Samuel Johnson.

The Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume 04 The Adventurer; The Idler online

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seems, with all his errours, worthy of advice, must be told, that he is
calling too hastily for the last effusion of total insensibility.
Whatever he may have been taught by unskilful Idlers to believe, labour
is necessary in his initiation to idleness. He that never labours may
know the pains of idleness, but not the pleasure. The comfort is, that
if he devotes himself to insensibility, he will daily lengthen the
intervals of idleness, and shorten those of labour, till at last he will
lie down to rest, and no longer disturb the world or himself by bustle
or competition.

Thus I have endeavoured to give him that information which, perhaps,
after all, he did not want; for a true Idler often calls for that which
he knows is never to be had, and asks questions which he does not desire
ever to be answered.

[1] By an unknown correspondent.

No. 10. SATURDAY, JUNE 17, 1758.

Credulity, or confidence of opinion too great for the evidence from
which opinion is derived, we find to be a general weakness imputed by
every sect and party to all others, and indeed by every man to every
other man.

Of all kinds of credulity, the most obstinate and wonderful is that of
political zealots; of men, who being numbered, they know not how or why,
in any of the parties that divide a state, resign the use of their own
eyes and ears, and resolve to believe nothing that does not favour those
whom they profess to follow.

The bigot of philosophy is seduced by authorities which he has not
always opportunities to examine, is entangled in systems by which truth
and falsehood are inextricably complicated, or undertakes to talk on
subjects which nature did not form him able to comprehend.

The Cartesian, who denies that his horse feels the spur, or that the
hare is afraid when the hounds approach her; the disciple of Malbranche,
who maintains that the man was not hurt by the bullet, which, according
to vulgar apprehension, swept away his legs; the follower of Berkeley,
who while he sits writing at his table, declares that he has neither
table, paper, nor fingers; have all the honour at least of being
deceived by fallacies not easily detected, and may plead that they did
not forsake truth, but for appearances which they were not able to
distinguish from it.

But the man who engages in a party has seldom to do with any thing
remote or abstruse. The present state of things is before his eyes; and,
if he cannot be satisfied without retrospection, yet he seldom extends
his views beyond the historical events of the last century. All the
knowledge that he can want is within his attainment, and most of the
arguments which he can hear are within his capacity.

Yet so it is, that an Idler meets every hour of his life with men who
have different opinions upon every thing past, present, and future; who
deny the most notorious facts, contradict the most cogent truths, and
persist in asserting to-day what they asserted yesterday, in defiance of
evidence, and contempt of confutation.

Two of my companions, who are grown old in idleness, are Tom Tempest and
Jack Sneaker. Both of them consider themselves as neglected by their
parties, and therefore entitled to credit; for why should they favour
ingratitude? They are both men of integrity, where no factious interest
is to be promoted; and both lovers of truth, when they are not heated
with political debate.

Tom Tempest is a steady friend to the house of Stuart. He can recount
the prodigies that have appeared in the sky, and the calamities that
have afflicted the nation every year from the Revolution; and is of
opinion, that, if the exiled family had continued to reign, there would
have neither been worms in our ships nor caterpillars in our trees. He
wonders that the nation was not awakened by the hard frost to a
revocation of the true king, and is hourly afraid that the whole island
will be lost in the sea. He believes that king William burned Whitehall
that he might steal the furniture; and that Tillotson died an atheist.
Of queen Anne he speaks with more tenderness, owns that she meant well,
and can tell by whom and why she was poisoned. In the succeeding reigns
all has been corruption, malice, and design. He believes that nothing
ill has ever happened for these forty years by chance or errour; he
holds that the battle of Dettingen was won by mistake, and that of
Fontenoy lost by contract; that the Victory was sunk by a private order;
that Cornhill was fired by emissaries from the council; and the arch of
Westminster-bridge was so contrived as to sink on purpose that the
nation might be put to charge. He considers the new road to Islington as
an encroachment on liberty, and often asserts that _broad wheels_ will
be the ruin of England.

