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No. 167 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

Tuesday, September 11, 1711

‘Fuit haud ignobilis Argis,
Qui se credebat miros audire tragoedos,
In vacuo laetus sessor plausorque theatro;
Caetera qui vitae servaret munia recto
More; bonus sane vicinus, amabilis hospes,
Comis in uxorem; posset qui ignoscere servis,
Et signo laeso non insanire lagenae;
Posset qui rupem et puteum vitare patentem.
Hic ubi cognatorum opibus curisque refectus
Expulit elleboro morbum bilemque meraco,
Et redit ad sese: Pol me occidistis, amici,
Non servastis, ait; cui sic extorta valuptas,
Et demptus per vim mentis gratissimus Error.’


The unhappy Force of an Imagination, unguided by the Check of Reason and Judgment, was the Subject of a former Speculation. My Reader may remember that he has seen in one of my Papers a Complaint of an Unfortunate Gentleman, who was unable to contain himself, (when any ordinary matter was laid before him) from adding a few Circumstances to enliven plain Narrative. That Correspondent was a Person of too warm a Complexion to be satisfied with things merely as they stood in Nature, and therefore formed Incidents which should have happened to have pleased him in the Story. The same ungoverned Fancy which pushed that Correspondent on, in spite of himself, to relate publick and notorious Falsehoods, makes the Author of the following Letter do the same in Private; one is a Prating, the other a Silent Liar.

There is little pursued in the Errors of either of these Worthies, but mere present Amusement: But the Folly of him who lets his Fancy place him in distant Scenes untroubled and uninterrupted, is very much preferable to that of him who is ever forcing a Belief, and defending his Untruths with new Inventions. But I shall hasten to let this Liar in Soliloquy, who calls himself a CASTLE-BUILDER, describe himself with the same Unreservedness as formerly appeared in my Correspondent above-mentioned. If a Man were to be serious on this Subject, he might give very grave Admonitions to those who are following any thing in this Life, on which they think to place their Hearts, and tell them that they are really CASTLE-BUILDERS. Fame, Glory, Wealth, Honour, have in the Prospect pleasing Illusions; but they who come to possess any of them will find they are Ingredients towards Happiness, to be regarded only in the second Place; and that when they are valued in the first Degree, they are as dis-appointing as any of the Phantoms in the following Letter.

Sept. 6, 1711.


‘I am a Fellow of a very odd Frame of Mind, as you will find by the Sequel; and think myself Fool enough to deserve a Place in your Paper. I am unhappily far gone in Building, and am one of that Species of Men who are properly denominated Castle-Builders, who scorn to be beholden to the Earth for a Foundation, or dig in the Bowels of it for Materials; but erect their Structures in the most unstable of Elements, the Air, Fancy alone laying the Line, marking the Extent, and shaping the Model. It would be difficult to enumerate what august Palaces and stately Porticoes have grown under my forming Imagination, or what verdant Meadows and shady Groves have started into Being, by the powerful Feat of a warm Fancy. A Castle-builder is even just what he pleases, and as such I have grasped imaginary Scepters, and delivered uncontroulable Edicts, from a Throne to which conquered Nations yielded Obeysance. I have made I know not how many Inroads into France, and ravaged the very Heart of that Kingdom; I have dined in the Louvre, and drank Champaign at Versailles; and I would have you take Notice, I am not only able to vanquish a People already cowed and accustomed to Flight, but I could, Almanzor-like, [1] drive the British General from the Field, were I less a Protestant, or had ever been affronted by the Confederates. There is no Art or Profession, whose most celebrated Masters I have not eclipsed. Where-ever I have afforded my Salutary Preference, Fevers have ceased to burn, and Agues to shake the Human Fabrick. When an Eloquent Fit has been upon me, an apt Gesture and proper Cadence has animated each Sentence, and gazing Crowds have found their Passions work’d up into Rage, or soothed into a Calm. I am short, and not very well made; yet upon Sight of a fine Woman, I have stretched into proper Stature, and killed with a good Air and Mein. These are the gay Phantoms that dance before my waking Eyes and compose my Day-Dreams. I should be the most contented happy Man alive, were the Chimerical Happiness which springs from the Paintings of the Fancy less fleeting and transitory. But alas! it is with Grief of Mind I tell you, the least Breath of Wind has often demolished my magnificent Edifices, swept away my Groves, and left no more Trace of them than if they had never been. My Exchequer has sunk and vanished by a Rap on my Door, the Salutation of a Friend has cost me a whole Continent, and in the same Moment I have been pulled by the Sleeve, my Crown has fallen from my Head. The ill Consequence of these Reveries is inconceivably great, seeing the loss of imaginary Possessions makes Impressions of real Woe. Besides, bad Oeconomy is visible and apparent in Builders of invisible Mansions. My Tenant’s Advertisements of Ruins and Dilapidations often cast a Damp on my Spirits, even in the Instant when the Sun, in all his Splendor, gilds my Eastern Palaces. Add to this the pensive Drudgery in Building, and constant grasping Aerial Trowels, distracts and shatters the Mind, and the fond Builder of Babells is often cursed with an incoherent Diversity and Confusion of Thoughts. I do not know to whom I can more properly apply my self for Relief from this Fantastical Evil, than to your self; whom I earnestly implore to accommodate me with a Method how to settle my Head and cool my Brain-pan. A Dissertation on Castle-Building may not only be serviceable to my self, but all Architects, who display their Skill in the thin Element. Such a Favour would oblige me to make my next Soliloquy not contain the Praises of my dear Self but of the SPECTATOR, who shall, by complying with this, make me.’
His Obliged, Humble Servant.

[Footnote 1: “(unreadable on original page) in Dryden’s ‘Conquest of Granada.'”]