The Humourist (February 26, 1754)

You will discover that today’s Humourist post is his longest!  At the end of his essay, he announces that he must defer his literary analysis of “The Ballad of Moore of Moore Hall” until the next paper, because he has nearly exceeded the space allowed him. 

However that may be, he proceeds to write lengthy letters to himself from Alice Wish-For’t, Calx Pot-Ash, Pine Green-Tar, Urbanicus, and Proteus Maggot!

You have a lot to read today, so much so  that I have kept my Notes to a minimum.  Trust me, however:  if you read all that he writes today, you will be well rewarded!  The Humourist strikes some high notes, and he drops clue after clue after clue in terms of his identify.  Today’s post is chock-full!

Brew yourself another pot of coffee or tea!  Enjoy your beverage and The Humourist!  

[Numb. 1028]

[26 February 1754]

“I have a Fortune sufficient to purchase Wheat-Flour, yet chuse to eat nothing but Rice, because it’s of our own Growth; nor will I touch even a Piece of Johnny-cake, except made of Wheat-Flour sent from the Back-Settlements; all the Furniture of my House, etc. is of Carolina Make; so is my riding Chair, and most of my Cloaths; and Mr. Scott’s Beer (as soon as I saw his Advertisement) had the Preference to all foreign Liquours, and is become my constant Drink.”  — Alice Wish-For’t to The Humourist

The HUMOURIST.  No. IX.

For I am nothing, if not critical.

SHAKESPEARE.1

I have declared myself an Oddity, composed of strange Humours, full of Peculiarities; sometimes volatile, then solemn; sometimes flighty, at another Time sedate; one Minute in the Garret, and the next in the Cellar; I confess the Truth, indeed I am happy in the Opportunity.  The other Day I took a Ride upon my good Horse Pegasus2, and (being in a whimsical Mood), I clapp’d into my Pocket the excellent Ballad of Moore of Moore-Hall,3 and as it required some Attention, the Humourist was not short in that Duty.

Chevy-Chase4 has been long celebrated for its Excellence; and with great Reason, the best Genius of the Age in which he lived, did not consider it as beneath his Pen, since all Judges will allow that he was honoured by the Subject, and, at the same Time that he paid due Regard to the Chase, he reflected no small Glory on himself.  I shall be excused this Digression, when my Readers please to consider, that it is the Soul of an Author, he owes his Being, and his very Existence depends upon it.

But to return to my Ballad, which furnishes the Paper of To-Day with a few honest Remarks, and many Beauties which might otherwise remain concealed from the Inspection of my Fellow Creatures.

The great Excellence of an Author is to raise Expectation, to wind up the Soul as a Body would a Clock, keeping the Springs in a continual Motion:  This Rule is most incomparably observed in the Work now before us; Silence Gentlemen, pray Gentlemen be all Attention, raise your Ideas of a Hero, and observe the following Stanza, wherein the Dragon of Wantley far excels Hercules, for tho’ he slew Lerna, yet he was indebted to Implements of Force, he did it Vi et Armis.5

‘But he had a club,

‘This dragon to drub,

‘Or he’d ne’er don’t, I warrant ye;

‘But Moore of Moore-Hall,

“With nothing at all,

‘He slew the Dragon of Wantley.

What a noble Description is this!  Who does not feel a secret pleasure for Moore upon this Conquest, when we find under what Disadvantages he procured it?  Hercules was a Poltron to him, and these Lines of Hudibras are justly applicable to him,

— Cowards never use their might,

But against those that will not fight.6

Ovid was a surprising Poet, but his Description of a Dragon is far inferior to our’s,

Crista linguisque tribus praesignis et uncis

Dentibus horrendous. —-  —-  —-

‘This dragon had two furious wings,

  ‘Each one upon each shoulder,

   ‘With a sting in his tail,

   ‘As long as a flail,

 ‘Which made him bolder and bolder.

This last line is, beyond Comparison, superior to any of the Classics, there is Boldness in every expression; Virgil comes the nearest him with his

Monstrum horrendum; informe, ingens! etc.7

but it wants the marvellous; it has none of the marvellous in it:  The Flail is a fine Simile, and prodigiously well adapted, if we advert to the Length of it in a Farmer’s Barn, and the vast expressive Force with which it beats the Ground:  That line of the Sting in its Tail is quite poetical; but as that cannot pass unobserved, I shall omit any Comments upon it, only the last Verse seems to allude to the Tail making him bolder and bolder.

We are now conducted into the Scene of Action;

‘In Yorkshire, near far Rotheram,

So Virgil Travestie,

‘A little town there was of old,

‘Thatch’d with good straw to keep out cold.

The following Lines far exceed the above of Mr. Cotton’s;8

‘The place I know it well,

‘Some two or three miles, or thereabouts,

‘I vow I cannot tell.

I admire the last Line for its Honesty, and it is for the Rarity, for few People ever remember a Poet much addicted to telling Truth; they are all, or most of them downright FibbersLie being a rude Term, and very ill suits the Mouth of the Speaker, I chuse rather to suppress the Phrase, which has for this last Century gained too great Credit, by Means whereof many politer Words have grown obsolete and out of Fashion.