Tom is generally vehement and noisy, but nevertheless has some secrets
which he always communicates in a whisper. Many and many a time has Tom
told me, in a corner, that our miseries were almost at an end, and that
we should see, in a month, another monarch on the throne; the time
elapses without a revolution; Tom meets me again with new intelligence,
the whole scheme is now settled, and we shall see great events in
another month.

Jack Sneaker is a hearty adherent to the present establishment; he has
known those who saw the bed into which the Pretender was conveyed in a
warming-pan. He often rejoices that the nation was not enslaved by the
Irish. He believes that king William never lost a battle, and that if he
had lived one year longer he would have conquered France. He holds that
Charles the First was a Papist. He allows there were some good men in
the reign of queen Anne, but the peace of Utrecht brought a blast upon
the nation, and has been the cause of all the evil that we have suffered
to the present hour. He believes that the scheme of the South Sea was
well intended, but that it miscarried by the influence of France. He
considers a standing army as the bulwark of liberty, thinks us secured
from corruption by septennial parliaments, relates how we are enriched
and strengthened by the electoral dominions, and declares that the
publick debt is a blessing to the nation.

Yet, amidst all this prosperity, poor Jack is hourly disturbed by the
dread of Popery. He wonders that some stricter laws are not made against
Papists, and is sometimes afraid that they are busy with French gold
among the bishops and judges.

He cannot believe that the Nonjurors are so quiet for nothing, they must
certainly be forming some plot for the establishment of Popery; he does
not think the present oaths sufficiently binding, and wishes that some
better security could be found for the succession of Hanover. He is
zealous for the naturalization of foreign Protestants, and rejoiced at
the admission of the Jews to the English privileges, because he thought
a Jew would never be a Papist.

No. 11. SATURDAY, JUNE 24, 1758.

- _Nec te quaesiveris extra_. PERS.

It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk
is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must
already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm.

There are, among the numerous lovers of subtilties and paradoxes, some
who derive the civil institutions of every country from its climate, who
impute freedom and slavery to the temperature of the air, can fix the
meridian of vice and virtue, and tell at what degree of latitude we are
to expect courage or timidity, knowledge or ignorance.

From these dreams of idle speculation, a slight survey of life, and a
little knowledge of history, are sufficient to awaken any inquirer,
whose ambition of distinction has not overpowered his love of truth.
Forms of government are seldom the result of much deliberation; they are
framed by chance in popular assemblies, or in conquered countries, by
despotick authority. Laws are often occasional, often capricious, made
always by a few, and sometimes by a single voice. Nations have changed
their characters; slavery is now no where more patiently endured, than
in countries once inhabited by the zealots of liberty.

But national customs can arise only from general agreement; they are not
imposed, but chosen, and are continued only by the continuance of their
cause. An Englishman's notice of the weather is the natural consequence
of changeable skies and uncertain seasons. In many parts of the world,
wet weather and dry are regularly expected at certain periods; but in
our island every man goes to sleep, unable to guess whether he shall
behold in the morning a bright or cloudy atmosphere, whether his rest
shall be lulled by a shower, or broken by a tempest. We therefore
rejoice mutually at good weather, as at an escape from something that we
feared; and mutually complain of bad, as of the loss of something that
we hoped.

Such is the reason of our practice; and who shall treat it with
contempt? Surely not the attendant on a court, whose business is to
watch the looks of a being weak and foolish as himself, and whose vanity
is to recount the names of men, who might drop into nothing, and leave
no vacuity; nor the proprietor of funds, who stops his acquaintance in
the street to tell him of the loss of half-a-crown; nor the inquirer
after news, who fills his head with foreign events, and talks of
skirmishes and sieges, of which no consequence will ever reach his
hearers or himself. The weather is a nobler and more interesting
subject; it is the present state of the skies, and of the earth, on
which plenty and famine are suspended, on which millions depend for the
necessaries of life.

The weather is frequently mentioned for another reason, less honourable
to my dear countrymen. Our dispositions too frequently change with the
colour of the sky; and when we find ourselves cheerful and good-natured,
we naturally pay our acknowledgments to the powers of sunshine; or, if
we sink into dulness and peevishness, look round the horizon for an
excuse, and charge our discontent upon an easterly wind or a cloudy day.

