Samuel Johnson.

The Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume 03 The Rambler, Volume II online

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plantations, must still, either by birth or acquisition, possess riches.
They may be considered as the elemental principles of pleasure, which
may be combined with endless diversity; as the essential and necessary
substance, of which only the form is left to be adjusted by choice.

The necessity of riches being thus apparent, it is not wonderful that
almost every mind has been employed in endeavours to acquire them; that
multitudes have vied in arts by which life is furnished with
accommodations, and which therefore mankind may reasonably be expected
to reward.

It had, indeed, been happy, if this predominant appetite had operated
only in concurrence with virtue, by influencing none but those who were
zealous to deserve what they were eager to possess, and had abilities to
improve their own fortunes by contributing to the ease or happiness of
others. To have riches and to have merit would then have been the same,
and success might reasonably have been considered as a proof of

But we do not find that any of the wishes of men keep a stated
proportion to their powers of attainment. Many envy and desire wealth,
who can never procure it by honest industry or useful knowledge. They
therefore turn their eyes about to examine what other methods can be
found of gaining that which none, however impotent or worthless, will be
content to want.

A little inquiry will discover that there are nearer ways to profit than
through the intricacies of art, or up the steeps of labour; what wisdom
and virtue scarcely receive at the close of life, as the recompense of
long toil and repeated efforts, is brought within the reach of subtilty
and dishonesty by more expeditious and compendious measures: the wealth
of credulity is an open prey to falsehood; and the possessions of
ignorance and imbecility are easily stolen away by the conveyances of
secret artifice, or seized by the gripe of unresisted violence.

It is likewise not hard to discover that riches always procure
protection for themselves, that they dazzle the eyes of inquiry, divert
the celerity of pursuit, or appease the ferocity of vengeance. When any
man is incontestably known to have large possessions, very few think it
requisite to inquire by what practices they were obtained; the
resentment of mankind rages only against the struggles of feeble and
timorous corruption, but when it has surmounted the first opposition, it
is afterwards supported by favour, and animated by applause.

The prospect of gaining speedily what is ardently desired, and the
certainty of obtaining by every accession of advantage an addition of
security, have so far prevailed upon the passions of mankind, that the
peace of life is destroyed by a general and incessant struggle for
riches. It is observed of gold, by an old epigrammatist, that "To have
it is to be in fear, and to want it is to be in sorrow." There is no
condition which is not disquieted either with the care of gaining or of
keeping money; and the race of man may be divided in a political
estimate between those who are practising fraud, and those who are
repelling it.

If we consider the present state of the world, it will be found, that
all confidence is lost among mankind, that no man ventures to act, where
money can be endangered upon the faith of another. It is impossible to
see the long scrolls in which every contract is included, with all their
appendages of seals and attestation, without wondering at the depravity
of those beings, who must be restrained from violation of promise by
such formal and publick evidences, and precluded from equivocation and
subterfuge by such punctilious minuteness. Among all the satires to
which folly and wickedness have given occasion, none is equally severe
with a bond or a settlement.

Of the various arts by which riches may be obtained, the greater part
are at the first view irreconcileable with the laws of virtue; some are
openly flagitious, and practised not only in neglect, but in defiance of
faith and justice; and the rest are on every side so entangled with
dubious tendencies, and so beset with perpetual temptations, that very
few, even of those who are not yet abandoned, are able to preserve their
innocence, or can produce any other claim to pardon than that they
deviated from the right less than others, and have sooner and more
diligently endeavoured to return.

