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* No. 55. SATURDAY, May 5, 1759.
TO THE IDLER,
Mr. IDLER-I have taken the liberty of laying before you my complaint, and of desiring advice or consolation, with the greater confidence, because I believe many other writers have suffered the same indig:ities with mysell, and hope my quarrel will be regarded by you and your readers as the common cause of literature.
Having been long a student, I thought myself qualified in time to become an author. My inquiries have been much diversified, and far extended ; and not finding iny genius directing me by irresistible impulse to any particular subject, I deliberated three years which part of knowierige to illustrate by my labours. Choice is more often determined by accident than by reason : I walked abroad one morning with a curious lady, and by her inquiries and observations was incited to write the natural history of the county in which I reside.
Natural history is no work for one that loves his chair or his bed. Speculation may be pursued on a soft couch, but nature must be observed in the open air. I have collected materials with indefatigable pertinacity. I have gathered glow-worms in the evening, and snails in the morning ; I have seen the daisy close and open : I have heard the owl sbriek at midnight, and hunted insects in the heat of noon.
Seven years I was employed in collecting animals and vegetables, and then found that my design was yet imperfect. The subterranean treasures of the place had been passed unobserved, and another year was to be spent in mines and coalpits. What I had already done supplied a sufficient motive to do more. I acquainted myself with the black inhabitants of metallic caverns, and in detiance of damps and floods, wandered througla the gloomy labyrinths, and gathered fossils from every fissure.
At last I began to write, and as I finished any section of my book, read it to such of my friends as were most skilful in the inatter which it treated. None of them were satisfied ; one disliked the disposition of the parts, another the colours of the style ; one advised me to enlarge, another to abridge. I resolved to read no more, but to take my own way and
write on, for by consultation I only perplexed my thoughts and retarded my work.
The book was at last finished, and I did not doubt but my labour would be repaid by profit, and my ambition satisfied with honours. I considered that natural history is neither temporary nor local, and that though I limited my inquiries to my own county, yet every part of the earth has productions common to all the rest. Civil history may be partially studied, the revolutions of one nation may be neglected by another ; but after that in which all have an interest, all must be inquisive. No man can have sunk so far into stupidity as not to consider the properties of the ground on which he walks, of the plants on which he feeds, or the animals that delight his ear or amuse his eye; and therefore I computed that universal curiosity would call for many editions of my book, and that in five years I should gain fifteen thousand pounds by the sale of thirty thousand copies.
When I began to write I insured the house, and suffered the utmost solicitude when I entrusted my book to the carrier, though I had secured it against mischances by lodging two transcripts in different places. At my arrival, I expected that the patrons of learning would contend for the honour of a dedication, and resolved to maintain the dignity of letters, by a haughty contempt of pecuniary solicitations.
I took lodgings near the house of the Royal Society, and expected every morning a visit from the President I walked in the Park, and wondered that I overheard no mention of the great Naturalist. At last I visited a noble earl, and told him of my work: he answered, that he was under an engagement never to subscribe. I was angry to have that refused which I did not mean to ask, and concealed my design of making him immortal. I went next day to another, and, in resentment of my late affront, offered to prefix his name to my new book. He said, coldly, that he did not understand those things;' another thought there were too many books;' and another would talk with me when the races were over.'
Being amazed to find a man of learning so indecently slighted, I resolved to indulge the philosophical pride of retirement and independence. I then sent to some of the principal booksellers the plan of my book, and bespoke a large room in the next tavern, that I might more commodiously see them together, and enjoy the contest, while they were outbidding one another. I drank my coffee, and yet nobody was come; at last I received a note from one, to tell me, that he was going out of town; and from another, that Natural History was out of his way; at last there came a grave man,
who desired to see the work, and, without opening it, told me, that a book of that size would never do.
I then condescended to step into shops, and mentioned my work to the masters. Some never dealt with authors ; others had their hands full: some never had known such a dead time; others had lost by all that they had published for the last twelvemonth. One offered to print my work, if I could procure subscriptions for five hundred, and would allow me two hundred copies for my property. I lost my patience, and gave him a kick, for which he has indicted me.
I can easily perceive, that there is a combination among them to defeat my expectations; and I find it so general, that I am sure it must have been long concerted. I suppose some of my friends, to whom I read the first part, gave notice of my design, and, perhaps, sold the treacherous intelligence at a higher price than the fraudulence of trade will now allow me for my book.
Inform me, Mr. Idler, what I must do; where must knowledge and industry find their recompense, thus neglected by the high, and cheated by the low? I sometimes resolve to print my book at my own expense, and like the Sibyl, double the price; and sometimes am tempted, in emulation of Raleigh, to throw it into the fire, and leave this sordid generation to the curses of posterity. Tell me, dear Idler, what I shall do.
