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THERE is not, perhaps, a more whimsical figure
in nature, than a man of real modesty who assumes an air of impudence; who, while his heart beats with anxiety, studies ease and affects good humour. In this situation, however, every unexperienced writer, finds himself. Impressed with the terrors of the tribunal before which he is going to appear, his natural humour is turned to pertness, and for real wit he is obliged to substitute vivacity.
For my part, as I was never distinguished for address, and have often even blundered in making my bow, I am at a loss whether to be merry or sad on this solemn occasion. Should I modestly decline all merit, it is too probable the hasty reader may take me at my word. If, on the other hand, like Jabourers in the magazine trade, I humbly presume to promise an epitome of all the good things that were ever said or written, those readers I most desire to please may forsake me.
My bookseller, in this dilemma, perceiving my embarrassment, instantly offered his assistance and advice. You must know, sir,' says he,' that the republic of letters is at present divided into several classes. One writer excels at a plan or a title-page; F 2
another works away at the body of the book; and a third is a dab at an index. Thus a magazine is not the result of any single man's industry, but goes through as many hands as a new pin, before it is fit for the public. 'I fancy, sir,' continues he, 'I can provide an eminent hand, and upon moderate terins to draw up a promising plan to smooth up our readers a little; and pay them, as colonel Charteris paid his seraglio, at the rate of three-half. pence in hand, and three shillings more in promises.'
Ile was proceeding in his advice, which, how. ever, I thought proper to decline, by assuring him, that as I intended to pursue no fixed method, so it was impossible to form any regular plan: deter. mined never to be tedious in order to be logical; wherever pleasure presented, I was resolved to follow.
It will be improper, therefore, to pall the reader's curiosity by lessening his surprise, or anticipate any pleasure I am able to procure him, by saying what shall come next. Happy, could any effort of mine but repress one criminal pleasure, or but for a moment fill up an interval of anxiety! How gladly would I lead mankind from the vain prospects of life, to prospects of innocence and ease, where every breeze breathes health, and every sound is but the echo of tranquillity!
But, whatever may be the merit of his intentions, every writer is now convinced that he must be chiefly indebted to good fortune for finding readers willing to allow him any degree of reputation. It has been reinarked, that almost every character which has excited either attention or pity, has owed part of its success to merit, and part to a happy concurrence of circumstances in its favour. Had Cæsar or Cromwell exchanged countries, the one might have been a serjeant, and the other an exciseman: So it is with wit, wbich generally succeeds more from being happily addressed, than from its native poignancy. A jest calculated to spread at a gaming-table, may be received with perfect indifference should it happen, to drop in a mackarel boat. We have all seen dunces triumph in some companies, where men of real humour were disregarded, by a general combination in favour of stupidity. To drive the observation as far as it will go, should the labours of a writer, wbo designs bis performances for readers of a more refined appetite, fali into the hands of a devourer of compilations, what can be expect but contempt and confusion? If his merits are to be determined by judges who estimate the value of a book from its bulk, or its frontispiece, every rival must acquire an easy superiority, who with persuasive eloquence promises four extraordinary pages of letter-press, or three beautiful prints, curiously coloured from na. ture.
Thus, then, though I cannot promise as much entertainment, or as much elegance, as others bave done, yet the reader may be assured he shall have as much of both as I can. He shall, at least, find me alive wbile I study his entertainment; for I solemnly assure him, I was never yet possessed of the secret of writing and sleeping.
During the course of this paper, therefore, all the wit and learning I have, are heartily at his service; which if, after so candid a confession, he should, notwithstanding, still find intolerably dull, or low, or sad stuff, this I protest is more than I know; I have a clear conscience, and am entirely out of the secret. Yet I would not have him, upon the perusal of
a single paper, pronounce me incorrigible; he may try a second, which, as there is a studied difference in subject and style, may be more suited to his taste; if this also fails, I must refer him to a third, or even a fourth, in case of extremity; if he should still continue refractory, and find me dull to the last, I must inform him, with Bayes in the Rehear. sal, that I think him a very odd kind of fellow, and desire no more of his acquaintance: but still, if my readers impute the general tenor of my subject to me as a fault, I must beg leave to tell them a story.
A traveller, in his way to Italy, found himself in a country where the inhabitants had each a large excrescence depending from the chin; a deformity which, as it was endemic, and the people little used to strangers, it had been the custom, time immemorial, to look upon as the greatest beauty. Ladies grew toasts from the size of their chins, and no men were beaux whose faces were not broadest at the bottom. It was Sunday; a country church was at hand, and our traveller was willing to perform the duties of the day. Upon his first appearance at the church-door, the eyes of all were naturally fixed on the stranger; but what was their amazement, when they found that he actually wanted that emblem of beauty, a pursed chin! Stified bursts of laughter, winks, and whispers, circulated from visage to visage; the prismatic figure of the stranger's face was a fund of infinite gaiety. Our traveller could no longer patiently continue an object of deformity to point at. • Good folks,' said he, ' I perceive that I am a very ridiculous figure here, but I assure you I am reckoned no way deformed at bome.'
LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP,
STORY OF ALCANDER AND SEPTIMIUS.
(Taken from a Byzantine lIistorian.)
ATHENS, long after the decline of the Ro.
man empire, still continued the seat of learn. ing, politeness, and wisdom. Theodoric, the 08trogoth, repaired the schools which barbarity was suffering to fall into decay, and continued those pensions to men of learning, which ayaricious yovernors had monopolised.
In this city, and about this period, Alcander and Septimius were fellow-students together; the one, the most subtle reasoner of all the Lyceum; the other, the most eloquent speaker in the academic grove. Mutual admiration soon begot a friendship. Their fortunes were nearly equal, and they were na. tives of the two most celebrated cities in the world, for Alcander was of Athens, Septimius came from Rome,
In this state of harmony they lived for some time together, when Alcander, after passing the first part of his youth in the indolence of philosophy, thought at length of entering into the busy world; and as a step previous to this, placed his affections on Hypatia, a lady of exquisite beauty. The day of their intended nuptials was fixed; the previous ceremonies were performed; and nothing now re. mained but ber being conducted in triumph to the apartment of the intended bridegroom.