Samuel Johnson.

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Yet of this change, so frequent, so great, so general, and so necessary,
no searcher has yet found either the efficient or final cause; or can
tell by what power the mind and body are thus chained down in
irresistible stupefaction; or what benefits the animal receives from
this alternate suspension of its active powers.

Whatever may be the multiplicity or contrariety of opinions upon this
subject, nature has taken sufficient care that theory shall have little
influence on practice. The most diligent inquirer is not able long to
keep his eyes open; the most eager disputant will begin about midnight
to desert his argument; and, once in four-and-twenty hours, the gay and
the gloomy, the witty and the dull, the clamorous and the silent, the
busy and the idle, are all overpowered by the gentle tyrant, and all lie
down in the equality of sleep.

Philosophy has often attempted to repress insolence, by asserting, that
all conditions are levelled by death; a position which, however it may
deject the happy, will seldom afford much comfort to the wretched. It is
far more pleasing to consider, that, sleep is equally a leveller with
death; that the time is never at a great distance, when the balm of rest
shall be diffused alike upon every head, when the diversities of life
shall stop their operation, and the high and the low shall lie down

It is somewhere recorded of Alexander, that in the pride of conquests,
and intoxication of flattery, he declared that he only perceived himself
to be a man by the necessity of sleep. Whether he considered sleep as
necessary to his mind or body, it was indeed a sufficient evidence of
human infirmity; the body which required such frequency of renovation,
gave but faint promises of immortality; and the mind which, from time to
time, sunk gladly into insensibility, had made no very near approaches
to the felicity of the supreme and self-sufficient nature.

I know not what can tend more to repress all the passions, that disturb
the peace of the world, than the consideration that there is no height
of happiness or honour, from which man does not eagerly descend to a
state of unconscious repose; that the best condition of life is such,
that we contentedly quit its good to be disentangled from its evils;
that in a few hours splendour fades before the eye, and praise itself
deadens in the ear; the senses withdraw from their objects, and reason
favours the retreat.

What then are the hopes and prospects of covetousness, ambition, and
rapacity? Let him that desires most have all his desires gratified, he
never shall attain a state which he can, for a day and a night,
contemplate with satisfaction, or from which, if he had the power of
perpetual vigilance, he would not long for periodical separations.

All envy would be extinguished, if it were universally known that there
are none to be envied, and surely none can be much envied who are not
pleased with themselves. There is reason to suspect, that the
distinctions of mankind have more show than value, when it is found that
all agree to be weary alike of pleasures and of cares; that the powerful
and the weak, the celebrated and obscure, join in one common wish, and
implore from nature's hand the nectar of oblivion.

Such is our desire of abstraction from ourselves, that very few are
satisfied with the quantity of stupefaction which the needs of the body
force upon the mind. Alexander himself added intemperance to sleep, and
solaced with the fumes of wine the sovereignty of the world: and almost
every man has some art by which he steals his thoughts away from his
present state.

It is not much of life that is spent in close attention to any important
duty. Many hours of every day are suffered to fly away without any
traces left upon the intellects. We suffer phantoms to rise up before
us, and amuse ourselves with the dance of airy images, which, after a
time, we dismiss for ever, and know not how we have been busied.

Many have no happier moments than those that they pass in solitude,
abandoned to their own imagination, which sometimes puts sceptres in
their hands or mitres on their heads, shifts the scene of pleasure with
endless variety, bids all the forms of beauty sparkle before them, and
gluts them with every change of visionary luxury.

It is easy in these semi-slumbers to collect all the possibilities of
happiness, to alter the course of the sun, to bring back the past, and
anticipate the future, to unite all the beauties of all seasons, and all
the blessings of all climates, to receive and bestow felicity, and
forget that misery is the lot of man. All this is a voluntary dream, a
temporary recession from the realities of life to airy fictions; and
habitual subjection of reason to fancy.

Others are afraid to be alone, and amuse themselves by a perpetual
succession of companions: but the difference is not great; in solitude
we have our dreams to ourselves, and in company we agree to dream in
concert. The end sought in both is forgetfulness of ourselves.

[1] "For half their life," says Aristotle, "the happy differ not from
the wretched.". - Nichom. Ethic, i. 13.

