John Britton.

The pleasures of human life: investigated cheerfully online

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thus the dignified temple of the muses is
converted into a Bartholomew-fair booth.
But the heads of these literary mechanics,
like the cannon-proof wall, are invulnera-
ble ; and the artillery of wit, satire, and rid-
icule is wasted in attacking them.

" Philosophy and criticism cannot reach
some subjects, which sap the foundation
and support of well-being. Playfulness,
ridicule, wit, and humour, are the auxilia-
ries and light-armed forces of truth ; and
their power, in detachments is equally felt
with the main strength of the body." —
Pursuits of Literature, Pref, to Part IF.

The study of literature will ever rank a-
mong the higher pleasures of human life,

* We could elucidate this character by reference to
two or three living examples ; but these shall be re-
served for another lecture : not tl^at they are even
worth the compliment of being d— — dj — critically:
but they should be hung up, like scare -crows, to deter
athers trom trespassing on the same corn.


and its votaries among the most happy of in-
tellectual beings. This is one of those few
pursuits, in which delight and instruction
are most happily united ; and whether it be
followed as a profession, or resorted to as a
relaxation, none who embark in the pursuit
can easily tear themselves from the Muses.
No science affords so ample a store of vari*
ed information, and valuable knov/ledge.
Indeed it may be said to swallow in its vor-
tex every other science, and its stores are so
inexhaustible, that the literary epicure, who
revels in intellectual delight, can never want
entertainment ; nor the mental valetudina-
rian, medicine for the mind. In every pos-
sible situation, and in every varied circum*
rstance of life, this estorative will be found
efficacious. It can cheer the bed of sick-
ness, lessen the pangs of penury, and solace
the horrors of imprisonment. To the bo-
som of literary retirement the statesman flies
from the parade and toils of greatness, the
man of the world from the frivolity of fash-
ion, and the monarch from the cares and
solicitudes incessantly attached to his eleva-
ted situation.



So irresistibly attractive is literature to
the well-regulated and laudably inquisitive
rnind, that it may truly be said to constitute
its greatest, and truest pleasure. But for
this, Akcnsidc had never felt or communi-
cated delight by his '^ Pleasures of Imagi-
nation;'''^ and Rogers had never banquettcd
on'' the Pleasures of Memory, ^^ Had not
literature expanded and cheered the mind of
Campbell, he would never have dwelt on
'' t/ie Pleasures of I/ope ;" and but for the
same vivifying power, Carey had never tu-
ned his lyre to ** t/is Pleasures of Nature,''^
Even the bewitching, endearing, delightful,
tormenting, and maddening passion of love
acquires a tenfold zest from the refinements
and effects of literature. Hence we have
various poetical effusions to Cupid and
Venus : with '' poisoned darts y^'' and *' bleed-
ijig hearts,'''^ Love in a Cottage ^ like '* Love
in a Tub," is a stupid, doggrel, uncouth
sort of a thing ; but love in a sonnet is vast-
ly pretty ; in an ode very fine ; in a billet-
doux, extremely moving ; and in an opera
almost insupportable. To be sure, those
scribbling gentlemen, the opera- writer and
sonnetteer, sometimes make love and lite-


rature appear very ridiculous to the philo-
sophical by-standers. For the latter, who
arc cool, reflecting (gentlemen, are apt to
think that a '* Sonnet to an Jiyc-broiv,^^ an
ode *' to an Ear-ring ^^"^ or a poetical '' Epis-
tle to Narcissa''s Nose,^^ is mere jinLi;]int^
nonsense ; and the situations, language, and
warblings of operatic lovers, arc by these
harsh critics classed in the same list : for
they most fastidiously say, that to make
love in semiquavers, demi-semicjuavers, and
crotchets, is very ww-natiiral 2i\\(S. \Qvy Jlat.
But these things have been long tolerated,
and are admired by many. It would, there-
fore, appear like cruelty, or tyranny, to
check the public love-songs of a Braham
and Storace, who have performed thesfe
things with such universal applause.

The writers here alhided to may contend
in their vindication, that war songs and
love-songs were the earliest productions of
literature, and may be ranked with the finest
effusions of genius. But these gentlemen
should recollect that the manners and cus-
toms of the first and nineteenth centuries
have many differences, and that good sense


and good taste are better employed in im-
proving upon, than in imitating the fashions,
of savages.

