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Connected with REVENGE are the various phenomena of courage and cowardice, two qualities which, on certain occasions, form one of the grand divisions of mankind, but which are in general so mixed and shaded as to require great accuracy of distinction. In separating the merits of true courage from the glare of the false, and in recommending that only useful valour which gives a daring to the mind in defiance of the custom of the world, and the contempt of fools, our ESSAYISTS have earned their best fame. If the custom of the world is in many cases still too powerful, it is at least without excuse. Men may be precipitated into crimes by a false notion of honour; but they do not affect to be without remorse, and have seldom insulted public decency by apologies or vindications.*
In surveying the manners of domestic life, a very copious fund of ridicule is derived from observing the various effects of a TASTE for ExPENSE and show, arising from a compliance, rather voluntary than compelled, with the man. dates of fashion. This naturally induces the consideration of dress, furniture, equipage, and the luxuries of the table; subjects which do not court privacy, but obtrude themselves with proud os. ientation, and are therefore among the fairest game of the literary sportsman. At the commencement of the last century the distinction of ranks, it is believed, was more strictly observed than it has been since. The man of title or fortune, and the citizen, were characters essentially different: there was indeed scarcely any point of
* The papers on Duelling in the TATLER were written by STEELE, whose thoughts are said to have been turned towards that subject in early life, when he was involved in a duel with a brother officer.
resemblance. In the one appeared state, splendour, show, a manly spirit, and high sense of famiiy honour, yet sometimes with notions rather gay and loose; in the other, economy, snugness, integrity, and some prejudices of pretty high antiquity. When, however, successful commerce afforded the latter the means, there soon appeared an affected imitation of the manners and expenses of the great: and such imitations at first could not fail to be ludicrous as well as pernicious, but they were not to be attacked only by serious argument. They were not always worthy of it; and it is perhaps as wholesome to show a man that he is vain, as to prove that vanity is a great folly. During the progress of this change in manners, if an expense was fashionable, that sanction was sufficient, and the splendour and style of a suite of rooms were attempted in confined parlours and closets : entertainments in miniature were given in such camera obscura to persons who would only laugh at the folly of the host; while the youth of both sexes began to be trained up with notions of high life, which, by destroying industry and perverting the use of wealth, soon left them in a motley beggary with an outside show neither splendid nor squalid. Yet these examples of “high life below stairs” were not perhaps so frequent in the days of STEELE and ADDISON as they have become in our time, in which a different state of society has shown how very prolific pride and vanity are in grotesque appearances and expensive anomalies : still they occurred with frequency sufficient to afford those wits opportunities of exposing them to just ridicule, as well as of pointing out the more fatal effects of stepping out of the rank in which edux cation and circumstances have placed us..
GAMING in all its varieties had attained, in the days of the TATLER, a perfection, if we may so term it, not inferior to what so eminently distinguishes and dishonours the present times. The mischiefs arising from this vice alone are acknowledged greatly to exceed what can be attributed to any other cause. Yet to the present moment the young of all ranks are early initiated in the science of play, and with no other check than a hope, sometimes casually expressed, that what is intended for amusement may not become their more serious study*. Perhaps one of the most fatal effects which gaming, even in its least clegrees, has produced on the public mind, is the distinction made between honour and honesty, and the consequent opinion that a debt contracted at the card-table is more obligatory than one contracted in trade. Few.principles will appear more detestable than this, if it be fairly examined; and the MAN OF HONOUR, who has no other claim to the title than what arises from his punctual observation of such a precept, ought not to complain if that too be taken from him by the verdict of religion, law, and integrity.
Many of the TATLERS were very laudably employed in detecting the arts of gamblers and sharpers ; some at least of whom were real and well-known characters. In this STEELE acted wisely in his character of CENSOR MORUM, and performed a duty which, we are told, was not always unattended with personal danger. Characters like these are at all times the legitimate objects of satire ; but to what extent it is really
* When Plato reproved a young man for playing at dice.
What! for such a trifle of money !" CUSTON," answered Plato, “ is so tritte."
useful to expose them, cannot be so easily ascer, tained. No character is considered so impious or immoral, as that of him who studies to accu. mulate the unavoidable miseries of life, to precipitate adversity, and bring on immature destruction. Yet men who have thus hardened their hearts against all moral principles, who despise the laws of all civilized nations, and are the common robbers of the young and unsuspecting, men who know themselves to be proscribed, and glory in an exemption which leaves them unrestrained by shame or pride, may be supposed beyond the reach of wit or argument.
To the world, however, it is still necessary that they should be exposed in their full depravity. It is a duty which the moralist and the wit owe to society. Such crimes are the legitimate objects of asperity and contempt. Ridicule will not perhaps reform the vicious; but it may strengthen the principles of the virtuous, by making them afraid to incur the contempt which they know to be just, and by affording a mode of defence suited to the gaiety and spirit of conversation. It is not what a teacher would begin with; but it is what he may superadd to more serious counsels. Those who have been convinced of the turpitude of vice, may be safely shewn its absurdity.
With respect to the female sex, the consequences of a passion for play, although too obvious, are yet too shocking for contemplation : here, indeed, ridicule seems frequently out of place; for who can survey with gaiety of humour, the ruins of beauty and innocence? the charms of feature lost in the fiend-like distortions of disappointed avarice, or successful fraud ? Still there are gradations even in this vicę, which may admit of being treated less seriously; and
in the course of these volumes, the humours of a card-table' have furnished some excellent papers of the lighter sort. But upon the whole we must allow with Dr. JOHNSON that, with respect to a great proportion of the fashionable world, the fatal passion for cards and dice seems to have overturned, not only the ambition of excellence, but the desire of pleasure; to have extinguished the flames of the lover as well as of the patriot ; and threatens, in its farther progress, to destroy all distinctions both of rank and sex, to crush all emulation but that of fraud.'
Such are a few of the leading topics which have engaged the attention of the Essayists; but in examining these papers, it will be found that no subject connected with the general good of mankind is left untouched; and that they have succeeded in conveying that knowledge of the world, which is esteemed by many an indispensable accomplishment, by means less noxious than what are usually employed. The effect however of this new species of popular instruction on the manners of the age, would have been very inconsiderable, and the authors could have inculcated neither the moral virtues nor the social obligations with the success they have experienced, had they trusted merely to the powers of wit and humour, and disregarded the more important consideration, that errors in manners are not far removed from degeneracy in morals, and that there is no substantial foundation for the utility of the one, or the integrity of the other, but in the principles of the pure religion of our ancestors—a religion, beyond all controversy, more admirably adapted than any human institution can boast, to direct us in every duty of life and in every dispensation of Providence. Of this solid