Samuel Johnson.

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

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which only its event, an event which no human intelligence could
foresee, proved to be wrong. The prize which, though put in my hands,
had been suffered to slip from me, filled me with anguish, and knowing
that complaint would only expose me to ridicule, I gave myself up
silently to grief, and lost by degrees my appetite and my rest.

My indisposition soon became visible; I was visited by my friends, and
among them by Eumathes, a clergyman, whose piety and learning gave him
such an ascendant over me, that I could not refuse to open my heart.
There are, said he, few minds sufficiently firm to be trusted in the
hands of chance. Whoever finds himself inclined to anticipate futurity,
and exalt possibility to certainty, should avoid every kind of casual
adventure, since his grief must be always proportionate to his hope. You
have long wasted that time, which, by a proper application, would have
certainly, though moderately, increased your fortune, in a laborious and
anxious pursuit of a species of gain, which no labour or anxiety, no art
or expedient, can secure or promote. You are now fretting away your life
in repentance of an act, against which repentance can give no caution,
but to avoid the occasion of committing it. Rouse from this lazy dream
of fortuitous riches, which, if obtained, you could scarcely have
enjoyed, because they could confer no consciousness of desert; return to
rational and manly industry, and consider the mere gift of luck as below
the care of a wise man.

No. 182. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 14, 1751.

_ - Dives qui fieri vult,
Et cilo vult fieri. - _ JUV. Sat. xiv. 176

The lust of wealth can never bear delay.

It has been observed in a late paper, that we are unreasonably desirous
to separate the goods of life from those evils which Providence has
connected with them, and to catch advantages without paying the price at
which they are offered us. Every man wishes to be rich, but very few
have the powers necessary to raise a sudden fortune, either by new
discoveries, or by superiority of skill, in any necessary employment;
and among lower understandings, many want the firmness and industry
requisite to regular gain and gradual acquisitions.

From the hope of enjoying affluence by methods more compendious than
those of labour, and more generally practicable than those of genius,
proceeds the common inclination to experiment and hazard, and that
willingness to snatch all opportunities of growing rich by chance,
which, when it has once taken possession of the mind, is seldom driven
out either by time or argument, but continues to waste life in perpetual
delusion, and generally ends in wretchedness and want.

The folly of untimely exultation and visionary prosperity, is by no
means peculiar to the purchasers of tickets; there are multitudes whose
life is nothing but a continual lottery; who are always within a few
months of plenty and happiness, and how often soever they are mocked
with blanks, expect a prize from the next adventure.

Among the most resolute and ardent of the votaries of chance, may be
numbered the mortals whose hope is to raise themselves by a wealthy
match; who lay out all their industry on the assiduities of courtship,
and sleep and wake with no other ideas than of treats, compliments,
guardians and rivals.

One of the most indefatigable of this class, is my old friend Leviculus,
whom I have never known for thirty years without some matrimonial
project of advantage. Leviculus was bred under a merchant, and by the
graces of his person, the sprightliness of his prattle, and the neatness
of his dress, so much enamoured his master's second daughter, a girl of
sixteen, that she declared her resolution to have no other husband. Her
father, after having chidden her for undutifulness, consented to the
match, not much to the satisfaction of Leviculus, who was sufficiently
elated with his conquest to think himself entitled to a larger fortune.
He was, however, soon rid of his perplexity, for his mistress died
before their marriage.

He was now so well satisfied with his own accomplishments, that he
determined to commence fortune-hunter; and when his apprenticeship
expired, instead of beginning, as was expected, to walk the Exchange
with a face of importance, or associating himself with those who were
most eminent for their knowledge of the stocks, he at once threw off the
solemnity of the counting-house, equipped himself with a modish wig,
listened to wits in coffee-houses, passed his evenings behind the scenes
in the theatres, learned the names of beauties of quality, hummed the
last stanzas of fashionable songs, talked with familiarity of high play,
boasted of his achievements upon drawers and coachmen, was often brought
to his lodgings at midnight in a chair, told with negligence and
jocularity of bilking a tailor, and now and then let fly a shrewd jest
at a sober citizen.

