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In projecting the Tatler, the first of those excellent periodicah publications which are almost peculiar to our nation, and have had no small effect in fixing and refining its character, Steele, to whom the merit of the invention is due, rested chiefly upon the assistance of Swift in carrying it into execution. The public was already familiar with the name of Isaac Bickerstaff, and, as Steele himself expresses it, “ It happened very luckily, that, a little before I had resolved upon this design, a gentleman had written Predictions, and two or three other pieces in my name, which rendere ed it famous through all parts of Europe, and, by an inimitable spirit and humour, raised it to as high a pitch of reputation as it could possibly arrive at.
" By this good fortune the name of Isaac Bickerstaff gained an audience of all who had any taste of wit; and the addition of the ordinary occurrences of common journals of news brought in a multitude of other readers. I could not, I confess, long keep up the opinion of the town, that these lucubrations were written by the same hand with the first works which were published under my name; but, before I lost the participation of that author's fame, I had already found the advantage of his authority, to which I owe the sudden acceptance which my labours met with in the world.”.
Swift accordingly for some time fulfilled the expectations and hopes of the editor of the Tatler, and the following numbers are usually ascribed to him. But the ardour of party politics speedily deprived Steele of any assistance from that valuable quarter.
THE TATLER, No. XXXII.
THURSDAY, JUNE 20, 1709.
“ To ISAAC BICKERSTAFF, ESQUIRE.*
June 18, 1709. I
KNOW not whether you ought to pity or laugh at me; for I am fallen desperately in love with a professed Platonne, the most unaccountable creature of her sex. To hear her talk seraphics, and run over Norris, * and More, † and Milton, and the whole set of Intellectual Triflers, torments me heartily; for, to a lover who understands metaphors, all this pretty prattle of ideas gives very fine views of pleasure, which only the dear declaimer prevents, by understanding them literally: why should she wish to be a cherubim, when it is flesh and blood that makes her adorable? If I speak to her, that is a high breach of the idea of intuition. If I offer at her hand or lip, she shrinks from the touch like a sensitive plant, and would contract herself into mere spirit. She calls her chariot, vehicle; her furbelowed scarf, pinions; her blue manteau and petticoat is her azure dress; and her footman goes by the name of Oberon. It is my misfortune to be six feet and a half high, two full spans between the shoulders, thirteen inches diameter in the calves; and, before I was in love, I had a noble stomach, and usually went to bed sober with two bottles. I am not quite six-and-twenty, and my nose is marked truly aquiline. For these reasons, I am
paper is written in ridicule of soine affected ladies of the period, who pretended, with rather too much ostentation, to embrace the doctrines of Platonic Love. Mrs Mary Astell, a learned and worthy woman, had embraced this fantastic notion so deeply, that, in an essay upon the female sex, in 1696, she proposed a sort of female college, in which the young might be instructed, and “ ladies nauseating the parade of the world,” might find a happy retirement. The plan was disconcerted by Bishop Burnet, who, understanding that the queen intended to give 10,0001. towards the establishment, dissuaded her, by an assurance, that it would lead to the introduction of popish orders, and be called a nunnery. This lady is the Madonella of the Tatler. The Rake is supposed to be Mr Repinton, a fashionable gallant. This
paper has been censured as a gross reflection on Mrs Astell's character, but on no very just foundation. Swift only prophesies the probable issue of such a scheme, as that of the protestant nunnery; and it is a violent interpretation of his words to suppose him to insinuate, that the conclusion had taken place without the premises. Indeed, the scourge of ridicule is seldom better employed than on that species of Precieuse, who is anxious to confound the boundaries which nature has fixed for the employments and studies of the two sexes. No man was more zealous than Swift for informing the female mind, in those points most becoming and useful to their sex. His Letter to a Young Married Lady, and Thoughts on Education, point out the extent of those studies, which embraced a general knowledge of history, some taste for poetry, and a general acquaintance with books of travels, and moral and entertaining discourses :—it seems very doubtful, whether most ladies, who advance into abstruser branches of knowledge, do not lose more than they can possibly gain.
* John Norris, author of “ The Theory and Regulation of Love." His correspondence with Mrs Astell was published under the following title : “ Letters concerning the Love of God, between the Author of the Proposal to the Ladies and Mr John Norris, wherein his late Discourse, shewing it ought to be entire and exclusive of all other Loves, is cleared and justified. Published by J. Norris, M. A. Rector of Bamerton, near Sarum. London, 1695.
+ Dr Henry More, well known as a fanciful Platonist and Divine.
in a very particular manner her aversion. What shall I do? Impudence itself cannot reclaim her. If I write miserably, she reckons me among the children of perdition, and discards me her region : if I assume the gross and substantial, she plays the real ghost with me, and vanishes in a moment. I had hopes in the hypocrisy of her sex; but perseverance makes it as bad as fixed aversion. I desire your opinion, whether I may not lawfully play the inquisition upon her, make use of a little force, and put her to the rack and torture, only to convince her, she has really fine limbs, without spoiling or distorting them. I expect your directions, before I proceed to dwindle and fall away with despair; which at present I do not think adviseable, because, if she should recant, she may then hate me, perhaps, in the other extreme, for my tenuity. I am (with impatience) your most humble servant,
“ CHARLES STURDY."
My patient has put his case with very much warmth, and represented it in so lively a manner, that I see both his torment and tormentor with great perspicuity. This order of Platonic ladies are to be dealt with in a manner peculiar from all the rest of the sex. Flattery is the general way, and the way in this case; but it is not to be done grossly. Every man that has wit, and humour, and raillery, can make a good flatterer for women in general; but a Platonne is not to be touched with panegyric: she will tell you, it is a sensuality in the soul to be delighted that way. You are not therefore to commend, but silently consent to all she does and says. You are to consider, in her the scorn of you is not humour, but opinion.