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though he were sure to gain heaven by it." However extravagant such a protestation may appear, every one will own, that a man may say very reasonbly, "He would not tell a lie, if he were sure to gain hell by it;" or, if you have a mind to soften the expression, that he would not tell a lie to gain any temporal reward by it, when he should run the hazard of losing much more than it was possible for him to gain.
No. 511. THURSDAY, OCTOBER 16.
Quis non invenit turbâ quod amaret in illâ? OVID. "DEAR SPEC.,
Finding that my last letter took, I do intend to continue my epistolary correspondence with thee, on those dear confounded creatures, women. Thou knowest, all the little learning I am master of is upon that subject; I never looked in a book but for their sakes. I have lately met with two pure stories for a Spectator, which I am sure will please mightily, if they pass through thy hands. The first of them I found by chance in an English book called Herodotus, that lay in my friend Dapperwit's window, as I visited him one morning. It luckily opened in the place where I met the following account. He tells us that it was the manner among the Persians to have several fairs in the kingdom, at which all the young unmarried women were annually exposed to sale. The men who wanted wives came hither to provide themselves: every woman was given to the highest bidder, and the money which she fetched laid aside for the public use, to be employed as thou shalt hear by and by. By this means the richest people had the choice of the market, and culled out the most extraordinary beauties. As soon as the fair was thus picked, the refuse was to be distributed among the poor, and among those who could not go to the price of a beauty. Several of these married the agreeables, without paying a farthing for them, unless somebody chanced to think it worth his while to bid for them, in which case the best bidder was always the purchaser. But now you must know, Spec., it happened in Persia, as it does in our own country, that there were as many ugly women as
eauties or agreeables; so that by consequence, after the nagistrates had put off a great many, there were still a great nany that stuck upon their hands. In order, therefore, to clear the market, the money which the beauties had sold for, vas disposed of among the ugly; so that a poor man, who could not afford to have a beauty for his wife, was forced to take up with a fortune; the greatest portion being always given to the most deformed. To this the author adds, that every poor man was forced to live kindly with his wife, or, in case he repented of his bargain, to return her portion with her to the next public sale.
“What I would recommend to thee on this occasion is, to establish such an imaginary fair in Great Britain: thou couldst make it very pleasant, by matching women of quality with cobblers and carmen, or describing titles and garters leading off in great ceremony shopkeepers' and farmers' daughters. Though, to tell thee the truth, I am confoundedly afraid, that as the love of money prevails in our island more than it did in Persia, we should find that some of our greatest men would choose out the portions, and rival one another for the richest piece of deformity; and that, on the contrary, the toasts and belles would be bought up by extravagant heirs, gamesters, and spendthrifts. Thou couldst make very pretty reflections upon this occasion in honour of the Persian politics, who took care, by such marriages, to beautify the upper part of the species, and to make the greatest persons in the government the most graceful. But this I shall leave to thy judicious pen.
"I have another story to tell thee, which I likewise met in a book. It seems the general of the Tartars, after having laid siege to a strong town in China, and taken it by storm, would set to sale all the women that were found in it. Accordingly, he put each of them into a sack, and after having thoroughly considered the value of the woman who was enclosed, marked the price that was demanded for her upon the sack. There were a great confluence of chapmen, that resorted from every part, with a design to purchase, which they were to do unsight unseen. The book mentions a merchant in particular, who observing one of the sacks to be marked pretty high, bargained for it, and carried it off with him to his house. As he was resting with it upon a halfway bridge, he was resolved to take a survey of his purchase:
upon opening the sack, a little old woman popped her head out of it; at which the adventurer was in so great a rage, that he was going to shoot her out into the river. The old lady, however, begged him first of all to hear her story, by which he learned that she was sister to a great Mandarin, who would infallibly make the fortune of his brother-in-law as soon as he should know to whose lot she fell. Upon which the merchant again tied her up in his sack, and carried her to his house, where she proved an excellent wife, and procured him all the riches from her brother that she promised him.