The Humourist must defer the rest for another

Paper, as he has almost exceeded his Limits.

[26 February 1754]

To the HUMOURIST.

SIR,

Nothing adds to the Wealth of a People and encourages Industry, than the Exclusion of foreign and Use of their own Manufactures.  All wise Nations and judicious Subjects, industriously avoid the purchasing of that from abroad, which they can be well supplied with at Home.  The French take nothing from us but raw Wool, nor will admit the Wear of even a Button among them of foreign Workmanship:  Tho’ their Cloths and Stuffs are far inferior to the English, yet they give their own the Preference; nor do they consume the least Article of foreign Goods, save Muslins, which are admitted on several Accounts, first, For the Encouragement of their East-India Company, secondly, That they may dispose of their Cambricks to the English, at Ten Times the Sum their Consumption of Muslin amounts to, and thereby gain 100,000 £ Sterling per Annum; which the English foolishly throw away on this Article, to the lessening of their running Cash, and the Imports of their own East-India Company (I may say) to double that Sum.

Other Powers of Europe begin to copy after France in this Respect, save the English, who are possessed of an odd epidemic Humour of prefering the Commodities and Produce of all other Nations to their own, tho’ none can shew neater, nor so well executed.  To this is owing the vast Imports of Silks, Linnens, Laces, etc. far inferior to the British and Irish Manufacturers.  From this strange Humour, springs the Consumption of such Quantities of French wines, purchased at excessive Prices tho’ the intrinsic Value be very small.  To this Distemper, may be assign’d our Love of Travelling not so much for Improvement as Corruption of our Morals.  Have we not swarms of Barbers, Taylors, Tutors, Milliners, Mantua-makers, Footmen, Bawds, Pimps and Prostitutes at Home?  Where then is the Necessity of importing them from Abroad?  What can this Humour, Sir, be attributed to?   Are the above Classes of People less skill’d in their several Professions than Foreigners, or less apt to learn their private Mysteries of Trade?  Cannot we be enough diseased and drench’d at Home without going to Paris or Venice to have the Honor of being salivated?

But Britons are not more remarkable for their Fondness of every Thing foreign and novel, than their Love of what is slight, glittering, and gaudy:  Indeed this Disposition is founded on their Nicety of Taste, and Delicacy of Nature and Manners; nor do they transgress so much in this, as in other Respects; tho’ our present Manufactures of Glass and China would have very well contented our Ancestors, without giving themselves the Trouble to send 2000 Leagues to purchase a Breakfast-Bason.

Among many other of our own Manufactures in which we excel, that Article of fine China called fine Women, must be allowed superior to any foreign Ware; and give me leave, Mr. Humourist, to observe, we of this Province, have brought this Fabric to such Perfection, that I think we have not the least Occasion to import these beautiful Goods any longer.  It is certainly worth our Attention, to consider this Branch of Trade, and bring it under some Regulation, either by laying high Duties which may amount to, or by, a total Prohibition.  It is said indeed, that the British Commodities are more substantial and wear longer than those of ours; but then I would further remark, that as the English are so given to Novelty and  Change, their Use of our Manufactures would far better suit them, because, thro’ the Slightness of the Workmanship, they may have a Chance (if they live long enough) of possessing variety of Pieces instead of one:  And all who have seen our Goods, will allow, that what we may be deficient in, as to Strength and Solidity, is more than balanced in the Elegance and Beauty of the Patterns.

But it may be further objected, that the present Demand in Britain, is more for Old than New China, the former being generally more weighty than the latter.   This indeed will almost overset my Argument, but not quite break it; for, this Commodity being extremely brittle, is very liable to Flaws and Cracks, and often receives Damages in the Carriage, therefore our own Goods will always be well esteemed and bear a Price, because their intrinsic Worth can soon be known, their Make and Value relied on, and be obtained at first Hand, without the Charge of Freight and Package:  Second-hand Goods may come cheaper, and not be the worse for Wear, but must be well examined.  And as our Pieces of China alter in Colour, and grow old-fashioned rather sooner than the foreign, we may be always certain of having a large Stock on Hand, which, if the present Taste and Price in Britain for those Articles is kept up, we may exchange at any Time for new-fashioned Goods, should there ever be a greater Demand among us, than at present, for bright Enamel–which cannot be, while dark Patterns continue in Esteem.

I confess myself quite unskill’d in Trade, therefore hope, the above Hints will be considered as arising from the Love of my Country.  I have a Fortune sufficient to purchase Wheat-Flour, yet chuse to eat nothing but Rice, because it’s of our own Growth; nor will I touch even a Piece of Johnny-cake, except made of Wheat-Flour sent from the Back-Settlements; all the Furniture of my House, etc. is of Carolina Make; so is my riding Chair, and most of my Cloaths; and Mr. Scott’s Beer (as soon as I saw his Advertisement) had the Preference to all foreign Liquours, and is become my constant Drink.  I wish every Lady in the Province was of my Humour; what a Number of Dollars should we then have at Command more than at present!  I hope to see no more sent to the Northward; and am, Sir,

Your very-well Wisher, etc.

