Page images
PDF
EPUB

others without pressing upon their time, and more important occupations;. that it is serviceable in town, in the country, at home and abroad; travels with you, and follows you in your night-gown to your elbow-chair, leaves you not on your pillow, awakes with you in the morning, and carries you through all the vicissitudes of your existence.

I

On the Art of Idleness, continued.

SIR,

TO THE EDITOR OF THE BEE.

(Wednesday, May 18. 1791.)

HAVE endeavoured to give a slight sketch of the art of idleness; and I now proceed to lay in its colours and its shadows, in hope that I may gradually finish a picture fit for the cabinet of the curious, and such as has not hitherto been ever put upon the easel, far less exhibited to the view of the public.

. Could my adventurous pencil fortunately produce any thing that could enhance the value of the Bee, my industry would be redoubled in its service; for I highly esteem the industry of the Bee, and would willingly sow and rear a succession of flowers, to fill its combs with honey, and provide for the winter.

The art of idleness will be best and easiest set forth by the productions of artists: I shall,

in this paper, therefore, give another specimen of a disciple of idleness, that my readers, who wish to go to school, may have a lesson of the rudiments, and consult their genius, before they enter into their academical career.

The specimen I mean now to offer, is from a gentleman *, whose father was rich and powerful, and placed him in a situation of opulence in the early part of his life; sending him to visit foreign nations, with a companion of the most enlightened understanding, and elegant taste.

He returned from his travels, after having stored his mind with useful knowledge, and his imagination with the beautiful objects of refined speculation. He went abroad, not to associate with fox-hunting or lounging Englishmen, to keep the most fashionable opera girls at Paris or Naples, and to gallop over Europe, that he might take a seat in parliament, and begin his career at home with being presented at court on his return from the grand tour of the continent; but to render himself wiser and better, like the king of Ithaca, by seeing many cities, and studying the laws, manners, and improvements of society in foreign countries.

This gentleman, my most excellent friend, in whose conversation and correspondence I have delighted for more than five and twenty years past, in spite of the infirmities of old

* Hon. Horace Walpole, afterwards Earl of Orford.

age, and the enervating as well as excruciating pains of the gout, has retained the relish of life, by being well acquainted with its materials, and knowing how, like a skilful cook, to mix what are nourishing with what are palatable, and to serve up the dainties of it for his daily use and enjoyment, and the enjoyment of his friends.

Living in a venal country, debased by political corruption, and distracted by faction, he associated himself with those who were superior to the first, because they would not suffer themselves to be entangled by the latter. Full of rational curiosity himself, he gathered together around him, by a moral power of attraction, those who were under the influence of this divine energy, which, like the vernal delight and joy of Milton, is "enough to drive all sadness but despair."

Sometimes he amused himself with collecting useful information for the illustration of the history of his country; sometimes flitting over the surfaces of fugitive events, and moralising on the slippery fortunes of the passing world of the day; but oftener setting down, with poignant remark, what escaped the notice of others, and making his observations subservient to that noble art of idleness which is the subject of my present research.

About six years ago, I received a letter from this charming companion, and instructive friend, which I select as an instance of the most ingenious and ingenuous application

of sense, wit, and good humour, to the drawing forth of agreeable reflections from the occurrences of the day.

MY LORD,

You are too condescending, when you incline to keep up a correspondence with one who can expect to maintain it but a short time, and whose intervals of health are resigned to idleness, not dedicated, as they have sometimes been, to literary pursuits; for what could I pursue with any prospect of accomplishment? or what avails it to store a memory that must lose faster than it acquires? Your zeal for illuminating your country and countrymen is laudable, and you are young enough to make a progress; but a man, who touches the verge of his sixty-eighth year, ought to know, that he is unfit to contribute to. the amusement of more active minds. This consideration makes me much decline correspondence: having nothing new to communicate, I perceive that I fill my letters. with apologies for having nothing to say. The discoveries made by Herschell, which you have been so good as to communicate, are stupendous indeed. You have launched my meditations into such a vast field, that if I tapped one channel, I should write a volume, and perhaps finish in the clouds. How puny, how diminutive are those discoveries we used formerly to boast of, when compared to those of Herschell, who puts up millions of covies

of worlds at a beat. My conception is not ample enough to take in even a sketch of his glimpses; and lest I should lose myself in attempting to follow his investigations, I recal my mind home, and apply it to reflect on what we thought we knew, when we imagined we knew something (which we deemed a vast deal) pretty correctly. Segrais, I think it was, who said with much contempt, to a lady who talked of her star; "Your star! there

[ocr errors]

are but two thousand stars in all; and do

you imagine, madam, that you have a whole "one to yourself?" The foolish dame, it seems, was not more ignorant than Segrais himself. If our system includes twenty millions of worlds, the lady had as much right to pretend to a whole ticket, as the philosopher to treat her like a servant-maid, who buys a chance for a day in a state lottery.

Stupendous as Mr Herschell's investiga tions are, and admirable as his talents, his expression of our retired corner seems a little improper. When a little emmet, standing on its ant-hill, could get a peep into infinity, how could he think he saw a corner of it? a retired corner! Is there a bounded side to infinitude? If there are twenty millions of worlds, why not as many and as many more? Oh! one's imagination cracks! I long to bait within distance of home, and rest at the moon. Mr Herschell will content me, if he can discover thirteen provinces there, well inhabited by men and women, and protected by the

« PreviousContinue »