« AnteriorContinuar »
vice in a good or great man, it should certainly be by correcting it in some one where that crime was the most distinguishing part of the character; as pages are chastised for the admonition of princes.* When it is performed otherwise, the vicious are kept in credit, by placing men of merit in the same accusation. But all the pasquils, lampoons, and libels we meet with now-a-days, are a sort of playing with the four-and-twenty letters, and throwing them into names and characters, without sense, truth, or wit. In this case I am in great perplexity to know whom they mean, and should be in distress for those they abuse, if I did not see their judgment and ingenuity in those they commend. This is the true way of examining a libel; and when men consider, that no one man living thinks the better of their heroes and patrons for the panegyric given them, none can think themselves lessened by their invective. The hero or patron in a libel is but a scavenger to carry off the dirt, and by that very employment is the filthiest creature in the street. Dedications and panegyrics are frequently ridiculous, let them be addressed where they will; but at the front, or in the body of a libel, to commend a man, is saying to the persons applauded, ‘My Lord, or Sir, I have pulled down all men that the rest of the world think great and honourable, and here is a clear stage; you may, as you please, be valiant or wise; you may choose to be on the military or civil list; for there is no one brave who commands, or just who has power.
rule the world now it is empty, which exploded you when it was full : I have knocked out the brains of all whom mankind
* This alludes to a practice long prevalent in England of whipping the royal children by proxy.
thought good for any thing; and I doubt not but you will reward that invention, which found out the only expedient to make your lordship, or your worship, of any consideration."
Had I the honour to be in a libel, and had escaped the approbation of the author, I should look upon it exactly in this manner. But though it is a thing thus perfectly indifferent who is exalted or debased in such performances, yet it is not so with relation to the authors of them; therefore, I shall, for the good of my country, hereafter take upon me to punish these wretches. What is already passed may
die away according to its nature, and continue in its present oblivion ; but, for the future, I shall take notice of such enemies to honour and virtue, and preserve them to immortal infamy. Their names shall give fresh offence many ages hence, and be detested a thousand years after the commission of their crime. It shall not avail, that these children of infamy publish their works under feigned names, or under none at all; for I am so perfectly well acquainted with the styles of all my contemporaries, that I shall not fail of doing them justice, with their proper names, and at their full length. Let therefore these miscreants, enjoy their present act of oblivion, and take care how they offend hereafter.
But, to avert our eyes from such objects, it is methinks but requisite to settle our opinion in the case of praise and blame; and I believe, the only true way to cure that sensibility of reproach, which is a common weakness with the most virtuous men; is, to fix their regard firmly upon only what is strictly true, in relation to their advantage, as well as diminution. For if I am pleased with commendation which I do not deserve, I shall from the same temper be concerned at scandal I do not deserve. But he that can think of false applause with as much contempt as false detraction, will certainly be prepared for all adventures, and will become all occasions. Undeserved praise can please only those who want merit, and undeserved reproach frighten only those who want sincerity. I have thought of this with so much attention, that I fancy there can be no other method in nature found for the cure of that delicacy which gives good men pain under calumny, but placing satisfaction nowhere but in a just sense of their own integrity, without regard to the opinion of others. If we have not such a foundation as this, there is no help against scandal, but being in obscurity, which to noble minds is not being at all. The truth of it is, this love of praise dwells most in great and heroic spirits ; and those who best deserve it have generally the most exquisite relish of it. Methinks I see the renowned Alexander, after a painful and laborious march, amidst the heats of a parched soil and a burning climate, sitting over the head of a fountain, and, after a draught of water, pronouce that memorable saying, “Oh! Athenians! How much do I suffer, that you may speak well of me?' The Athenians were at that time the learned of the world, and their libels against Alexander were written, as he was a professed enemy of their state. But how monstrous would such invectives have appeared in Macedonians !
As love of reputation is a darling passion in great men, so the defence of them in this particular is the business of every man of honour and honesty. We should run on such an occasion, as if a public building was on fire, to their relief; and all who spread or publish such detestable pieces as traduce their merit should be used like incendiaries. It is the common cause of our country to support the reputation of those who preserve it against invaders ; and every man is attacked in the person of that neighbour who deserves well of him.
FROM MY OWN APARTMENT, NOVEMBER 9. The chat I had to-day at White's about fame and scandal put me in mind of a person who has often writ to me unregarded, and has a very moderate ambition in this particular. His name, it seems, is Charles Lillie, and he recommends himself to my observation as one that sold snuff next door to the Fountain Tavern, in the Strand, and was burnt out when he began to have a reputation in his way.
6 MR. BICKERSTAFF,
“I suppose, through a hurry of business, you have either forgot me, or lost my last of this nature, which was to beg the favour of being advantageously exposed in your paper, chiefly for the reputation of snuff. Be pleased to pardon this trouble from, Sir, your very humble servant,
“ C. L. “I am a perfumer, at the corner of BeaufortBuildings, in the Strand.”
This same Charles leaves it to me to say what I will of him; and I am not a little pleased with the ingenious manner of his address. Taking snuff is what I have declared against; but, as his Holiness the Pope allows whoring for the taxes raised by the ladies of pleasure ; so I, to repair the loss of an unhappy trader, indulge all persons in that custom who buy of Charles. There is something so particular in the request of the man, that I shall send for him before me, and believe I shall find he has a genius for bawbles. If so, I shall, for aught I know, at his shop, give licensed canes to those who are really lame, and tubes to those who are unfeignedly shortsighted; and forbid all others to vend the same.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 1709.
WILL'S COFFEE-HOUSE, NOVEMBER 11. The French humour of writing epistles, and publishing their fulsome compliments to each other, is a thing I frequently complain of in this place. It is, methinks, from the prevalence of this silly custom, that there is so little instruction in the conversation of our distant friends. For which reason, during the whole course of my life, I have desired my acquaintance, when they write to me, rather to say something which should make me wish myself with them, than make me compliments that they wished themselves with me. By this means, I have by me a collection of letters from most parts of the world, which are as naturally of the growth of the place, as any herb, tree, or plant, of the soil. This I take to be the proper use of an epistolary commerce. To desire to know how Damon goes on with his courtship to Sylvia, or how the wine tastes at the Old Devil, are threadbare subjects, and cold treats,