ALICE WISH-FOR’T.

 [26 February 1754]

LETTERS to Mr. HUMOURIST,

From SWEDEN, RUSSIA, etc.

PetersburghAug. 6th, 1753.

Sir,

It having been reported here, that great Encouragement is given in Carolina, to every Thing capable of enriching the Country and advancing the Public Interest; and as I generally bring about 200,000 Guineas per Annum into this Empire from Great-Britain (which never find their Way back) my Inclinations lead me to circulate them in your Province; would the Inhabitants be persuaded of the Advantages resulting from my Intimacy with me.  I am told, that my Residence amongst them, would be greatly obstructed by one Mr. Rice, who has such Influence with your Countrymen, that any Overtures made in my Favour would be quite fruitless.  But what Interest can Mr. Rice have to neglect my Friendship?  Why can’t we live amicably together?  I could demonstrate, that a solid Harmony with me, would greatly contribute to his Benefit.  Mr. Indico ( a popular Person with you) is convinced of the Profits arising from our cultivating a good Understanding together; for, while Lands are preparing and clearing on his Account, great Sums may be raised by the Timber annually burnt and thrown away:  But, as the Reasonings of private Persons can seldom prevail against public Prejudice, I would ask your Advice, if it would be improper to recommend myself to the General Assembly, for their Encouragement and Support, as their Notice of me would bring great Numbers of British Subjects annually to settle your back Countries, would liquidate the Public Debts, and put your Currency on a Par with the Cash of your Mother Country.  I am,

Your very humble Servant,

CALX POT-ASH.

Sweden, Oct. 1st, 1753.

Sir,

As I am much regarded in Great Britain, and often call’d for there on many Accounts, so I generally used to be well cloathed in English Broad Cloth, not more for Defence against extreme Cold here, than the Love and Respect I bear to that Country.

But this Kingdom having entered of late Years into very strict Connexions with France, very few Woollens come now to our Markets but of French Manufacture, which are of so loose add spungy a Texture, as hardly to guard against the Inclemency of the Climate, so that I often catch Cold, and miss my good Drab Great-Coat.

I have heard several slight Rumours, that the Province you live in, is the finest Winter Country in the World, and that my Business could be carried on there, as well as here:  I must confess myself quite tired of these bleak Regions, and should be glad to exchange my Situation.

On further Enquiry, am told by Mr. Pot-Ash, Merchant, that He is of the same Sentiments with myself; and that we both should meet with Encouragement among you, had you any Person well skilled in bringing us to hear:  But the Process is so easy, and the Profits so considerable, that it’s amazing, you think it not worth while to send an ingenious Person to see how we are managed.  Our Preparation is no Secret:  And I judge that you have as wise Heads among you, as the Boors of Russia and Peasants of Sweden, many of whom might be tempted to come over; and 500 Guineas thus employed, would tend to the Public Emolument.

It is said, that I was almost stumbled on by one in your Country:  However, should be glad to make you a Visit, and hope, Sir, that your Countrymen will be so good-humoured, as to consult their Interest, in encouraging

Your most humble Servant,

PINE GREEN-TAR.

 

Dorchester, Feb. 20, 1754.

Mr. Humourist,

If you think the following Queries worth a Place in the Gazette, I beg you’ll use you Interest with Mr. Timothy, to get them inferred.  They may prove useful Hints.  And, if you, or any other able Penmen who are Masters of the Subjects, will improve ’em, so as to make them of public Utility, my End is answered, who am, Sir, with the greatest Deference,

Yours, etc.

                         URBANICUS.

Qu.  I.  Whether a Light-House on Cumming’s Island, would not be very useful; with a few Cannon planted near it for Defence, and to be fired in foggy weather.

N.B.  A Friend of mine, has a Light-House and Beacons constructed on Paper, (to guide Vessels into your Harbour) at your Service.

Qu. 2.  Where Vessels are to ride Quarantain?  Whether you have a Pest-House?  If you have not, how you can (humanely) dispose of Cargoes of poor Protestants or Negroes that may come in, infected with the Small-Pox or other mortal Distempers?

Qu. 3.  Whether the Number of licenced Houses in Charles-Town, to retail spirituous Liquours, are of bad Consequence or not?  Or, whether they could not be put under better Regulations?

Qu. 4.  Whether the Owners of Plantations in the Country, have a white Person to every Ten Negroes?  Or, where lies the Difficulty of carrying that Act into Execution which enjoins they should?

Qu. 5.  Whether the House at present used as a Public Gaol, is a proper one for the Confinement of Debtors and Criminals?  And whether the Public would not save by having a sufficient one built?

Qu. 6.  Whether that Part of Charles-Town called White-Point, could not be walled in, so as to prevent any farther Damage by Hurricanes, and preserve such Fortifications as are or may be constructed there?