"I fancy, if I was disposed to dream a second time, I could make a tolerable vision upon this plan. I would suppose all the unmarried women in London and Westminster brought to market in sacks, with their respective prices on each sack. The first sack that is sold is marked with five thousand pound; upon the opening of it, I find it filled with an admirable housewife, of an agreeable countenance: the purchaser, upon hearing her good qualities, pays down her price very cheerfully. The second I would open, should be a five hundred pound sack: the lady in it, to our surprise, has the face and person of a toast: as we are wondering how she came to be set at so low a price, we hear that she would have been valued at ten thousand pound, but that the public had made those abatements for her being a scold. I would afterwards find some beautiful, modest, and discreet woman, that should be the top of the market; and perhaps discover half a dozen romps tied up together in the same sack, at one hundred pound a-head. The prude and the coquette should be valued at the same price, though the first should go off the better of the two. I fancy thou wouldst like such a vision, had I time to finish it; because, to talk in thy own way, there is a moral in it. Whatever thou mayest think of it, prythee do not make any of thy queer apologies for this letter, as thou didst for my last. The women love a gay, lively fellow, and are never angry at the railleries of one who is their known admirer. I am always bitter upon them, but well with them.
No. 512. FRIDAY, OCTOBER 17.
Lectorem delectando pariterque monendo. HOR.
THERE is nothing which we receive with so much reluctance as advice. We look upon the man who gives it us as offering an affront to our understanding, and treating us like children or idiots. We consider the instruction as an implicit censure, and the zeal which any one shows for our good on such an occasion, as a piece of presumption or impertinence. The truth of it is, the person who pretends to advise, does, in that particular, exercise a superiority over us, and can have no other reason for it but that, in comparing us with himself, he thinks us defective either in our conduct or our understanding. For these reasons there is nothing so difficult as the art of making advice agreeable; and, indeed, all the writers, both ancient and modern, have distinguished themselves among one another, according to the perfection at which they have arrived in this art. How many devices have been made use of to render this bitter potion palatable! some convey their instructions to us in the best chosen words, others in the most harmonious numbers; some in points of wit, and others in short proverbs.
But among all the different ways of giving counsel, I think the finest, and that which pleases the most universally, is fable, in whatsoever shape it appears. If we consider this way of instructing or giving advice, it excels all others, because it is the least shocking, and the least subject to those exceptions which I have before mentioned.
This will appear to us, if we reflect, in the first place, that upon reading of a fable we are made to believe we advise ourselves.1 We peruse the author for the sake of the story, and consider the precepts rather as our own conclusions, than his instructions. The moral insinuates itself imperceptibly, we are taught by surprise, and become wiser and better unawares. In short, by this method a man is so far over1 Ourselves.] Two small inaccuracies in this sentence. 1. Instead of upon reading of a fable," it should have been, " upon the reading of," or, upon reading a fable."--2. The sentence is involved and complicated-"We reflect that we are made to believe that we advise ourselves." -To conceal or palliate the last defect, the second that is left out, but must be supplied by the reader.
reached as to think he is directing himself, whilst he is following the dictates of another, and consequently is not sensible of that which is the most unpleasing circumstance in advice.
In the next place, if we look into human nature, we shall find that the mind is never so much pleased, as when she exerts herself in any action that gives her an idea of her own perfections and abilities. This natural pride and ambition of the soul is very much gratified in the reading of a fable: for in writings of this kind, the reader comes in for half of the performance; everything appears to him like a discovery of his own; he is busied all the while in applying characters and circumstances, and is in this respect both a reader and a composer. It is no wonder, therefore, that on such occasions, when the mind is thus pleased with itself, and amused with its own discoveries, it is highly delighted with the writing which is the occasion of it. For this reason the Absalon and Achitophel was one of the most popular poems that ever appeared in English. The poetry is indeed very fine, but had it been much finer it would not have so much pleased, without a plan which gave the reader an opportunity of exerting his own talents.
This oblique manner of giving advice is so inoffensive, that if we look into ancient histories, we find the wise men of old very often chose1 to give counsel to their kings in fables. To omit many which will occur to every one's memory, there is a pretty instance of this nature in a Turkish tale, which I do2 not like the worse for that little Oriental extravagance which is mixed with it.
We are told that the Sultan Mahmoud, by his perpetual wars abroad, and his tyranny at home, had filled his dominions with ruin and desolation, and half unpeopled the Persian empire. The vizier to this great sultan (whether an humourist or an enthusiast we are not informed) pretended to have learned of a certain dervise to understand the language of birds, so that there was not a bird that could open his mouth but the vizier knew what it was he said. As he was one evening with the emperor, on their return from hunting, they saw a couple of owls upon a tree that grew near an old wall, out of an heap of rubbish. I would fain
1 Chose.] To avoid the fault just now taken notice of, we might say, choosing to give," &c.
Which I do--which is.] The same fault again.