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that our fingers are as nimble, and as infallible interpreters of our thoughts, as other men's tongues are; yet even this mechanic eloquence is only allowed upon the weightiest occasions. We admire the wise institutions of the Turks, and other eastern nations, where all commands are performed by officious mutes; and we wonder that the polite courts of Christendom should come so far short of the majesty of the barbarians. Ben Johnson has gained an eternal reputation among us, by his play called the Silent Woman. Every member here is another Morose while the club is sitting, but at home may much and as fast
as his family occasions require, without breach of statute. The advantages we find from this Quaker-like assembly are many. We consider, that the understanding of man is liable to mistakes, and his will fond of contradictions; that disputes, which are of no weight in themselves, are often very considerable in their effects. The disuse of the tongue is the only effectual remedy against these. All party concerns, all private scandal, all insults over another man's weaker reasons, must there be lost, where no disputes arise. Another advantage, which follows from the first, (and which is very rarely to be met with,) is, that we are all upon the same level in conversation. A wag of my acquaintance used to add a third, viz. that, if ever we debate, we are sure to have all our arguments at our fingers' ends. Of all Longinus's remarks, we are most enamoured with that excellent passage, where he mentions Ajax's silence as one of the noblest instances of the sublime, and (if you will allow me to be free with a namesake of yours) I should think that the everlasting story-teller Nestor, had he been likened to the ass instead of our hero, he had suffered less by the comparison.
“I have already described the practice and sentiments of this society, and shall but barely mention the report of the neighbourhood, that we are not only as mute as fishes, but that we drink like fishes too: that we are like the Welshman's owl, though we do not sing, we pay it off with thinking: others take us for an assembly of disaffected persons, nay, their zeal to the government has carried them so far as to send, last week, a party of constables to surprise us; you may easily imagine how exactly we represented the Roman senators of old, sitting with majestic silence, and undaunted at the approach of an army of Gauls. If you approve of our undertaking, you need not declare it to the world; your silence shall be interpreted as consent given to the honourable body of mutes, and in particular to
“ Your humble servant,
“ P. S. We have had but one word spoken since the found. ation, for which the member was expelled by the old Roman custom of bending back the thumb. He had just received the news of the battle of Hochstat, and being too impatient to communicate his joy, was unfortunately betrayed into a lapsus lingua. We acted on the principles of the Roman Manlius ; and though we approved of the cause of his error as just, we condemned the effect as a manifest violation of his duty."
I never could have thought a dumb man would have roared so well out of my lion's mouth. My next pretty correspondent, like Shakspeare's lion in Pyramus and Thisbe, roars an it were any nightingale. “MR. IRONSIDE,
July 28, 1713. I was afraid at first you were only in jest, and had a mind to expose our nakedness for the diversion of the town; but since I see that you are in good earnest, and have infallibility of your side, I cannot forbear returning my thanks to you for the care you take of us, having a friend who has promised me to give my letters to the lion, till we can communicate our thoughts to you through our own proper vehicle. Now you must know, dear sir, that if you
do not take care to suppress this exorbitant growth of the female chest, all that is left of my waist must inevitably perish. It is at this time reduced to the depth of four inches, by what I have already made over to my neck. But if the stripping design, mentioned by Mrs. Figleaf yesterday, should take effect, sir, I dread to think what it will come to. In short, there is no help for it, my girdle and all must go. This is the naked truth of the matter. Have pity on me then, my dear Guardian, and preserve me from being so inhumanly exposed. I do assure you that I follow your precepts as much as a young woman can, who will live in the world without being laughed at. I have no hooped petticoat, and when I am a matron will wear broad tuckers whether you succeed or no. If the flying project takes, I intend to be the last in wings, being resolved in everything to behave myself as becomes
“Your most obedient ward."
No. 119, TUESDAY, JULY 28.
-poetarum veniet manus, auxilio quæ Sit mihi
THERE is nothing which more shows the want of taste and discernment in a writer, than the decrying of any author in gross, especially of an author who has been the admiration of multitudes, and that too in several ages of the world. This, however, is the general practice of all illiterate and undistinguishing critics. Because Homer, and Virgil, and Sophocles have been commended by the learned of all times, every scribbler, who has no relish of their beauties, gives himself an air of rapture when he speaks of them. But as he praises these he knows not why, there are others whom he depreciates with the same vehemence and upon the same account. We may see after what a different manner Strada proceeds in his judgment on the Latin poets ; for I intend to publish, in this paper, a continuation of that Prolusion which was the subject of the last Thursday. I shall therefore give my reader a short account, in
every poem which was produced in the learned assembly there described; and if he is thoroughly conversant in the works of those ancient authors, he will see with how much judgment every subject is adapted to the poet who makes use of it, and with how much delicacy every particular poet's way of writing is characterized in the censure that is passed upon it.
