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No. 179 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

Tuesday, September 25, 1711.

‘Centuriae seniorum agitant expertia frugis:
Celsi praetereunt austera Poemata Rhamnes.
Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci,
Lectorem delectando, pariterque monendo …’


I may cast my Readers under two general Divisions, the Mercurial and the Saturnine. The first are the gay Part of my Disciples, who require Speculations of Wit and Humour; the others are those of a more solemn and sober Turn, who find no Pleasure but in Papers of Morality and sound Sense. The former call every thing that is Serious, Stupid; the latter look upon every thing as Impertinent that is Ludicrous. Were I always Grave, one half of my Readers would fall off from me: Were I always Merry, I should lose the other. I make it therefore my Endeavour to find out Entertainments of both Kinds, and by that means perhaps consult the Good of both, more than I should do, did I always write to the particular Taste of either. As they neither of them know what I proceed upon, the sprightly Reader, who takes up my Paper in order to be diverted, very often finds himself engaged unawares in a serious and profitable Course of Thinking; as on the contrary, the thoughtful Man, who perhaps may hope to find something Solid, and full of deep Reflection, is very often insensibly betrayed into a Fit of Mirth. In a word, the Reader sits down to my Entertainment without knowing his Bill of Fare, and has therefore at least the Pleasure of hoping there may be a Dish to his Palate.

I must confess, were I left to my self, I should rather aim at Instructing than Diverting; but if we will be useful to the World, we must take it as we find it. Authors of professed Severity discourage the looser Part of Mankind from having any thing to do with their Writings. A man must have Virtue in him, before he will enter upon the reading of a Seneca or an Epictetus. The very Title of a Moral Treatise has something in it austere and shocking to the Careless and Inconsiderate.

For this Reason several unthinking Persons fall in my way, who would give no Attention to Lectures delivered with a Religious Seriousness or a Philosophick Gravity. They are insnared into Sentiments of Wisdom and Virtue when they do not think of it; and if by that means they arrive only at such a Degree of Consideration as may dispose them to listen to more studied and elaborate Discourses, I shall not think my Speculations useless. I might likewise observe, that the Gloominess in which sometimes the Minds of the best Men are involved, very often stands in need of such little Incitements to Mirth and Laughter, as are apt to disperse Melancholy, and put our Faculties in good Humour. To which some will add, that the British Climate, more than any other, makes Entertainments of this Nature in a manner necessary.

If what I have here said does not recommend, it will at least excuse the Variety of my Speculations. I would not willingly Laugh but in order to Instruct, or if I sometimes fail in this Point, when my Mirth ceases to be Instructive, it shall never cease to be Innocent. A scrupulous Conduct in this Particular has, perhaps, more Merit in it than the Generality of Readers imagine; did they know how many Thoughts occur in a Point of Humour, which a discreet Author in Modesty suppresses; how many Stroaks in Raillery present themselves, which could not fail to please the ordinary Taste of Mankind, but are stifled in their Birth by reason of some remote Tendency which they carry in them to corrupt the Minds of those who read them; did they know how many Glances of Ill-nature are industriously avoided for fear of doing Injury to the Reputation of another, they would be apt to think kindly of those Writers who endeavour to make themselves Diverting, without being Immoral. One may apply to these Authors that Passage in Waller, [1]