Qui sibi promittit Cives, Urbem, sibi Curce
Imperium fore, & Italiam, & Delu bra Deo rum,
Quo Patre sit natus, num ignota Matre inhonestus,
Omnes Mortales curare & qucerere cogit —Horace
"So he who takes it upon himself to look after his fellow-citizens and the city, the empire and Italy, and the temples of the gods, compels all the world to take an interest, and to ask who his father was, and whether he is dishonoured through an unknown mother."
I have lately been looking over the many Pacquets of Letters which I have received from all Quarters of Great Britain, as well as from Foreign Countries, since my entering upon the Office of Censors, and indeed am very much surprized to see so great a Number of them, and pleased to think that I have so far encreased the Revenue of the Post-Office. As this Collection will grow daily, I have digested it into several Bundles, and made proper Endorsements on each particular Letter, it being my Design, when I lay down the Work that I am now engaged in, to erect a Paper-Office, and give it to the public.
I could not but make several Observations upon reading over the Letters of my Correspondents: As first of all, on the different Tasts that reign in the different Parts of this City. I find, by the Approbations which are given me, That I am seldom famous on the same Days on both Sides of Temple-Bar; and that when I am in the greatest Repute within the Liberties, I dwindle at the Court-End of the Town. Sometimes I sink in both these Places at the same Time; but for my Comfort, my Name hath then been up in the Districts of Wapping and Rotherhithe. Some of my Correspondents desire me to be always serious, and others to be always merry. Some of them entreat me to go to Bed and fall into a Dream, and like me better when I am asleep than when I am awake: Others advise me to sit all Night upon the Stars, and be more frequent in my Astrological Observations; for that a Vision is not properly a Lucubration. Some of my Readers thank me for filling my Paper with the Flowers of Antiquity, others desire News from Flanders. Some approve my Criticisms on the Dead, and others my Censures on the Living. For this Reason, I once resolved in the new Edition of my Works, to range my several Papers under distinct Heads, according as their principal Design was to benefit and instruct the different Capacities of my Readers, and to follow the Example of some very great Authors, by writing at the Head of each Discourse, Ad Aulam, Ad Academiam, Ad Populum, Ad Clerum.
There is no Particular in which my Correspondents of all Ages, Conditions, Sexes, and Complexions, universally agree, except only in their Thirst after Scandal. It is impossible to conceive how many have recommended their Neighbours to me upon this Account, or how unmercifully I have been abused by several unknown Hands, for not publishing the secret Histories of Cuckoldom that I have received from almost every Street in Town.
It would indeed be very dangerous for me to read over the many Praises and Eulogiums which come Post to me from all the Corners of the Nation, were they not mix'd with many Checks, Reprimands, Scurrilities, and Reproaches, which several of my good-natured Countrymen cannot forbear sending me, though it often costs them Two-pence or a Groat before they can convey them to my Hands: So that sometimes when I am put into the best Humour in the World, after having read a Panegyrick upon my Performance, and looked upon my self as a Benefactor to the British Nation, the next Letter perhaps I open, begins with, You old Doting Scoundrel—Are not you a sad Dog—Sirrah, you deserve to have your Nose slit; and the like ingenious Conceits. These little Mortifications are necessary to suppress that Pride and Vanity which naturally arise in the Mind of a received Author, and enable me to bear the Reputation which my courteous Readers bestow upon me, without becoming a Coxcomb by it. It was for the same Reason, that when a Roman General entered the City in the Pomp of a Triumph, the Commonwealth allowed of several little Drawbacks to his Reputation, by conniving at such of the Rabble as repeated Libels and Lampoons upon him within his Hearing, and by that Means engaged his Thoughts upon his Weakness and Imperfections, as well as on the Merits that advanced him to so great Honours. The Conqueror however was not the less esteemed for being a Man in some Particulars, because he appeared as a God in others.
There is another Circumstance in which my Countrymen have dealt very perversely with me; and that is, in Searching not only into my own Life, but also into the Lives of my Ancestors. If there has been a Blot in my Family for these Ten Generations, it hath been discovered by some or other of my Correspondents. In short. I find the ancient Family of the Bickerstaffs has suffered very much through the Malice and Prejudice of my Enemies. Some of them twit me in the Teeth with the Conduct of my Aunt Margery: Nay, there are some who have been so disingenuous, as to throw Maud the Milk-Maid into my Dish, notwithstanding I my self was the first who discovered that Alliance. I reap however many Benefits from the Malice of these my Enemies, as they let me see my own Faults, and give me a View of my self in the worst Light; as they hinder me from being blown up by Flattery and Self-conceit; as they make me keep a watchful Eye over my own Actions, and at the same Time make me cautious how I talk of others, and particularly of my Friends and Relations, or value my self upon the Antiquity of my Family.
But the most formidable Part of my Correspondents are those whole Letters are filled with Threats and Menaces. I have been treated so often after this Manner, that not thinking it sufficient to fence well, in which I am now arrived at the utmost Perfection, and carry Pistols about me, which I have always tuck'd within my Girdle; I several Months since made my Will, settled my Estate, and took Leave of my Friends, looking upon my self as no better than a dead Man. Nay, I went so far as to write a long Letter to the most intimate Acquaintance I have in the World, under the Character of a departed Person, giving him an Account of what brought me to that untimely End, and of the Fortitude with which I met it. This Letter being too long for the present Paper, I intend to print it by it self very suddenly; and at the same Time I must confess, I took my Hint of it from the Behaviour of an old Soldier in the Civil Wars, who was Corporal of a Company in a Regiment of Foot, about the same Time that I my self was a Cadet in the King's Army.
This Gentleman was taken by the Enemy; and the Two Parties were upon such Terms at that Time, that we did not treat each other as Prisoners of War, but as Traitors and Rebels. The poor Corporal being condemned to die, wrote a Letter to his Wife when under Sentence of Execution. He writ on the Thursday, and was to be executed on the Friday: But considering that the Letter would not come to his Wife's Hands till Saturday, the Day after Execution, and being at that Time more scrupulous than ordinary in speaking exact Truth, he formed his Letter rather according to the Posture of his Affairs when she should read it, than as they stood when he sent it: Though it must be confessed, there is a certain Perplexity in the Style of it, which the Reader will easily pardon, considering his Circumstances.
Hoping you are in good Health, as I am at this present Writing, This is to let you know, that Yesterday, between the Hours of Eleven and Twelve, I was hanged, drawn, and quartered. I died very penitently, and every Body thought my Case very hard. Remember me kindly to my poor Fatherless Children.
Yours till Death, W. B.
It so happened, that this honest Fellow was relieved by a Party of his Friends, and had the Satisfaction to see all the Rebels hanged who had been his Enemies. I must omit a Circumstance which exposed him to Raillery his whole Life after. Before the Arrival of the next Post, that would have set all Things clear, his Wife was married to a Second Husband, who lived in the peaceable Possession of her; and the Corporal, who was a Man of plain Understanding did not care to stir in the Matter, as knowing that she had the News of his Death under his own Hand, which she might have produced upon Occasion.