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SATURDAY, June 23, 1711.
The club, of which I have often declared myself a member, were last night engaged in a discourse upon that which passes for the chief point of honour among men and women; and started a great many hints upon the subject, which I thought were entirely new. I shall therefore methodize the several reflections that arose upon this occasion, and present my reader with them for the speculation of this day; after having premised, that if there is any thing in this paper which seems to differ with any passage of last Thursday's, the reader will consider this as the sentiments of the club, and the other as my own private thoughts, or rather those of Pharamond.
The great point of honour in men is courage, and in women chastity. If a man loses his honour in one rencounter, it is not impossible for him to regain it in another; a slip in a woman's honour is irrecoverable. I can give no reason for fixing the point of honour to these two qualities, unless it be that each sex sets the greatest value on the qualification which renders them the most amiable in the eyes of the contrary sex.
Had men chosen for themselves without regard to the opinions of the fair sex, I should believe the choice would have fallen on wisdom or virtue; or had women determined their own point of honour, it is probable that wit or good nature would have carried it against chastity.
Nothing recommends a man more to the female sex than courage ; whether it be they are pleased to see one who is a terror to others fall like a slave at their feet, or that this quality supplies their own principal defect, in guarding them from insults and avenging their quarrels; or that courage is a natural indication of a strong and sprightly constitution. On the other side, nothing makes a woman more esteemed by the opposite sex than chastity; whether it be that we always prize those most who are hardest to come at, or that nothing besides chastity, with its collateral attendants, truth, fidelity, and constancy, gives the man a property in the person he loves, and consequently endears her to him above all things.
I am very much pleased with a passage in the inscription on a monument erected in Westminster-abbey to the late duke and duchess of Newcastle : Her name was Margaret Lucas, youngest sister to the lord Lucas of Colchester; a noble family, for all the brothers were valiant, and all the sisters virtuous.'
In books of chivalry, where the point of honour is strained to madness, the whole story runs on chastity and courage. The damsel is mounted on a white palfrey, as an emblem of her innocence; and, to avoid scandal, must have a dwarf for her page. She is not to think of a man, until some misfortune has brought a knight-errant to her relief. The knight falls in love ; and, did not gratitude restrain her from murdering her deliverer, would die at her feet by her disdain. However, he must waste many years in the desert, before her virgin-heart can think of a surrender. The knight goes off, attacks every thing. he meets that is bigger and stronger than himself, seeks all opportunities of being knocked on the head, and after
seven years' rambling returns to his mistress, whose chastity has been attacked in the mean time by giants and tyrants, and undergone as many trials as her lover's valour.
In Spain, where there are still great remains of this romantic humour, it is a transporting favour for a lady to cast an accidental glance on her lover from a window, though it be two or three stories high; as it is usual for the lover to assert his passion for his mistress in single combat with a mad bull.
The great violation of the point of honour from man to man, is giving the lie. One may tell another he drinks, blasphemes, and it may pass unresented; but to say he lies, though but in jest, is an affront that nothing but blood can expiate. The reason perhaps may be, because no other vice implies a want of courage so much as the making of a lie ;. and therefore telling a man he lies, is touching him in the most sensible part of honour, and indirectly calling him a coward. I cannot omit under this head what Herodotus tells us of the ancient Persians, that, from the age of five years to twenty, they instruct their sons only in three things, to manage the horse, to make use of the bow, and to speak truth.
The placing the point of honour in this false kind of courage, has given occasion to the very refuse of mankind, who have neither virtue nor common sense, to set up for men of honour. An English peer, who has not been long dead, used to tell a pleasant story of a French gentleman that visited him early one morning at Paris, and after great professions of respect, let him know that he had it in his power to oblige him ; which, in short, amounted to this, that he believed he could tell his lordship the person's name who jostled him as he came out from the opera ; but, before he would proceed, he begged his lordship that he would not deny him the honour of making him his second. The English lord, to avoid being drawn into a very foolish affair, told him that he was under engagements for his two next duels to a couple of particular friends. Upon which the gentleman immediately withdrew, hoping his lordship would not take it ill if he meddled no farther in an affair from whence he himself was to receive no advantage.
TUESDAY, June 26, 1711.
ACCORDING to sir Isaac Newton's calculations, the comet that made its appearance, in 1680, imbibed so much heat by its approaches to the sun, that it would have been two thousand times hotter than red-hot iron, had it been a globe of that metal; and that supposing it as big as the earth, and at the same distance from the sun, it would be fifty thousand years in cooling, before it recovered its natural temper.
In the like manner, if an Englishman considers the great ferment into which our political world is thrown at present, and how intensely it is heated in all its parts, he cannot suppose that it will cool again in less than three hundred years. In such a tract of time it is possible that the heats of the present age may be extinguished, and our several classes of great men represented under their proper characters. Some erninent historian may then probably arise that will not write recentibus odiis (as Tacitus expresses it) with the passions and prejudices of a contemporary author, but make an impartial distribution of fame among the great men of the present age.
I cannot forbear entertaining myself very often with the idea of such an imaginary historian describing the reign of Anne the first, and introducing it with a preface to his reader, that he is now entering upon the most shining part of the English story. The great rivals in fame will be then distinguished according to their respective merits, and shine in their proper points of light. Such an one says the historian), though variously represented by the writers of his own age, appears to have been a man of more than ordinary abilities, great application, and uncommon integrity : nor was such an one (though of an opposite party and interest) inferior to him in any of these respects. The several antagonists who now endeavour to depreciate one another, and are celebrated or traduced by different parties, will then have the same body of admirers, and appear illustrious in the opinion of the whole British nation. The deserving man, who can now recommend himself to the esteem of but half his countrymen, will then receive the approbations and applauses of a whole age.
Among the several persons that flourish in this glorious reign, there is no question but such a future historian, as the person of whom I am speaking, will make mention