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of my absurdities, and could not forbear to show that he regarded me with such tenderness, as genius and learning can seldom excite.
From school I was dismissed to the university, where I soon drew upon me the notice of the younger students, and was the constant partner of their morning walks, and evening compotations. I was not indeed much celebrated for literature, but was looked on with indulgence as a man of parts, who wanted nothing but the dulness of a scholar, and might become eminent whenever he should condescend to labour and attention. My tutor a while reproached me with negligence, and repressed my sallies with supercilious gravity; yet, having natural good-humour lurking in his heart, he could not long hold out against the power of hilarity, but after a few months began to relax the muscles of disciplinarian moroseness, received me with smiles after an elopement, and, that he might not betray his trust to his fondness, was content to spare my diligence by increasing his own.
Thus I continued to dissipate the gloom of collegiate austerity, to waste my own life in idleness, and lure others from their studies, till the happy hour arrived, when I was sent to London. I soon discovered the town to be the proper element of youth and gaiety, and was quickly distinguished as a wit by the ladies, a species of beings only heard of at the university, whom I had no sooner the happiness of approaching than I devoted all my faculties to the ambition of pleasing them.
A wit, Mr. Rambler, in the dialect of ladies, is
not always a man who, by the action of a vigorous fancy upon comprehensive knowledge, brings distant ideas unexpectedly together, who, by some peculiar acuteness, discovers resemblance in objects dissimilar to common eyes, or, by mixing heterogeneous notions, dazzles the attention with sudden scintillations of conceit. A lady's wit is a man who can make ladies laugh, to which, however easy it may seem, many gifts of nature, and attainments of art, must commonly concur. He that hopes to be received as a wit in female assemblies, should have a form neither so amiable as to strike with admiration, nor so coarse as to raise disgust, with an understanding too feeble to be dreaded, and too forcible to be despised. The other parts of the character are more subject to variation; it was formerly essential to a wit, that half his back should be covered with a snowy fleece, and, at a time yet more remote, no man was a wit without his boots. In the days of the Spectator a snuffbox seems to have been indispensable; but in my time an embroidered coat was sufficient, without any precise regulation of the rest of his dress.
But wigs and boots and snuff-boxes are vain, without a perpetual resolution to be merry, and who can always find supplies of mirth? Juvenal indeed, in his comparison of the two opposite philosophers, wonders only whence an unexhausted fountain of tears could be discharged: but had. Juvenal, with all his spirit, undertaken my province, he would have found constant gaiety equally difficult to be supported. Consider, Mr. Rambler, and compassionate the condition of a man, who has
taught every company to expect from him a continual feast of laughter, an unintermitted stream of jocularity. The task of every other slave has an end. The rower in time reaches the port; the lexicographer at last finds the conclusion of his alphabet; only the hapless wit has his labour always to begin, the call for novelty is never satisfied, and one jest only raises expectation of another.
I know that among men of learning and asperity the retainers to the female world are not much regarded yet I cannot but hope that if you knew at how dear a rate our honours are purchased, you would look with some gratulation on our success, and with some pity on our miscarriages. Think on the misery of him who is condemned to cultivate barrenness and ransack vacuity; who is obliged to continue his talk when his meaning is spent, to raise merriment without images, to harass his imagination in quest of thoughts which he cannot start, and his memory in pursuit of narratives which he cannot overtake; observe the effort with which he strains to conceal despondency by a smile, and the distress in which he sits while the eyes of the company are fixed upon him as the last refuge from silence and dejection.
It were endless to recount the shifts to which I have been reduced, or to enumerate the different
species of artificial wit. I regularly frequented coffee-houses, and have often lived a week upon an expression, of which he who dropped it did not know the value. When fortune did not favour my erratick industry, I gleaned jests at home from ob
solete farces. To collect wit was indeed safe, for I consorted with none that looked much into books, but to disperse it was the difficulty. A seeming negligence was often useful, and I have very successfully made a reply not to what the lady had said, but to what it was convenient for me to hear; for very few were so perverse as to rectify a mistake which had given occasion to a burst of merriment. Sometimes I drew the conversation up by degrees to a proper point, and produced a conceit which I had treasured up, like sportsmen who boast of killing the foxes which they lodge in the covert. Eminence is, however, in some happy moments, gained at less expence; I have delighted a whole circle at one time with a series of quibbles, and made myself good company at another, by scalding my fingers, or mistaking a lady's lap for my own chair.
These are artful deceits and useful expedients; but expedients are at length exhausted, and deceits detected. Time itself, among other injuries, diminishes the power of pleasing, and I now find, in my forty-fifth year, many pranks and pleasantries very coldly received, which had formerly filled a whole room with jollity and acclamation. I am under the melancholy necessity of supporting that character by study, which I gained by levity, having learned too late that gaiety must be recommended by higher qualities, and that mirth can never please long but as the efflorescence of a mind loved for its luxuriance, but esteemed for its usefulness.
I am, &c.
NUMB. 142, SATURDAY, July 27, 1751.
Ἔνθα δ' ἀνὴρ ἐνίανε πελώριος—ὐδὲ, μέτ' αλλὺς
A giant shepherd here his flock maintains
TO THE RAMBLER.
HAVING been accustomed to retire annually from the town, I lately accepted the invitation of Eugenio, who has an estate and seat in a distant county. As we were unwilling to travel without improvement, we turned often from the direct road to please ourselves with the view of nature or of art; we examined every wild mountain and medicinal spring, criticised every edifice, contemplated every ruin, and compared every scene of action with the narratives of historians. By this succession of amusements we enjoyed the exercise of a journey without suffering the fatigue, and had nothing to regret but that, by a progress so leisurely and gentle, we missed the adventures of a post-chaise, and the pleasure of alarming villages with the tumult of our passage, and of disguising our insignificancy by the dignity of hurry.