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bear with us, may be a deficiency in our pretensions with some: but we must plainly confess, with whatever mortification, that we are still at a flourishing time of life; and that the trouble and experience, which have passed over our heads, have left our teeth, hair, and eyes, pretty nearly as good as they found them. One of us, (which, by the way, must recommend us to all the married people, and admirers of Agesilaus,) was even caught the other day acting the great horse with a boy on his shoulders; and another, (which will do as much for us among the bachelors, and give Lord's Ground in particular a lively sense of our turn of thinking) was not a vast while ago counted the second-best cricketer in his native town.
On the other hand, as we wish to avoid the solitary and dictatorial manner of the later essayists, and at the same time are bound to show our readers that we have something to make up for the want of flapped waistcoats and an instructive decay of the faculties, we hereby inform them, that we are, literally speaking, a small party of friends, who meet once a week at a round table to discuss the merits of a leg of mutton, and of the subjects upon which we are to write. This we do without any sort of formality, letting the stream of conversation wander through any grounds it pleases, and sometimes retiring into our own respective cogitations, though it must be confessed, very rarely,--for we have a lively, worn-visaged fellow among us, who has a trick, when in company, of leaping, as it were, on the top of his troubles, and keeping our spirits in motion with all sorts of pleasant interludes. After dinner, if the weather requires it, we draw round the fire, with a biscuit or two, and the remainder of a philosophic bottle of wine; or as we are all passionately fond of music, one of us touches an instrument, in a manner that would make a professor die with laughter to see him using his thumb where he should put his finger, or his finger where he should use his thumb, but nevertheless in such a way as to ravish the rest of us, who know stillless than he does. At an Italian air we even think him superior to Tramezzani, though we generally give vent to our feel. ings on this point in a whisper. We suspect, however, that he overheard us one evening, as he immediately attempted some extraordinary graces, which with all our partiality we own were abominable.
The reader will see, by this account, that we do not mean to be over austere on the score of domestic enjoyments. Then for our mathematics and accomplishments as writers, one of us is deep in the learned languages, another in metaphysics, and a third in poetry; and as for experience, and a proper sympathy with the infirmities of our species, the former of which is absolutely necessary for those who set up to be instructors, and the latter quite as much so to give it a becoming tone and render it lastingly useful,- we shall not break in upon a greater principle by imitating the reckless candour of Rousseau, and make a parade of what other weaknesses we may have-but for sickness, for ordinary worldly trouble, and, in one or two respects, for troubles not very ordinary, few persons perhaps at our time of life can make a handsomer show of infirmities. Of some we shall only say, that they have been common to most persons, as well as ourselves, who were not born to estates of their own; but these and others have enabled us to buy, what money might have still kept us poor in,-some good real knowledge, and, at bottom of all our egotism, some warm-wishing unaffected humility. Even at school, where there is nothing much to get sick or melancholy with, if indulgent parents are out of the way, we were initiated into experience a little earlier than most people; the tribulations we have fallen into bę. fore and after this time are almost innumerable; and out of mere horror of mind, particularly at a fright we had from a wicked wag through a key-hole, we shall content ourselves with saying, that we can muster up, under the head of sickness and casualties alone, a pair of scalded legs, a watery head, (now, by the way, in excellent preservation,) a variety of fevers, including a capital St. Anthony's fire, two rheumatisms, three drownings, and one, (which was quite enough,) hypochondria. We must mention also a two year's imprisonment, as a circumstance that has increased our stock of ideas; and may add, as a specimen of our experience after the fashion of Ulysses, that we have all of us, at separate periods from one another, been in France. I must confess, however, for my own part, that I was not of an age to make much use of my travels, having gone thither in my childhood to get rid of one sickness, and just stayed long enough to survive another. It was just before the decrees that altered religious as well as political matters in that country, and almost all that I remember is a good old woman, our landlady, who used to weep bitterly over me, because I should die a heretic, and be buried in unconsecrated ground. I have made an exception ever since, out of the whole French nation, in favour of the people at Calais, and was delighted, though not surprised, to hear the other day from one of our round table, that the women there were all pretty and prepossessing, and still looked as if they could be kind to young heretics.
Of this accomplished and experienced party of ours, circumstances have made me the president; but I wish it to be distinctly understood, that I do not on that account claim any pre-eminence but a nominal one. We shall all choose our own
subjects, only open to the suggestions and comments of each other; and all speak, as becomes our social familiarity, in the first person. Correspondents, therefore, (and I must here mention that all persons not actually admitted to the said table, must write to us in the form of a letter,) may address, as they please, either to the president of the round table, or to the president and his fellows in general, as “Mr. President,Gentlemen of the Round Table; or to any one of my friends in particular, according to his signature, as “ To the Member of the Round Table, T. or W.” This perhaps will be determined by the nature of the communication; but I was the more anxious to say something on the point, inasmuch as my situation often reminds me of other great men who have sat at the head of tables, round or square, such as Charlemagne with his peers, who were persons of greater prowess than himself; or king Arthur, who in spite of his renown was nothing after all to some of his knights, Launcelot or Tristan, for instance; or to give a more familiar example, Robin Hood and his fellows, every one of whom, before he could be admitted into the company, had beaten the captain.
