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NUMB. 101. TUESDAY, March 5, 1751.
Mella jubes Hyblaa tibi vel Hymettia nafci,
Alas! dear Sir, you try in vain,
To the RAMBLER.
HAVING by feveral years of continual ftudy treasured in my mind a great number of principles and ideas, and obtained by frequent exercise the power of applying them with propriety, and combining them with readiness, I refolved to quit the university, where I confidered myself as a gem hidden in the mine, and to mingle in the crowd of publick life. I was naturally attracted by the company of those who were of the fame age with myself, and finding that my academical gravity contributed very little to my reputation, applied my faculties to jocularity and burlesque. Thus, in a fhort time, I had heated my imagination to such a state of activity and ebullition, that upon every occafion it fumed away in bursts of wit, and evaporations of gaiety. I became on a fudden the idol of the coffee-house, was in one winter folicited to accept the presidentship of five clubs, was dragged by violence
to every new play, and quoted in every controversy upon theatrical merit; was in every publick place furrounded by a multitude of humble auditors, who retailed in other places of refort my maxims and my jests, and was boasted as their intimate and companion, by many, who had no other pretenfions to my acquaintance, than that they had drank chocolate in the fame room.
You will not wonder, Mr. RAMBLER, that I mention my fuccefs with fome appearance of triumph and elevation. Perhaps no kind of fuperiority is more flattering or alluring than that which is conferred by the powers of converfation, by extemporaneous fprightliness of fancy, copioufnefs of language, and fertility of fentiment. In other exertions of genius, the greater part of the praise is unknown and unenjoyed; the writer, indeed, fpreads his reputation to a wider extent, but receives little pleasure or advantage from the diffusion of his name, and only obtains a kind of nominal fovereignty over regions which pay no tribute. The colloquial wit has always his own radiance reflected on himself, and enjoys all the pleasure which he bestows; he finds his power confeffed by every one that approaches him, fees friendship kindling with rapture, and attention fwelling into praise.
The defire which every man feels of importance and esteem, is fo much gratified by finding an affembly, at his entrance, brightened with gladnefs and hushed with expectation, that the recollection of fuch diftinctions can scarcely fail to be pleasing whenfoever it is innocent. And my confcience does not reproach me with any mean or criminal effects of va
nity; fince I always employed my influence on the fide of virtue, and never facrificed my understanding or my religion to the pleasure of applaufe.
There were many whom either the defire of enjoying my pleafantry, or the pride of being thought to enjoy it, brought often into my company; but I was careffed in a particular manner by Demochares, a gentleman of a large eftate, and a liberal difpofition. My fortune being by no means exuberant, inclined me to be pleased with a friend who was willing to be entertained at his own charge. I became by daily invitations habituated to his table, and, as he believed my acquaintance neceffary to the character of elegance, which he was defirous of establishing, I lived in all the luxury of affluence, without expence, or dependence, and paffed my life in a perpetual reciprocation of pleasure, with men brought together by fimilitude of accomplishments, or defire of improvement.
But all power has its fphere of activity, beyond which it produces no effect. Domochares being calied by his affairs into the country, imagined that he fhould increase his popularity by coming among his neighbours accompanied by a man whofe abilities were fo generally allowed. The report prefently spread through half the country that Demochares was arrived, and had brought with him the celebrated Hilarius, by whom fuch merriment would be excited, as had never been enjoyed or conceived before. I knew, indeed, the purpose for which I was invited, and, as men do not look diligently out for poffible mifcarriages, was pleased to find myself courted upon principles of intereft, and confidered
as capable of reconciling factions, compofing feuds, and uniting a whole province in focial happiness.
After a few days fpent in adjusting his domestick regulations, Demochares invited all the gentlemen of his neighbourhood to dinner, and did not forget to hint how much my presence was expected to heighten the pleasure of the feaft. He informed me what prejudices my reputation had raised in my favour, and reprefented the fatisfaction with which he fhould fee me kindle up the blaze of merriment, and fhould remark the various effects that my fire would have upon fuch diverfity of matter.
This declaration, by which he intended quicken my vivacity, filled me with folicitude. felt an ambition of fhining which I never knew before; and was therefore embarrassed with an unusual fear of difgrace. I paffed the night in planning out to myself the converfation of the coming day; recollected all my topicks of raillery, propofed proper fubjects of ridicule, prepared fmart replies to a thousand queftions, accommodated answers to imaginary repartees, and formed a magazine of remarks, apophthegms, tales, and illustrations.
The morning broke at last in the midst of these bufy meditations. I rose with the palpitations of a champion on the day of combat; and, notwithstanding all my efforts, found my fpirits funk under the weight of expectation. The company foon after began to drop in, and every one, at his entrance, was introduced to Hilarius. What conception the inhabitants of this region had formed of a wit, I cannot yet difcover; but observed that they all feemed, after the regular exchange of compli
ments, to turn away difappointed; and that while we waited for dinner, they caft their eyes firft upon me, and then upon each other, like a theatrical assembly waiting for a fhew.
From the uneafinefs of this fituation, I was relieved by the dinner; and as every attention was taken up by the business of the hour, I funk quietly to a level with the rest of the company. But no fooner were the difhes removed, than, instead of cheerful confidence and familiar prattle, an univerfal filence again fhewed their expectation of fome unusual performance. My friend endeavoured to roufe them by healths and questions, but they answered him with great brevity, and immediately relapfed into their former taciturnity.
I had waited in hope of fome opportunity to divert them, but could find no pafs opened for a fingle fally; and who can be merry without an object of mirth? After a few faint efforts, which produced neither applaufe nor oppofition, I was content to mingle with the mafs, to put round the glafs in filence, and folace myfelf with my own contemplations.
My friend looked round him; the guests stared at one another; and if now and then a few fyllables were uttered with timidity and hesitation, there was none ready to make any reply. All our faculties were frozen, and every minute took away from our capacity of pleafing, and difpofition to be pleased. Thus paffed the hours to which fo much happiness was decreed; the hours which had, by a kind of open proclamation, been devoted to wit, to mirth, and to Hilarius.