Thus furnished with irresistible artillery, he turned his batteries upon
the female world, and, in the first warmth of self-approbation, proposed
no less than the possession of riches and beauty united. He therefore
paid his civilities to Flavilla, the only daughter of a wealthy
shop-keeper, who not being accustomed to amorous blandishments, or
respectful addresses, was delighted with the novelty of love, and easily
suffered him to conduct her to the play, and to meet her where she
visited. Leviculus did not doubt but her father, however offended by a
clandestine marriage, would soon be reconciled by the tears of his
daughter, and the merit of his son-in-law, and was in haste to conclude
the affair. But the lady liked better to be courted than married, and
kept him three years in uncertainty and attendance. At last she fell in
love with a young ensign at a ball, and having danced with him all
night, married him in the morning.

Leviculus, to avoid the ridicule of his companions, took a journey to a
small estate in the country, where, after his usual inquiries concerning
the nymphs in the neighbourhood, he found it proper to fall in love with
Altilia, a maiden lady, twenty years older than himself, for whose
favour fifteen nephews and nieces were in perpetual contention. They
hovered round her with such jealous officiousness, as scarcely left a
moment vacant for a lover. Leviculus, nevertheless, discovered his
passion in a letter, and Altilia could not withstand the pleasure of
hearing vows and sighs, and flatteries and protestations. She admitted
his visits, enjoyed for five years the happiness of keeping all her
expectants in perpetual alarms, and amused herself with the various
stratagems which were practised to disengage her affections. Sometimes
she was advised with great earnestness to travel for her health, and
sometimes entreated to keep her brother's house. Many stories were
spread to the disadvantage of Leviculus, by which she commonly seemed
affected for a time, but took care soon afterwards to express her
conviction of their falsehood. But being at last satiated with this
ludicrous tyranny, she told her lover, when he pressed for the reward of
his services, that she was very sensible of his merit, but was resolved
not to impoverish an ancient family.

He then returned to the town, and soon after his arrival, became
acquainted with Latronia, a lady distinguished by the elegance of her
equipage, and the regularity of her conduct. Her wealth was evident in
her magnificence, and her prudence in her economy, and therefore
Leviculus, who had scarcely confidence to solicit her favour, readily
acquitted fortune of her former debts, when he found himself
distinguished by her with such marks of preference as a woman of modesty
is allowed to give. He now grew bolder, and ventured to breathe out his
impatience before her. She heard him without resentment, in time
permitted him to hope for happiness, and at last fixed the nuptial day,
without any distrustful reserve of pin-money, or sordid stipulations for
jointure, and settlements.

Leviculus was triumphing on the eve of marriage, when he heard on the
stairs the voice of Latronia's maid, whom frequent bribes had secured in
his service. She soon burst into his room, and told him that she could
not suffer him to be longer deceived; that her mistress was now spending
the last payment of her fortune, and was only supported in her expense
by the credit of his estate. Leviculus shuddered to see himself so near
a precipice, and found that he was indebted for his escape to the
resentment of the maid, who having assisted Latronia to gain the
conquest, quarrelled with her at last about the plunder.

Leviculus was now hopeless and disconsolate, till one Sunday he saw a
lady in the Mall, whom her dress declared a widow, and whom, by the
jolting prance of her gait, and the broad resplendence of her
countenance, he guessed to have lately buried some prosperous citizen.
He followed her home, and found her to be no less than the relict of
Prune the grocer, who, having no children, had bequeathed to her all his
debts and dues, and his estates real and personal. No formality was
necessary in addressing madam Prune, and therefore Leviculus went next
morning without an introductor. His declaration was received with a loud
laugh; she then collected her countenance, wondered at his impudence,
asked if he knew to whom he was talking, then shewed him the door, and
again laughed to find him confused. Leviculus discovered that this
coarseness was nothing more than the coquetry of Cornhill, and next day
returned to the attack. He soon grew familiar to her dialect, and in a
few weeks heard, without any emotion, hints of gay clothes with empty
pockets; concurred in many sage remarks on the regard due to people of
property; and agreed with her in detestation of the ladies at the other
end of the town, who pinched their bellies to buy fine laces, and then
pretended to laugh at the city.