[Greek: Hypn odunas adaaes, Hypne d algeon
Euaaes haemin elthois,
Euaion, euaion anax.] Soph. Philoct. 827.

No. 33. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 2, 1758.

[I hope the author of the following letter[1] will excuse the omission
of some parts, and allow me to remark, that the Journal of the Citizen
in the Spectator has almost precluded the attempt of any future writer.]

- _Non ita Romuli Praescriptum, et intonsi Catonis
Auspiciis, veterumque norm√Ґ_. HOR. Lib. ii. Ode xv. 10.


You have often solicited correspondence. I have sent you the Journal of
a Senior Fellow, or Genuine Idler, just transmitted from Cambridge by a
facetious correspondent, and warranted to have been transcribed from the
common-place book of the journalist.

Monday, Nine o'Clock. Turned off my bed-maker for waking me at eight.
Weather rainy. Consulted my weather-glass. No hopes of a ride before

Ditto, Ten. After breakfast, transcribed half a sermon from Dr. Hickman.
N.B. Never to transcribe any more from Calamy; Mrs. Pilcocks, at my
curacy, having one volume of that author lying in her parlour-window.

Ditto, Eleven. Went down into my cellar. Mem. My Mountain will be fit to
drink in a month's time. N.B. To remove the five-year old port into the
new bin on the left hand.

Ditto, Twelve. Mended a pen. Looked at my weather-glass again.
Quicksilver very low. Shaved. Barber's hand shakes.

Ditto, One. Dined alone in my room on a sole. N.B. The shrimp-sauce not
so good as Mr. H. of Peterhouse and I used to eat in London last winter
at the Mitre in Fleet-street. Sat down to a pint of Madeira. Mr. H.
surprised me over it. We finished two bottles of port together, and were
very cheerful. Mem. To dine with Mr. H. at Peterhouse next Wednesday.
One of the dishes a leg of pork and pease, by my desire.

Ditto, Six. Newspaper in the common room.

Ditto, Seven. Returned to my room. Made a tiff of warm punch, and to bed
before nine; did not fall asleep till ten, a young fellow commoner being
very noisy over my head.

Tuesday, Nine, Rose squeamish. A fine morning. Weather-glass very high.

Ditto, Ten. Ordered my horse, and rode to the five-mile stone on the
Newmarket road. Appetite gets better. A pack of hounds, in full cry,
crossed the road, and startled my horse.

Ditto, Twelve. Drest. Found a letter on my table to be in London the
19th inst. Bespoke a new wig.

Ditto, One. At dinner in the hall. Too much water in the soup. Dr. Dry
always orders the beef to be salted too much for me.

Ditto, Two. In the common room. Dr. Dry gave us an instance of a
gentleman who kept the gout out of his stomach by drinking old Madeira.
Conversation chiefly on the expeditions. Company broke up at four. Dr.
Dry and myself played at backgammon for a brace of snipes. Won.

Ditto, Five. At the coffee-house. Met Mr. H. there. Could not get a
sight of the Monitor.

Ditto, Seven. Returned home, and stirred my fire. Went to the common
room, and supped on the snipes with Dr. Dry.

Ditto, Eight. Began the evening in the common room. Dr. Dry told several
stories. Were very merry. Our new fellow, that studies physick, very
talkative toward twelve. Pretends he will bring the youngest Miss - - to
drink tea with me soon. Impertinent blockhead!

Wednesday, Nine. Alarmed with a pain in my ankle. Q. The gout? Fear I
can't dine at Peterhouse; but I hope a ride will set all to rights.
Weather-glass below Fair.

Ditto, Ten. Mounted my horse, though the weather suspicious. Pain in my
ankle entirely gone. Caught in a shower coming back. Convinced that my
weather-glass is the best in Cambridge.

Ditto, Twelve. Drest. Sauntered up to the Fish-monger's hill. Met Mr. H.
and went with him to Peterhouse. Cook made us wait thirty-six minutes
beyond the time. The company, some of my Emmanuel friends. For dinner, a
pair of soles, a leg of pork and pease, among other things. Mem.
Pease-pudding not boiled enough. Cook reprimanded and sconced in my

Ditto, after Dinner. Pain in my ankle returns. Dull all the afternoon.
Rallied for being no company. Mr. H.'s account of the accommodations on
the road in his Bath journey.

