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till it is better deserved. But surely I may be allowed to complain, that, in a nation of authors, not one has thought me worthy of notice after so fair an invitation. At the time when the rage of writing has seized the old and young, when the cook warbles her lyricks in , the kitchen, and the thrasher vociferates his heroicks in the barn; when our traders deal out knowledge in bulky volumes, and our girls forsake their samplers to teach kingdoms wisdom; it may seem very unnecessary to draw any more from their proper occupations, by affording new opportunities of literary fame. I should be indeed unwilling to find that, for the sake of corresponding with the Idler, the smith’s iron had cooled on the anvil, or the spinster’s distaff stood unemployed. I solicit only the contributions of those who have already devoted themselves to literature, or without any determinate intention, wander at large through the expanse of life, and wear out the day in heariñg at one place what they utter at another. Of these, a great part are already writers. One has a friend in the country upon whom he exercises his powers; whose passions he raises and depresses; whose understanding he perplexes with paradoxes, or strengthens by argument; whose admiration he courts, whose praises he enjoys; and who serves him instead of a senate or a theatre; as the young soldiers in the Roman camp learned the use of their weapons by fencing against a post in the place of an enemy. Another has his pockets filled with essays and epigrams, which he reads from house to house to select parties, and which his acquaintances are daily entreating him to withhold no longer from the impatience of the publick.
If among these any one is persuaded, that, by such preludes of composition, he has qualified himself to appear in the open world, and is yet afraid of those censures which they who have already writen, and they who cannot write, are equally ready to fulminate against public pretenders to fame, he may, by transmitting his performances to the Idler, make a cheap experiment of his abilities, and enjoy the pleasure of success without the hazard of miscarriage. Many advantages not generally known arise from this method of stealing on the public. The standing author of the paper is always the object of critical malignity. Whatever is mean will be imputed to him, and whatever is excellent be ascribed to his assistants. It does not much alter the event, that the author and his correspondents are equally unknown; for the author, whoever be be, is an individual of whom every reader has some fixed idea, and whom he is therefore unwilling to gratify with applause; but the praises given to his correspondents are scattered in the air, none can tell on whom they will light, and therefore none are unwilling to bestow them. He that is known to contribute to a periodical work, needs no other caution than not to tell what particular pieces are his own; such secrecy is indeed very difficult; but if it can be maintained, it is scarcely to be imagined at how small an expense he may grow considerable. A person of quality, by a single paper, may engross the honour of a volume. Fame is indeed dealt with a hand less and less bounteous through the subordinate ranks, till it descends to the professed author, who will find it very difficult to get more than he deserves; but every man who does not want it, or who needs not value it, may have liberal allowances; and, for five letters in the year sent to the Idler, of which perhaps only two are printed, will be promoted to the first rank of writers by those who are weary of the present race of wits, and wish to sink them into obscurity before the lustre of a name not yet known enough to be detested.
IT has long been the complaint of those who frequent the theatres, that all the dramatick art has been long exhausted, and that the vicissitudes of fortune, and accidents of life, have been shown in every possible combination, till the first scene informs us of the last, and the play no sooner opens than every auditor knows how it will conclude. When a conspiracy is formed in a tragedy, we guess by whom it will be detected; when a letter is dropt in a comedy, we can tell by whom it will be found. Nothing is now left for the poet but character and sentiment, which are to make its way as it can, without the soft anxiety of suspense, or the enlivening agitation of surprise. A new paper lies under the same disadvantages as a new play. There is danger lest it be new without novelty. My earlier predecessors had their choice of vices and follies, and selected such as were most likely to raise merriment or attract attention; they had the whole field of life before them, untrodden and unsurveyed; characters of every kind shot up in their way, and those of the most luxuriant growth, or most conspicuous colours, were naturally cropt by the first sickle. They that follow are forced to peep into neglected corners, to note the casual varieties of the same species, and to recommend themselves by minute industry, and distinction too subtle for common eyes. Sometimes it may happen, that the haste or negligence of the first inquirers has left enough behind to reward another search; sometimes new objects start up under the eye, and he that is looking for one kind of matter is amply gratified by the discovery of another. But still it must be allowed, that, as more is taken, less can remain; and every truth brought newly to light impoverishes the mine from which succeeding intellects are to dig their treasures. Many philosophers imagine, that the elements themselves may be in time exhausted; that the sun, by shining long, will effuse all its light; and that, by the continual waste of aqueous particles, the whole earth will at last become a sandy desert. I would not advise my readers to disturb themselves by contriving how they shall live without light or water. For the days of universal thirst and perpetual darkness are at a great distance. The ocean and the sun will last our time, and we may leave posterity to shift for themselves. But if the stores of nature are limited, much more narrow bounds must be set to the modes of life; and mankind may want a moral or amusing paper, many years before they shall be deprived of drink or daylight. This want, which to the busy and inventive
may seem easily remediable by some substitute or other, the whole race of Idlers will feel with all the sensibility that such torpid animals can suffer. When I consider the innumerable multitudes that, having no motive of desire, or determination of will, lie freezing in perpetual inactivity, till some external impulse puts them in motion, who awake in the morning vacant of thought, with minds gaping for the intellectual food which some kind essayist has been accustomed to supply; I am moved by the commiseration with which all human beings ought to behold the distresses of each other, to try some expedients for their relief, and to inquire by what methods the listless may be actuated, and the empty be replenished. There are said to be pleasures in madness known only to madmen. There are certainly miseries in idleness, which the Idler only can conceive. These miseries I have often felt and often bewailed. I know by experience, how welcome is every avocation that summons the thoughts to a new image; and how much languor and lassitude are relieved by that officiousness which offers a momentary amusement to him who is unable to find it for himself. It is naturally indifferent to this race of men what entertainment they receive, so they are but entertained. They catch, with, equal eagerness, at a moral lecture or the memoirs of a robber; a prediction of the appearance-of a comet, or the calculation of the chances of a lottery. * They might therefore easily be pleased, if they consulted only their own minds: but those who will not take the trouble to think for themselves, have always somebody that thinks for them; and the difficulty in writing is to please those from whom others learn to be pleased.