I forbear to ask a single Question about Fortifications; because I am sensible, the French will become very jealous of us, as soon as they know that this is now likely to be an Indico Country:  A War with that People may break out, when we least suspect it.

If you approve of my Correspondence, Mr. Humourist, I shall frequently trouble you in this Way.  And as in all my Questions I shall have an Eye to the Public Good, I hope nothing will be taken amiss.

 

Laputa, Jan. 16, 1754.

Sir,

Your Advertisement of Dec. 10, having reach’d this Metropolis, I beg Leave to inclose you a Catalogue of several Paintings and Drawings, which will be exposed to Sale here on the 28th of February next, by

Your humble Servant,

PROTEUS MAGGOT, V.M.

LOT 1.

An antique whole Length of Signior Adam, on a Board of Shittim Wood, found in the Ruins of Noah’s Ark, on Mount Ararat.

(N.B. ‘Tis said, that this Gentleman was the most complaisant Person of his Time, and could never say NO to a Lady; in respect of whom all of his Daughters pronounce that Word very faintly, which is often attended with mischievous Consequences.)

LOT 2.

Several half Lengths of Nimrod, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Nero, Borgia, Lewis 14th, Charles 12th, those renowned Heroes, so often celebrated for a particular Vein of Humour that possesses them to butcher and destroy mankind.

LOT 3.

Heads of Sardanapalus, Commodus, Heliogabatus, and other distinguish’d Worthies, Founders of Buckism:  The Patterns from whence modern Bucks draw their exquisite and polite endowments.

LOT 4.

Variety of Landscapes, Views, etc. among which are the building of Babel, Siege of Troy, March of Xerxes, burning of Persepolis, Caligula‘s Triumph, and a Field-Preacher with his Auditors about whim in a variety of curious Attitudes.

LOT 5.

Above 500 grotesque Pieces  (several in Chinese Taste) of which the Humourist Family are generally great Connoisseurs:  Many of these are Drawings and Etchings, and give great Light into Antiquity, and a Display of the unaccountable Humours of the Ancients.  In this Collection, some of the principal and most valuable are, a Morning Auction, public Breakfastings, Humours of Change-Alley, Exploits of a Bottle-Conjuror, Drawing of Lotteries, Masquerades, Routs, Drums, Rackets, Earthquakes, Hurricanes, − a Toast (with a Group of Admirers about her) qualifying herself to speak French e’er she can read English,−a Citizen‘s Daughter just returned from Boarding-School, and a Buck just landed from his Travels−Modern Connoisseurs−Ladies kissing Monkies and Lap-Dogs, and Gentlemen Negro Wenches.

LOT 6.

Variety of Views found in the Ruins of Herculaneum, the most remarkable of which are, a fine Prison, entituled a Mansion-house, a Public Library without a Book, Roads and Rivers without Bridges, and beautiful Bridges in private Gardens without Water, noble seats and Temples in Ruins neglected by the Owners, and Ruins and Temples constructed at great Expence by way of Ornament or to close a Point of View.

LOT 7.

Several Sea Pieces, in which are delineated many fine Squa—s sailing on Spithead, Bostimento, Carthagena, Toulon, L’Orient Madrass, Cuba, St. Augustine, and other humourous expeditions, for the Honour of —- coming back again.

LOT 8.

Half-finished Pieces of Miscellaeous Matters not yet arranged in Order, among which are, the Flight of the Long-Bay, Impregnable Fortresses constructed of Sana and Oyster-Shell, a Church half-finished, Plantations deserted, a View of Georgia, Acts of Assembly made into Kites, etc.

P.S.  As many of the above Articles would suit with the Furniture of Humourist-Hall, I shall be glad to receive your Orders in Time for what may please, which will be duly executed.

N.B.  Sundry Upholstery-Goods will soon be set to Auction.

NOTES

1 Othello, Act II Scene I

2 In Greek mythology, Pegasus is the winged horse that was fathered by Poseidon with Medusa.

3 “A True Relation of the Dreadful Combat between Moore of Moore Hall and the Dragon of Wantley.” For the full text, see The Dragon of Wantley.

4 The “Ballad of Chevy- Chase” exists in two versions. In his Defence of Poesy, Sir Philip Sidney commented, “I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet.” For as full discussion, see Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature.

5 “By force and arms.”

6 From Samuel Butler’s mock-heroic poem “Hudibras,” written between 1660-1680.

7 Monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum. The Aeneid (III, 658)

8 From Charles Cotton’s “Scarronides, or Virgil Travestie” (1664), a mock-poem on the first book of Virgil’s Aeneid.

The Humourist (February 19, 1754)

“How melancholy a Reflection it is, that Speech, which was given us to soften the Cares of Life, and for our mutual Assistance, should be converted to so bad a Purpose, as the sullying of the Fame of our Fellow-Creatures.”  —The Humourist

19 February 1954

The HUMOURIST.  No. VIII.