With a mind well disposed, and deeply
stored with literature, every sense acquires
additional susceptibility, and almost every
object and occurrence administers to human
pleasure. All the refinements of art, and
productions of nature, are viewed with in-
terest, and investigated with delight. In-
deed, a mind thus regulated can never suf-
fer under ennui, or be oppressed with le-
thargic stupor. The fascinating society of
books unfolds so many charms, and is so
endlessly varied, that a person can never be
dull, or want congenial company, who has
learnt the happy art of seeking pleasure
from this inexhaustible source. This will
be exemplified in tlie following descriptive
sketch of a character, from nature«*

* It may not be irrelevant to observe, that every
character debcribed, and anecdote rtlated in this worK
is from nature and fl\ct ; neither romance, reverie, ngr
any species of ftclion will be admitted.


Mr. Placid (we may as well give him
that name as any other) is a gentleman rath-
er advanced in years, and, though a batchc-
lor, he always appears with a cheerful coun-
tenance, and greets his friends with a smile
of joy. At an early age, he became enam-
oured with literature ; and the passion ap-
pears to have '' grown with his growth, and
strengthened with his strength." With an
inquisitive and ardent thirst for know ledge,
he has incessantly drunk at the fountain
head. Every draft was refreshing ; but the
diirsty palate constantly craved more. Ev-
er in pursuit of learning, he sought her in
all the mazes of language, in the devious
paths of science, and in the gay parterre of
the belles lettres. Mixing occasionally with
intelligent and enlightened society, he there-
by rubs off the rust of pedantry, and ap-
pears the more polished by tempering ur-
banity with erudition. Whilst science adds
strength to his head, the philosophy of na-
ture regulates and keeps in unison the e-
motions of his heart. Actuated by the
warmest feelings of humanity, he never wit-
nesses distress w^ithout really mitigating;,
E 2


or endeavouring to alleviate, its sufferings.
Though not rich, he contrives to assist,
and is beloved by, the poor ; for he justly
observes, that whilst we have enough to
provide ourselves with the necessaries and
luxuries requisite for our peculiar situa-
tions in life, we shall purchase ^ great addi'
^io//^/ luxury, by administering to the wants
of real distress. He is never idle, nor is he
ever seen frivolously employed ; and,
though past the meridian of life, he is ac-
tive, alert, and lively. The primary or prin-
cipal object of his studies, has been to store
his mind with useful knov/ledge, and lay in
a large stock of such erudition as is furnish-
ed by history, philosophy, and science. la
thi» routine of instructive amusement, he
has spent the greater part of his life, and is
now daily and diligently occupied in the
the pusuit. He returns to the same enter-
tainment day after day^ *' as if increase of
appetite had grown with what it, fed on :"
and he frequently declares, that novelty and
delight are always to be found in the com-
positions of talent, and in the effusions of
well-regulated genius. Thus endowed, and
thus employed, he may be fairly held up as

[ EGol! ] 39

an admirable example for imitation ; and his
daily career displays, in fescinating colours,
*' the Pleasures of Literature."

Whilst recording this tribute to worth,
honesty, benignity, and learning, we feel a
stimulating spark of emulation, and a proud
dignity of spirit, which exults in submitting
this slight sketch to public inspection, and
demanding for it that admiration and respect,
which should ever be the concomitants of
true wisdom.

Such is the character of Mr. Placid : how
different is that of Mr. Ego ! Both are attach-
ed to literature, and both may be said to be
learned ; but, whilst the former reads solely
for self satisfaction and m.ental instruction,
the latter hunts after knowledge merely to
sport it in company. His only pleasure is
derived from an ostentatious display of learn-
ing ; and there is no music so harmonious
to his ear, as the sweet voice of praise, in
being flattered on his deep researches andpre?-
Jouncl reading. Should others neglect to
tickle him in this susceptible part, he abso-
lutely contrives to tickle himself; and this is


not a very common case. Even the Miss
Lively 's and Miss 'Sen sibles cannot provoke
hiughter \a ith their own fingerSj either appli-
ed to the arm-pits, knees, or feet ; nor even
m the most susceptible part, just under the
fifth rib on the left side, near the heart. Mr.
Fgo's, in this respect, is only an occasional
pleasure, and not one that can be command-
ed at all times. It depends on company,
and requires that company to be good-natur-
edly civil; for unless the hinges of his tongue
are kept in easy play, by the oil of encomia
um, he soon grows dull, and sulkily stupid.
Tempt him to talk, and you will surely be
amused, if not mstructed ; for, if the truths of
learning fail to effect this, his flexible fancy
can soon create ; and he will embellish his
narratives w ith the most dazzling and effuU
gent colours of fancy. As

Wine whets the wit, improves its native force,
And gives a pleasatnt flavour to discourse :

So hyperbole, romance, and exaggeration
generally serve as chyan, or forced balls, to
conversation. Mr. Ego knows this well,
and generally uses such seasonings to give a
zest and relish to his colloquial fare. To


surprise, astonish, and amaze his hearers af-
fords him supreme delight ; and he would
rather be called a liar than a dull fellow.

