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to rank myself among the virtuosi without better claims. I have suffered nothing worthy the regard of a wise man to escape my notice : I have ransacked the old and the new world, and been equally attentive to past ages and the present. For the illustration of ancient history, I can show a marble, of which the inscription, though it is not now legible, appears, from some broken remains of the letters, to have been Tuscan, and therefore probably engraved before the foundation of Rome. I have two pieces of porphyry found among the ruins of Ephesus, and three letters broken off by a learned traveller from the monuments of Persepolis ; a piece of stone which paved the Areopagus of Athens, and a plate without figures or characters, which was found at Corinth, and which I therefore believe to be that metal which was once valued before gold. I have sand gathered out of the Granicus ; a fragment of Trajan's bridge over the Danube ; some of the mortar which cemented the watercourse of Tarquin; a horseshoe broken on the Flaminian way; and a turf with five daisies dug from the field of Pharsalia.
I do not wish to raise the envy of unsuccessfu) collectors, by too pompous a display of my scientifick wealth, but cannot forbear to observe, that there are few regions of the globe which are not honoured with some memorial in my cabinets. The Persian monarchs are said to have boasted the greatness of their empire, by being served at their tables with drink from the Ganges and the Danube : I can show one vial, of which the water was formerly an icicle on the
crags of Caucasus, and another that contains what once was snow on the top of Atlas ; in a. third is dew brushed from a banana in the gardens of Ispahan; and, in another, brine that has rolled in the Pacifick ocean. I flatter myself that I am writing to a man who will rejoice at the honour which my labours have procured to my country; and therefore I shall tell you that Britain can, by my care, boast of a snail that has crawled upon the wall of China; a humming bird which an American princess wore in her ear; the tooth of an elephant who carried the queen of Siam; the skin of an ape that was kept in the palace of the great mogul; a riband that adorned one of the maids of a Turkish sultana; and a cimeter once wielded by a soldier of Abas the great.
In collecting antiquities of every country, I have been careful to choose only by intrinsick worth, and real usefulness, without regard to party or opinions. I have therefore a lock of Cromwell's hair in a box turned from a piece of the royal oak; and keep in the same drawers, sand scraped from the coffin of king Richard, and a commission signed by Henry the Seventh. I have equal veneration for the ruff of Elizabeth, and the shoe of Mary of Scotland; and should lose, with like regret, a tobacco-pipe of Ralegh, and a stirrup of king James. I have paid the same price for a glove of Lewis, and a thimble of queen Mary; for a fur cap of the Czar, and a boot of Charles of Sweden.
You will easily imagine that these accumulations were not made without some diminution of
fortune, for I was so well known to spare no cost, that at every sale some bid against me for hire, some
for sport, and some for malice; and if I asked the price of . any thing, it was sufficient to double the demand. For curiosity, trafficking thus with avarice, the wealth of India had not been enough ; and I, by little and little, transferred all my money from the funds to my closet: here I was inclined to stop, and live upon my estate in literary leisure, but the sale of the Harleian collection shook my resolution: I mortgaged my land, and purchased thirty medals, which I could never find before. I have at length bought till I can buy no longer, and the cruelty of my creditors has seized my repository; I am therefore condemned to disperse what the labour of an age will not reassemble.
will not reassemble. I submit to that which cannot be opposed, and shall, in a short time, declare a sale. I have, while it is yet in my power, sent you a pebble, picked up by Tavernier on the banks of the Ganges; for which I desire no other recompense than that you will recommend my catalogue to the publick.
NUMB. 83. TUESDAY, January 1, 1751.
Nisi utile est quod facias, stulta est gloria.
THE publication of the letter in
paper has naturally led me to the consideration of that thirst after curiosities, which often draws contempt and ridicule upon itself, but which is perhaps no otherwise blamable, than as it wants those circumstantial recommendations which add lustre even to moral excellencies, and are absolutely necessary to the grace and beauty of indifferent actions.
Learning confers so much superiority on those who possess it, that they might probably have escaped all censure had they been able to agree among themselves; but as envy and competition have divided the republick of letters into factions, theyhave nego lected the common interest; each has called in foreign aid, and endeavoured to strengthen his own cause by the frown of power, the hiss of ignorance, and the clamour of popularity. They have all engaged in feuds, till by mutual hostilities they demolished those outworks which veneration had raised for their security, and exposed themselves to barbarians, by whom every region of science is equally laid waste.
Between men of different studies and professions, may be observed a constant reciprocation of reproaches. The collector of shells and stones derides the folly of him who pastes leaves and flowers upon paper, pleases himself with colours that are perceptibly fading, and amasses with care what cannot be preserved. The hunter of insects stands amazed that any man can waste his short time upon lifeless matter, while many tribes of animals yet want their history. Every one is inclined not only to promote his own study, but to exclude all others from regard, and having heated his imagination with some favourite pursuit, wonders that the rest of mankind are not seized with the same passion.
There are, indeed, many subjects of study which seem but remotely allied to useful knowledge, and of little importance to happiness or virtue; nor is it easy to forbear some sallies of merriment, or expressions of pity, when we see a man wrinkled with attention, and emaciated with solicitude, in the investigation of questions, of which, without visible inconvenience, the world may expire in 'ignorance. Yet it is dangerous to discourage well-intended labours, or innocent curiosity; for he who is employed in searches, which by any deduction of consequences tend to the benefit of life, is surely laudable, in comparison of those who spend their time in counteracting happiness, and filling the world with wrong and danger, confusion and remorse. No man can perform so little as not to have reason to congratulate himself on his merits, when he beholds the multitudes that live in total idleness, and have never yet endeavoured to be useful.
It is impossible to determine the limits of enquiry, or to foresee what consequences a new discovery may produce. He who suffers not his faculties to lie