Justitia partes sunt non violare homines; vercundiae
Non Offendere.  −TULL.1

Man (they say) is a sociable Animal; which is a Character equally applicable to a Beast, if we understand nothing more by the Expression, than an Association  together for our common Security:  It requires no great Penetration to observe Numbers of this brutish Inclination, who seem to have an Intercourse with their own Species, unadorned with the least Spark of social Virtue.

If there are (and no one will dispute it) any Degree of Subordination in Characters, superior to those created by human Foresight, for Order and Distinction, it is Benevolence, mutual Aid, Friendship, and Charity, and these alone form the noblest Picture of true Greatness.

I have heard (with Tears I speak it) Humanity called Weakness, and Generosity pass by the reproachful Terms of Extravagance and Folly.  Very few consider the Causes of Distress; we are apt to affix a Reason, that, instead of pleading in our Favour, calls upon us for Contempt; we seldom distinguish between Calamities produced by Misconduct, the Oppressions of others, or the inevitable Strokes of Fate.

These are the unsocial Brutes, who whisper away their Neighbour’s Reputation, and declare open War against all the Proprietors of Merit:  There is a malignant Spirit that reigns thro’ the World, and imbibes the basest Principles, that teaches us to wish well to none, by which means we say Ill of all:  The conscious Mind, reflecting on its Iniquity, concludes all Minds alike!

The least Glimmering of a Fault, collects innumerable Spectators, to multiply the dormant Evil, and enlarge upon the Nature of it, at the Expence of blushing Innocence.

This is an Observation familiar to us as the most common Occurrence of Life, we are prone to decry Reputations, we have Discernment to pursue the most effectual Methods, and few possess so small a Share of Self-Love, as to be ignorant, that, by unfavorable Comparisons upon a Friend, they raise their own Characters to a temporary Pitch of Glory.

What Man will, at least what Man does, deny that there is Melody in Defamation; there is Music in the Word, and it is certainly a Note as practiced as admired.

There is an Art in sullying a Man’s Reputation, without incurring Displeasure one’s self; and I have frequently remarked, that a Shrug or a Sneer carries more Expression along with it, than the most forcible Language:  I had occasion some Years ago, to employ a Gentleman in an Affair of some Importance, and, as he seem’d diffident of his own Judgment and Experience, I cheerfully proposed an Assistant to him; Mr. Busy-body made me no Answer, but shrug’d up his Shoulders, contracted the Muscles of his Face, sneering, and then with a Crowd of Words approved my Proposal, had no Objections to it, enlarged pretty minutely upon the Necessity of a Man of Parts in a Transaction environed with a Sea of Trouble like that, and ended his Speech with a Look of Reference to his Shrug and Sneer, which made so strong an Impression upon me, that I absolutely pitched another Person, contrary to my own Inclination and particular Bias for that Gentleman.

Another Set of Detractors there are, who, by a seeming Softness of Words, can probe a Reputation.  Plutarch gives an apt Instance of this upon Aristides’s Banishment, whom when a mean Person had proposed to another, being ask’d what Displeasure Aristides had done him, he replied, none, neither do I know him; but it grieves me to hear every Body call him a just Man.2

There are a Kind of Detractors, tho’ last mentioned, not least in the Cause of Evil, who being mean and sordid, will condescend to collect a Catalogue of Stories, to humour a Patron and tickle a Friend.  Such Men as these, do almost come up to a literal Sense of what the Psalmist spoke in a figurative, (and eat up People for Bread;3) dissect characters, and devour good Names, for the monstrous Entertainment of a servile Master.

How shocking is it, to think, that such unwarrantable Favour should be shewn these People, who make no Allowances for Actions which frequently arise from sudden Passions, or are the unhappy Attendants of some Constitutions, or are the Errors of a hasty Judgment, and now are form’d into Crimes, and charged as the highest , when Good-Nature and good Sense must certainly have overlook’d them.

How melancholy a Reflection it is, that Speech, which was given us to soften the Cares of Life, and for our mutual Assistance, should be converted to so bad a Purpose, as the sullying of the Fame of our Fellow-Creatures; and by the Success of Artifice, raising the Admiration of Mankind on the one Hand, and a dreadful Persecution on the other.

NOTES

1 Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), De Officiis, Book I:20, “It is the office of justice to injure no man; of propriety, to offend none.”

2 For a full discussion of Aristides’ banishment, see Agathon Associates’ Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, §7-8.

3 Psalms 53:4:  “Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread: they have not called upon God.”

The Humourist on Literary Criticism (February 12, 1754)

“… it is a Pity, that the World has not more Humanity and less Spirit, at least, that it is not better tempered; for, tho’ it is a glorious Thing to be possessed of the Strengths of Lions, yet ’tis tyrannous to use it.” — The Humourist

[12 February 1754]

The HUMOURIST.  No. VII.

Majores nusquam Rhonci, Juvenesq; Senesque,

Et Pueri Nasum Rhinocerontis habent.