Ditto, Six. Got into spirits. Never was more chatty. We sat late at
whist. Mr. H. and self agreed at parting to take a gentle ride, and dine
at the old house on the London road to-morrow.

Thursday, Nine. My sempstress. She has lost the measure of my wrist.
Forced to be measured again. The baggage has got a trick of smiling.

Ditto, Ten to Eleven. Made some rappee snuff. Read the magazines.
Received a present of pickles from Miss Pilcocks. Mem. To send in return
some collared eel, which I know both the old lady and miss are fond of.

Ditto, Eleven. Glass very high. Mounted at the gate with Mr. H. Horse
skittish, and wants exercise. Arrive at the old house. All the
provisions bespoke by some rakish fellow-commoner in the next room, who
had been on a scheme to Newmarket. Could get nothing but mutton-chops
off the worst end. Port very new. Agree to try some other house

Here the journal breaks off: for the next morning, as my friend informs
me, our genial academick was waked with a severe fit of the gout; and,
at present, enjoys all the dignity of that disease. But I believe we
have lost nothing by this interruption: since a continuation of the
remainder of the journal, through the remainder of the week, would most
probably have exhibited nothing more than a repeated relation of the
same circumstances of idling and luxury.

I hope it will not be concluded, from this specimen of academick life,
that I have attempted to decry our universities. If literature is not
the essential requisite of the modern academick, I am yet persuaded,
that Cambridge and Oxford, however degenerated, surpass the fashionable
_academies_ of our metropolis, and the _gymnasia_ of foreign countries.
The number of learned persons in these celebrated seats is still
considerable, and more conveniencies and opportunities for study still
subsist in them, than in any other place. There is at least one very
powerful incentive to learning; I mean the GENIUS _of the place_. It is
a sort of inspiring deity, which every youth of quick sensibility and
ingenious disposition creates to himself, by reflecting, that he is
placed under those venerable walls, where a HOOKER and a HAMMOND, a
BACON and a NEWTON, once pursued the same course of science, and from
whence they soared to the most elevated heights of literary fame. This
is that incitement which Tully, according to his own testimony,
experienced at Athens, when he contemplated the porticos where Socrates
sat, and the laurel-groves where Plato disputed[2].

But there are other circumstances, and of the highest importance, which
render our colleges superior to all other places of education. Their
institutions, although somewhat fallen from their primaeval simplicity,
are such as influence, in a particular manner, the moral conduct of
their youth; and in this general depravity of manners and laxity of
principles, pure religion is no where more strongly inculcated. The
_academies_, as they are presumptuously styled, are too low to be
mentioned; and foreign seminaries are likely to prejudice the unwary
mind with Calvinism. But English universities render their students
virtuous, at least by excluding all opportunities of vice; and, by
teaching them the principles of the Church of England, confirm them in
those of true Christianity.

[1] Mr. Thomas Warton.

[2] A rich assemblage of examples, of the "influence of perceptible
objects in reviving former thoughts and former feelings," is
collected in Dr. Brown's Philosophy of the Human Mind, vol. 2,
Lecture 38.

No. 34. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 9, 1758.

To illustrate one thing by its resemblance to another, has been always
the most popular and efficacious art of instruction. There is indeed no
other method of teaching that of which any one is ignorant, but by means
of something already known; and a mind so enlarged by contemplation, and
inquiry, that it has always many objects within its view, will seldom be
long without some near and familiar image through which an easy
transition may be made to truths more distant and obscure.

Of the parallels which have been drawn by wit and curiosity, some are
literal and real, as between poetry and painting, two arts which pursue
the same end, by the operation of the same mental faculties, and which
differ only as the one represents things by marks permanent and natural,
the other by signs accidental and arbitrary. The one, therefore, is more
easily and generally understood, since similitude of form is immediately
perceived; the other is capable of conveying more ideas, for men have
thought and spoken of many things which they do not see.

Other parallels are fortuitous and fanciful, yet these have sometimes
been extended to many particulars of resemblance by a lucky concurrence
of diligence and chance. The animal body is composed of many members,
united under the direction of one mind: any number of individuals,
connected for some common purpose, is therefore called a body. From this
participation of the same appellation arose the comparison of the body
natural and body politick, of which, how far soever it has been deduced,
no end has hitherto been found.

