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temptible subjection of the lover; the folly of obliging him to read the letter, only because it ought to have been concealed from him; the frequent interruptions of amorous impatience; the faint expostulations of a voluntary slave; the imperious haughtiness of a tyrant without power; the deep reflection of the yielding rebel upon fate and free-will; and his wise wish to lose his reason as soon as he finds himself about to do what he cannot persuade his reason to approve, are surely sufficient to awaken the most torpid risibility.
There is scarce a tragedy of the last century which has not debased its most important incidents, and polluted its most serious interlocutions, with buffoonery and meanness; but though perhaps it cannot be pretended that the present age has added much to the force and efficacy of the drama, it has at least been able to escape many faults, which either ignorance had overlooked, or indulgence had licenced. The later tragedies, indeed, have faults of another kind, perhaps more destructive to delight, though less open
to censure. That perpetual tumour of phrase with which every thought is now expressed by every personage, the paucity of adventures which regularity admits, and the unvaried equality of flowing dialogue, has taken away from our present writers almost all that dominion over the passions which was the boast of their predecessors. Yet they may at least claim this commendation, that they avoid gross faults, and that if they cannot often move terrour or pity, they are always careful not to provoke laughter.
No 126. SATURDAY, June 1, 1751.
-Nihil est aliud magnum quam multa minuta.-Ver. Auct.
TO THE RAMBLER.
SIR, Among other topicks of conversation which your papers supply, I was lately engaged in a discussion of the character given by Tranquilla of her lover Venustulus, whom, notwithstanding the severity of his mistress, the greater number seemed inclined to acquit of unmanly or culpable timidity.
One of the company remarked that prudence ought to be distinguished from fear; and that if Venustulus was afraid of nocturnal adventures, no man who considered how much every avenue of the town was infested with robbers could think him blameable; for why should life be hazarded without prospect of honour or advantage? Another was of opinion, that a brave man might be afraid of crossing the river in the calmest weather, and declared, that, for his part, while there were coaches and a bridge, he would never be seen tottering in a wooden case, out of which he might be thrown by any irregular agitation, or which might be overset by accident, or negligence, or by the force of a sudden gust, or the rush of a larger vessel. It was his custom, he said, to keep the security of daylight, and dry ground; for it was a maxim with him, that no wise man ever perished by water, or was lost in the dark.
The next was humbly of opinion, that if Tranquilla had seen, like him, the cattle run roaring about the meadows in the hot months, she would not have thought meanly of her lover for not venturing his safety among them. His neighbour then told us, that for his part he was not ashamed to confess, that he could not see a rat, though it was dead,
ithout palpitation; that he had been driven six times out
had a bed in the closet for his servant, whom he called up whenever the enemy was in motion. Another wondered that any man should think himself disgraced by a precipitate retreat from a dog; for there was always a possibility that a dog might be mad; and that surely, though there was no danger but of being bit by a fierce animal, there was more wisdom in flight than contest. By all these declarations another was encouraged to confess, that if he had been admitted to the honour of paying his addresses to Tranquilla, he should have been likely to incur the same censure; for, among all the animals upon which nature has impressed deformity and horrour, there is none whom he durst not encounter rather than a beetle.
Thus, Sir, though cowardice is universally defined too close and anxious an attention to personal safety, there will be found scarcely any fear, however excessive in its degree, or unreasonable in its object, which will be allowed to characterize a coward. Fear is a passion which every man feels so frequently predominant in his own breast, that he is unwilling to hear it censured with great asperity; and, perhaps, if we confess the truth, the same restraint which would hinder a man from declaiming against the frauds of any employment among those who profess it, should with hold him from treating fear with contempt among human beings.
Yet, since fortitude is one of those virtues which the condition of our nature makes hourly necessary, I think you cannot better direct your admonitions than against superfluous and panick terrours. Fear is implanted in us as a preservative from evil; but its duty, like that of other passions, is not to overbear reason, but to assist it; nor should it be suffered to tyrannize in the imagination, to raise phantoms of horrour, or beset life with supernumerary distresses.
To be always afraid of losing life is, indeed, scarcely to enjoy a life that cap deserve the care of preservation. He that once indulges idle fears will never be at rest. Our present state admits only of a kind of negative jocurity •
we must conclude ourselves safe when we see no danger, or none inadequate to our powers of opposition. Death, indeed, continually hovers about us, but hovers commonly unseen, unless we sharpen our sight by useless curiosity.
There is always a point at which caution, however solicitous, must limit its preservatives, because one terrour often counteracts another. I once knew one of the speculatists of cowardice, whose reigning disturbance was the dread of housebreakers. His inquiries were for nine years employed upon the best method of barring a window, or a door; and many an hour has he spent in establishing the preference of a bolt to a lock. He had at last, by the daily superaddition of new expedients, contrived a door which could never be forced; for one bar was secured by another with such intricacy of subordination, that he was himself not always able to disengage them in the proper method. He was happy in this fortification, till being asked how he would escape if he was threatened by fire, he discovered, that with all his care and expence, he had only been assisting his own destruction. He then immediately tore off his bolts, and now leaves at night his outer door halflocked, that he may not by his own folly perish in the flames.
There is one species of terrour which those who are unwilling to suffer the reproach of cowardice have wisely dignified with the name of antipathy. A man who talks with intrepidity of the monsters of the wilderness while they are out of sight, will readily confess his antipathy to a mole, a weasel, or a frog. He has indeed no dread of harm from an insect or a worm, but his antipathy turns him pale whenever they approach him. He believes that a boat will transport him with as much safety as his neighbours, but he cannot conquer his antipathy to the water. Thus he goes on without any reproach from his own reflections, and every day multiplies antipathies, till he becomes contemptible to others, and burdensome to himself.
is indeed oortoin
ind of drood
sometimes be unluckily made by objects not in themselves justly formidable; but when fear is discovered to be groundless, it is to be eradicated like other false opinions, and antipathies are generally superable by a single effort. He that has been taught to shudder at a mouse, if he can persuade himself to risk one encounter, will find his own superiority, and exchange his terrours for the pride of conquest.
I am, Sir, &c.
you profess to extend your regard to the minuteness of decency, as well as to the dignity of science, I cannot forbear to lay before you a mode of persecution by which I have been exiled to taverns and coffee-houses, and deterred from entering the doors of friends.
Among the ladies who please themselves with splendid furniture, or elegant entertainment, it is a practice very common to ask every guest how he likes the carved work of the cornice, or the figures of the tapestry; the china at the table, or the plate on the side-board: and on all occasions to inquire his opinion of their judgment and their choice. Melania has laid her new watch in the window nineteen times, that she may desire me to look upon it. Calista has an art of dropping her snuff-box by drawing out her handkerchief, that when I pick it up I may admire it; and Fulgentia has conducted me, by mistake, into the wrong room, at every visit I have paid since her picture was put into a new frame.
I hope, Mr. Rambler, you will inform them, that no man should be denied the privilege of silence, or tortured to false declarations; and that though ladies may justly claim to be exempt from rudeness, they have no right to force unwilling civilities. To please is a landible and elegant ambition, and is properly rewarded with honest praise; but to seize applause by violence, and call out for commendation, without knowing or caring to know