He sometimes presumed to mention marriage; but was always answered with
a slap, a hoot, and a flounce. At last he began to press her closer, and
thought himself more favourably received; but going one morning, with a
resolution to trifle no longer, he found her gone to church with a young
journeyman from the neighbouring shop, of whom she had become enamoured
at her window.

In these, and a thousand intermediate adventures, has Leviculus spent
his time, till he is now grown grey with age, fatigue, and
disappointment. He begins at last to find that success is not to be
expected, and being unfit for any employment that might improve his
fortune, and unfurnished with any arts that might amuse his leisure, is
condemned to wear out a tasteless life in narratives which few will
hear, and complaints which none will pity.

No. 183. TUESDAY, DECEMBER 17, 1751.

_Nidla fides regni sociis, omnisque potestas
Impatiens consortis erit_. LUCAN. Lib. i. 92.

No faith of partnership dominion owns;
Still discord hovers o'er divided thrones.

The hostility perpetually exercised between one man and another, is
caused by the desire of many for that which only few can possess. Every
man would be rich, powerful, and famous; yet fame, power, and riches are
only the names of relative conditions, which imply the obscurity,
dependance, and poverty of greater numbers. This universal and incessant
competition produces injury and malice by two motives, interest and
envy; the prospect of adding to our possessions what we can take from
others, and the hope of alleviating the sense of our disparity by
lessening others, though we gain nothing to ourselves.

Of these two malignant and destructive powers, it seems probable at the
first view, that interest has the strongest and most extensive
influence. It is easy to conceive that opportunities to seize what has
been long wanted, may excite desires almost irresistible; but surely the
same eagerness cannot be kindled by an accidental power of destroying
that which gives happiness to another. It must be more natural to rob
for gain, than to ravage only for mischief.

Yet I am inclined to believe, that the great law of mutual benevolence
is oftener violated by envy than by interest, and that most of the
misery which the defamation of blameless actions, or the obstruction of
honest endeavours, brings upon the world, is inflicted by men that
propose no advantage to themselves but the satisfaction of poisoning the
banquet which they cannot taste, and blasting the harvest which they
have no right to reap.

Interest can diffuse itself but to a narrow compass. The number is never
large of those who can hope to fill the posts of degraded power, catch
the fragments of shattered fortune, or succeed to the honours of
depreciated beauty. But the empire of envy has no limits, as it requires
to its influence very little help from external circumstances. Envy may
always be produced by idleness and pride, and in what place will they
not be found?

Interest requires some qualities not universally bestowed. The ruin of
another will produce no profit to him who has not discernment to mark
his advantage, courage to seize, and activity to pursue it; but the cold
malignity of envy may be exerted in a torpid and quiescent state, amidst
the gloom of stupidity, in the coverts of cowardice. He that falls by
the attacks of interest, is torn by hungry tigers; he may discover and
resist his enemies. He that perishes in the ambushes of envy, is
destroyed by unknown and invisible assailants, and dies like a man
suffocated by a poisonous vapour, without knowledge of his danger, or
possibility of contest.

Interest is seldom pursued but at some hazard. He that hopes to gain
much, has commonly something to lose, and when he ventures to attack
superiority, if he fails to conquer, is irrecoverably crushed. But envy
may act without expense or danger. To spread suspicion, to invent
calumnies, to propagate scandal, requires neither labour nor courage. It
is easy for the author of a lie, however malignant, to escape detection,
and infamy needs very little industry to assist its circulation.

Envy is almost the only vice which is practicable at all times, and in
every place; the only passion which can never lie quiet for want of
irritation: its effects therefore are every where discoverable, and its
attempts always to be dreaded.