MARTIAL.1

When Phidias2 had completed the Athenian Minerva, a Critic, of much the same Discernment with these of the present Age, intimated to him, that the Waist was too thick; the silly Crowd, who always put an Implicit Faith in these malevolent Leaders, join’d in the Opinion, and the Statuary, in order to rectify the Blunder, chipp’d it to the Delicacy of their Fancy:  But when another Set of People came to see it, they insisted, that it was too slender; Phidias then threw aside his Tools, informing them, that it was impossible to chip any on again.

In this Manner these Triflers perplex the best Capacities, and sacrifice Excellence to the Attacks of insolent Curiosity:  The most unexceptional Writers, have dearly experienced the Consequences of Envy and Ill-Nature; none are exempt from it who enter the Lists of Authorism, because every weak Mortal (and weak Mortals abound every where) considers himself as the Censor of the Age.  It is a first Principle with these Gentlemen, to decry all Performances, not because they deserve Censure, but as soaring above their Comprehensions, not as void of Matter, but as a Taste for Censure seems to indicate a more refined Judgment and extensive Knowledge than Silence of Decorum can infer; to be pacific now a-Days, is to be tame and senseless; to take Things in the Sense intended, argues a narrow and limited capacity, discovers a Want of Fire and Animation, of Zeal and noble [one word illegible]; it is a Pity, that the World has not more Humanity and less Spirit, at least, that it is not better tempered; for, tho’ it is a glorious Thing to be possessed of the Strengths of Lions, yet ’tis tyrannous to use it.

The Critics may be ranged into Classes, or certain Orders of Distinction, as thus, one seizes upon your Title, another suggests, and by a wonderful Sagacity, hunts out an Author’s Name, some comment, some dissect, and all misconstrue.

This Accusation is principally aim’d at the modern Critics, for the Ancients were, generally speaking, a People of different Inclinations and better Dispositions.

Dyonisius, Longinus, and Quintilian3, were Men of acknowledged Parts, and what Remarks they may have passed against particular Authors, were intended to establish a true Taste, and reform Corruptions that might possibly creep into the Republic of Letters; they had Honesty eno’ to confess the Truth, and Generosity to admire Merit where they found it.,

Our modern Critics arrogate to themselves what does not belong to them:  They are Poets, Philosophers, and Divines; they are Orators, Statesmen and Prime Ministers; they are as knowing in Science as mechanic Operations:  In short, a Critic is an Abstract of every Thing, and is very communicatively inclined, always giving his Opinion, as the true Standard whereby to direct the Judgment and inform the Understanding of Mankind.

I need not add, that they are by Nature cruel, to use an Author with Raillery, whose highest Ambition  is to please, especially when he offers his Sentiments with a becoming Modesty:  I always made it a Rule with me, to read all Authors as Anonymo’s, regarding the Sense, not Names of Books, indifferent, like the Consulters of Oracles, who speaketh, provided what is spoken be sensible and just; true Wisdom being nothing else but an Induction from examined Judgments, making proper Applications to Discourse, and drawing the most natural Conclusions from an Author.

It seems annexed to the Fate of all Writers, from the Oracles, to the puny Ecchoes, of Learning, that they shall live in a State of War:  The Complaint against the Council of Trent4, was, that they condemned not so much Books as Authors, and indeed it is a general  Distemper, supported by the worst Principles, Pride and Envy.  Our Fancies are so bigoted to some particular Notions, that no one can be surprised at the Causes of intellectual Slavery, who takes Time to reflect upon the Perverseness of human Nature, which creates an obstinate Moroseness against any Man’s Light, not lighted at his Candle.

One Satisfaction however attends the Writer, superior to what other Men can boast under a critical  Survey, and that (confining myself only to the Instance of the Statuary) evidently appears; if a Writer errs in Judgment, he can easily correct himself, if he gives a false colouring, he has it in his Power to retouch; but the Statuary has no Resource left, he has the torturing Reflection, that his Work will stand as an eternal Subject for Animadversion and critical Reflection.

The true Nature of Criticism, widely differs from what we usually understand by the Expression; it is not the Art of finding Fault that merits the Appellation, it is the determined Resolution of a Reader neither to depreciate nor dignify by partial Representation, that constitutes the amiable Part of a Critic; the Ancients were regardless of particular Connexions, wholly solicitous to promulgate the Stamp of Truth, and rely on her Determinations, whatever she might dictate.

NOTES

1 Martial (40–c. 102-104 AD), a Latin poet best known for his twelve books of Epigrams. The quote is from Book I, Verse III, which deals with the perils of publication: “Nobody sneers as loud / As a Roman: old or young, even newly-born / He turns his nose up like a rhino horn.”

2 Phidias (c.500-c.432 BC), one of the greatest sculptors of ancient Greece.

3 Longinus, also called Dionysius Longinus or Pseudo-Longinus (flourished 1st century AD), name sometimes assigned to the author of On the Sublime (Greek Peri Hypsous), one of the great seminal works of literary criticism. The earliest surviving manuscript, from the 10th century, first printed in 1554, ascribes it to Dionysius Longinus. Later it was noticed that the index to the manuscript read “Dionysius or Longinus.” (Read more about it at Encyclopedia Britannica.) Quintilian (AD 35-d. after 96), Latin teacher and writer known for his Institutio Oratoria, a major contribution to educational theory and literary criticism.