History, Poetry, Antiquities, the Drama,
and the Arts, are all comprehended by the
capacious mind of this gentleman : and ei-
ther in private company, at a public table> or
in published criticism, he pronounces final
sentents on works in either of these classes-
of literature, and arraigns all kinds of au-
thors at his tribunal. When out of company,
he is constantly reading ; but the sole object
of his researches is, to detect faults, to des-
cry errors, and discover blunders. His
common^place book are filled with Q^. X^.
and ■\-\\s. These, v;ith titles of books, and
pages of reference constitute his choice
" Morsels of Criticism.^ '^ SpecimeriS of his
critiques may be found in the Edinburgh,
Antijacobin, and Oxford Reviews ; and also
in the News, a weekly paper. In the latter,
he is known to have scribbled a good deal ;,
and has levelled the whole artillery, or rather
small-arms, of his hyper-criticism at heads
of a Dibdln, Reynolds^ and Cherry ; and
merely because these gentlemen lore to


laugh themselves, and provoke laughter m
others. But these true lusorists seem to
have treated his splenetic snarlings with
that proud contempt which real genius must
ever feel towards that criticism which con-
sists in personal iliiberality, and indiscrim-
inate abtise. It is also confidently asserted,
that Mr. Ego once attacked all the Revieiv-
ers and Reviews ; and pronounced them
partial, ignorant, illiberal, and base assas-
sins. He afterwards undertook the editor-
ship of a review himself; in which, rather
unluckily, he committed all the absurdities
.and crimes he had previously complained
of; but forgot to introduce any of thos«
great reformations and improvements which
he so earnestly and eagerly recommended to
others as absolutely necessary. This, how-
ever, is the common fate of clamorous re-
formers ; for, whilst th^y are vehement in
urging improvement in others, they seem to
forget that it is most wanted at home. What
they prescribe in theory, they neglect to
practice. Whilst employed in reforming
the government of the country, they disre-
gard the jurisprudence of their own domes-
tic monarchy. Weak, shallow coxcombs ! — '

I by't-selp I. 43

presuming thus to direct and regulate the
complicated machine of government, yet ab-
solutely unqualified to keep the simple ma-
chine of a single family in good order.

At the literary conversazione,^ and the
fascinating tea-table, Mr. Ego generally
proclaims his own talents, and trumpets
forth his own praises. I by 't- self I, is the
first letter of his alphabet ; and to him the
most important part of speech in the En-
glish language. It is, indeed, the nomhia^
the case to almost every sentence. Thus
he commonly talks — " / cannot think so —
— / — must — deny — that / oppose it in

« In the winter of 1805-6, there were several asso-
ciations of this kind in London. Besides those at Sir
Joseph Bank's, Dr. Heaviside's, and Dr. Garthshore's,
two respectable publishers (Longman and Co. in the
city, and Millar at the West-end of the town) invited
the literati and artists to assemble at their respective
houses, one evening in every week during v.inter. It
was extremely pleasant ; for, besides associating with
the great luminaries of the age, visitors were treated
with a sight of all the popular and expensive publica-
tions of the day.


toto / — think — differently / am

positive you are wrong, Sir.*

Another strong trait of this gentleman is,
his familiar acquaintance (according to his
own report) with the first noblemen and
state officers of the country. The Duke of

- , the Marquis of ■ , the

Earl of , and the Countess of

are all his most particular friends : and he
is so repeatedly engaged in dinner parties,
8cc. with these great folks, that he '' really
has not a moment's time to do this, or tkat^
ox f other. ''^

From self each Ego adoration draws.

And gathers increase from its own applause.

Leaving Mr. Ego to him-^d*^, let us take
a cursory review cf the literary character
and literature ; and see how far the latter
administers to the pleasure of the former,

♦ " As / walk'd by myself, and talk'd by ^ryscJf,

And tlius myselj said unto we :
Look to thyself, take care of thyself

Vov nobody cares for tJice*'


and he to the gratification of the public.
The present is certainly the age of letters,
if not of learning ; for books of all sizes,
sorts, qualities, and subjects, are daily issu-
ing from the British press.

" Our learned authors have the world supplied
With all they knew— and some thing more beside,
All Fancy's stores have rummag'd, cull'd,and sack'd,
And stretcbM invention till it almost crack*d ;
Yet our discoveries have been but few
Of things important, or of subjects new."

Age of Frivolity,

There is scarcely a subject of art, or sci-
ence, but what genius or learning has fairly
and luminously laid before the public : from
that of cutting out a coat,^ to that of cut-

* A work has been recently published called the
Taylor's Guide, " 6z/ adefits in the prufesdon,^* who as*
sure us that their object is " to furnish the world with
a complete guide to ornamental coverijig ; a comprehen-
sive analysis of beauty and e/e^awctf in dress ;m which
injinite pains have been taken, and various talents united,
to form rules applicable in all cases for cutting out
garments ; a work which will, on the first view, con-
vince the uninformed mindy that, with a little ap^ilication,


ting up a whale ; from the art of brewing
small beer, to the art of ingeniously torment-
ing. The literati are not merely men of
learning, but of liberality and good nature ;
for they seldom suppress any hints or in-
formation that appear to be calculated for the
public good. Thus the pious religionists
have furnished forlorn sinners with " A
Guide to Heaven^^ — " ^ Christiana's Complete
Armour.''— '' A Godly Pillar of Hell).''—
*' A Shove to Hea^oy-a d Christians^'*' &c.

Dramatists have taught us *' the Way to
to get Married !'' — ^^ How to grow Ridi" —
^^How to be A^/?/j"— and " the Way of the

Politicians have acquainted us with '* The
State of the Nation," " The Rights of
Man," '' The Wealth of Nations," Sec. ,

fie may beconiie a complete taylor" 1 1 ! Glorious era !
when any uninformed mind may be made a taylor ; and
^vhen, by the Saiiie logic* we suppose a body may be
taught to think. If philosophy and literature be thus
cabbagedy it will soon dwindle into mere " shrtds and


Philosophers have descanted on •* the
Dignity of Human Nature^'''' — *' The Histo-
ry of Man,'' '' the Immutability oj Truth,''
&c. ; *' Metaphysicians have soared in-
to the heavens, and endeavoured to display
and define " the being and attributes of the
Deity" — and " the Immateriality and Im-
mortality of the Human Soul^" ; Poets
have rhymed on almost every subject com-
prehended within the limits of Art and Na-
ture ; from *' Paradise Lost," to ** the So-
fa"— horn *' the Creation of the world — to
*' the Last Shilling," — and from *' Rhymes,
on Art"\ to " A Farthing Rushlight."

* TliiLi is certainly one of the most extraordinary-
works of the present age. It is written by an uneduca-^
ted shoemaker (S.Drew,) of that remote county, Corn-
wall : and, whilst it displays great vigour of inteHectj
it provf^s that the human mind will often soar above
that sphere where the body is compelled to move ; and
that genius and talent may be found in a humble shed,
as well as in a college. Though we have had politi-
cal and poetical coblers, this is the first metaphysical
cobler that has attracted our notice.

t We cannot, refer either to the title of Mr. Shee's
book, or to its contents, without being impressively re-
minded of the Pleasures of Literature. For, whilst we


In short, authors have been so kindly
Gommunicative, and disinterestedly gene-
rous, that they seem to have given away
nearly all their wisdom and prudence to the
public, and reserved scarcely any for them-
selves. Otherwise how is it they arc com-
monly so poor? This may easily be ac-
counted for by saying, that their mental ap-
petite is always keen and hungry, but that
the corporeal one is only occasionally so ; and
it is a natural consequence, that the de-
mands of the most troublesome creditor
should be first satisfied ; the most clamour-
ous claimants miist be first served. Many
of these gentlemen seem conscious of their
weaknesses, as may be inferred by the fol-



Neque idem unquam

jEqiie est beatus, ac Poema quani scribit
Tarn gaudct in se, tamque scipse miratur.


{gel convinced that tlie vivid mind of the author must
Iiave been continually illumined with the brilliant flash-
es of fancy, and the enlivening creations of intellect, we
l^ieruse andreperuse his work with that high zest which
< an only be communicated by energy of Talent.

I^HE POETS' A P0l6gY. 49

'fon oft have press'd me to decline

This Cacoethes pen of mine ;

liut to be plain, and at a word,

I cannot wilh your taste accord :

As well you might in truth expect.

Ma chere amie^ her glass to break ;

And therefore, whether wrong or right,

JLudere cum Calamo — I delight,

Tho' thousands say and think with you,

I might some better trade pursue ;

And add — " Lord help the man— his brain

"Is so derang'd it gives us pain,

" x\nd then, his poetry is chaff ;

" His prose is better fur by half

" (Tho' that indeed scarce makes us laugh.")

All which I hear with patience grave,

In hopes a word in turn to have —

As thus — (by way of calm reply)

" The fact I fear 1 can't deny ;

" But then, I trust, there are some fe\7

" Amongst our modern rhyming crew,

"Who, like poor me, have lost their wits,

" And shew it by their raging fits ;

« Who scratch their head and bite their nails,

" To see on which side sink the scales,

" Whether in favour of their rhymes,

(« In harmony with bells and chimes,)

" Or in the grave Mosaic tract,

« In which Committee's plan an act V*

In either case I fear it true,

(At least will own it, Frank, to you j}

F 3


We're ne'er so well, or vainly pleas*d,

As when with this same madness seiz'd ;

To which in favour of my sin,

I might in proof bring *Pliny in ;

Who says whatever is in print,

Has more or less of knowledge in*t.

But you perhaps will laughing say,

*' It miglit be so in Pliny's day ;

" But now the scene is alter'd quite,

" And authors make their mark — not write ;

" And what in former days might please,

*' As penn'd with elegance and ease,

** Is now so smooth and tlioughtless writ,

*' 'Tis artless art, or artless wit."

From whence I may conclude, you think,

1 spoil both paper, pen, and ink,

And am but proving what you say,

In trudging on my rhyming way ;

Which, though a truth, for aught I know,

Yet freely tell me, can you shew

One single instance of a man

Cured by advice — on any plan ?

S'Jll I forgive, nor take it ill,

You censure with so good a will ;

And in return will prove a friend,

In giving pi-oof I mean to mend,

By putting to my rhymes an— end ;

* Pliny the elder maintai?ied, accordi?ig to Erasmiu^
in his Latin collections^ that there is 7io book^ however in^
different^ but inay^ in some sense or other, instruct the


Relying in the world to find
Some <' to my faults a little blind.*'


Though the current coin in the poet's
Exchange be wordsr^^d his drafts be drawn
in verse on the Bank of Parnassus, yet these
are but little regarded by bakers, butchers,
taylors, Sec. it is therefore not very surpris-
ing that such bills as the preceding should
be dishonoured, when offered for payment,
and returned upon the drawer. Among,
the various classes of the literati, the poet
is most commonly a victim to the cacoet/ies-
scribendi, for if he once resigns the reins to
fancy, she generally runs restive ; and the
poor charioteer is often thrown into the bog
of disappointment, or hurried into the quag-
mire of penury.

" Though pining in garret, perhaps for want of bread,
He fills with visionary bliss his head,
Scratches his pate, and now enraptured writes,
Now utters sentences, and now endites :
" Descend ye lovely, ye celestial nine —
—Borrow a candle child — Wife don't repine."

Of all the hobbies in the Augean stable of
literature, there is none worse ridden, or so
badly managed as Pegasus.


Many a worthy man gets on his back
with the laudable intention of riding post to*
Parnassus, but finds, to his astonishment,
that the beast leaves him in the lurch, and
does not bring him within sight of that be-
witching region — It sometimes happens
that a very oaf will aspire to the honor of
mounting Pegasus, but he is soon thrown
into the dirt.

" See smiling J ra 's.i fifty ^ weep,

Of love-lorn oxen, and forsaken sheep."

Giffhrd^s Baviad,

Indeed such is the prevalence of this lit-
erary mania, that no man is now admitted
into elegant society, unless he evinces his
capability of making a hook, or at least,
writing a prologue — this has produced a
swarm of Monkish romancers :

Prologue writers^
Song enditers, "^

Novel scribblers,
Critic nibblers—

In short we have now bevies of Dramat»
ists, Sonnetteers, Epigrammatists, and Peter
Pindarics : we have besides, sleeping beau-
ties in the wood, children in the wood, and


a very numerous anacreontic society. Now
these are surely all fair game, and the best
thing we can do is to make game of them.
If v/e have not poets v/ho '* lisp in num-
bers," we have numbers of writers who
attempt to figure in rhyme—

" Of all vain fools with ccT^comb talents curs'd
Bad poets and had iKiiniers are the worst/*

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Online LibraryJohn BrittonThe pleasures of human life: investigated cheerfully → online text (page 3 of 11)