One of the chief characteristicks of the golden age, of the age in which
neither care nor danger had intruded on mankind, is the community of
possessions: strife and fraud were totally excluded, and every turbulent
passion was stilled by plenty and equality. Such were indeed happy
times, but such times can return no more. Community of possession must
include spontaneity of production; for what is obtained by labour will
be of right the property of him by whose labour it is gained. And while
a rightful claim to pleasure or to affluence must be procured either by
slow industry or uncertain hazard, there will always be multitudes whom
cowardice or impatience incite to more safe and more speedy methods, who
strive to pluck the fruit without cultivating the tree, and to share the
advantages of victory without partaking the danger of the battle. In
later ages, the conviction of the danger to which virtue is exposed
while the mind continues open to the influence of riches, has determined
many to vows of perpetual poverty; they have suppressed desire by
cutting off the possibility of gratification, and secured their peace by
destroying the enemy whom they had no hope of reducing to quiet
subjection. But, by debarring themselves from evil, they have rescinded
many opportunities of good; they have too often sunk into inactivity and
uselessness; and, though they have forborne to injure society, have not
fully paid their contributions to its happiness.

While riches are so necessary to present convenience, and so much more
easily obtained by crimes than virtues, the mind can only be secured
from yielding to the continual impulse of covetousness by the
preponderation of unchangeable and eternal motives. Gold will turn the
intellectual balance, when weighed only against reputation; but will be
light and ineffectual when the opposite scale is charged with justice,
veracity, and piety[f].

No. 132. SATURDAY, JUNE 22, 1751.

- _Dociles imitandis
Turpibus ac pravis omnes sumus_. - JUV. Sat. xiv. 40.

The mind of mortals, in perverseness strong,
Imbibes with dire docility the wrong.



I was bred a scholar, and after the usual course of education, found it
necessary to employ for the support of life that learning which I had
almost exhausted my little fortune in acquiring. The lucrative
professions drew my regard with equal attraction; each presented ideas
which excited my curiosity, and each imposed duties which terrified my

There is no temper more unpropitious to interest than desultory
application and unlimited inquiry, by which the desires are held in a
perpetual equipoise, and the mind fluctuates between different purposes
without determination. I had books of every kind round me, among which I
divided my time as caprice or accident directed. I often spent the first
hours of the day, in considering to what study I should devote the rest,
and at last snatched up any author that lay upon the table, or perhaps
fled to a coffee-house for deliverance from the anxiety of irresolution,
and the gloominess of solitude.

Thus my little patrimony grew imperceptibly less, till I was roused from
my literary slumber by a creditor, whose importunity obliged me to
pacify him with so large a sum, that what remained was not sufficient to
support me more than eight months. I hope you will not reproach me with
avarice or cowardice, if I acknowledge that I now thought myself in
danger of distress, and obliged to endeavour after some certain

There have been heroes of negligence, who have laid the price of their
last acre in a drawer, and, without the least interruption of their
tranquillity, or abatement of their expenses, taken out one piece after
another, till there was no more remaining. But I was not born to such
dignity of imprudence, or such exaltation above the cares and
necessities of life; I therefore immediately engaged my friends to
procure me a little employment, which might set me free from the dread
of poverty, and afford me time to plan out some final scheme of lasting

My friends were struck with honest solicitude, and immediately promised
their endeavours for my extrication. They did not suffer their kindness
to languish by delay, but prosecuted their inquiries with such success,
that in less than a month I was perplexed with variety of offers and
contrariety of prospects.

I had however no time for long pauses of consideration; and therefore
soon resolved to accept the office of instructing a young nobleman in
the house of his father: I went to the seat at which the family then
happened to reside, was received with great politeness, and invited to
enter immediately on my charge. The terms offered were such as I should
willingly have accepted, though my fortune had allowed me greater
liberty of choice: the respect with which I was treated, flattered my
vanity; and perhaps the splendour of the apartments, and the luxury of
the table, were not wholly without their influence. I immediately
complied with the proposals, and received the young lord into my care.

Having no desire to gain more than I should truly deserve, I very
diligently prosecuted my undertaking, and had the satisfaction of
discovering in my pupil a flexible temper, a quick apprehension, and a
retentive memory. I did not much doubt that my care would, in time,
produce a wise and useful counsellor to the state, though my labours
were somewhat obstructed by want of authority, and the necessity of
complying with the freaks of negligence, and of waiting patiently for
the lucky moment of voluntary attention. To a man whose imagination was
filled with the dignity of knowledge, and to whom a studious life had
made all the common amusements insipid and contemptible, it was not very
easy to suppress his indignation, when he saw himself forsaken in the
midst of his lecture, for an opportunity to catch an insect, and found
his instructions debarred from access to the intellectual faculties, by
the memory of a childish frolick, or the desire of a new play-thing.