In these imaginary similitudes, the same word is used at once in its
primitive and metaphorical sense. Thus health, ascribed to the body
natural, is opposed to sickness; but attributed to the body politick
stands as contrary to adversity. These parallels therefore have more of
genius, but less of truth; they often please, but they never convince.

Of this kind is a curious speculation frequently indulged by a
philosopher of my acquaintance, who had discovered, that the qualities
requisite to conversation are very exactly represented by a bowl of

Punch, says this profound investigator, is a liquor compounded of spirit
and acid juices, sugar and water. The spirit, volatile and fiery, is the
proper emblem of vivacity and wit; the acidity of the lemon will very
aptly figure pungency of raillery, and acrimony of censure; sugar is the
natural representative of luscious adulation and gentle complaisance;
and water is the proper hieroglyphick of easy prattle, innocent and

Spirit alone is too powerful for use. It will produce madness rather
than merriment; and instead of quenching thirst will inflame the blood.
Thus wit, too copiously poured out, agitates the hearer with emotions
rather violent than pleasing; every one shrinks from the force of its
oppression, the company sits entranced and overpowered; all are
astonished, but nobody is pleased.

The acid juices give this genial liquor all its power of stimulating the
palate. Conversation would become dull and vapid, if negligence were not
sometimes roused, and sluggishness quickened, by due severity of
reprehension. But acids unmixed will distort the face and torture the
palate; and he that has no other qualities than penetration and
asperity, he whose constant employment is detection and censure, who
looks only to find faults, and speaks only to punish them, will soon be
dreaded, hated and avoided.

The taste of sugar is generally pleasing, but it cannot long be eaten by
itself. Thus meekness and courtesy will always recommend the first
address, but soon pall and nauseate, unless they are associated with
more sprightly qualities. The chief use of sugar is to temper the taste
of other substances; and softness of behaviour, in the same manner,
mitigates the roughness of contradiction, and allays the bitterness of
unwelcome truth.

Water is the universal vehicle by which are conveyed the particles
necessary to sustenance and growth, by which thirst is quenched, and all
the wants of life and nature are supplied. Thus all the business of the
world is transacted by artless and easy talk, neither sublimed by fancy,
nor discoloured by affectation, without either the harshness of satire,
or the lusciousness of flattery. By this limpid vein of language,
curiosity is gratified, and all the knowledge is conveyed which one man
is required to impart for the safety or convenience of another. Water is
the only ingredient in punch which can be used alone, and with which man
is content till fancy has framed an artificial want. Thus while we only
desire to have our ignorance informed, we are most delighted with the
plainest diction; and it is only in the moments of idleness or pride,
that we call for the gratifications of wit or flattery.

He only will please long, who, by tempering the acidity of satire with
the sugar of civility, and allaying the heat of wit with the frigidity
of humble chat, can make the true punch of conversation; and, as that
punch can be drunk in the greatest quantity which has the largest
proportion of water, so that companion will be oftenest welcome, whose
talk flows out with inoffensive copiousness, and unenvied insipidity.

No. 35. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 16, 1758.


Mr. Idler,

If it be difficult to persuade the idle to be busy, it is likewise, as
experience has taught me, not easy to convince the busy that it is
better to be idle. When you shall despair of stimulating sluggishness to
motion, I hope you will turn your thoughts towards the means of stilling
the bustle of pernicious activity.

I am the unfortunate husband of a _buyer of bargains_. My wife has
somewhere heard, that a good housewife _never_ has any thing to
_purchase when it is wanted_. This maxim is often in her mouth, and
always in her head. She is not one of those philosophical talkers that
speculate without practice; and learn sentences of wisdom only to repeat
them: she is always making additions to her stores; she never looks into
a broker's shop, but she spies something that may be wanted some time;
and it is impossible to make her pass the door of a house where she
hears _goods selling by auction_.