4 “The first official censorship had come in 1559 with the publication of the Index auctorum et librorum prohibitorum under the direction of Pope Paul IV. The Pauline index, as it became known, was the first in a long succession of papal indexes, forty-two in all. The purpose of these indexes was to guide censors in their decisions of what publications to authorize and which to disallow, for printers were not free to publish books without official permission. In January of 1562 the Council of Trent took up the issue of the Index and was deeply divided. The Pauline index had been seen by many as too controversial and excessively restrictive. After the opening speeches, the council appointed a commission to draft a new index. Although the council closed before the task of the commission was completed, the new Tridentine index was taken up by Pope Pius IV and published in 1564 by Paulus Manutius in Rome. This index constituted the most authoritative guide the church had yet published; its lists formed the basis of all subsequent indexes, while its rules were accepted as the guide for future censors and compilers.” (Read more about it at Modern History Sourcebook: Index Librorum Prohibitorum, 1557-1966.)

The Humourist to the CRITICS (February 12, 1754)

[Numb. 1026]
[12 February 1754]

The HUMOURIST to the CRITICS.

← — Procul O!  Procul este Profani!1

Gentlemen:

I have no Ambition of your Acquaintance, nor will I concern myself with the Sect, abominable Tribe!  Your Name bespeaks Contempt; more it may, less methinks! it cannot.

Preserve a proper and respectable Distance, a reverential Awe to my Authority, or I will assume the Wings of Icaromenippus,2 and fly to my aerial Mansion (now ready for the Reception of its Master) and hurl Confusion on you.

If a People are to fear, it is necessary to know, whom they are to fear; the Brave are ever just.  Know then, that I was born under a Planet not to die in a Lazaretto.  The hot Constellation of Cancer presided at my Nativity.  Mars was then predominant.  Of all the Elements, Fire sways most in me.  I have many Aspirings, many elevated Conceptions, owing, for the most Part, to the peculiar Quality of the Ground wherein I was born, which was the Top of a Hill situated South-East, so that the House must be illustrious, being so obvious to the Sun-Beams.

I have made a Rule, that whoever shall insinuate a Laugh, a distant Joke, or otherwise, on my Writings, and shall not own my Performances to be the best wrote Pieces in the World, the Classics only excepted, shall be look’d upon as a Coxcomb, and —-; and I do hereby give any  Man leave to lay him on his Center of Gravity.

NOTES

1 Virgil’s Aeneid, Book VI, line 257: “keep away, oh keep far away, you profane ones.”

2 Lucian of Samosata ( c. 150 A.D.) a Greek philosopher who wrote Icaromenippus and the True History, the earliest book describing voyages to other worlds.

Here’s What the Humourist Has in Store for the Remainder of February!

Tuesday, February 12

  • The Humourist takes on the Critics:  “Our modern Critics arrogate to themselves what does not belong to them:  They are Poets, Philosophers, and Divines; they are Orators, Statesmen and Prime Ministers; they are as knowing in Science as mechanic Operations:  In short, a Critic is an Abstract of every Thing …”

Tuesday, February 19

  • The Humourist explores the topic of Man as a social Animal:  “If there are (and no one will dispute it) any Degrees of Subordination in Characters, superior to those created by human Foresight, for Order and Distinction, it is Benevolence, mutual Aid, Friendship, and Charity, and these alone form the noblest Picture of true Greatness.”

Tuesday, February 26

  • The Humourist himself becomes a Critic as he analyzes and comments on the “Ballad of Moore of Moore-Hall”:  “The other Day I took a Ride upon my good Horse Pegasus, and (being in a whimsical Mood) I clapped into my Pocket the excellent Ballad of Moore of Moore-Hall, and as it required some Attention, the Humourist was not short in that Duty.”
  • And, and as a special treat, ALICE WISH-FOR’T writes a letter to the Humourist exploring Imports and Exports and making strong claims for buying Carolina products:  “all the Furniture of my House, etc. is of Carolina Make; so is my riding Chair, and most of my Cloaths; and Mr. Scott’s Beer (as soon as I saw his Advertisement) had the Preference to all foreign Liquours, and is become my constant Drink.”

The Humourist (February 5, 1754)

“Mankind plays the Cheat, and […] Fallacy and Disguise attend the minutest Actions of our Lives.” —The Humourist

[Numb. 1015]
5 February 1754

The HUMOURIST.  No. VI.

He hates Realities and hugs the Cheat,
And still the Pleasure lies in the Deceit.
GARTH.1

The World is compared to the Theatre,2 and the Business of it is generally considered as the grand Drama thereof, both by ancient and modern Writers.  Human Life in some Degree resembles a Masquerade, wherein consists a Medley of incoherent Characters, rudely pressing upon each other, and acting Parts unequal to their several Abilities.  I have taken the Liberty to enlarge the Comparison, and I hope that it is a legal Licence, as it comes nearer to the Purpose of this Essay, and will assist me in proving, that Mankind plays the Cheat, and that Fallacy and Disguise attend the minutest Actions of our Lives.

