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and ambitious, I would discourse of honors and advancements, of distinctions to which the whole world should be witness, of unenvied dignities and durable preferments. To the rich I would tell of inexhaustible treasures, and the sure method to attain them. I would teach them to put out their money on the best interest, and instruct the lovers of pleasure how to secure and improve it to the highest degree. The beauty should learn of me how to preserve an everlasting bloom. To the afflicted I would administer comfort, and relaxation to the busy.
As I dare promise myself you will attest the truth of all I have advanced, there is no doubt but many will be desirous of improving their acquaintance with me; and that I may not be thought too difficult, I will tell you, in short, how I wish to be received.
You must know I equally hate lazy idleness and hurry. I would every where be welcomed at a tolerably early hour, with decent good-humor and gratitude, I must be attended in the great halls, peculiarly ap propriated to me, with respect; but I do not insist upon finery: propriety of appearance, and perfect neatness, is all I require. I must at dinner be treated with a temperate, but cheerful social meal; both the neighbors and the poor should be the better for me. Some time I must have tête-a-tête with my kind entertainers, and the rest of my visit should be spent in pleasant walks and airings among sets of agreeable people, in such discourse as I shall naturally dictate, or in reading some few selected out of those number. less books that are dedicated to me, and go by my name. A name that, alas! as the world stands at present, makes them oftener thrown aside than taken up. As those conversations and books should be both well
chosen, to give some advice on that head may possibly furnish you with a future paper, and any thing you shall offer on my behalf will be of great service to,
Good Mr. Rambler,
Your faithful Friend and Servant,
No. 31. TUESDAY, JULY 3, 1750.
Non ego mendosos ausim defendere mores,
Corrupted manners I shall ne'er defend;
Nor, falsely witty, for my faults contend. ELPHINSTON.
THOUGH the fallibility of man's reason, and the
narrowness of his knowledge, are very liberally confessed, yet the conduct of those who so willingly admit the weakness of human nature, seems to discover that this acknowledgment is not altogether sincere; at least, that most make it with a tacit reserve in fayor of themselves, and that with whatever ease they give up the claim of their neighbors, they are desirous of being thought exempt from faults in their own conduct, and from error in their opinions.
The certain and obstinate opposition, which we may observe made to confutation however clear, and to reproof however tender, is an undoubted argument, that some dormant privilege is thought to be attacked; for as no man can lose what he neither
* This paper was written by Miss Catherine Talbot, daughter of the Rev. Ed. Talbot, Archdeacon of Berks, and Preacher at the Rolls. She died Jan. 9, 1770. See Preface to the RAMDLER, in "BRITISH ESSAYISTS," vol. 19.
possesses, nor imagines himself to possess, or be đefrauded of that to which he has no right, it is reasonable to suppose that those who break out into fury at the softest contradiction, or the slightest censure, since they apparently conclude themselves injured, must fancy some ancient immunity violated, or somę natural prerogative invaded.. To be mistaken, if they thought themselves liable to mistake, could not be considered either as shameful or wonderful, and they would not receive with so much emotion intelligence which only informed them of what they knew before, nor struggle with such earnestness against an attack that deprived them of nothing to which they held themselves entitled.
It is related of one of the philosophers, that when an account was brought him of his son's death, he received it only with this reflection I know that my son was mortal. He that is convinced of an error, if he had the same knowledge of his own weakness, would, instead of straining for artifices, and brooding malig. nity, only regard such oversights, as the appendages of humanity, and pacify himself with considering that he had always known man to be a fallible being.
If it be true that most of our passions are excited by the novelty of objects, there is little reason for doubting, that to be considered as subject to fallacies of ratiocination, or imperfection of knowledge, is to a great part of mankind entirely new; for it is impossible to fall into any company where there is not some regular and established subordination, without finding rage and vehemence produced only by difference of sentiments about things in which neither of the disputants have any other interest, than what proceeds from their mutual unwillingness to give way to any opinion that may bring upon them the disgrace of being wrong.
I have heard of one that, having advanced some erroneous doctrines in philosophy, refused to see the experiments by which they were confuted: and the observation of every day will give new proofs with how much industry subterfuges and evasions are sought to decline the pressure of resistless arguments, how of ten the state of the question is altered, how often the antagonist is wilfully misrepresented, and in how much perplexity the clearest positions are involved by those whom they happen to oppose.
Of all mortals none seem to have been more infect ed with this species of vanity, than the race of writers, whose reputation arising solely from their understanding, gives them a very delicate sensibility of any vio lence attempted on their literary honor. It is not unpleasing to remark with what solicitude men of acknowledged abilities will endeavor to palliate absurdidies and reconcile contradictions, only to obviate criticisms to which all human performances must ever be exposed, and from which they can never suffer, but when they teach the world, by a vain and ridiculous impatience, to think them of importance.
Dryden, whose warmth of fancy, and haste of composition, very frequently hurried him into inaccuracies, heard himself sometimes exposed to ridicule for having said in one of his tragedies,
I follow fate, which does too fast pursue.
That no man could at once follow and be followed, was, it may be thought, too plain to be long disputed; and the truth is, that Dryden was apparently betrayed into the blunder by the double meaning of the word Fate, to which in the former part of the verse he had annexed the idea of Fortune, and in the latter that of Death; so that the sense only was, though pursued by Death, I will not resign myself to despair, but will follow For
tune, and do and suffer what is appointed. This, however, was not completely expressed, and Dryden being determined not to give way to his critics, ne ver confessed that he had been surprised by an ambiguity; but finding luckily in Virgil an account of a man moving in a circle, with this expression, Et se sequiturque fugitque, "Here," says he, "is the passage in imitation of which I wrote the line that my critics were pleased to condemn as nonsense; not but I may sometimes write nonsense, though they have not the fortune to find it."
Every one sees the folly of such mean doublings to escape the pursuit of criticism; nor is there a single reader of this poet, who would not have paid him greater veneration, had he shown consciousness enough of his own superiority to set such cavils at defiance, and owned that he sometimes slipped into errors by the tumult of his imagination, and the multitude of his ideas.
It is happy when this temper discovers itself only in little things, which may be right or wrong without any influence on the virtue or happiness of mankind. We may, with very little inquietude, see a man persist in a project which he has found to be impracticable, live in an inconvenient house, because it was contrived by himself, or wear a coat of a particular cut, in hopes by perseverance to bring it into fashion. These are indeed follies, but they are only follies, and, however wild or ridiculous, can very little affect others. . But such pride, once indulged, too frequently ope rates upon more important objects, and inclines men not only to vindicate their errors, but their vices; to persist in practices which their own hearts condemn,' only lest they should seem to feel reproaches, or be made wiser by the advice of others; or to search for: