Wednesday, May 2, 1711.
‘… Sirenua nos exercet inertia.’
The following Letter being the first that I have received from the learned University of Cambridge, I could not but do my self the Honour of publishing it. It gives an Account of a new Sect of Philosophers which has arose in that famous Residence of Learning; and is, perhaps, the only Sect this Age is likely to produce.
Cambridge, April 26.
‘Believing you to be an universal Encourager of liberal Arts and Sciences, and glad of any Information from the learned World, I thought an Account of a Sect of Philosophers very frequent among us, but not taken Notice of, as far as I can remember, by any Writers either ancient or modern, would not be unacceptable to you. The Philosophers of this Sect are in the Language of our University called Lowngers. I am of Opinion, that, as in many other things, so likewise in this, the Ancients have been defective; viz. in mentioning no Philosophers of this Sort. Some indeed will affirm that they are a kind of Peripateticks, because we see them continually walking about. But I would have these Gentlemen consider, that tho’ the ancient Peripateticks walked much, yet they wrote much also; (witness, to the Sorrow of this Sect, Aristotle and others): Whereas it is notorious that most of our Professors never lay out a Farthing either in Pen, Ink, or Paper. Others are for deriving them from Diogenes, because several of the leading Men of the Sect have a great deal of the cynical Humour in them, and delight much in Sun-shine. But then again, Diogenes was content to have his constant Habitation in a narrow Tub; whilst our Philosophers are so far from being of his Opinion, that it’s Death to them to be confined within the Limits of a good handsome convenient Chamber but for half an Hour. Others there are, who from the Clearness of their Heads deduce the Pedigree of Lowngers from that great Man (I think it was either Plato or Socrates ) who after all his Study and Learning professed, That all he then knew was, that he knew nothing. You easily see this is but a shallow Argument, and may be soon confuted.
I have with great Pains and Industry made my Observations from time to time upon these Sages; and having now all Materials ready, am compiling a Treatise, wherein I shall set forth the Rise and Progress of this famous Sect, together with their Maxims, Austerities, Manner of living, etc. Having prevailed with a Friend who designs shortly to publish a new Edition of Diogenes Laertius, to add this Treatise of mine by way of Supplement; I shall now, to let the World see what may be expected from me (first begging Mr. SPECTATOR’S Leave that the World may see it) briefly touch upon some of my chief Observations, and then subscribe my self your humble Servant. In the first Place I shall give you two or three of their Maxims: The fundamental one, upon which their whole System is built, is this, viz. That Time being an implacable Enemy to and Destroyer of all things, ought to be paid in his own Coin, and be destroyed and murdered without Mercy by all the Ways that can be invented. Another favourite Saying of theirs is, That Business was designed only for Knaves, and Study for Blockheads. A third seems to be a ludicrous one, but has a great Effect upon their Lives; and is this, That the Devil is at Home. Now for their Manner of Living: And here I have a large Field to expatiate in; but I shall reserve Particulars for my intended Discourse, and now only mention one or two of their principal Exercises. The elder Proficients employ themselves in inspecting mores hominum multorum, in getting acquainted with all the Signs and Windows in the Town. Some are arrived at so great Knowledge, that they can tell every time any Butcher kills a Calf, every time any old Woman’s Cat is in the Straw; and a thousand other Matters as important. One ancient Philosopher contemplates two or three Hours every Day over a Sun-Dial; and is true to the Dial,