Surely nothing is more reproachful to a being endowed with reason, than
to resign its powers to the influence of the air, and live in dependence
on the weather and the wind, for the only blessings which nature has put
into our power, tranquillity and benevolence. To look up to the sky for
the nutriment of our bodies, is the condition of nature; to call upon
the sun for peace and gaiety, or deprecate the clouds lest sorrow should
overwhelm us, is the cowardice of idleness, and the idolatry of folly.

Yet even in this age of inquiry and knowledge, when superstition is
driven away, and omens and prodigies have lost their terrours, we find
this folly countenanced by frequent examples. Those that laugh at the
portentous glare of a comet, and hear a crow with equal tranquillity
from the right or left, will yet talk of times and situations proper for
intellectual performances, will imagine the fancy exalted by vernal
breezes, and the reason invigorated by a bright calm.

If men who have given up themselves to fanciful credulity would confine
their conceits in their own minds, they might regulate their lives by
the barometer, with inconvenience only to themselves; but to fill the
world with accounts of intellects subject to ebb and flow, of one genius
that awakened in the spring, and another that ripened in the autumn, of
one mind expanded in the summer, and of another concentrated in the
winter, is no less dangerous than to tell children of bugbears and
goblins. Fear will find every house haunted; and idleness will wait for
ever for the moment of illumination.

This distinction of seasons is produced only by imagination operating on
luxury. To temperance every day is bright, and every hour is propitious
to diligence. He that shall resolutely excite his faculties, or exert
his virtues, will soon make himself superior to the seasons, and may set
at defiance the morning mist, and the evening damp, the blasts of the
east, and the clouds of the south.

It was the boast of the Stoick philosophy, to make man unshaken by
calamity, and unelated by success, incorruptible by pleasure, and
invulnerable by pain; these are heights of wisdom which none ever
attained, and to which few can aspire; but there are lower degrees of
constancy necessary to common virtue; and every man, however he may
distrust himself in the extremes of good or evil, might at least
struggle against the tyranny of the climate, and refuse to enslave his
virtue or his reason to the most variable of all variations, the changes
of the weather.

No. 12. SATURDAY, JULY 1, 1758.

That every man is important in his own eyes, is a position of which we
all either voluntarily or unwarily at least once an hour confess the
truth; and it will unavoidably follow, that every man believes himself
important to the publick. The right which this importance gives us to
general notice and visible distinction, is one of those disputable
privileges which we have not always courage to assert; and which we
therefore suffer to lie dormant till some elation of mind, or
vicissitude of fortune, incites us to declare our pretensions and
enforce our demands. And hopeless as the claim of vulgar characters may
seem to the supercilious and severe, there are few who do not at one
time or other endeavour to step forward beyond their rank; who do not
make some struggles for fame, and show that they think all other
conveniencies and delights imperfectly enjoyed without a name.

To get a name, can happen but to few. A name, even in the most
commercial nation, is one of the few things which cannot be bought. It
is the free gift of mankind, which must be deserved before it will be
granted, and is at last unwillingly bestowed. But this unwillingness
only increases desire in him who believes his merit sufficient to
overcome it.

There is a particular period of life, in which this fondness for a name
seems principally to predominate in both sexes. Scarce any couple comes
together but the nuptials are declared in the newspapers with encomiums
on each party. Many an eye, ranging over the page with eager curiosity
in quest of statesmen and heroes, is stopped by a marriage celebrated
between Mr. Buckram, an eminent salesman in Threadneedle-street, and
Miss Dolly Juniper, the only daughter of an eminent distiller, of the
parish of St. Giles's in the Fields, a young lady adorned with every
accomplishment that can give happiness to the married state. Or we are
told, amidst our impatience for the event of a battle, that on a certain
day Mr. Winker, a tide-waiter at Yarmouth, was married to Mrs. Cackle, a
widow lady of great accomplishments, and that as soon as the ceremony
was performed they set out in a post-chaise for Yarmouth.