Whatever she thinks cheap, she holds it the duty of an economist to buy;
in consequence of this maxim, we are encumbered on every side with
useless lumber. The servants can scarcely creep to their beds through
the chests and boxes that surround them. The carpenter is employed once
a week in building closets, fixing cupboards, and fastening shelves; and
my house has the appearance of a ship stored for a voyage to the

I had often observed that advertisements set her on fire; and therefore,
pretending to emulate her laudable frugality, I forbade the newspaper to
be taken any longer; but my precaution is vain; I know not by what
fatality, or by what confederacy, every catalogue of _genuine furniture_
comes to her hand, every advertisement of a warehouse newly opened, is
in her pocketbook, and she knows before any of her neighbours when the
stock of any man _leaving off trade_ is to be _sold cheap for ready

Such intelligence is to my dear-one the Syren's song. No engagement, no
duty, no interest, can withhold her from a sale, from which she always
returns congratulating herself upon her dexterity at a bargain; the
porter lays down his burden in the hall; she displays her new
acquisitions, and spends the rest of the day in contriving where they
shall be put.

As she cannot bear to have any thing uncomplete, one purchase
necessitates another; she has twenty feather-beds more than she can use,
and a late sale has supplied her with a proportionable number of Witney
blankets, a large roll of linen for sheets, and five quilts for every
bed, which she bought because the seller told her, that if she would
clear his hands he would let her have a bargain.

Thus by hourly encroachments my habitation is made narrower and
narrower; the dining-room is so crowded with tables, that dinner
scarcely can be served; the parlour is decorated with so many piles of
china, that I dare not step within the door; at every turn of the stairs
I have a clock, and half the windows of the upper floors are darkened,
that shelves may be set before them.

This, however, might be borne, if she would gratify her own inclinations
without opposing mine. But I, who am idle, am luxurious, and she
condemns me to live upon salt provisions. She knows the loss of buying
in small quantities, we have, therefore, whole hogs and quarters of
oxen. Part of our meat is tainted before it is eaten, and part is thrown
away because it is spoiled; but she persists in her system, and will
never buy any thing by single penny-worths.

The common vice of those who are still grasping at more, is to neglect
that which they already possess; but from this failing my charmer is
free. It is the great care of her life that the pieces of beef should be
boiled in the order in which they are bought; that the second bag of
pease should not be opened till the first be eaten; that every
feather-bed should be lain on in its turn; that the carpets should be
taken out of the chests once a month and brushed, and the rolls of linen
opened now and then before the fire. She is daily inquiring after the best
traps for mice, and keeps the rooms always scented by fumigations to
destroy the moths. She employs workmen, from time to time, to adjust six
clocks that never go, and clean five jacks that rust in the garret; and
a woman in the next alley lives by scouring the brass and pewter, which
are only laid up to tarnish again.

She is always imagining some distant time, in which she shall use
whatever she accumulates: she has four looking-glasses which she cannot
hang up in her house, but which will be handsome in more lofty rooms;
and pays rent for the place of a vast copper in some warehouse, because,
when we live in the country, we shall brew our own beer.

Of this life I have long been weary, but know not how to change it: all
the married men whom I consult advise me to have patience; but some old
bachelors are of opinion that, since she loves sales so well, she should
have a sale of her own; and I have, I think, resolved to open her
hoards, and advertise an auction.

I am, Sir,

Your very humble servant,


No. 30. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23, 1758.

The great differences that disturb the peace of mankind are not about
ends, but means. We have all the same general desires, but how those
desires shall be accomplished will for ever be disputed. The ultimate
purpose of government is temporal, and that of religion is eternal
happiness. Hitherto we agree; but here we must part, to try, according
to the endless varieties of passion and understanding combined with one
another, every possible form of government, and every imaginable tenet
of religion.

We are told by Cumberland that _rectitude_, applied to action or
contemplation, is merely metaphorical; and that as a _right_ line
describes the shortest passage from point to point, so a _right_ action
effects a good design by the fewest means; and so likewise a _right_
opinion is that which connects distant truths by the shortest train of
intermediate propositions.

To find the nearest way from truth to truth, or from purpose to effect,
not to use more instruments where fewer will be sufficient; not to move
by wheels and levers what will give way to the naked hand, is the great
proof of a healthful and vigorous mind, neither feeble with helpless
ignorance, nor overburdened with unwieldy knowledge.

But there are men who seem to think nothing so much the characteristick

Online LibrarySamuel JohnsonThe Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume 04 The Adventurer; The Idler → online text (page 21 of 37)