Monday, March 5, 1711. Steele.
… Egregii Mortalem altique silenti!
An Author, when he first appears in the World, is very apt to believe it has nothing to think of but his Performances. With a good Share of this Vanity in my Heart, I made it my Business these three Days to listen after my own Fame; and, as I have sometimes met with Circumstances which did not displease me, I have been encountered by others which gave me much Mortification. It is incredible to think how empty I have in this time observed some Part of the Species to be, what mere Blanks they are when they first come abroad in the Morning, how utterly they are at a Stand, until they are set a going by some Paragraph in a News-Paper: Such Persons are very acceptable to a young Author, for they desire no more [in anything] but to be new, to be agreeable. If I found Consolation among such, I was as much disquieted by the Incapacity of others. These are Mortals who have a certain Curiosity without Power of Reflection, and perused my Papers like Spectators rather than Readers. But there is so little Pleasure in Enquiries that so nearly concern our selves (it being the worst Way in the World to Fame, to be too anxious about it), that upon the whole I resolv’d for the future to go on in my ordinary Way; and without too much Fear or Hope about the Business of Reputation, to be very careful of the Design of my Actions, but very negligent of the Consequences of them.
It is an endless and frivolous Pursuit to act by any other Rule than the Care of satisfying our own Minds in what we do. One would think a silent Man, who concerned himself with no one breathing, should be very liable to Misinterpretations; and yet I remember I was once taken up for a Jesuit, for no other reason but my profound Taciturnity. It is from this Misfortune, that to be out of Harm’s Way, I have ever since affected Crowds. He who comes into Assemblies only to gratify his Curiosity, and not to make a Figure, enjoys the Pleasures of Retirement in a more exquisite Degree, than he possibly could in his Closet; the Lover, the Ambitious, and the Miser, are followed thither by a worse Crowd than any they can withdraw from. To be exempt from the Passions with which others are tormented, is the only pleasing Solitude. I can very justly say with the antient Sage, ‘I am never less alone than when alone’. As I am insignificant to the Company in publick Places, and as it is visible I do not come thither as most do, to shew my self; I gratify the Vanity of all who pretend to make an Appearance, and often have as kind Looks from well-dressed Gentlemen and Ladies, as a Poet would bestow upon one of his Audience. There are so many Gratifications attend this publick sort of Obscurity, that some little Distastes I daily receive have lost their Anguish; and I [did the other day, ] without the least Displeasure overhear one say of me,
‘That strange Fellow,’
and another answer,
‘I have known the Fellow’s Face for these twelve Years, and so must you; but I believe you are the first ever asked who he was.’
There are, I must confess, many to whom my Person is as well known as that of their nearest Relations, who give themselves no further Trouble about calling me by my Name or Quality, but speak of me very currently by Mr ‘what-d-ye-call-him’.
To make up for these trivial Disadvantages, I have the high Satisfaction of beholding all Nature with an unprejudiced Eye; and having nothing to do with Men’s Passions or Interests, I can with the greater Sagacity consider their Talents, Manners, Failings, and Merits.