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have named, but to my Cato, my son, than whom a better man was never born, and whose funeral rites I myself performed, whereas he ought rather to have attended mine. Yet has not his soul deserted me, but, seeming to cast back a look on me, is gone before to those habitations to which it was sensible I should follow him. And though I might appear to have borne my loss with courage, I was not unaffected with it; but I comforted myself in the assurance, that it would not be long before we should meet again, and be divorced no more."
I am, Sir, &c.
N° 538. MONDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 1712.
HOR. 2 Sat, i. 1.
To launch beyond all bounds.
SURPRIJE is so much the life of stories, that every one aims at it who endeavours to please by telling thein. Smooth delivery, an elegant choice of words, and a sweet arrangement, are all beautifying graces, but not the particulars in this point of conversation which either long command the attention, or strike with the violence of a sudden passion, or occasion the burst of laughter which accompanies humour. I have sometimes fancied that the mind is in this case like a traveller who sees a fine seat in haste; he acknowledges the delightfulness of a walk set with regularity, but would be uneasy if he were obliged to pace it over, when the first view had let him into all its beauties from one end to the other.
However, a knowledge of the success which stories will have when they are attended with a turn of surprize, as it has happily made the characters of some, so has it also been the ruin of the characters of others. There is a set of men who outrage truth, instead of affecting us with a manner in telling it; who overleap the line of probability, that they may be seen to move out of the common road; and endeavour only to make their hearers stare by imposing upon them with a kind of nonsense against the philosophy of nature, or such a heap of wonders told upon their own knowledge, as it is not likely one man should have ever met with.
I have bren led to this observation by a company into which I fell accidentally. The subject of antipathies was a proper field wherein such false surprizes might expatiate, and there were those present who appeared very fond to show it in its full extent of traditional history. Some of them, in a learned manner, offered to our consideration the miraculous powers which the effluviums of cheese hare over bodies whose pores are disposed to receive them in a noxious manner; others gave an account of such who could indeed bear the sight of cheese, but not the taste; for which they brought a reason from the milk of their nurses. Others again discoursed, without endeavouring at reasons, concerning an unconquerable aversion which some stomachs have against a joint of meat when it is whole, and the eager inclination they have for it when, by its being cut up, the shape which had affected them is altered. From hence they passed to eels, then to parsneps, and so from one aversion to another, until we had worked up ourselves to such a pitch of complaisance, that when the dinner was to come in we inquired the name of every dish, and hoped it would be no offence to any in company, before it was admitted. When we had sat down, this civility among us turned the discourse from eatables to other sorts of aversions; and the eternal cat, which plagues every conversation of this nature, began then to engross the subject. One had sweated at the sight of it, another had smelled it out as it lay concealed in a very distant cupboard; and he who crowned the whole set of these stories, reckoned up the number of times in which it had occasioned him to swcon away. 'At last,' says he, that you may all be satisfied of my invincible aversion to a cat, I shall give an unanswerable instance. As I was going through a street of London, where I never had been until
then, I felt a general damp and faintness all over me, which I could not tell how to account for, until I chanced to cast my eyes upwards, and found that I was passing under a sign-post on which the picture of a cat was hung.'
The extravagance of this turn in the way of surprise gave a stop to the talk we had been carrying
Some were silent because they doubted, and others because they were conquered in their own way; so that the gentleman had an opportunity to press the belief of it upon us, and let us see that he was rather exposing himself than ridiculing others.
I must freely own that I did not all this while disbelieve every thing that was said; but yet I thought some in the company had been endeavouring who should pitch the bar farthest; that it had for some time been a measuring cast, and at last
friend of the cat and sign-post had thrown beyond them all.
I then considered the manner in which this story had been received, and the possibility that it might have passed for a jest upon others, if he had not laboured against himself. From hence, thought I, there are two ways which the well-bred world generally takes to correct such a practice, when they do not think fit to contradict it flatly.
The first of these is a general silence, which I would not advise any one to interpret in his own behalf. It is often the effect of prudence in avoiding a quarrel, when they see another drive so fast that there is no stopping him without being run against; and but very seldom the effect of weakness in believing suddenly. The generality of mankind are not so grossly ignorant, as some overbearing spirits would persuade themselves; and if the authority of a character or a caution against danger make us suppress our opinions, yet neither of these
are of force enough to suppress our thoughts of them. If a man who has endeavoured to amuse his company with improbabilities could but look into their minds, he would find that they imagine he lightly esteems of their sense when he thinks to impose upon them, and that he is less esteemed by them for his attempt in doing so. His endeavour to glory at their expence becomes a ground of quarrel, and the scorn and indifference with which they entertain it begins the immediate punishment: and indeed, (if we should even go no farther (silence, or a negligent indifference, has a deeper way of wounding than opposition, because opposition proceeds from an anger that has a sort of generous sentiment for the adversary ningling along with it, while it shows that there is soire esteem in your mind for him: in short, that you think him worth while to contest with. But silence, or a negligent indifference, proceeds from anger, mixed with a scorn that shows another he is thought by you too contemptible to be regarded.
The other method which the world has taken for correcting this practice of false surprize, is to overshoot such talkers in their own bow, or to raise the story with further degrees of impossibility, and set up for a voucher to them in such a manner as must let them see they stand detected. Thus I have heard a discourse was once managed upon the effects of fear. One of the company had given an account low it had turned his friend's hair grey night, while the terrors of a shipwreck encompassed him. Another, taking the hint from hence, began upon his own knowledge to enlarge his instances of the like nature to such a number, that it was not probable he could ever have met with them: and as he still grounded these upon different causes for the sake of variety, it might seem at last, from his share