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VIRG. EN 8, 311. Op all our dealers in second-hand wares, few bring their goods to so bad a market, as those humble wits who retail other people's worn-out jokes. A man's good sayings are so personally his own,
and depend so much upon inanner and circumstances, that they make a poor figure in other people's mouths, and suffer even more by printing than they do by repeating. It is also a very difficult thing to pen a witticism ; for by the time we have adjusted all the descriptive arrangements of this man said, and t'other man replied, we have miserably blunted the edge of the repartee. These difficulties, however, have been happily overcome by Mr. Joseph Miller and other facetious compilers, whose works are in general circulation, and may be heard of in most clubs and companies where gentlemen meet, who love to say a good thing without the trouble of inventing it. We are also in a fair train of knowing every thing that a late celebrated author said, as well as wrote, without an exception even of his most secret ejaculations. We may judge how valuable these diaries will be to posterity, when we reflect how much we should now be edified, had any of the ancients given us as minute a collectanea of their illustrious contemporaries.
We have, it is true, a few of Cicero's table-jokes: but how delightful would it be to know what he said, when nobody heard him! How piously he reproached himself when he laid in bed too late in a morning, or eat too heartily at Hortensius's or Cæsar's table. We are told, indeed, that Cato the Censor loved his jest, but we should have been doubly glad to have partaken of it: what a pity it is that nobody thought it worth their while to record some pleasanter specimen than Macrobius has given us of his retort upon Q. Albidius, a glutton and a spendthrift, when his house was on fire
What he could not eat, he has burnt,' said Cato; where the point of the jest lies in the allusion to a particular kind of sacrifice, and the good humour of it with himself. It was better said by P. Syrus the actor, when he saw one Mucius, a malevolent fellow, in a very melancholy mood— Either some ill fortune has befallen Mucius, or some good has happened to one of his acquaintance.'
A man's fame shall be recorded to posterity by the trifling merit of a jest, when the great things he has done would else have been buried in oblivion : Who would now have known that L. Mallius was once the best painter in Rome, if it was not for his repartee to Servilius Geminus? · You paint better than you model,' says Geminus, pointing to Mallius's children, who were crooked and ill favoured. - Like enough,' replied the artist ; ' I paint in the daylight, but I model, as you call it, in the dark.'
Cicero, it is well known, was a great joker, and some of his good sayings have reached us; it does not appear as if his wit had been of the malicious sort, and yet Pompey, whose temper could not stand a jest, was so galled by him, that he is reported to have said with great bitterness—Oh!
that Cicero would go over to my enemies, for then he would be afraid of me.'-If Cicero forgave this sarcasm, I should call him not only a better-tempered, but a braver man than Pompey.
But of all the ancient wits Augustus seems to have had the most point, and he was as remarkable for taking a jest, as for giving it. A country fellow came to Rome, who was so like the Emperor, that all the city ran after him; Augustus heard of it, and ordering the man into his presence-Harkye, friend!' says he, when was your mother in Rome?'
— Never, an please you !' replied the countryman, * but my father has been here many a time and oft.' The anecdote of the old soldier is still more to his credit: he solicited the Emperor to defend him in a suit ; Augustus sent his own advocate into court: the soldier was dissatisfied, and said to the Emperor- I did not fight for you by proxy at Actium.'-Augustus felt the reproof, and condescended to his request in person. When Pacuvius Taurus greedily solicited a largess from the Emperor, and to urge him to the greater liberality, added, that all the world would have it, that he had made him a very bountiful donation—But
know better,' said Augustus,' than to believe the world, -and dismissed the sycophant without his errand. I shall mention one more case, where, by a very çourtly evasion, he parried the solicitation of his captain of the guard, who had been cashiered, and was petitioning the Emperor to allow him his pay; telling him that he did not ask that indulgence for the sake of the money which might accrue to him, but that he might have it to say he had resigned his commission, and not been cashiered - If that be all your reason,' says the Emperor, tell the world that you
have received it, and I will not deny that I have paid it.