It is impossible to mention a name which any advantageous distinction
has made eminent, but some latent animosity will burst out. The wealthy
trader, however he may abstract himself from publick affairs, will never
want those who hint, with Shylock, that ships are but boards. The
beauty, adorned only with the unambitious graces of innocence and
modesty, provokes, whenever she appears, a thousand murmurs of
detraction. The genius, even when he endeavours only to entertain or
instruct, yet suffers persecution from innumerable criticks, whose
acrimony is excited merely by the pain of seeing others pleased, and of
hearing applauses which another enjoys.

The frequency of envy makes it so familiar, that it escapes our notice;
nor do we often reflect upon its turpitude or malignity, till we happen
to feel its influence. When he that has given no provocation to malice,
but by attempting to excel, finds himself pursued by multitudes whom he
never saw, with all the implacability of personal resentment; when he
perceives clamour and malice let loose upon him as a publick enemy, and
incited by every stratagem of defamation; when he hears the misfortunes
of his family, or the follies of his youth, exposed to the world; and
every failure of conduct, or defect of nature, aggravated and ridiculed;
he then learns to abhor those artifices at which he only laughed before,
and discovers how much the happiness of life would be advanced by the
eradication of envy from the human heart.

Envy is, indeed, a stubborn weed of the mind, and seldom yields to the
culture of philosophy. There are, however, considerations, which, if
carefully implanted and diligently propagated, might in time overpower
and repress it, since no one can nurse it for the sake of pleasure, as
its effects are only shame, anguish, and perturbation. It is above all
other vices inconsistent with the character of a social being, because
it sacrifices truth and kindness to very weak temptations. He that
plunders a wealthy neighbour gains as much as he takes away, and may
improve his own condition in the same proportion as he impairs
another's; but he that blasts a flourishing reputation, must be content
with a small dividend of additional fame, so small as can afford very
little consolation to balance the guilt by which it is obtained.

I have hitherto avoided that dangerous and empirical morality, which
cures one vice by means of another. But envy is so base and detestable,
so vile in its original, and so pernicious in its effects, that the
predominance of almost any other quality is to be preferred. It is one
of those lawless enemies of society, against which poisoned arrows may
honestly be used. Let it therefore be constantly remembered, that
whoever envies another, confesses his superiority, and let those be
reformed by their pride who have lost their virtue.

It is no slight aggravation of the injuries which envy incites, that
they are committed against those who have given no intentional
provocation; and that the sufferer is often marked out for ruin, not
because he has failed in any duty, but because he has dared to do more
than was required.

Almost every other crime is practised by the help of some quality which
might have produced esteem or love, if it had been well employed; but
envy is mere unmixed and genuine evil; it pursues a hateful end by
despicable means, and desires not so much its own happiness as another's
misery. To avoid depravity like this, it is not necessary that any one
should aspire to heroism or sanctity, but only that he should resolve
not to quit the rank which nature assigns him, and wish to maintain the
dignity of a human being.

No. 184. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 21, 1751.

_Permittes ipsis expendere numinibus, quid
Conveniat nobis, rebusque sit utile nostris_. JUV. Sat. x. 347.

Intrust thy fortune to the pow'rs above;
Leave them to manage for thee, and to grant
What their unerring wisdom sees thee want. DRYDEN.

As every scheme of life, so every form of writing, has its advantages
and inconveniencies, though not mingled in the same proportions. The
writer of essays escapes many embarrassments to which a large work would
have exposed him; he seldom harasses his reason with long trains of
consequences, dims his eyes with the perusal of antiquated volumes, or
burthens his memory with great accumulations of preparatory knowledge. A
careless glance upon a favourite author, or transient survey of the
varieties of life, is sufficient to supply the first hint or seminal
idea, which, enlarged by the gradual accretion of matter stored in the
mind, is by the warmth of fancy easily expanded into flowers, and
sometimes ripened into fruit.

The most frequent difficulty by which the authors of these petty
compositions are distressed, arises from the perpetual demand of novelty
and change. The compiler of a system of science lays his invention at
rest, and employs only his judgment, the faculty exerted with least
fatigue. Even the relator of feigned adventures, when once the principal
characters are established, and the great events regularly connected,
finds incidents and episodes crowding upon his mind; every change opens
new views, and the latter part of the story grows without labour out of
the former. But he that attempts to entertain his reader with
unconnected pieces, finds the irksomeness of his task rather increased
than lessened by every production. The day calls afresh upon him for a
new topick, and he is again obliged to choose, without any principle to
regulate his choice.

