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And now I have gone thus far, perhaps you will think me some pedagogue, willing by a well-timed puff to increase the reputation of his own school; but such is not the case. The regard I have for society, for those tender minds who are the objects of the present essay, is the only motive I have for offering those thoughts, calculated not to surprise by their novelty, or the elegance of composition, but merely to remedy some defects which have crept into the present system of school education. If this letter should be inserted, perhaps I may trouble you in my next with some thoughts upon an university education, not with an intent to exhaust the subject, but to amend some few abuses. I am, &c.
ON THE INSTABILITY
OF WORLDLY GRANDEUR.
An alehouse-keeper near Islington, who had long lived at the sign of the French king, upon the commencement of the last war with France, pulled down his old sign, and put up the queen of Hungary.
Under the influence of her red face and golden sceptre, he continued to sell ale till she was no longer the favourite of his customers; he . changed her therefore some time ago for the king of Prussia, who may probably be changed in turn
there be a similitude in any one instance, it is hoped the author of the present Essay will not be termed a plagiarist.
for the next great man that should be set up for vulgar admiration,
Our publican in this imitates the great exactly, who deal out their figures one after the other to the gazing crowd beneath them. When we have sufficiently wondered at one, that is taken in, and another exhibited in its room, which seldom holds its station long; for the mob are ever pleased with variety
I must own I have such an indifferent opinion of the vulgar, that I am ever led to suspect that merit which raises their shout; at least I am certain to find those great and sometimes good men, who find satisfaction in such acclamations, made worse by it; and history has too frequently taught me, that the head which has grown this day giddy with the roar of the million, has the very next been fixed upon a pole.
As Alexander VI. was entering a little town in the neighbourhood of Rome, which had been just evacuated by the enemy, he perceived the townsmen busy in the market-place in pulling down from a gibbet a figure, which had been designed to represent himself. There were also some knocking down a neighbouring statue of one of the Orsini family, with whom he was at war, in order to put Alexander's effigy, when taken down, in its place. It is possible a man who knew less of the world would have condemned the adulation of those bare. faced flatterers : but Alexander seemed pleased at their zeal, and, turning to Borgia his son, said with a smile, “ Vides, mi fili, quam leve discrimen patibulum inter et statuam :" “ You see, my son, the small difference between a gibbet and a statue." If the great could be taught any lesson, this might serve to teach them upon how weak a foundation their glory stands, which is built upon popular applause; for, as such praise what seems like merit, they as quickly condemn what has only the appearance of guilt.
Popular glory is a perfect coquet; her lovers must toil, feel every inquietude, indulge every caprice, and perhaps at last be jilted into the bargain. True glory, on the other hand, resembles a woman of sense; her admirers must play no tricks; they feel no great anxiety, for they are sure in the end of being rewarded in proportion to their merit. When Swift used to appear in public, he generally had the mob shouting in his train. “ Pox take these fools,” he would say, how much joy might all this bawling give my lord mayor !"
We have seen those virtues, which have while living retired from the public eye, generally transmitted to posterity, as the truest objects of admiration and praise. Perhaps the character of the late duke of Marlborough may one day be set up, even above that of his more talked-of predecessor; since an assemblage of all the mild and amiable virtues is far superior to those vulgarly called the great
I must be pardoned for this short tribute to the memory of a man, who while living would as much detest to receive any thing that wore the appearance of flattery, as I should to offer it.
I know not how to turn so trite a subject out of the beaten road of common place, except hy illustrating it, rather by the assistance of my memory than my judgment, and instead of making reflections, by telling a story,
A Chinese, who long had studied the works of Confucius, who knew the characters of fourteen thousand words, and could read a great part of every book that came in his way, once took it into his head to travel into Europe, and observe the customs of a people whom he thought not very much inferior even to his own countrymen, in the arts of refining upon every pleasure. Upon his arrival at Amsterdam his passion for letters naturally led him to a bookseller's shop; and, as he could speak a little Dutch, he civilly asked the bookseller for the works of the immortal Ilixofou. The bookseller assured him, he had never heard the book mentioned before. “ What! have you never heard of that immortal poet,” returned the other, much surprised, “ that light of the eyes, that favourite of kings, that rose of perfection? I suppose you know nothing of the immortal Fipsihihi, second cousin to the moon?” “Nothing at all, indeed, sir," returned the other. “ Alas !” cries our traveller, to what purpose then has one of these fasted to death, and the other offered himself up as a sacrifice to the Tartarean enemy, to gain a renown which has never travelled beyond the precincts of China!"
There is scarcely a village in Europe, and not one university, that is not thus furnished with its little great men. The head of a petty corporation, who opposes the designs of a prince, who would tyrannically force his subjects to save their best clothes for Sundays; the puny pedant, who finds one undiscovered property in the polype, describes an unheeded process in the skeleton of a mole, and whose mind like his microscope perceives nature only in detail; the rhymer, who makes smooth
verses, and paints to our imagination when he should only speak to our hearts; all equally fancy themselves walking forward to immortality, and desire the crowd behind them to look on. The crowd takes them at their word. Patriot, philosopher, and poet, are shouted in their train. Where was there ever so much merit seen; no times so important as our own; ages yet unborn shall gaze with wonder and applause! to such music the important pigmy moves forward, bustling and swelling, and aptly compared to a puddle in a storm.
I have lived to see generals, who once had crowds hallooing after them wherever they went, who were bepraised by newspapers and magazines, those echoes of the voice of the vulgar, and yet they have long sunk into merited obscurity, with scarcely even an epitaph left to flatter. A few years ago the herring fishery employed all Grub-street; it was the topic in every coffee-house, and the burthen of every ballad. We were to drag up oceans of gold from the bottom of the sea; we were to supply all Europe with herrings upon our own terms. At present we hear no more of all this. We have fished up very little gold that I can learn; nor do we furnish the world with herrings as was expected. Let us wait but a few years longer, and we shall find all our expectations a herring fishery.,