Those vexations would have recurred less frequently, had not his mamma,
by entreating at one time that he should be excused from a task as a
reward for some petty compliance, and withholding him from his book at
another, to gratify herself or her visitants with his vivacity, shewn
him that every thing was more pleasing and more important than
knowledge, and that study was to be endured rather than chosen, and was
only the business of those hours which pleasure left vacant, or
discipline usurped.

I thought it my duty to complain, in tender terms, of these frequent
avocations; but was answered, that rank and fortune might reasonably
hope for some indulgence; that the retardation of my pupil's progress
would not be imputed to any negligence or inability of mine; and that
with the success which satisfied every body else, I might surely satisfy
myself. I had now done my duty, and without more remonstrances continued
to inculcate my precepts whenever they could be heard, gained every day
new influence, and found that by degrees my scholar began to feel the
quick impulses of curiosity, and the honest ardour of studious ambition.

At length it was resolved to pass a winter in London. The lady had too
much fondness for her son to live five months without him, and too high
an opinion of his wit and learning to refuse her vanity the
gratification of exhibiting him to the publick. I remonstrated against
too early an acquaintance with cards and company; but, with a soft
contempt of my ignorance and pedantry, she said, that he had been
already confined too long to solitary study, and it was now time to shew
him the world; nothing was more a brand of meanness than bashful
timidity; gay freedom and elegant assurance were only to be gained by
mixed conversation, a frequent intercourse with strangers, and a timely
introduction to splendid assemblies; and she had more than once
observed, that his forwardness and complaisance began to desert him,
that he was silent when he had not something of consequence to say,
blushed whenever he happened to find himself mistaken, and hung down his
head in the presence of the ladies, without the readiness of reply, and
activity of officiousness, remarkable in young gentlemen that are bred
in London.

Again I found resistance hopeless, and again thought it proper to
comply. We entered the coach, and in four days were placed in the gayest
and most magnificent region of the town. My pupil, who had for several
years lived at a remote seat, was immediately dazzled with a thousand
beams of novelty and shew. His imagination was filled with the perpetual
tumult of pleasure that passed before him, and it was impossible to
allure him from the window, or to overpower by any charm of eloquence
the rattle of coaches, and the sounds which echoed from the doors in the
neighbourhood. In three days his attention, which he began to regain,
was disturbed by a rich suit, in which he was equipped for the reception
of company, and which, having been long accustomed to a plain dress, he
could not at first survey without ecstacy.

The arrival of the family was now formally notified; every hour of every
day brought more intimate or more distant acquaintances to the door; and
my pupil was indiscriminately introduced to all, that he might accustom
himself to change of faces, and be rid with speed of his rustick
diffidence. He soon endeared himself to his mother by the speedy
acquisition or recovery of her darling qualities; his eyes sparkle at a
numerous assembly, and his heart dances at the mention of a ball. He has
at once caught the infection of high life, and has no other test of
principles or actions than the quality of those to whom they are
ascribed. He begins already to look down on me with superiority, and
submits to one short lesson in a week, as an act of condescension rather
than obedience; for he is of opinion, that no tutor is properly
qualified who cannot speak French; and having formerly learned a few
familiar phrases from his sister's governess, he is every day soliciting
his mamma to procure him a foreign footman, that he may grow polite by
his conversation. I am not yet insulted, but find myself likely to
become soon a superfluous incumbrance, for my scholar has now no time
for science, or for virtue; and the lady yesterday declared him so much
the favourite of every company, that she was afraid he would not have an
hour in the day to dance and fence.

I am, &c.


