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[ADDISON, in SPECTATOR, No. 1. Thursday, March 1, 1910-11.')
“Non fumum ex fulgore, sed ex fumo dare luceni
HORACE, Ars Poetica, ver. 143.
HAVE observed, that a reader seldom peruses a book with
pleasure till he knows whether the writer of it be a black or a fair man, of a mild or choleric disposition, married or a bachelor, with other particulars of the like nature, that conduce very much to the right understanding of an author. To gratify this curiosity, which is so natural to a reader, I design this paper, and my next, as prefatory discourses to my following writings, and shall give some account in them of the several persons that are engaged in this work. As the chief trouble of compiling, digesting, and correcting will fall to my share, I must do myself the justice to open the work with my own history.
I was born to a small hereditary estate, which, according to the tradition of the village where it lies, was bounded by the
1 Before 1752, when the Gregorian Calendar was adopted in England, it
“One with a flash begins, and ends in smoke;
same hedges and ditches in William the Conqueror's1 time that it is at present, and has been delivered down from father to son whole and entire, without the loss or acquisition of a single field or meadow, during the space of six hundred years.
There runs a story in the family, that my mother dreamt that she had brought forth a judge. Whether this might proceed from a lawsuit which was then depending in the family, or my father's being a justice of the peace, I cannot determine; for I am not so vain as to think it presaged any dignity that I should arrive at in my future life, though that was the interpretation which the neighborhood put upon it. The gravity of my behavior at my very first appearance in the world seemed to favor my mother's dream: for, as she has often told me, I threw away my rattle before I was two months old, and would not make use of my coral till they had taken away the bells from it.
As for the rest of my infancy, there being nothing in it remarkable, I shall pass it over in silence. I find that, during my nonage, I had the reputation of a very sullen youth, but was always a favorite of my schoolmaster, who used to say, that my parts were solid, and would wear well. I had not been long at the university, before I distinguished myself by a most profound silence: for, during the space of eight years, excepting in the public exercises of the college, I scarce uttered the quantity of a hundred words; and indeed do not remember that I ever spoke three sentences together in my whole life. Whilst I was in this learned body, I applied myself with so much diligence to my studies, that there are very few celebrated books, either in the learned or the modern tongues, which I am not acquainted with.
Upon the death of my father I was resolved to travel into foreign countries, and therefore left the university, with the character of an odd unaccountable fellow, that had a great deal of learning, if I would but show it. An insatiable thirst after
1 William, Duke of Normandy 1025-87, defeated King Harold at the battle of Hastings in 1066, and conquered England.
knowledge carried me into all the countries of Europe, in which there was anything new or strange to be seen; nay, to such a degree was my curiosity raised, that having read the controversies of some great men concerning the antiquities of Egypt, I made a voyage to Grand Cairo,1 on purpose to take the measure of a pyramid; and, as soon as I had set myself right in that particular, returned to my native country with great satisfaction.
I have passed my latter years in this city, where I am frequently seen in most public places, though there are not above half a dozen of my select friends that know me; of whom my next paper shall give a more particular account. There is no place of general resort wherein I do not often make my appearance; sometimes I am seen thrusting my head into a round of politicians at Will's, and listening with great attention to the narratives that are made in those little circular audiences. Sometimes I smoke a pipe at Child's;2 and, while I seem attentive to
1 This was probably a sarcasm on John Greaves, who published a book in 1646 entitled Pyramidographia, or a Description of the Pyramids in Egypt.
2 The coffee and chocolate houses of the time of Addison were the chief places of resort. One asked in those days, not where men lived, but which was their coffee-house. They served instead of newspapers, and were arenas for public discussion, while each had its political or literary following. They were much more powerful in their day than any club of to-day. Will's Coffee House was at No. 1 Bow Street, Covent Garden, on the west side, corner of Russell Street, and was named from the original owner, William Urwin. Here the most intellectual men of the period gathered. In the Tatler it was made the center for poetry. Child's was located in St. Paul's Churchyard, where scientific people congregated particularly. St. James's was the last but one on the southwest corner of St. James Street, and was the headquarters for the Whigs during the reign of Queen Anne, and until the reign of George III. Addison, Steele, Swift, and later Goldsmith and Garrick, were among the distinguished frequenters of it. It is often mentioned in the Spectator. The Grecian was in Devereux Court, Strand. It was named after a Greek, Constantine, who originally kept it. It was the special resort of learned men and antiquarians. The Cocoa Tree was situated at 64 St. James Street. It once stood in Pall Mall. It was the Tory headquarters during Queen Anne's