Many are the inquiries which such intelligence must undoubtedly raise,
but nothing in this world is lasting. When the reader has contemplated
with envy, or with gladness, the felicity of Mr. Buckram and Mr. Winker,
and ransacked his memory for the names of Juniper and Cackle, his
attention is diverted to other thoughts, by finding that Mirza will not
cover this season; or that a spaniel has been lost or stolen, that
answers to the name of Ranger.

Whence it arises that on the day of marriage all agree to call thus
openly for honours, I am not able to discover. Some, perhaps, think it
kind, by a publick declaration, to put an end to the hopes of rivalry
and the fears of jealousy, to let parents know that they may set their
daughters at liberty whom they have locked up for fear of the
bridegroom, or to dismiss to their counters and their offices the
amorous youths that had been used to hover round the dwelling of the

These connubial praises may have another cause. It may be the intention
of the husband and wife to dignify themselves in the eyes of each other,
and, according to their different tempers or expectations, to win
affection, or enforce respect.

It was said of the family of Lucas, that it was _noble_, for _all the
brothers were valiant, and all the sisters were virtuous_. What would a
stranger say of the _English_ nation, in which on the day of marriage
all the men are _eminent_, and all the women _beautiful, accomplished_,
and _rich_?

How long the wife will be persuaded of the eminence of her husband, or
the husband continue to believe that his wife has the qualities required
to make marriage happy, may reasonably be questioned. I am afraid that
much time seldom passes before each is convinced that praises are
fallacious, and particularly those praises which we confer upon

I should therefore think, that this custom might be omitted without any
loss to the community; and that the sons and daughters of lanes and
alleys might go hereafter to the next church, with no witnesses of their
worth or happiness but their parents and their friends; but if they
cannot be happy on the bridal day without some gratification of their
vanity, I hope they will be willing to encourage a friend of mine who
proposes to devote his powers to their service.

Mr. Settle, a man whose _eminence_ was once allowed by the _eminent_,
and whose _accomplishments_ were confessed by the _accomplished_, in the
latter part of a long life supported himself by an uncommon expedient.
He had a standing elegy and epithalamium, of which only the first and
last were leaves varied occasionally, and the intermediate pages were,
by general terms, left applicable alike to every character. When any
marriage became known, Settle ran to the bridegroom with his
epithalamium; and when he heard of any death, ran to the heir with his

Who can think himself disgraced by a trade that was practised so long by
the rival of Dryden, by the poet whose "Empress of Morocco" was played
before princes by ladies of the court?

My friend purposes to open an office in the Fleet for matrimonial
panegyricks, and will accommodate all with praise who think their own
powers of expression inadequate to their merit. He will sell any man or
woman the virtue or qualification which is most fashionable or most
desired; but desires his customers to remember, that he sets beauty at
the highest price, and riches at the next, and, if he be well paid,
throws in virtue for nothing.

No. 13. SATURDAY, JULY 8, 1758.


Dear Mr. Idler,

Though few men of prudence are much inclined to interpose in disputes
between man and wife, who commonly make peace at the expense of the
arbitrator; yet I will venture to lay before you a controversy, by which
the quiet of my house has been long disturbed, and which, unless you can
decide it, is likely to produce lasting evils, and embitter those hours
which nature seems to have appropriated to tenderness and repose.

I married a wife with no great fortune, but of a family remarkable for
domestick prudence, and elegant frugality. I lived with her at ease, if
not with happiness, and seldom had any reason of complaint. The house
was always clean, the servants were active and regular, dinner was on
the table every day at the same minute, and the ladies of the
neighbourhood were frightened when I invited their husbands, lest their
own economy should be less esteemed.

During this gentle lapse of life, my dear brought me three daughters. I
wished for a son, to continue the family; but my wife often tells me,
that boys are dirty things, and are always troublesome in a house; and
declares that she has hated the sight of them ever since she saw lady
Fondle's eldest son ride over a carpet with his hobby-horse all mire.

I did not much attend to her opinion, but knew that girls could not be
made boys; and therefore composed myself to bear what I could not
remedy, and resolved to bestow that care on my daughters, to which only
the sons are commonly thought entitled.

