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NUMB. 141. TUESDAY, July 23, 1751.
Hilarisque, tamen cum pondere, virtus.
Greatness with ease, and gay severity.
TO THE RAMBLER.
POLITICIANS have long observed, that the greatest events may be often traced back to slender causes. Petty competition or casual friendship, the prudence of a slave, or the garrulity of a woman, have hindered or promoted the most important schemes, and hastened or retarded the revolutions of empire.
Whoever shall review his life will generally find, that the whole tenor of his conduct has been determined by some accident of no apparent moment, or by a combination of inconsiderable circumstances, acting when his imagination was unoccupied, and his judgment unsettled; and that his principles and actions have taken their colour from some secret infusion, mingled without design in the current of his ideas. The desires that predominate in our hearts,
are instilled by imperceptible communications at the time when we look upon the various scenes of the world, and the different employments of men, with the neutrality of inexperience; and we come forth from the nursery or the school, invariably destined to the pursuit of great acquisitions, or petty accomplish
Such was the impulse by which I have been kept in motion from my earliest years. I was born to an inheritance which gave my childhood a claim to distinction and caresses, and was accustomed to hear applauses, before they had much influence on my thoughts. The first praise of which I remember myself sensible was that of good-humour, which, whether I deserved it or not when it was bestowed, I have since made it my whole business to propagate and maintain.
When I was sent to school, the gaiety of my look, and the liveliness of my loquacity, soon gained me admission to hearts not yet fortified against affection by artifice or interest. I was entrusted with every stratagem, and associated in every sport; my company gave alacrity to a frolick, and gladness to a holiday. I was indeed so much employed in adjusting or executing schemes of diversion, that I had no leisure for my tasks, but was furnished with exercises, and instructed in my lessons, by some kind patron of the higher classes. My master, not suspecting my deficiency, or unwilling to detect what his kindness would not punish nor his impartiality excuse, allowed me to escape with a slight examination, laughed at the pertness of my ignorance, and the sprightliness
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