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THE TATLER, No. XXIV.*
O Lycida, vivi pervenimus, advena nostri
THURSDAY, MARCH 15, 1710-11.
From my own Apartment in Channel-row, March 14. THE dignity and distinction of men of wit is seldom enough considered, either by themselves or others ; their own behaviour, and the usage they meet with, being generally very much of a piece. I have at this time in my hands an alphabetical list of the beaux esprits about this town, four or five of whom have made the proper use of their genius, by gaining the esteem of the best and greatest men, and by turning it to their own advantage in some establishment of their fortunes, however unequal to their merit; others, satisfying themselves with the honour of having access to great tables, and of being subject to the call of every man of quality, who, upon occasion, wants one to say witty things for the diversion of the company. This treatment never moves my indignation so much as when it is practised by a person who, though he owes his own rise purely to the reputation of his parts, yet appears to be as much ashamed of it, as a rich city knight to be denominated from the trade he was first apprenticed to; and affects the air of a man born to his titles, and consequently above the character of a wit, or a scholar. If those who possess great endowments of the mind would set 'a just value upon themselves, they would think no man's acquaintance whatsoever a condescension, nor accept it from the greatest upon unworthy or ignominious terms. I know a certain lord, that has often invited a set of people, and proposed for their diversion a buffoon player, and an eminent poet, to be of the party; and, which was yet worse, thought them both sufficiently recompensed by the dinner, and the honour of his company. This kind of insolence is risen to such a height, that I myself was the other day sent to by a man with a title, whom I had never seen, desiring the favour that I should dine with him, and half a dozen of his select friends. I found afterward, the footman had told my maid below stairs, that my lord, having a mind to be merry, had resolved, right or wrong, to send for honest Isaac. I was sufficiently provoked with the message; however, I gave the fellow no other answer, than that “ I believed he had mistaken the person ; for I did not remember that his lord had ever been introduced to me.” I have reason to apprehend that this abuse has been owing rather to a meanness of spirit in men of parts, than to the natural pride or ignorance of their patrons. Young students, coming up to town from the places of their education, are dazzled with the grandeur they everywhere meet; and, making too much haste to distinguish their parts, instead of waiting to be desired and caressed, are ready to pay their court at any rate to a great man, whose name
* “ Little Harrison came to me, and begged me to dictate a paper to him, which I was forced in charity to do.”-Journal to Stella, March 14, 1710-11.
they have seen in a public paper, or the frontispiece of a dedication. It has not always been thus; wit in polite ages has ever begot either esteem or fear: the hopes of being celebrated, or the dread of being stigmatized, procured a universal respect and awe for the persons of such as were allowed to have the power of distributing fame or infamy where they pleased. Aretine had all the princes of Europe his tributaries :* and when any of them had committed a folly that laid them open to his censure, they were forced, by some present extraordinary, to compound for his silence; of which there is a famous instance on record. When Charles the Fifth had miscarried in his African expedition, which was looked upon as the weakest undertaking of that great Emperor, he sent Aretine a gold chain, who made some difficulty of accepting it, saying, “ It was too small a present, in all reason, for so great a folly.” For my own part, in this point I differ from him; and never could be prevailed upon, by any valuable consideration, to conceal a fault or a folly, since I first took the censorship upon me.
* There is a letter of his extant, in which he makes his boast, that he had laid the Sophi of Persia under contribution. Spectator, No. 23.
THE TATLER, No. XXVIII.
Morte carent animæ ; semperque, priore relicta
SATURDAY, MARCH 24, 1710-11.
From my own Apartment, March 22. My other correspondents will excuse me if I give the precedency to a lady, whose letter, among many more, is just come to hand.
« DEAR ISAAC, “I burn with impatience to know what and who you
The curiosity of my whole sex is fallen upon me, and has kept me waking these three nights. I have dreamed often of you within this fortnight, and every time you appeared in a different form. As
my repose, tell me in which of them I am to be
66 Your admirer."
It is natural for a man who receives a favour of this kind from an unknown fair, to frame immediately some idea of her person, which, being suited to the opinion we have of our own merit, is commonly as beautiful and perfect as the most lavish imagination can furnish out. Strongly possessed with these notions, I have read over Sylvia's billet; and notwithstanding the reserve I have had upon
* From some particulars in this paper, it would seem to be the production of Harrison, with some hints from Swift.
this matter, am resolved to go a much greater length than I yet ever did, in making myself known to the world, and in particular to my charming correspondent. In order to it I must premise, that the person produced as mine in the play-house last winter did in nowise appertain to me. It was such a one, however, as agreed well with the impression my writings had made, and served the purpose I intended it for; which was to continue the awe and reverence due to the character I was vested with, and, at the same time, to let my enemies see how much I was the delight and favourite of this town. This innocent imposture, which I have all along taken care to carry on, as it then was of some use, has since been of regular service to me, and, by being mentioned in one of my papers, effectually recovered my egoity out of the hands of some gentlemen who endeavoured to wrest it from me. This is saying, in short, what I am not : what I am, and have been for many years, is next to be explained. Here it will not be improper to remind Sylvia, that there was formerly such a philosopher as Pythagoras, who, among other doctrines, taught the transmigration of souls ; which if she sincerely believes, she will not be much startled at the following relation.
I will not trouble her, nor my other readers, with the particulars of all the lives I have successively passed through since my first entrance into mortal being, which is now many centuries ago. It is enough that I have in every one of them opposed myself with the utmost