Flavio (born to make all Mankind happy but himself) is a Gentleman of Birth and Education; he has run thro’ the several Stages with amazing Spirit and Vivacity; all his Possessions now center in his Name, indeed he still enjoys a certain Gaiety, and such a Correctness of Freedom, as adds Dignity to his Deportment and an easy Negligence to his Address.

His chief Happiness has even been to deceive himself:  In the worst Emergency of Affairs, he has never felt much Remorse at the Loss of Company, his fertile Genius always supplying him with Prospects of imaginary Happiness.

This surprising Genius can, by a very peculiar Discernment, find out, that an ideal Estate is preferable to a real one:  He used to apply these two remarkable Lines, after the Misfortune of losing his paternal Estate at Cards:

When House and Land is gone and spent
Then Learning is most excellent;3

From whence he drew these important Inferences, That Brick and Stone are perishable Materials, that they are Tenements of an uncertain Duration, and must necessarily fill the Mind with many anxious Reflections, arising from the precarious Tenure of such Possessions: The Parson and the Parish demand their Tythes and Taxes; the Tenant is perpetually perplexing one with want of Repairs; Casualties of all kinds, Distemper of the Cattle, Briefs at Church (and much is expected from a Lord of the Manor), Lawyers with their confounded Flaws and Doubts, Stewards with their unmerciful Charges, the Impertinence of Servants, Physicians prescribing under the Sanction of Eminence to cut off the Thread of human Life, and the Apothecary’s profuse Viands, are the eternal Incumbrances of Men of Wealth. A Coach, that pleasing Appendage to Independence, is rather an Inconvenience than an Ease; a Man wants Exercise, it promotes an Appetite and helps Digestion; besides, he is under a never ceasing Dread of dislocating his Neck, at least he endangers an Arm or a Leg, and these are Matters that demand our most serious Consideration. To a Man of Gallantry, there still remains an Objection, superior in point of Force to any yet mentioned; it is impossible to go incog. to see and not be seen, or partake of those pretty Divertisements that constitute the Life of a Man of Pleasure; a saucy Coachman, or an impudent Footman, or both, eternally fall in the Way of Gallantry and Love-Intrigues.

This is the Language of Flavio, whose greatest Ambition soars no higher than amusing himself with false and fancied Happiness, with Scenes of Rapture, and Prospects of Illusion and Deceit.

It is so exquisite a Joy to the Mind of Man, to be imposed upon, that if he cannot procure some Jugler to do the Job for him, he thinks himself in a State of never-ending Bliss, when he is imposing upon himself.  Tom Easy, who is a jocose Fellow, protests, that one strong Motive for our Devotion to the softer Sex is, because they are possessed of a most incomparable Method of cheating us, and that with wonderful Dexterity.  Miss Grave-airs cries, Lord! Mr. Sly-boots, I am all Amazement, that a Gentleman of your good natural Endowments, should devote yourself so entirely to the Art of Teazing; there is nothing so hateful to me, as being unmercifully kiss’d, and pull’d, and haul’d:  Who cannot perceive the Imposition, but who does not rejoice in the Perception?

To vary the Scene, and cast our Eyes in a different Point of View, we shall find the same Taste for Deceit, the same Appetite for illusive Schemes, tho’ the Method of their Operations differ.

The Patriot, bellowing with Iron Lungs against Men in Power, hazards his Fame upon a mere Contingency, and forfeits his Reputation by deceiving himself into a Place:  As formerly he sung of Liberty, he now makes Music of his Chains.

In one Place, I can observe an impious great Man, seemingly depressed with the Weight of Office, improving, tho’ not observing, Learning or Religion.

In another Place, a wealthy Monster sacrificing a numerous Family by Donations to Hospitals, thinking to procure a good Name, by Munificence abroad and Poverty at home.

I can observe a wealthy Pluralist, battening in the Sun-shine of Prosperity, and exulting in the Pomp of cathedral Glory, busied in Subscriptions for the Widows of poor deceased Clergymen, when his Abilities point out a quicker Remedy; deceiving at once, Mankind by the Imposition, and himself, by playing with his Conscience.

By such specious Pretences, and other insidious Means, Mankind deceive each other; and if there happens to fall in the Way one honest Man, free from Deceit, free from Imposition, his want of Judgment or Discernment renders him a Victim to the multiplied Attacks of fraudulent Conspiracies;

For neither Man nor Angel can discern

Hypocrisy, the only Evil that walks

Invisible, except to God alone.4

NOTES

1 From Samuel Garth’s The Dispensary: A Poem in Six Cantos (1699). The quote is from Canto III, Lines 23-24,—a satire on apothecaries and physicians.
2 “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players” (Shakespeare, As You Like It).
3 “Look well to what you have in hand / For learning is better than house or land / When land is gone and money spent / Then learning is most excellent.”
4 From John Milton’s Paradise Lost (Book III, line 682).