devotion to give thanks to Heaven that he was born a
Frenchman: for my own part I look upon it as a peculiar blessing
that I was born an Englishman. Among many other reasons, I think
myself very happy in my country, as the language of it is
wonderfully adapted to a man who is sparing of his words, and an
enemy to loquacity.
As I have frequently reflected on my good fortune in this
particular, I shall communicate to the public my speculations upon
the English tongue, not doubting but they will be acceptable to all
my curious readers.
The English delight in silence more than any other European nation,
if the remarks which are made on us by foreigners are true. Our
discourse is not kept up in conversation, but falls into more pauses
and intervals than in our neighbouring countries; as it is observed
that the matter of our writings is thrown much closer together, and
lies in a narrower compass, than is usual in the works of foreign
authors; for, to favour our natural taciturnity, when we are obliged
to utter our thoughts we do it in the shortest way we are able, and
give as quick a birth to our conceptions as possible.
This humour shows itself in several remarks that we may make upon
the English language. As, first of all, by its abounding in
monosyllables, which gives us an opportunity of delivering our
thoughts in few sounds. This indeed takes off from the elegance of
our tongue, but at the same time expresses our ideas in the readiest
manner, and consequently answers the first design of speech better
than the multitude of syllables which make the words of other
languages more tuneable and sonorous. The sounds of our English
words are commonly like those of string music, short and transient,
which rise and perish upon a single touch; those of other languages
are like the notes of wind instruments, sweet and swelling, and
lengthened out into variety of modulation.
In the next place we may observe that, where the words are not
monosyllables, we often make them so, as much as lies in our power,
by our rapidity of pronunciation; as it generally happens in most of
our long words which are derived from the Latin, where we contract
the length of the syllables, that gives them a grave and solemn air
in their own language, to make them more proper for despatch, and
more conformable to the genius of our tongue. This we may find in a
multitude of words, as "liberty," "conspiracy," "theatre," "orator,"
The same natural aversion to loquacity has of late years made a very
considerable alteration in our language, by closing in one syllable
the termination of our preterperfect tense, as in the words
"drown'd," "walk'd," "arriv'd," for " drowned," "walked," "arrived,"
which has very much disfigured the tongue, and turned a tenth part
of our smoothest words into so many clusters of consonants. This is
the more remarkable because the want of vowels in our language has
been the general complaint of our politest authors, who nevertheless
are the men that have made these retrenchments, and consequently
very much increased our former scarcity.
This reflection on the words that end in "ed" I have heard in
conversation from one of the greatest geniuses this age has
produced. I think we may add to the foregoing observation, the
change which has happened in our language by the abbreviation of
several words that are terminated in "eth," by substituting an "s"
in the room of the last syllable, as in "drowns," "walks,"
"arrives," and innumerable other words, which in the pronunciation
of our forefathers were "drowneth," "walketh," "arriveth." This has
wonderfully multiplied a letter which was before too frequent in the
English tongue, and added to that hissing in our language which is
taken so much notice of by foreigners, but at the same time humours
our taciturnity, and eases us of many superfluous syllables.
I might here observe that the same single letter on many occasions
does the office of a whole word, and represents the "his" and "her"
of our forefathers. There is no doubt but the ear of a foreigner,
which is the best judge in this case, would very much disapprove of
such innovations, which indeed we do ourselves in some measure, by
retaining the old termination in writing, and in all the solemn
offices of our religion.
As, in the instances I have given, we have epitomised many of our
particular words to the detriment of our tongue, so on other
occasions we have drawn two words into one, which has likewise very
much untuned our language, and clogged it with consonants, as
"mayn't," "can't," "shan't," "won't," and the like, for "may not,"
"can not," "shall not," "will not," &c.
It is perhaps this humour of speaking no more than we needs must
which has so miserably curtailed some of our words, that in familiar
writings and conversations they often lose all but their first
syllables, as in "mob.," "rep.," "pos.," "incog.," and the like; and
as all ridiculous words make their first entry into a language by
familiar phrases, I dare not answer for these that they will not in
time be looked upon as a part of our tongue. We see some of our
poets have been so indiscreet as to imitate Hudibras's doggrel
expressions in their serious compositions, by throwing out the signs
of our substantives which are essential to the English language.
Nay, this humour of shortening our language had once run so far,
that some of our celebrated authors, among whom we may reckon Sir
Roger L'Estrange in particular, began to prune their words of all
superfluous letters, as they termed them, in order to adjust the
spelling to the pronunciation; which would have confounded all our
etymologies, and have quite destroyed our tongue.
We may here likewise observe that our proper names, when
familiarised in English, generally dwindle to monosyllables, whereas
in other modern languages they receive a softer turn on this
occasion, by the addition of a new syllable.--Nick, in Italian, is
Nicolini; Jack, in French, Janot; and so of the rest.
There is another particular in our language which is a great
instance of our frugality in words, and that is the suppressing of
several particles which must be produced in other tongues to make a
sentence intelligible. This often perplexes the best writers, when
they find the relatives "whom," "which," or "they," at their mercy,
whether they may have admission or not; and will never be decided
till we have something like an academy, that by the best
authorities, and rules drawn from the analogy of languages, shall
settle all controversies between grammar and idiom.
