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and she, who, as is very common, confounded want of knowledge with want of understanding, began once to despair of bringing me to any thing, because, when I came into her chamber at the call of her bell, she asked me, “ Whether we lived in Zembla," and I did not guess the meaning of her in.. quiry ; but modestly answered, that I could not tell.” She had happened to ring once when I did not hear her, and meant to put me in mind of that country, where sounds are said to be congealed by the frost.
Another time, as I was dressing her head, she began to talk on a sudden of Medusa, and snakes, and men turned into stone, and maids that, if they were not watched, would let their mistresses be Gorgons. I looked round me half frightened, and quited bewildered ; till at last, finding that her literature was thrown away upon me, she bid me, with great vehemence, reach the curling-irons.
It is not without some indignation, Mr. Idler, that I discover, in these artifices of vexation, something worse than foppery or caprice; a mean delight in superiority, which knows itself in no danger of reproof or opposition ; a cruel pleasure, in seeing the perplexity of a mind obliged to find what is studiously concealed; and a mean indulgence of petty malevolence, in the sharp censure of involuntary, and very often of inevitable failings. When, beyond her expectation, I hit upon her meaning, I can perceive a sudden cloud of disappointment spread over her face, and have sometimes been afraid lest I should lose her favour by understanding her when she means to puzzle me.
This day, however, she has conquered my sagacity. When she went out of her dressing-room, she said nothing, but, 6 Molly, you know ;” and bastened to her chariot. What I am to know is yet a secret ; but if I do not know, before she comes back, what I yet have no means of discovering, she will make my dullness a pretence for a fortnight's ill humour, treat me as a creature devoid of the faculties necessary to the common duties of life, and perhaps give the next gown to the house-keeper.
I am, Sir,
No. 47. SATURDAY, March 10, 1759.
TO THE IDLER.
Mr. IDLER-I am the unfortunate wife of a city wit, and cannot but think that my case may deserve equal compassion with any of those which have been represented in your paper.
I married my busband within three months after the expiration of his apprenticeship; we put our money together, and furnished a large and splendid shop, in which he was for five years and a half diligent and civil. The notice which curiosity or kindness commonly bestows on beginners, was continued by confidence and esteem ; one customer, pleased with his treament and his bargain, recommended another; and we were busy behind the counter from morning to night.
Thus every day increased our wealth and our reputation. My husband was often invited to dinner openly on the Exchange by hundred thousand pounds men; and whenever I went to any of the Halls, the wives of the aldermen made me low courtesies. We always took up our notes before the day, and made all considerable payments by draughts upon our banker.
You will easily believe that I was well enough pleased with my condition; for what happiness can be greater than that of growing every day richer and richer ? I will not deny, that, imagining myself likely to be in a short time the Sheriff's Lady, I broke off my acquaintance with some of my neighbours, and advised my husband to keep good company, and not to be seen with men that were worth nothing.
In time he found that ale disagreed with his constitution, and went every night to drink his pint at a tavern, where he met with a set of critics, who disputed upon the merit of the different theatrical performers. By these idle fellows he was taken to the play, which at first he did not seem much to heed; for he owned, that he very seldom knew what they were doing, and that, while his companions would let him alone, he was commonly thinking on his last bargain.
Having once gone, however, he went again and again, though I often told him that three shillings were thrown away; at last he grew uneasy if he missed a night, and importuned me to go with him. I went to a tragedy which they called Macbeth, and, when I came home, told him, that I could not bear to see men and women make themselves such fools, by pretending to be witches and ghosts, generals and
kings, and to walk in their sleep when they were as much awake as those that looked at them. He told me that I must get higher notions, and that a play was the most rational of all entertainments, and most proper to relax the mind after the business of the day.
By degrees he gained knowledge of some of the players; and, when the play was over, very frequently treated them with suppers, for which he was admitted to stand behind the scenes.
He soon began to lose some of his morning hours in the same folly, and was for one winter very diligent in his attendance on the rehearsals ; but of this species of idleness he grew weary, and said, that the play was nothing without the company.
His ardour for the diversion of the evening increased; he bought a sword, and paid five shillings a night to sit in the boxes ; he went sometimes into a place which he calls the green-room, where all the wits of the age assemble; and, when he had been there, could do nothing, for two or three days, but repeat their jests, or tell their disputes.
