Thursday, April 26, 1711. Steele.
… Hominem pagina nostra sapit.
It is very natural for a Man who is not turned for Mirthful Meetings of Men, or Assemblies of the fair Sex, to delight in that sort of Conversation which we find in Coffee-houses. Here a Man, of my Temper, is in his Element; for if he cannot talk, he can still be more agreeable to his Company, as well as pleased in himself, in being only an Hearer. It is a Secret known but to few, yet of no small use in the Conduct of Life, that when you fall into a Man’s Conversation, the first thing you should consider is, whether he has a greater Inclination to hear you, or that you should hear him. The latter is the more general Desire, and I know very able Flatterers that never speak a Word in Praise of the Persons from whom they obtain daily Favours, but still practise a skilful Attention to whatever is uttered by those with whom they converse. We are very Curious to observe the Behaviour of Great Men and their Clients; but the same Passions and Interests move Men in lower Spheres; and I (that have nothing else to do but make Observations) see in every Parish, Street, Lane, and Alley of this Populous City, a little Potentate that has his Court, and his Flatterers who lay Snares for his Affection and Favour, by the same Arts that are practised upon Men in higher Stations.
In the Place I most usually frequent, Men differ rather in the Time of Day in which they make a Figure, than in any real Greatness above one another. I, who am at the Coffee-house at Six in a Morning, know that my Friend Beaver the Haberdasher has a Levy of more undissembled Friends and Admirers, than most of the Courtiers or Generals of Great-Britain. Every Man about him has, perhaps, a News-Paper in his Hand; but none can pretend to guess what Step will be taken in any one Court of Europe, ’till Mr. Beaver has thrown down his Pipe, and declares what Measures the Allies must enter into upon this new Posture of Affairs. Our Coffee-house is near one of the Inns of Court, and Beaver has the Audience and Admiration of his Neighbours from Six ’till within a Quarter of Eight, at which time he is interrupted by the Students of the House; some of whom are ready dress’d for Westminster, at Eight in a Morning, with Faces as busie as if they were retained in every Cause there; and others come in their Night-Gowns to saunter away their Time, as if they never designed to go thither. I do not know that I meet, in any of my Walks, Objects which move both my Spleen and Laughter so effectually, as these young Fellows at the Grecian, Squire’s, Searle’s,  and all other Coffee-houses adjacent to the Law, who rise early for no other purpose but to publish their Laziness. One would think these young Virtuoso’s take a gay Cap and Slippers, with a Scarf and Party-coloured Gown, to be Ensigns of Dignity; for the vain Things approach each other with an Air, which shews they regard one another for their Vestments. I have observed, that the Superiority among these proceeds from an Opinion of Gallantry and Fashion: The Gentleman in the Strawberry Sash, who presides so much over the rest, has, it seems, subscribed to every Opera this last Winter, and is supposed to receive Favours from one of the Actresses.
When the Day grows too busie for these Gentlemen to enjoy any longer the Pleasures of their Deshabile, with any manner of Confidence, they give place to Men who have Business or good Sense in their Faces, and come to the Coffee-house either to transact Affairs or enjoy Conversation. The Persons to whose Behaviour and Discourse I have most regard, are such as are between these two sorts of Men: Such as have not Spirits too Active to be happy and well pleased in a private Condition, nor Complexions too warm to make them neglect the Duties and Relations of Life. Of these sort of Men consist the worthier Part of Mankind; of these are all good Fathers, generous Brothers, sincere Friends, and faithful Subjects. Their Entertainments are derived rather from Reason than Imagination: Which is the Cause that there is no Impatience or Instability in their Speech or Action. You see in their Countenances they are at home, and in quiet Possession of the present Instant, as it passes, without desiring to quicken it by gratifying any Passion, or prosecuting any new Design. These are the Men formed for Society, and those little Communities which we express by the Word Neighbourhoods.