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we are studious to please, we are afraid of trusting our first thoughts, and endeavour to recommend our Opinion by studied ornaments, accuracy of method, and elegance of style. If the personages of the comick scene be allowed by Horace to raise their language in the transports of anger to the turgid vehemence of tragedy, the epistolary writer may likewise without censure comply with the varieties of his matter. If great events are to be related, he may with all the solemnity of an historian deduce them from their causes, connect them with their concomitants, and trace them to their consequences. If a disputed position is to be established, or a remote principle to be investigated, he may detail his reasonings with all the nicety of syllogistick method. If a menace is to be averted, or a benefit implored, he may, without any violation of the edicts of criticism, call every power of rhetorick to his assistance, and try every inlet at which love or pity enters the heart. Letters that have no other end than the entertainment of the correspondents are more properly regulated by critical precepts, because the matter and style are equally arbitrary, and rules are more necessary, as there is a larger power of choice. In letters of this kind, some conceive art graceful, and others think negligence amiable; some model them by the sonnet, and will allow them no means of delighting but the soft lapse of calm mellifluence; others adjust them by the epigram, and expect pointed sentences and forcible periods. The one party considers exemption from faults as the height of excellence, the other looks upon neglect of excellence as the most disgusting fault; one avoids censure, the other aspires to praise; one is always in danger of insipidity, the other continually on the brink of affectation.
When the subject has no intrinsick dignity, it must necessarily owe its attractions to artificial embellishments, and may catch at all advantages which the art of writing can supply. He that, like Pliny, sends his friend a portion for his daughter, will, without Pliny’s eloquence or address, find means of exciting gratitude, and securing acceptance; but he that has no present to make but a garland, a riband, or some petty curiosity, must endeavour to recommend it by his manner of giving it.
The purpose for which letters are written when no intelligence is communicated, or business transacted, is to preserve in the minds of the absent either love or esteem: to excite love we must impart pleasure, and to raise esteem we must discover abilities. Pleasure will generally be given, as abilities are displayed by scenes of imagery, points of conceit, unexpected sallies, and artful compliments. Trifles always require exuberance of ornament; the building which has no strength can be valued only for the grace of its decorations. The pebble must be polished with care, which hopes to be valued as a diamond; and words ought surely to be laboured, when they are intended to stand for things.
No. 153. TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 1751
Turba Remi? Sequitur Fortunam, ut semper, et odit
The fickle crowd with fortune comes and goes;
TO THE RAMBLER.
HERE are occasions on which all apology is rudeness. He that has an unwelcome message to deliver, may give some proof of tenderness and delicacy, by a ceremonial introduction and gradual discovery, because the mind, upon which the weight of sorrow is to fall, gains time for the collection of its powers; but nothing is more absurd than to delay the communication of pleasure, to torment curiosity by impatience, and to delude hope by
anticipation. I shall therefore forbear the arts by which correspondents generally secure admission, for I have too long remarked the power of vanity, to doubt that I shall be read by you with a disposition to approve, when I declare that my narrative has no other tendency than to illustrate and corroborate your own
observations. I was the second son of a gentleman, whose patrimony had been wasted by a long succession of squanderers, till he was unable to support any of his children, except his heir, in the hereditary dignity of idleness. Being therefore obliged to employ that part of life in study which my progenitors had devoted to the hawk and hound, I was in my eighteenth year despatched to the university, without any rural honours. I had never killed a single woodcock, nor partaken one triumph over a conquered fox. At the university I continued to enlarge my acquisitions with little envy of the noisy happiness which my elder brother had the fortune to enjoy; and, having obtained my degree, retired to consider at leisure to what profession I should confine that application which had hitherto been dissipated in general knowledge. To deliberate upon a choice which custom and honour forbid to be retracted, is certainly reasonable; yet to let loose the attention equally to the advantages and inconveniences of every employment is not without danger; new motives are every moment operating on every side; and mechanicks have long ago discovered, that contrariety of equal attractions is equivalent to rest. While I was thus trifling in uncertainty, an old adventurer, who had been once the intimate friend of my father, arrived from the Indies with a large fortune; which he had so much harassed himself in obtaining, that sickness and infirmity left him no other desire than to die in his native country. His wealth easily procured him an invitation to pass his life with us; and, being incapable of any amusement but conversation, he necessarily became familiarized to me, whom he found studious and domestick. Pleased with an opportunity of imparting my knowledge, and eager of any intelligence that might increase it, I delighted his curiosity with historical narratives and explications of nature, and gratified his vanity by inquiries after the products of distant countries, and the customs of their inhabitants. My brother saw how much I advanced in the favour of our guest, who, being without heirs, was naturally expected to enrich the family of his friend, but never attempted to alienate me, nor to ingratiate himself. He was, indeed, little qualified to solicit the affection of a traveller, for the remissness of his education had left him without any rule of action but his present humour. He often forsook the old gentleman in the midst of an adventure, because the horn sounded in the court-yard, and would have lost an opportunity, not only of knowing the history, but sharing the wealth of the mogul, for the trial of a new pointer, or the sight of a horse-race. It was therefore not long before our new friend declared his intention of bequeathing to me the profits of his commerce, as the only man in the family by whom he could expect them to be rationally enjoyed. This distinction drew upon me the envy not only of my brother but my father. As no man is willing to believe that he suffers by his own fault, they imputed the preference which I had obtained to adulatory compliances, or malignant calumnies. To no purpose did I call upon my patron to attest my innocence, for who will believe what he wishes to be false ? In the heat of disappointment they forced their inmate by repeated