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No. 023 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 23
Tuesday, March 27, 1711 [1] Addison.

Savit atrox Volscens, nec teli conspicit usquam

Auctorem nec quo se ardens immittere possit.


There is nothing that more betrays a base, ungenerous Spirit, than the giving of secret Stabs to a Man’s Reputation. Lampoons and Satyrs, that are written with Wit and Spirit, are like poison’d Darts, which not only inflict a Wound, but make it incurable. For this Reason I am very much troubled when I see the Talents of Humour and Ridicule in the Possession of an ill-natured Man. There cannot be a greater Gratification to a barbarous and inhuman Wit, than to stir up Sorrow in the Heart of a private Person, to raise Uneasiness among near Relations, and to expose whole Families to Derision, at the same time that he remains unseen and undiscovered. If, besides the Accomplishments of being Witty and Ill-natured, a Man is vicious into the bargain, he is one of the most mischievous Creatures that can enter into a Civil Society. His Satyr will then chiefly fall upon those who ought to be the most exempt from it. Virtue, Merit, and every thing that is Praise-worthy, will be made the Subject of Ridicule and Buffoonry. It is impossible to enumerate the Evils which arise from these Arrows that fly in the dark, and I know no other Excuse that is or can be made for them, than that the Wounds they give are only Imaginary, and produce nothing more than a secret Shame or Sorrow in the Mind of the suffering Person. It must indeed be confess’d, that a Lampoon or a Satyr do not carry in them Robbery or Murder; but at the same time, how many are there that would not rather lose a considerable Sum of Mony, or even Life it self, than be set up as a Mark of Infamy and Derision? And in this Case a Man should consider, that an Injury is not to be measured by the Notions of him that gives, but of him that receives it.

Those who can put the best Countenance upon the Outrages of this nature which are offered them, are not without their secret Anguish. I have often observed a Passage in Socrates’s Behaviour at his Death, in a Light wherein none of the Criticks have considered it. That excellent Man, entertaining his Friends a little before he drank the Bowl of Poison with a Discourse on the Immortality of the Soul, at his entering upon it says, that he does not believe any the most Comick Genius can censure him for talking upon such a Subject at such a Time. This passage, I think, evidently glances upon Aristophanes, who writ a Comedy on purpose to ridicule the Discourses of that Divine Philosopher: [2] It has been observed by many Writers, that Socrates was so little moved at this piece of Buffoonry, that he was several times present at its being acted upon the Stage, and never expressed the least Resentment of it. But, with Submission, I think the Remark I have here made shows us, that this unworthy Treatment made an impression upon his Mind, though he had been too wise to discover it.

When Julius Caesar was Lampoon’d by Catullus, he invited him to a Supper, and treated him with such a generous Civility, that he made the Poet his friend ever after. [3] Cardinal Mazarine gave the same kind of Treatment to the learned Quillet, who had reflected upon his Eminence in a famous Latin Poem. The Cardinal sent for him, and, after some kind Expostulations upon what he had written, assured him of his Esteem, and dismissed him with a Promise of the next good Abby that should fall, which he accordingly conferr’d upon him in a few Months after. This had so good an Effect upon the Author, that he dedicated the second Edition of his Book to the Cardinal, after having expunged the Passages which had given him offence. [4]