L O I T E R E R.
"Speak of us as we are."
PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR;
AND SOLD BY
C. S. RANN, OXFORD.
Messrs. EGERTON, Whitehall, LONDON,
Messrs. PEARSON and ROLLASON;
L O I T E R E R.
SATURDAY, March 7, 1789.
Digito monstrari et dicier, hic est.
No one, unless he has himself been in the same situation, can form a just idea of the feelings of an Author, when first he commits his work to the perusal of the Public. How many doubts and fears, how many distressing apprehensions conspire to perplex him!
Such at least were my sensations on that morning, in which the Loiterer made its first appearance in this University. I had hitherto regarded the publication with composure, I had even expected it with pleasure; but when the appointed period arrived, the thoughts, that it was now impossible to retract, occasioned me, I must condfess, great uneasiness, and made me almost repent of my undertaking. However blinded I had before been with the consciousness of my own merit, I now (for the first time) began to consider, that the world might not view it with the same partiality. I reflected on the many indignities to which I had exposed my reputation; already I experienced the horrors of a huckster's shop, and saw myself the embryo lining to a trunk.
These melancholy reflections, however, were soon removed by a more afflicting consideration; which, through the medium of perspective indeed, had appeared light and trivial; but now affected me with the most serious concern. I began to reflect, that it was not impossible I might be suspected as the author, and in spite of all my precautions become exposed to public notice. If the former ideas had been distressing, these were alarming: and it was in vain that I endeavoured to console myself with the improbability of such a discovery. I devised new schemes, and projected a thousand different plans for concealing myself. But the more I thought, the more tremendous my situation appeared: till at length I was so terrified with this imaginary evil, that, fearful of betraying my own secret, I shut myself up for three whole days.
Weary however of solitude, at the expiration of this time I ventured to steal into the street; but whether or no I that day looked more quizical, than usual, I fancied every eye I met was directed to me, and really believed that Author was writ upon my face. By repeating my walks, however, and carefully avoiding my Publisher's door, in a few days I became perfectly easy on the subject of a discovery. But now another difficulty arose: for my apprehensions having subsided, curiosity began to demand its share of satisfaction; and I longed to hear the opinion, which the world entertained of me. The difficulty, indeed, of accomplishing this, at first appeared insurmountable; for though I had been in compay two or three times, I had not been able to summon resolution sufficient for starting the subject myself; and no one (to my great mortification, as the Author) seemed disposed to know any thing of the matter.
In a little time, however, my curiosity (which was now arrived at the highest pitch) overcame all my scruples; and I determined on the following method, as the most certain one, of gratifying it.
I remembered having read in the Arabian Nights Entertainments (and I dare say most of my readers do the same) that Caliph Haroun Alraschid used frequently to go about in disguise, that he might learn what the people thought of his administration. It struck me, that the same artifice might be employed in discovering the reception, which the Loiterer had met with. As to disguise, the ignorance of the world with respect to the Author, rendered such a precaution unnecessary: and thus elated with the prospect of success, I sallied out one morning like another Caliph, not indeed attended by the faithful, trusty Giafar, but accompanied with no inconsiderable share of vanity.
The first visit I paid wa to the same Sagely, whom I have mentioned in a former paper; and on asking him, in the course of conversation, what were his opinions of the Loiterer? he told me, On the whole it was well enough, but he thought it extraordinary, that out of five numbers there was not one moral essay: for, added he, however witty and entertaining a work of this sort may at times be, it certainly ought, on the whole, to be instructive. I was much surprised at this reproof, but remembering how few Sagely's there were in the University, I bore it very well; and wishing him a good morning, knocked at Courtly's door, whom I found at home with several strangers in his room. After a decent pause I introduced my subject, in the same manner as I had before done at Sagely's. Courtly said he had but one objection to the Loiterer, which was, there were no politics in him. No politics! exclaimed one of the strangers, I believe you have never read the second paper. Yes, cried another, he is certainly a politician; and any one with half an eye may see which side he takes. This roused my attention, as I wished very much to know what my political opinions were, that being a point which I could never determine with myself. But though both these gentlemen agreed I was a party man, they unfortunately took different sides, and I found, that each concluded I was of the same opinion with himself. A warm dispute ensued, which soon became general, and by a very natural transition turned entirely on politics. But as such debates, however interesting to the disputants, are not the most amusing to an unprejudiced hearer, I slipped off without being perceived, leaving them to talk each other hoarse, and end the matter, no doubt, just where they began.
I had not proceeded far in the street, before I met Will Wisp; and though I knew he was no studying man, yet I ventured to enquire if he had seen the Loiterer? The Loiterer! cried he — What is it? where is it shewn? This answer was intolerable, and I was on the point of asking him, if he took me for a Wild Beast, or an Irish Giant. But, checking my emotions, I told him with a forced smile, it was to be seen at Rann's; and hurried off, as fast as I could, to Verjuice's. But this last reply had in some measure damped my courage, and I resolved for the future to be more cautious, and introduce my subject with a better grace. I was agreeably extricated, however, from this dilemma, by finding Verjuice with my fourth number in his hand. This naturally led us to converse of it: but I found, in his opinion, there was not one original thought in the whole work; as to my would–be Buck, any one could have written it; a journal was now confoundedly back'd, and my very name was stolen. I made no answer to these objections, but left him in full enjoyment of his own critical abilities.
I shall not, however, trouble my readers with a circumstantial detail of all my adventures, but only inform them, that were one person blamed my censure as too general, another accused me of personality; and where a third was pleased, the next I met was sure to be offended. On the whole, if I did not meet with the success and approbation to which I thought myself entitled, I derived great entertainment from my tour, and though I found the opinions of my readers so very different, I consoled myself with the well–known impossibility of pleasing every body.
As to the opinions on my person, they are much more numerous than those on my compositions. For where one will venture to hazard a judgment on the latter, which implies some pretensions to critical powers; twenty will declare their conjectures of the Author, as no one can presume to contradict them.
Who I am, therefore, is the great subject of enquiry, and I am seldom in company when this is the topic of conversation, but some one of the party by shrewd nods, and mysterious significations, intimates to us, that though the Author may think as he chuses, he for his part knows what he knows. An acquaintance, the other day, after a thousand hums and haas, and exacting as many protestations of secrecy, confidently told me that the Loiterer wore a black coat, and belonged to such a College, which he named. In the same manner almost every individual believes himself, or wishes to make others believe, that he has discovered the Ass under the Lion's skin; and in short, if I should credit all the assertions which I have heard of myself, I am a member of almost every society in the University, have taken all kinds of degrees, and am frequently in twenty places at the same time; besides which, I have been a Tutor at Three colleges, and an Undergraduate at as many more.
And now I am on this subject, I shall take the opportunity of answering the many applications on this head, which I have received from my correspondents, and particularly those of the Fair Sex; many of whom intreat me, as a particular favour, to entrust them with my name, and promise the strictest secrecy. But I know how pleasing it is to circulate a secret, and should be sorry to throw temptation in their way. To all these, therefore, and all others who shall be inclined to make the same request, I beg leave to relate the following well– known story. A person, who was summoned to appear in a court of justice, at the appointed time could not be found. When his brother rising up, informed the Judge, that he could give five and twenty good reasons for his absence; and began by saying, in the first place, that he had been dead upwards of three months. Hold, Sir, cried the Judge, that reason is sufficient; you may spare the other four and twenty.
In like manner the Loiterer can produce five hundred good reasons for concealing himself; but the first is, that whenever a discovery takes place, he immediately ceases to exist; for a Periodical Writer, like a glow–worm, is conspicuous only in the dark.
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