It is indeed true, that there is seldom any necessity of looking far, or
inquiring long for a proper subject. Every diversity of art or nature,
every publick blessing or calamity, every domestick pain or
gratification, every sally of caprice, blunder of absurdity, or
stratagem of affectation, may supply matter to him whose only rule is to
avoid uniformity. But it often happens, that the judgment is distracted
with boundless multiplicity, the imagination ranges from one design to
another, and the hours pass imperceptibly away, till the composition can
be no longer delayed, and necessity enforces the use of those thoughts
which then happen to be at hand. The mind, rejoicing at deliverance on
any terms from perplexity and suspense, applies herself vigorously to
the work before her, collects embellishments and illustrations, and
sometimes finishes, with great elegance and happiness, what in a state
of ease and leisure she never had begun.

It is not commonly observed, how much, even of actions, considered as
particularly subject to choice, is to be attributed to accident, or some
cause out of our own power, by whatever name it be distinguished. To
close tedious deliberations with hasty resolves, and after long
consultations with reason to refer the question to caprice, is by no
means peculiar to the essayist. Let him that peruses this paper review
the series of his life, and inquire how he was placed in his present
condition. He will find, that of the good or ill which he has
experienced, a great part came unexpected, without any visible
gradations of approach; that every event has been influenced by causes
acting without his intervention; and that whenever he pretended to the
prerogative of foresight, he was mortified with new conviction of the
shortness of his views.

The busy, the ambitious, the inconstant, and the adventurous, may be
said to throw themselves by design into the arms of fortune, and
voluntarily to quit the power of governing themselves; they engage in a
course of life in which little can be ascertained by previous measures;
nor is it any wonder that their time is passed between elation and
despondency, hope and disappointment.

Some there are who appear to walk the road of life with more
circumspection, and make no step till they think themselves secure from
the hazard of a precipice, when neither pleasure nor profit can tempt
them from the beaten path; who refuse to climb lest they should fall, or
to run lest they should stumble, and move slowly forward without any
compliance with those passions by which the heady and vehement are
seduced and betrayed.

Yet even the timorous prudence of this judicious class is far from
exempting them from the dominion of chance, a subtle and insidious
power, who will intrude upon privacy and embarrass caution. No course of
life is so prescribed and limited, but that many actions must result
from arbitrary election. Every one must form the general plan of his
conduct by his own reflections; he must resolve whether he will
endeavour at riches or at content; whether he will exercise private or
publick virtues; whether he will labour for the general benefit of
mankind, or contract his beneficence to his family and dependants.

This question has long exercised the schools of philosophy, but remains
yet undecided; and what hope is there that a young man, unacquainted
with the arguments on either side, should determine his own destiny
otherwise than by chance?

When chance has given him a partner of his bed, whom he prefers to all
other women, without any proof of superior desert, chance must again
direct him in the education of his children; for, who was ever able to
convince himself by arguments, that he had chosen for his son that mode
of instruction to which his understanding was best adapted, or by which
he would most easily be made wise or virtuous?

Whoever shall inquire by what motives he was determined on these
important occasions, will find them such as his pride will scarcely
suffer him to confess; some sudden ardour of desire, some uncertain
glimpse of advantage, some petty competition, some inaccurate
conclusion, or some example implicitly reverenced. Such are often the
first causes of our resolves; for it is necessary to act, but impossible
to know the consequences of action, or to discuss all the reasons which
offer themselves on every part to inquisitiveness and solicitude.

Since life itself is uncertain, nothing which has life for its basis can
boast much stability. Yet this is but a small part of our perplexity. We
set out on a tempestuous sea in quest of some port, where we expect to
find rest, but where we are not sure of admission, we are not only in
danger of sinking in the way, but of being misled by meteors mistaken

Online LibrarySamuel JohnsonThe Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume 03 The Rambler, Volume II → online text (page 29 of 38)