I must not, however, before I conclude, pass over king Arthur so slightly; as our round table, to a certain degree, is inevitably associated in our minds with his. The name indeed was given to us by one of that sex, who have always been the chief ornaments and promoters of chivalrous institutions; and for my part, when I am sitting at the head of it, with my knights on each side, I can hardly help fancying that I am putting a triumphant finish to the old prophecy, and feeling in me, under an unexpected but more useful character, the revived spirit of that great British monarch, who, we all know, was to return again to light from his subterraneous exile, and repair the found table in all its glory:
He is a king ycrownid in fairie
Among prioces king incomparable.--LEDGATE To this idea, and the long train of romantic associations and inspired works connected with it, we shall sometimes resort in our poetical moments, just as we shall keep the more familiar idea of the dining table before us in our ordinary ones, Nor will it always indeed be absent from our minds during our philosophical and most abstruse speculations; for what have the most chivalrous persons been from the earliest ages, but so many moral reformers, who encountered error and corrup
tion with various weapons, who brought down brute force however gigantic, who carried light into darkness, and liberty among the imprisoned, and dissipated with some charm or other about them, the illusions of pleasure?
No. 2. SUNDAY, JANUARY 8, 1815.
Sociali fædere mensa.-Milton.
A table in a social compact joia'd. As the reader has been given to understand that the subjects which my friends and myself mean to discuss will form part of our conversation at table, and that the conversation will nevertheless be as casual and unrestrained as it usually is among social parties, he may easily conclude that they will be of a very various description. We shall confine ourselves indeed to no kinds in particular; and taking advantage soinetimes of the character of table-talk, even the same article may contain a variety of subjects, and start off from one point to another with as unshackled and extemporaneous an enjoyment as one of Montaigne's. This, however, will be but seldom; for we are habitually fond of arrangement, and do not like to see even the dishes out of their proper positions. But at the same time, though we shall generally confine ourselves to one subject in our essays, and sometimes be altogether facetious and sometimes exclusively profound, we shall always think ourselves at liberty to be both, if we please,-always at liberty to set out merrily in a first paragraph, or to be pleasant in a parenthesis. These things, while they refresh the writer, serve to give a fillip to the reader's attention, and act upon him as the handing round of a snuff-box, may do in the middle of conversation.
Besides, there is a beauty of contrast in this variety; and as we mean to be very powerful writers, as well as every thing else that is desirable, power is never seen to so much advantage as when it goes about a thing carelessly. You like to see a light-horseman who seems as if he could abolish you with a passing cut, and not a great heavy fellow, who looks as if he should tumble down in case of missing you, or a little red staring busybody, who would be obliged to wield his sword two-handed, and kill himself first with exertion. When Bonaparte set out on his Russian expedition, they say that he got into his carriage, twirling his glove about, and singing
Marlbrouk to the wars is going. Perhaps we shall be quite as gay and buoyant when setting out on the loftiest speculations,—barring, of course, all comparisons with him on the score of success, though even we cannot answer for what a northeast wind or a fall of snow may do to us. I have myself, before now, had a whole host of fine ideas blown away by the one; and have been compel. led to retreat from the other, mind and body, with my knees almost into the fire.
In short, to put an end to this preface exemplificatory, the most trifling, matters may sometimes be not only the commencement, but the causes, of the gravest discussions. The fall of an apple from a tree suggested the doctrine of attraction; and the same apple, for aught we know, served up in a dumpling, may have assisted the philosopher in his notions of heat, for who has not witnessed similar causes and effects at a dinner table? For my part, a piece of mutton has supplied me with arguments, as well as chops, for a fortnight; I have seen a hare or a cod's-head giving hints to a friend for his next essay; and have known the most solemn reflections rise, with a pair of claws, out of a pigeon-pie.
There are two or three heads, however, under which all our subjects may be classed, and these it will be proper to mention, not so much for the necessity of any such classification, as for an indication of the particular views and feelings with which we may handle them. The first is manners, or the surface of society,the second morals, metaphysically considered, or its inmost causes of action,-the third, taste, or its right feeling upon things both external and internal, which lies, as it were, between both.
With regard to the first, we are aware, and must advise the reader, that we do not possess so much food for observation as the authors of the carlier periodical works; and this is the case, not merely because we have not been in the habit of living so much as they did out in society, but because manners are of a more level surface than they were in their times, and people's characters have, in a manner, been polished out. In fact, this is owing in great measure to the very writers in question. The extension of a general knowledge and good breeding were their direct objects,they succeeded,and there is not a domestic party now-a-days, in high life or in middle, but in its freedom from grossness and its tincture of literature, is indebted to Steele and his associates. The good was great and universal, and should alone render those men immortal, even without all the other claims of their wit and character.
Every general advantage, however, of this kind, has a tendency to overdo itself. À certain degree of knowledge and politeness being within every body's power, sufficient to enable them to pass smoothly with each other, every thing fur.