I am, Sir, &c.
No. 56. SATURDAY, May 21, 1759.
THERE is such difference between the pursuits of men, that one part of the inhabitants of a great city lives to little other purposes than to wonder at the rest. Some have hopes and fears, wishes and aversions, which never enter into the thoughts of others, and inquiry is laboriously exerted to gain that which those who possess it are ready to throw away.
To those who are accustomed to value every thing by its use, and have no such superfluity of time or money as may prompt them to unnatural wants or capricious emulations, nothing appears more improbable or extravagant than the love of curiosities, or that desire of accumulating trifles, which distinguishes many by whom no other distinction could have ever been obtained.
He that has lived without knowing to what height desire may be raised by vanity, with what rapture baubles are snatched out of the hands of rival collectors, how the eagerness of one raises eagerness in another, and one worthless purchase makes a second necessary, may, by passing a few hours at an auction, learn more than by shown by many volumes of Maxims or Essays.
The advertisement of a sale is a signal which at once puts a thousand hearts in motion, and brings contenders from every part to the scene of distribution. He that had resolved to buy no more, feels his constancy subdued; there is now something in the catalogue which completes his cabinet, and which he was never before able to find. He whose sober reflections inform him, that of adding collection to collection there is no end, and that it is wise to leave early that wbich must be left imperfect at last, yet cannot withhold himself from coming to see what it is that brings so many together, and when he comes is soon overpowered by his habitual passion; he is attracted by rarity, seduced by example, and inflamed by competition.
While the stores of pride and happiness are surveyed, one looks with longing eyes and gloomy countenance, on that which he despairs to gain from a richer bidder; another keeps his eye with care from settling too long on that which he most earnestly desires; and another, with more art than virtue, depreciates that which he values most, in hope to have it at an easy rate.
The novice is often surprised to see what minute and unimportant discriminations increase or diminish value. An irregular contortion of a turbinated shell, which common eyes pass unregarded, will ten times treble its price in the imagination of philosophers. Beauty is far from operating upon collectors as upon low and vulgar minds, even where beauty might be thought the only quality that could deserve notice. Among the shells that please by their variety of colours, if one can be found accidentally deformed by a cloudy spot, it is boasted as the pride of the collection. China is sometimes purchased for little less than its weight in gold, only because it is old, though neither less brittle, nor better painted than the modern; and brown china is caught up with extacy, though no reason can be imagined for which it should be preferred to common vessels of common clay.
The fate of prints and coins is equally inexplicable. Some prints are treasured up as inestimably valuable, because the impression was made before the plate was finished. Of coins the price rises not from the purity of the metal, the excellence of the workmanship, the elegance of the legend, or the chro
nological use. A piece, of which neither the inscription can be read, nor the face distinguished, if there remain of it but enough to show that it is rare, will be sought by contending nations, and dignify the treasury in which it shall be shown.
Whether this curiosity, so barren of immediate advantage, and so liable to depravation, does more harm or good, is not easily decided. Its harm is apparent at the first view. It fills the mind with trifling ambition; fixes the attention upon things which have seldom any tendency towards virtue or wisdom ; employs in idle inquiries the time that is given for better purposes; and often ends in mean and dishonest practices, when desire increases by indulgence beyond the power of honest gratification.
These are the effects of curiosity in excess ; but what passion in excess will not become vicious ? All indifferent qualities and practices are bad if they are compared with those which are good, and good if they are opposed to those that are bad. The pride or the pleasure of making collections, if it be restrained by prudence and morality, produces a pleasing remission after more laborious studies; furnishes an amusement not wholly unprofitable for that part of life, the greater part of many lives, which would otherwise be lost in idleness or vice; it produces an useful traffic between the industry of indigence and the curiosity of wealth ; it brings many things to notice that would be neglected ; and by fixing the thoughts upon intellectual pleasures, resists the natural encroachments of sensuality, and maintains the mind in her lawful superiority.
PRUDENCE is of more frequent use than any other intellectual quality; it is exerted on slight occasions, and called into act by the cursory business of common life.
Whatever is universally necessary has been granted to mankind on easy terms. Prudence, as it is always wanted, is without great difficulty obtained. It requires neither extensive view nor profound search, but forces itself, by spontaneous impulse, upon a mind neither great nor busy, neither ingrossed by vast designs, nor distracted by multiplicity of attention.
Prudence operates on life in the same manner as rules on composition ; it produces vigilance rather than elevation, rather prevents loss than procures advantage ; and often escapes