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N°263. THURSDAY, DECEMBER 14,1770.
Minima contentos nocte Britannos. JUV. Sat. II. 161.
From my own Apartment, December 13. An old friend of mine being lately come to town, I went to see him on Tuesday last about eight o'clock in the evening, with a design to sit with him an hour or two, and talk over old stories; but, upon inquiry after him, I found he was gone to-bed. The next morning, as soon as I was up and dressed, and had dispatched a little business, I came again to my friend's house about eleven o'clock, with a design to renew my visit: but, upon asking for him, his servant told me he was just sat down to dinner. In short, I found that my old fashioned friend religiously adhered to the example of his forefathers, and observed the same hours that had been kept in the family ever since the Conquest.
It is very plain, that the night was much longer formerly in this island than it is at present. By the night, I mean that portion of time which nature has thrown into darkness, and which the wisdom of mankind had formerly dedicated to rest and silence. This used to begin at eight o'clock in the evening, and conclude at sis in the morning. The curfeu, or eight o'clock bell, was the signal throughout the nation for putting out their candles and going to-bed.
Our grandmothers, though they were wont to sit upʻthe last in the family, were all of them fast asleep at the same hours that their daughters are busy at crimp and basset. Modern statesmen are concerting schemes, and engaged in the depth of politics, at the time when their forefathers were laid down quietly to rest, and had nothing in their heads but dreams. As we have thus thrown business and pleasure into the hours of rest, and by that means made the natural night but half as long as it should be, we are forced to piece it out with a great part of the morning ; so that near two-thirds of the nation lie fast asleep for several hours in broad day-light. This irregularity is grown so very fashionable at present, that there is scarce a lady of quality in GreatBritain that ever saw the sun rise. And, if the humour increases in proportion to what it has done of late
years, it is not impossible but our children may hear the bell-man going about the streets at nine o'clock in the morning, and the watch making their rounds until eleven. This unaccountable disposition in mankind to continue awake in the night, and sleep in the sun-shine, has made me inquire, whether this same change of inclination has happened to any other animals? For this reason, I desired a friend of mine in the country to let me know, whether the Jark rises as early as he did formerly; and whether the cock begins to crow at his usual hour? My friend has answered me, “ that his poultry are as regular as ever, and that all the birds and beasts of his neighbourhood keep the same hours that they have observed in the memory of man; and the same which, in all probability, they have kept for these five thousand
years,” If y you would see the innovations that have been made among us in this pariicular, you may only Luok into the hours of colleges, where they still ding at eleven, and sup at six, which were doubtless the hours of the whole nation at the time when those places were founded. But at present, the courts of justice are scarce opened in Westminster-hall at the time when William Rufus used to go to dinner in it. All business is driven forward. The landmarks of our fathers, if I may so call them, are removed, and planted further up into the day ; insomuch, that I am afraid our clergy will be obliged, if they expect full congregations, not to look any more upon ten o'clock in the morning as a canonical hour, In my own memory, the dinner has crept by degrees from twelve o'clock to three, and where it will tix nobody knows.
I have sometimes thought to draw up a memorial in the behalf of Supper against Dinner, setting forth, that the said Dinner has made several incroachments upon the said Supper, and entered very far upon his frontiers ; that he has banished him out of several families, and in all has driven him from his head quarters, and forced him to make his retreat into the hours of midnight ; and, in short, that he is now in danger of being entirely confounded and lost in a breakfast. Those who have read Lucian, and seen the complaints of the letter T against S, upon account of many injuries and usurpaticns of the same nature, will not, I believe, think such a memorial forced and unnatural. If dinner has been thus postponed, or, if you please, kept back from time to time, you may be sure that it has been in compliance with the other business of the day, and that supper has still observed a proportionable distance. There is a venerable proverb, which we have all of us heard in our infancy, of “ putting the children to-bed, and laying the goose to the tire.” This was one of the jocular sayings of our forefathers, but may be properly used in the
literal sense at present. Who would not wonder at this perverted relish of those who are reckoned the most polite part of mankind, that prefer sea coals and candles to the sun, and exchange so many chearful morning hours, for the pleasures of midnight revels and debauches ? If a man was only to consult his health, he would choose to live his whole time, if possible, in day-light; and to retire out of the world into silence and sleep, while the raw damps and unwholesome vapours fly abroad, without a sun to disperse, moderate, or controul them. For my own part, I value an hour in the morning as much as common libertines do an hour at midnight. When I find myself awakened into being, and perceive my life renewed within me, and at the same time see the whole face of nature recovered out of the dark uncomfortable state in which it lay for several hours, my heart overflows with such secret sentiments of joy and gratitude, as are a kind of implicit praise to the great Author of Nature. The mind, in these early seasons of the day, is so refreshed in all its faculties, and borne up with such new supplies of animal spirits, that she finds herself in a state of youth, especially when she is entertained with the breath of flowers, the melodıof birds, the dews that hang upon the plants, and all those other sweets of nature that are peculiar to the morning.
It is impossible for a man to have this relish of being, this exquisite taste of life, who does not come into the world before it is in all its noise and hurry; who loses the rising of the sun, the still hours of the day, and, immediately upon his first getting up, plunges himself into the ordinary cares or follies of the world.
I shall conclude this paper with Milton's inimitable description of Adam's awakening his Eve in Paradise, which indeed would have been a place as little delightful as a barren heath or desert to those who slept in it. The fondness of the posture in which Adam is represented, and the softness of his whisper, are passages in this divine poem that are above all commendation, and rather to be admired than praised.
Now Morn her rosy steps in the eastern climo
Such whispering wak'd her, but with startled eye
O sole! in wbon my thoughts find all repose,
MILTON's Par. Lost, b. V. I. 1, &co