[Footnote f: Johnson often conversed, as well as wrote, on riches. In
his conversations on the subject, amidst his often indulged laxity of
talk, there was ever a deep insight into the human heart. "All the
arguments," he once with keen satire remarked, "which are brought to
represent poverty as no evil, shew it to be evidently a great evil. You
never find people _labouring_ to convince you that you may live happily
upon a plentiful fortune. So you hear people talking how miserable a
king must be, and yet they all wish to be in his place." _Boswell_ vol.
i. p. 422.

When Simonides was asked whether it were better to be wise or rich, he
gave an answer in favour of wealth. "For," said he, "I always behold the
wise lingering at the gates of the wealthy." Aristot. Rhet. ii. 18.]

No. 133. TUESDAY, JUNE 25, 1751.

_Magna quidem, sacris quæ dat præcepta libellis
Victrix fortune sapientia. Dicimus autem
Hos quoque felices, qui ferre incommoda vitæ,
Nec jactare jugum, vita didicere magistra._ Juv. Sat. xiii. 19.

Let Stoicks ethicks' haughty rules advance
To combat fortune, and to conquer chance:
Yet happy those, though not so learn'd are thought,
Whom life instructs, who by experience taught,
For new to come from past misfortunes look,
Nor shake the yoke, which galls the more 'tis shook. CREECH.



You have shewn, by the publication of my letter, that you think the
life of Victoria not wholly unworthy of the notice of a philosopher: I
shall therefore continue my narrative, without any apology for
unimportance which you have dignified, or for inaccuracies which you are
to correct.

When my life appeared to be no longer in danger, and as much of my
strength was recovered as enabled me to bear the agitation of a coach, I
was placed at a lodging in a neighbouring village, to which my mother
dismissed me with a faint embrace, having repeated her command not to
expose my face too soon to the sun or wind, and told me that with care I
might perhaps become tolerable again. The prospect of being tolerable
had very little power to elevate the imagination of one who had so long
been accustomed to praise and ecstacy; but it was some satisfaction to
be separated from my mother, who was incessantly ringing the knell of
departed beauty, and never entered my room without the whine of
condolence, or the growl of anger. She often wandered over my face, as
travellers over the ruins of a celebrated city, to note every place
which had once been remarkable for a happy feature. She condescended to
visit my retirement, but always left me more melancholy; for after a
thousand trifling inquiries about my diet, and a minute examination of
my looks, she generally concluded with a sigh, that I should never more
be fit to be seen.

At last I was permitted to return home, but found no great improvement
of my condition; for I was imprisoned in my chamber as a criminal, whose
appearance would disgrace my friends, and condemn me to be tortured into
new beauty. Every experiment which the officiousness of folly could
communicate, or the credulity of ignorance admit, was tried upon me.
Sometimes I was covered with emollients, by which it was expected that
all the scars would be filled, and my cheeks plumped up to their former
smoothness; and sometimes I was punished with artificial excoriations,
in hopes of gaining new graces with a new skin. The cosmetick science
was exhausted upon me; but who can repair the ruins of nature? My mother
was forced to give me rest at last, and abandon me to the fate of a
fallen toast, whose fortune she considered as a hopeless game, no longer
worthy of solicitude or attention.

The condition of a young woman who has never thought or heard of any
other excellence than beauty, and whom the sudden blast of disease
wrinkles in her bloom, is indeed sufficiently calamitous. She is at once
deprived of all that gave her eminence or power; of all that elated her
pride, or animated her activity; all that filled her days with pleasure,
and her nights with hope; all that gave gladness to the present hour, or
brightened her prospects of futurity. It is perhaps not in the power of
a man whose attention has been divided by diversity of pursuits, and who
has not been accustomed to derive from others much of his happiness, to
image to himself such helpless destitution, such dismal inanity. Every
object of pleasing contemplation is at once snatched away, and the soul
finds every receptacle of ideas empty, or filled only with the memory of
joys that can return no more. All is gloomy privation, or impotent
desire; the faculties of anticipation slumber in despondency, or the
powers of pleasure mutiny for employment.

