[12 February 1754]
The HUMOURIST to the CRITICS.
← — Procul O! Procul este Profani!1
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.
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.
Who would dare to criticize The Humourist after such a burning diatribe? Not I!
Actually, I owe him a debt of thanks for introducing me to Lucian’s “True Science Fiction Tales” (available at http://www.gutenberg.org. under the title “Icaromenippus and the True History”).
These adventures have anticipated nearly every SF and fantasy plot published since the invention of the printing press. But a waterspout that carries a ship to the moon? What nonsense!
Dorothy, how wonderful that you know Lucian and his Icaromenippus and the True History. You, too, seem to be familiar with aerial habitations. Perhaps you passed the Humourist as he journeyed to his!
Why don’t authors write like this anymore?
Actually, the essay tradition continues to be alive and flourishing! Some of my favorite essayists include Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, and E. B. White. You might enjoy them as well.