He has now lost his regard for every thing but the playhouse; he invites, three times a week, one or other to drink claret, and talk of the drama. His first care in the morning is to read the play-bills ; and, if he remembers any lines of the tragedly which is to be represented, walks about the shop, repeating them so loud, and with such strange gestures, that the passengers gather round the door.
His greatest pleasure, when I married him, was to hear the situation of his shop commended, and to be told how many estates have been got in it by the same trade ; but of late he grows peevish at any mention of business, and delights in nothing so much as to be told that he speaks like Mossop.
Among his new associates, he has learned another language, and speaks in such a strain, that his neighbours cannot understand him. If a customer talks longer than he is willing to hear, he will complain that he has been excruciated with unmeaning verbosity: he laughs at the letters of his friends for their tameness of expression, and often declares himself weary of attending to the minutiæ of a shop.
It is well for me that I know how to keep a book, for of late he is scarcely ever in the way. Since one of his friends told him that he had a genius for tragic poetry, he has locked himself in an upper room six or seven hours a day; and when I carry him any paper to be read or signed, I hear him talking vehemently to himself, sometimes of love and beauty,
sometimes of friendship and virtue, but more frequently of liberty, and his country.
I would gladly, Mr. Idler, be informed what to think of a shopkeeper, who is incessantly talking about liberty; a word, which, since his acquaintance with polite life, my husband has always in his mouth; he is, on all occasions, afraid of our liberty, and declares his resolution to hazard all for liberty. What can the man mean? I am sure he has liberty enough; it were better for him and me if his liberty was lessened.
He has a friend, whom he calls a critic, that comes twice a week to read what he is writing. This critic tells him that his piece is a little irregular, but that some detached scenes will shine prodigiously, and that in the character of Bombulus he is wonderfully great. My scribbler then squeezes his hand, calls him the best of friends, thanks him for his sincerity, and tells him that he hates to be flattered. I have reason to believe that he seldom parts with his dear friend without lending him two guineas, and am afraid that he gave bail for him three days ago.
By this course of life our credit as traders is lessened; and I cannot forbear to suspect, that my husband's honour as a wit is not much advanced, for he seems to be always the lowest of the company, and is afraid to tell his opinion till the rest have spoken. When he was behind his counter, he used to be brisk, active, and jocular, like a man that knew what he was doing, and did not fear to look another in the face; but among wits and critics he is timorous and awkward, and hangs down his head at his own table. Dear Mr. Idler, persuade bim, if you can, to return once more to his native element. Tell him, that wit will never make him rich, but that there are places where riches will always make a wit.
I am, Sir, &c.
He that sits still, or reposes himself upon a couch, no more deceives himself than he deceives others; he knows that he is doing nothing, and has no other solace of his insignificance than the resolution, which the lazy hourly make, of changing his mode of life.
To do nothing, every man is ashamed; and to do much, almost every man is unwilling or afraid. Innumerable expedients have therefore been invented, to produce motion without labour, and employment without solicitude. The greater part of those whom the kindness of fortune has left to their own direction, and whom want does not keep chained to the counter or the plough, play throughout life with the shadows of business, and know not at last what they have been doing.
These imitators of action are of all denominations. Some are seen at every auction without intention to purchase ; others appear punctually at the Exchange, though they are known there only by their faces. Some are always making parties, to visit collections for which they have no taste ; and some neglect every pleasure and every duty, to hear ques. tions, in which they have no interest, debated in parliament.
These men never appear more ridiculous than in the distress which they imagine themselves to feel, from some accidental interruption of those empty pursuits. A tiger newly imprisoned is indeed more formidable, but not more angry, than Jack Tulip with-held from a florist's feast, or Tom Distieh hindered from seeing the first representation of a play.
As political affairs are the highest and most extensive of temporal concerns; the mimic of a politician is more busy and important than any other trifler. Monsieur le Noir, a man who, without property or importance in any corner of the earth, has, in the present confusion of the world, declared himself a steady adherent to the French, is made miserable by a wind that keeps back the packet-boat, and still more miserable by every account of a Malouin privateer caught in his cruize. He knows well that nothing can be done or said by him which can produce any effect but that of laughter, that he can neither hasten nor retard good or evil, that his joys and sorrows have scarcely any partakers ; yet such is his zeal, and such his curiosity, that he would run barefooted to Gravesend, for the sake of knowing first that the English had lost a tender, and would ride out to meet every mail from the continent if he might be permitted to open it.
Learning is generally confessed to be desirable, and there are some who fancy themselves always busy in acquiring it. Of these ambulatory students, one of the most busy is my friend Tom Restless.