Thursday, October 11, 1711.
‘… Ingentem foribus domus alta superbis
Mane salutantum totis vomit oedibus undam.’
When we look round us, and behold the strange Variety of Faces and Persons which fill the Streets with Business and Hurry, it is no unpleasant Amusement to make Guesses at their different Pursuits, and judge by their Countenances what it is that so anxiously engages their present Attention. Of all this busie Crowd, there are none who would give a Man inclined to such Enquiries better Diversion for his Thoughts, than those whom we call good Courtiers, and such as are assiduous at the Levees of Great Men. These Worthies are got into an Habit of being servile with an Air, and enjoy a certain Vanity in being known for understanding how the World passes. In the Pleasure of this they can rise early, go abroad sleek and well-dressed, with no other Hope or Purpose, but to make a Bow to a Man in Court-Favour, and be thought, by some insignificant Smile of his, not a little engaged in his Interests and Fortunes. It is wondrous, that a Man can get over the natural Existence and Possession of his own Mind so far, as to take Delight either in paying or receiving such cold and repeated Civilities. But what maintains the Humour is, that outward Show is what most Men pursue, rather than real Happiness. Thus both the Idol and Idolater equally impose upon themselves in pleasing their Imaginations this way. But as there are very many of her Majesty’s good Subjects, who are extreamly uneasie at their own Seats in the Country, where all from the Skies to the Centre of the Earth is their own, and have a mighty longing to shine in Courts, or be Partners in the Power of the World; I say, for the Benefit of these, and others who hanker after being in the Whisper with great Men, and vexing their Neighbours with the Changes they would be capable of making in the Appearance at a Country Sessions, it would not methinks be amiss to give an Account of that Market for Preferment, a great Man’s Levee.
For ought I know, this Commerce between the Mighty and their Slaves, very justly represented, might do so much good as to incline the Great to regard Business rather than Ostentation; and make the Little know the Use of their Time too well, to spend it in vain Applications and Addresses.
The famous Doctor in Moorfields, who gained so much Reputation for his Horary Predictions, is said to have had in his Parlour different Ropes to little Bells which hung in the Room above Stairs, where the Doctor thought fit to be oraculous. If a Girl had been deceived by her Lover, one Bell was pulled; and if a Peasant had lost a Cow, the [Servant ] rung another. This Method was kept in respect to all other Passions and Concerns, and [the skillful Waiter below ] sifted the Enquirer, and gave the Doctor Notice accordingly. The Levee of a great Man is laid after the same manner, and twenty Whispers, false Alarms, and private Intimations, pass backward and forward from the Porter, the Valet, and the Patron himself, before the gaping Crew who are to pay their Court are gathered together: When the Scene is ready, the Doors fly open and discover his Lordship.
There are several Ways of making this first Appearance: you may be either half dressed, and washing your self, which is indeed the most stately; but this Way of Opening is peculiar to Military Men, in whom there is something graceful in exposing themselves naked; but the Politicians, or Civil Officers, have usually affected to be more reserved, and preserve a certain Chastity of Deportment. Whether it be Hieroglyphical or not, this Difference in the Military and Civil List, [I will not say;] but [have ] ever understood the Fact to be, that the close Minister is buttoned up, and the brave Officer open-breasted on these Occasions.