Lucan's representative was the first who recited before the august assembly. As Lucan was a Spaniard, his poem does honour to that nation, which, at the same time, makes the romantic bravery in the hero of it more probable.
Alphonso was the governor of a town invested by the Moors. During the blockade, they made his only son their prisoner, whom they brought before the walls, and exposed to his father's sight, threatening to put him to death if he did not immediately give up the town. The father tells
them, if he had an hundred sons, he would rather see them all perish than do an ill action, or betray his country. “But, (says he,) if you take a pleasure in destroying the innocent, you may do it if you please : behold a sword for your purpose." Upon which he threw his sword from the wall, returned to his palace, and was able, at such a juncture, to sit down to the repast which was prepared for him. He was soon raised by the shouts of the enemy and the cries of the besieged. Upon returning again to the walls, he saw his son lying in the pangs of death ; but far from betraying any weakness at such a spectacle, he upbraids his friends for their sorrow, and returns to finish his repast.
Upon the recital of this story, which is exquisitely drawn up in Lucan's spirit and language, the whole assembly declared their opinion of Lucan in a confused murmur. The poem was praised or censured according to the prejudices which every one had conceived in favour or disadvantage of the author. These were so very great, that some had placed him in their opinions above the highest, and others beneath the lowest of the Latin poets. Most of them, however, agreed, that Lucan's genius was wonderfully great, but at the same time too haughty and headstrong to be governed by art, and that his style was like his genius, learned, bold, and lively, but withal too tragical and blustering. In a word, that he chose rather a great than a just reputation; to which they added, that he was the first of the Latin poets who deviated from the purity of the Roman language.
The representative of Lucretius told the assembly, that they should soon be sensible of the difference between a poet who was a native of Rome, and a stranger who had been adopted to it: after which he entered upon his subject, which I find exhibited to my hand in a speculation of one of my predecessors.
Strada, in the person of Lucretius, gives an account of a chimerical correspondence between two friends by the help of a certain loadstone, which had such a virtue in it, that if it touched two several needles, when one of the needles so touched began to move, the other, though at never so great a distance, moved at the same time, and in the same man
He tells us, that the two friends, being each of them possessed of one of those needles, made a kind of dial-plate, inscribing it with the four and twenty letters, in the same manner as the hours of the day are marked upon the ordinary dial-plate. They then fixed one of the needles on each of these plates in such a manner that it could move round without impediment, so as to touch any of the four and twenty letters. Upon their separating from one another into distant countries, they agreed to withdraw themselves punctually into their closets at a certain hour of the day, and to converse with one another by means of this their invention. Accordingly when they were some hundred miles asunder, each of them shut himself up in his closet at the time appointed, and immediately cast his eye upon his dial-plate. If he had a mind to write anything to his friend, he directed his needle to every letter that formed the words which he had occasion for, making a little pause at the end of every word or sentence, to avoid confusion. The friend, in the mean while, saw his own sympathetic needle moving of itself to every letter which that of his correspondent pointed at : by this means they talked together across a whole continent, and conveyed their thoughts to one another in an instant over cities or mountains, seas or deserts.
The whole audience were pleased with the artifice of the poet who represented Lucretius, observing very well how he had laid asleep their attention to the simplicity of his style in some verses, and to the want of harmony in others, by fixing their minds to the novelty of his subject, and to the experiment which he related. Without such an artifice they were of opinion that nothing would have sounded more harsh than Lucretius's diction and numbers.
But it was plain that the more learned part of the assembly were quite of another mind. These allowed that it was peculiar to Lucretius above all other poets, to be always doing or teaching something, that no other style was so proper to teach in, or gave a greater pleasure to those who had a true relish for the Roman tongue. They added further, that if Lucretius had not been embarrassed with the difficulty of his matter, and a little led away by an affectation of antiquity, there could not have been anything more perfect than his poem.
Claudian succeeded Lucretius, having chosen for his subject the famous contest between the nightingale and the
| To the novelty—and to the experiment-it should be on, in both places.