I have only considered our language as it shows the genius and
natural temper of the English, which is modest, thoughtful, and
sincere, and which, perhaps, may recommend the people, though it has
spoiled the tongue. We might, perhaps, carry the same thought into
other languages, and deduce a great part of what is peculiar to them
from the genius of the people who speak them. It is certain the
light talkative humour of the French has not a little infected their
tongue, which might be shown by many instances; as the genius of the
Italians, which is so much addicted to music and ceremony, has
moulded all their words and phrases to those particular uses. The
stateliness and gravity of the Spaniards shows itself to perfection
in the solemnity of their language; and the blunt, honest humour of
the Germans sounds better in the roughness of the High-Dutch than it
would in a politer tongue.
THE VISION OF MIRZA.
- Omnem, quae nunc obducta tuenti
Mortales hebetat visus tibi, et humida circum
Caligat, nubem eripiam.
VIRG., AEn. ii. 604.
The cloud, which, intercepting the clear light,
Hangs o'er thy eyes, and blunts thy mortal sight,
I will remove.
When I was at Grand Cairo, I picked up several Oriental manuscripts,
which I have still by me. Among others I met with one entitled "The
Visions of Mirza," which I have read over with great pleasure. I
intend to give it to the public when I have no other entertainment
for them; and shall begin with the first vision, which I have
translated word for word as follows:
"On the fifth day of the moon, which, according to the custom of my
forefathers, I always keep holy, after having washed myself, and
offered up my morning devotions, I ascended the high hills of
Bagdad, in order to pass the rest of the day in meditation and
prayer. As I was here airing myself on the tops of the mountains, I
fell into a profound contemplation on the vanity of human life; and
passing from one thought to another, 'Surely,' said I, 'man is but a
shadow, and life a dream.' Whilst I was thus musing, I cast my eyes
towards the summit of a rock that was not far from me, where I
discovered one in the habit of a shepherd, with a musical instrument
in his hand. As I looked upon him he applied it to his lips, and
began to play upon it. The sound of it was exceeding sweet, and
wrought into a variety of tunes that were inexpressibly melodious,
and altogether different from anything I had ever heard. They put
me in mind of those heavenly airs that are played to the departed
souls of good men upon their first arrival in Paradise, to wear out
the impressions of their last agonies, and qualify them for the
pleasures of that happy place. My heart melted away in secret
"I had been often told that the rock before me was the haunt of a
genius, and that several had been entertained with music who had
passed by it, but never heard that the musician had before made
himself visible. When he had raised my thoughts by those
transporting airs which he played, to taste the pleasures of his
conversation, as I looked upon him like one astonished, he beckoned
to me, and, by the waving of his hand, directed me to approach the
place where he sat. I drew near with that reverence which is due to
a superior nature; and, as my heart was entirely subdued by the
captivating strains I had heard, I fell down at his feet and wept.
The genius smiled upon me with a look of compassion and affability
that familiarised him to my imagination, and at once dispelled all
the fears and apprehensions with which I approached him. He lifted
me from the ground, and, taking me by the hand, 'Mirza,' said he, 'I
have heard thee in thy soliloquies; follow me.'
"He then led me to the highest pinnacle of the rock, and placing me
on the top of it, 'Cast thy eyes eastward,' said he, 'and tell me
what thou seest.' 'I see,' said I, 'a huge valley, and a prodigious
tide of water rolling through it.' 'The valley that thou seest,'
said he, 'is the Vale of Misery, and the tide of water that thou
seest is part of the great tide of Eternity.' 'What is the reason,'
said I, 'that the tide I see rises out of a thick mist at one end,
and again loses itself in a thick mist at the other?' 'What thou
seest,' said he, 'is that portion of Eternity which is called Time,
measured out by the sun, and reaching from the beginning of the
world to its consummation. Examine now,' said he, 'this sea that is
bounded with darkness at both ends, and tell me what thou
discoverest in it.' 'I see a bridge,' said I, 'standing in the
midst of the tide.' 'The bridge thou seest,' said he, 'is Human
Life; consider it attentively.' Upon a more leisurely survey of it,
I found that it consisted of threescore and ten entire arches, with
several broken arches, which, added to those that were entire, made
up the number about a hundred. As I was counting the arches, the
genius told me that this bridge consisted at first of a thousand
arches; but that a great flood swept away the rest, and left the
bridge in the ruinous condition I now beheld it. 'But tell me
further,' said he, 'what thou discoverest on it.' 'I see multitudes
of people passing over it,' said I, 'and a black cloud hanging on
each end of it.' As I looked more attentively, I saw several of the
passengers dropping through the bridge into the great tide that
flowed underneath it; and, upon further examination, perceived there
were innumerable trap-doors that lay concealed in the bridge, which
the passengers no sooner trod upon but they fell through them into
the tide, and immediately disappeared. These hidden pit-falls were
set very thick at the entrance of the bridge, so that throngs of
people no sooner broke through the cloud but many of them fell into
them. They grew thinner towards the middle, but multiplied and lay
closer together towards the end of the arches that were entire.
"There were indeed some persons, but their number was very small,
that continued a kind of hobbling march on the broken arches, but
fell through one after another, being quite tired and spent with so
long a walk.
"I passed some time in the contemplation of this wonderful
structure, and the great variety of objects which it presented. My
heart was filled with a deep melancholy to see several dropping
unexpectedly in the midst of mirth and jollity, and catching at
everything that stood by them to save themselves. Some were looking
up towards the heavens in a thoughtful posture, and in the midst of
a speculation stumbled and fell out of sight. Multitudes were very
busy in the pursuit of bubbles that glittered in their eyes and
danced before them; but often when they thought themselves within