« PreviousContinue »
in the last age, and the small care had to advance their ancient growth in the present, it is manifest, how little reason we can have to rely upon a hold so short, so weak, and so slippery; and that whoever desires to catch mankind fast, must have recourse to some other methods. Now, he that will examine human nature with circumspection enough, may discover several handles, whereof the six** senses afford one a-piece, beside a great number that are screwed to the passions, and some few rivetted to the intellect. Among these last, curiosity is one, and, of all others, affords the firmest grasp : curiosity, that spur in the side, that bridle in the mouth, that ring in the nose, of a lazy and impatient and a grunting reader. By this handle it is, that an author should seize upon his readers; which as soon as he has once compassed, all resistance and struggling are in vain; and they become his prisoners as close as he pleases, till weariness or dulness force him to let go his gripe.
And therefore, I, the author of this miraculous treatise, having hitherto, beyond expectation, maintained, by the aforesaid handle, a firm hold upon my gentle readers, it is with great reluctance, that I am at length compelled to remit my grasp; leaving them, in the persual of what remains, to that natural oscitancy inherent in the tribe. I can only assure thee, courteous reader, for both our comforts, that my concern is altogether equal to thine, for my unhappiness in losing, or mislaying among my papers, the remaining part of these memoirs, which consisted of accidents, turns, and adventures, both new, agreeable, and surprising; and therefore calculated, in all due points, to the delicate taste of this our noble age. But, alas! with my utmost endea
* Including Scaliger's.-Original.
vours, I have been able only to retain a few of the heads. Under which, there was a full account, how Peter got a protection out of the King's Bench; and of a reconcilement between Jack and him, upon a design they had, in a certain rainy night, to trepan brother Martin into a spunging-house, and there strip him to the skin. How Martin, with much ado, shewed them both a fair pair of heels. How a new warrant came out against Peter; upon which, how Jack left him in the lurch, stole his protection, and made use of it himself. How Jack's tatters came into fashion in court and city; how he got upon a great horse,t and eat custard. But the particulars of all these, with several others, which have now slid out of my memory, are lost beyond all hopes of recovery. For which misfortune, leaving my readers to condole with each other, as far as they shall find it to agree with their several constitutions; but conjuring them by all the friendship that has passed between us, from the title-page to this, not to proceed so far as to injure their healths for an accident past remedy; I now go on to the ceremonial part of an accomplished writer, and therefore, by a courtly modern, least of all others to be omitted.
* In the reign of King James the Second, the Presbyterians, by the king's invitation, joined with the Papists, against the Church of England, and addressed him for repeal of the penal laws and test. The king, by his dispensing power, gave liberty of conscience, which both Papists and Presbyterians made use of; but, upon the Revolution, the Papists being down of course, the Presbyterians freely continued their assemblies, by virtue of King James's indulgence, before they had a toleration by law. This I believe the author means by Jack's stealing Peter's protection, and making use of it himself.
† Sir Humphry Edwyn, a Presbyterian, when lord-mayor of London, in 1697, had the insolence to go in his formalities to a conventicle, with the ensigns of his office.
Custard is a famous dish at a lord-mayor's feast.
GOING too long, is a cause of abortion, as effectual, though not so frequent, as going too short; and holds true especially in the labours of the brain. Well fare the heart of that noble jesuit,* who first adventured to confess in print, that books must be suited to their several seasons, like dress, and diet, and diversions; and better fare our noble nation, for refining upon this among other French modes. I am living fast to see the time, when a book that misses its tide, shall be neglected, as the moon by day, or like mackarel a week after the season. No man has more nicely observed our climate, than the bookseller who bought the copy of this work; he knows to a tittle what subjects will best go off in a dry year, and which it is proper to expose foremost, when the weather-glass is fallen to much rain. When he had seen this treatise, and consulted his almanack upon it, he gave me to understand, that he had manifestly considered the two principal things, which were, the bulk and the subject; and found it would never take but after a long vacation, and then only in case it should happen to be a hard year for turnips. Upon which I desired to know, considering my urgent necessities, what he thought might be acceptable this month. He looked westward, and said, I doubt we shall have a fit of bad weather; however, if you could prepare some pretty little banter, (but not in verse,) or a small treatise
* Pere d'Orleans.-Original.
At length we agreed upon this expedient; that, when a customer comes for one of these, and desires in confidence to know the author, he will tell him very privately, as a friend, naming whichever of the wits shall happen to be that week in vogue; and if Durfey's last play should be in course, I would as lieve he may be the person as Congreve. This I mention, because I am wonderfully well acquainted with the present relish of courteous readers; and have often observed, with singular pleasure, that a fly, driven from a honey-pot, will immediately, with very good appetite, alight, and finish his meal on an
I have one word to say upon the subject of profound writers, who are grown very numerous of late; and I know very well, the judicious world is resolved to list me in that number. I conceive therefore, as to the business of being profound, that it is with writers as with wells; a person with good eyes may see to the bottom of the deepest, provided any water be there; and often, when there is nothing in the world at the bottom, besides dryness and dirt, though it be but a yard and half underground, it shall pass, however, for wondrous deep, upon no wiser a reason, than because it is wondrous dark.
I am now trying an experiment very frequent among modern authors; which is to write upon nothing; when the subject is utterly exhausted, to
* When Dr. Prideaux brought the copy of his Connection of the Old and New Testament to the bookseller, he told him it was a dry subject, and the printing could not safely be ventured unless he could enliven it with a little humour.-H.
let the pen still move on; by some called the ghost of wit, delighting to walk after the death of its body. And to say the truth, there seems to be no part of knowledge in fewer hands, than that of discerning when to have done. By the time that an author has written out a book, he and his readers are become old acquaintance, and grow very loath to part; so that I have sometimes known it to be in writing, as in visiting, where the ceremony of taking leave has employed more time than the whole conversation before. The conclusion of a treatise resembles the conclusion of human life, which has sometimes been compared to the end of a feast; where few are satisfied to depart, ut plenus vitæ conviva: for men will sit down after the fullest meal, though it be only to doze, or to sleep out the rest of the day. But, in this latter, I differ extremely from other writers; and shall be too proud, if, by all my labours, I can have anyways contributed to the repose of mankind, in times so turbulent and unquiet as these. Neither do I think such an employment so very alien from the office of a wit as some would suppose. For, among a very polite nation in Greece, there were the same temples built and consecrated, to Sleep and the Muses; between which two deities they believed the strictest friendship was established.
I have one concluding favour to request of my reader; that he will not expect to be equally diverted and informed by every line or every page of this discourse; but give some allowance to the author's spleen, and short fits or intervals of dulness, as well as his own; and lay it seriously to his conscience, whether, if he were walking the streets in dirty
*This was written before the peace of Ryswick, which was signed in September, 1697.