But my wife's notions of education differ widely from mine. She is an
irreconcilable enemy to idleness, and considers every state of life as
idleness, in which the hands are not employed, or some art acquired, by
which she thinks money may be got or saved.

In pursuance of this principle, she calls up her daughters at a certain
hour, and appoints them a task of needlework to be performed before
breakfast. They are confined in a garret, which has its window in the
roof, both because work is best done at a sky-light, and because
children are apt to lose time by looking about them.

They bring down their work to breakfast, and as they deserve are
commended or reproved; they are then sent up with a new task till
dinner; if no company is expected, their mother sits with them the whole
afternoon, to direct their operations, and to draw patterns, and is
sometimes denied to her nearest relations when she is engaged in
teaching them a new stitch.

By this continual exercise of their diligence, she has obtained a very
considerable number of laborious performances. We have twice as many
fire-skreens as chimneys, and three flourished quilts for every bed.
Half the rooms are adorned with a kind of _sutile pictures_, which
imitate tapestry. But all their work is not set out to show; she has
boxes filled with knit garters and braided shoes. She has twenty covers
for side-saddles embroidered with silver flowers, and has curtains
wrought with gold in various figures, which she resolves some time or
other to hang up. All these she displays to her company whenever she is
elate with merit, and eager for praise; and amidst the praises which her
friends and herself bestow upon her merit, she never fails to turn to
me, and ask what all these would cost, if I had been to buy them.

I sometimes venture to tell her, that many of the ornaments are
superfluous; that what is done with so much labour might have been
supplied by a very easy purchase; that the work is not always worth the
materials; and that I know not why the children should be persecuted
with useless tasks, or obliged to make shoes that are never worn. She
answers with a look of contempt, that men never care how money goes, and
proceeds to tell of a dozen new chairs for which she is contriving
covers, and of a couch which she intends to stand as a monument of

In the mean time, the girls grow up in total ignorance of every thing
past, present, and future. Molly asked me the other day, whether Ireland
was in France, and was ordered by her mother to mend her hem. Kitty
knows not, at sixteen, the difference between a Protestant and a Papist,
because she has been employed three years in filling the side of a
closet with a hanging that is to represent Cranmer in the flames. And
Dolly, my eldest girl, is now unable to read a chapter in the Bible,
having spent all the time, which other children pass at school, in
working the interview between Solomon and the queen of Sheba.

About a month ago, Tent and Turkey-stitch seemed at a stand; my wife
knew not what new work to introduce; I ventured to propose that the
girls should now learn to read and write, and mentioned the necessity of
a little arithmetick; but, unhappily, my wife has discovered that linen
wears out, and has bought the girls three little wheels, that they may
spin huckaback for the servants' table. I remonstrated, that with larger
wheels they might despatch in an hour what must now cost them a day; but
she told me, with irresistible authority, that any business is better
than idleness; that when these wheels are set upon a table, with mats
under them, they will turn without noise, and keep the girls upright;
that great wheels are not fit for gentlewomen; and that with these,
small as they are, she does not doubt but that the three girls, if they
are kept close, will spin every year as much cloth as would cost five
pounds if one were to buy it.

No 14. SATURDAY, JULY 15, 1758.

When Diogenes received a visit in his tub from Alexander the Great, and
was asked, according to the ancient forms of royal courtesy, what
petition he had to offer; "I have nothing," said he, "to ask, but that
you would remove to the other side, that you may not, by intercepting
the sunshine, take from me what you cannot give me."

Such was the demand of Diogenes from the greatest monarch of the earth,
which those, who have less power than Alexander, may, with yet more
propriety, apply to themselves. He that does much good, may be allowed
to do sometimes a little harm. But if the opportunities of beneficence
be denied by fortune, innocence should at least be vigilantly preserved.

It is well known, that time once passed never returns; and that the
moment which is lost, is lost for ever. Time therefore ought, above all

Online LibrarySamuel JohnsonThe Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume 04 The Adventurer; The Idler → online text (page 16 of 37)