I was so little able to find entertainment for myself, that I was forced
in a short time to venture abroad as the solitary savage is driven by
hunger from his cavern. I entered with all the humility of disgrace into
assemblies, where I had lately sparkled with gaiety, and towered with
triumph. I was not wholly without hope, that dejection had
misrepresented me to myself, and that the remains of my former face
might yet have some attraction and influence; but the first circle of
visits convinced me, that my reign was at an end; that life and death
were no longer in my hands; that I was no more to practise the glance of
command, or the frown of prohibition; to receive the tribute of sighs
and praises, or be soothed with the gentle murmurs of amorous timidity.
My opinion was now unheard, and my proposals were unregarded; the
narrowness of my knowledge, and the meanness of my sentiments, were
easily discovered, when the eyes were no longer engaged against the
judgment; and it was observed, by those who had formerly been charmed
with my vivacious loquacity, that my understanding was impaired as well
as my face, and that I was no longer qualified to fill a place in any
company but a party at cards.

It is scarcely to be imagined how soon the mind sinks to a level with
the condition. I, who had long considered all who approached me as
vassals condemned to regulate their pleasures by my eyes, and harass
their inventions for my entertainment, was in less than three weeks
reduced to receive a ticket with professions of obligation; to catch
with eagerness at a compliment; and to watch with all the anxiousness of
dependance, lest any little civility that was paid me should pass

Though the negligence of the men was not very pleasing when compared
with vows and adoration, yet it was far more supportable than the
insolence of my own sex. For the first ten months after my return into
the world, I never entered a single house in which the memory of my
downfall was not revived. At one place I was congratulated on my escape
with life; at another I heard of the benefits of early inoculation; by
some I have been told in express terms, that I am not yet without my
charms; others have whispered at my entrance, This is the celebrated
beauty. One told me of a wash that would smooth the skin; and another
offered me her chair that I might not front the light. Some soothed me
with the observation that none can tell how soon my case may be her own;
and some thought it proper to receive me with mournful tenderness,
formal condolence, and consolatory blandishments.

Thus was I every day harassed with all the stratagems of well-bred
malignity; yet insolence was more tolerable than solitude, and I
therefore persisted to keep my time at the doors of my acquaintance,
without gratifying them with any appearance of resentment or depression.
I expected that their exultation would in time vapour away; that the joy
of their superiority would end with its novelty; and that I should be
suffered to glide along in my present form among the nameless multitude,
whom nature never intended to excite envy or admiration, nor enabled to
delight the eye or inflame the heart.

This was naturally to be expected, and this I began to experience. But
when I was no longer agitated by the perpetual ardour of resistance, and
effort of perseverance, I found more sensibly the want of those
entertainments which had formerly delighted me; the day rose upon me
without an engagement; and the evening closed in its natural gloom,
without summoning me to a concert or a ball. None had any care to find
amusements for me, and I had no power of amusing myself. Idleness
exposed me to melancholy, and life began to languish in motionless

Misery and shame are nearly allied. It was not without many struggles
that I prevailed on myself to confess my uneasiness to Euphemia, the
only friend who had never pained me with comfort or with pity. I at last
laid my calamities before her, rather to ease my heart, than receive
assistance. "We must distinguish," said she, "my Victoria, those evils
which are imposed by Providence, from those to which we ourselves give
the power of hurting us. Of your calamity, a small part is the
infliction of Heaven, the rest is little more than the corrosion of idle
discontent. You have lost that which may indeed sometimes contribute to
happiness, but to which happiness is by no means inseparably annexed.
You have lost what the greater number of the human race never have
possessed; what those on whom it is bestowed for the most part possess
in vain; and what you, while it was yours, knew not how to use: you have
only lost early what the laws of nature forbid you to keep long, and
have lost it while your mind is yet flexible, and while you have time to
substitute more valuable and more durable excellencies. Consider
yourself, my Victoria, as a being born to know, to reason, and to act;

Online LibrarySamuel JohnsonThe Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume 03 The Rambler, Volume II → online text (page 11 of 38)