FASHION is the great governor of this world; it presides not only in matters of dress and amusement, but in law, physic, politics, religion, and all other things of the gravest kind; indeed, the wisest of men would be puzzled to give any better reason, why particular forms in all these have been, at certain times, universally received, and at others universally rejected, than that they were in or out of fashion.
Men as well as things are in like manner indebted to the favour of this grand monarque. It is a phrase commonly used in the polite world, that such a person is in fashion; nay, I myself have known an individual in fashion, and then out of fashion, and then in fashion again. Shakespeare hath shared both these fates in poetry, and so hath Mr. Handel in music; so hath my Lord Coke in law, and in physic the great Sydenham; and as to politics and religion, I am sure every man's memory will suggest to himself very great masters in both, even in the present age, who have been, in the highest degree, both in and out of fashion.
It is, therefore, the business of every man to accommodate himself to the fashion of the times; which if he neglects, he must not be surprised if the greatest parts and abilities are totally disregarded. If Socrates himself was to go to court in an antique dress, he would be neglected, or perhaps ridiculed; or if old Hippocrates was to visit the college of physicians, and there talk the language of his aphorisms, he would be despised; the college, as Molière says, having altered all that at present.
But of all mankind, there are none whom it so absolutely imports to conform to this golden rule as an author; by neglecting this, Milton himself lay long in obscurity, and the world had nearly lost the best poem which perhaps it hath ever seen. On the contrary, by adhering to it, Tom Durfey, whose name is almost forgot, and many others, who are quite forgotten, flourished most notably in their respective ages, and eat and were read very plentifully by their contemporaries.
In strict obedience to this sovereign power, being informed by my bookseller, a man of great sagacity in his business, that nobody at present reads any thing but newspapers, I have determined to conform myself to the reigning taste. The number indeed of these writers at first a little staggered us both; but upon perusal of their works, I fancied I had discovered two or three little imperfections in them all, which somewhat diminished the force of this objection, and gave me hopes that the public will expel some of them to make room for their betters.
The first little imperfection in these writings, is, that there is scarce a syllable of TRUTH in any of them. If this be admitted to be a fault, it requires no other evidence than themselves, and the perpetual contradictions which occur not only on comparing one with the other, but the same author with himself at different days.
2ndly, There is no SENSE in them; to prove this, likewise, I appeal to their works.
3rdly, There is, in reality,. NOTHING in them at all. And this also must be allowed by their readers, if paragraphs which contain neither wit, nor humour, nor sense, nor the least importance, may be properly said to contain nothing. Such are the arrival of my Lord — with a great equipage, the marriage of Miss — of great beauty and merit, and the death of Mr. — who was never heard of in his life, &c. &c.
Nor will this appear strange, if we consider who are the authors of such tracts; namely the journeymen of booksellers, of whom, I believe, much the same may be truly predicated, as of these their productions.
But the encouragement with which these lucubrations are read, may seem more strange and more difficult to be accounted for. And here I cannot agree with my bookseller, that their eminent badness recommends them. The true reason is, I believe, simply the same which I once heard an economist assign for the content and satisfaction with which his family drank water-cider, viz. because they could procure no other liquor. Indeed, I make no doubt, but that the understanding, as well as the palate, though it may out of necessity swallow the worse, will in general prefer the better.
In this confidence, I have resolved to provide the public a better entertainment than it hath lately been dieted with; and as it is no great assurance in an Author to think himself capable of excelling such writings as have been mentioned above, so neither can he be called too sanguine in promising himself a more favourable reception from the Public.
It is not usual for us of superior eminence in our profession, to hang out our names on the sign-post; however, to raise some expectation in the mind of every reader, as well as to give a slight direction to those conjectures which he will be apt to make on this occasion, I shall set down some few hints, by which a sagacious guesser may arrive at sufficient certainty concerning me.
And first, I faithfully promise him, that I do not live within a mile of Grub-street; nor am I acquainted with a single inhabitant of that place.
2ndly, I am of no party; a word which I hope, by these my labours, to eradicate out of our constitution; this being indeed the true source of all those evils which we have reason to complain of.
3rdly, I am a gentleman; a circumstance from which my reader will reap many advantages; for at the same time that he may peruse my paper, without any danger of seeing himself, or any of his friends traduced with scurrility, so he may expect, by means of my intercourse with people of condition, to find here many articles of importance concerning the affairs and transactions of the great world (which can never reach the ears of vulgar news-writers), not only in matters of state and politics, but amusement. All routs, drums, and assemblies, will fall under my immediate inspection, and the adventures which happen at them will be inserted in my paper, with due regard, however, to the character I here profess, and with strict care to give no offence to the parties concerned.
Lastly, As to my learning, knowledge, and other qualifications for the office I have undertaken, I shall be silent, and leave the decision to my reader's judgment; of whom I desire no more than that he would not despise me before he is acquainted with me.
And to prevent this, as I have already given some account what I am, so I shall proceed to throw forth a few hints who I am; a matter commonly of the greatest importance towards the recommendation of all works of literature.
First, then, It is very probable I am Lord B—ke. This I collect from my style in writing, and knowledge in politics. Again, it is as probable that I am the B—p of ****, from my zeal for the Protestant religion. When I consider these, together with the wit and humour which will diffuse themselves through the whole, it is more than possible I may be Lord C— himself, or at least he may have some share in my paper.
From some, or all of these reasons, I am very likely Mr. W—n, Mr. D—n, Mr. L—n, Mr. F—g, T—n, or, indeed, any other person who hath ever distinguished himself in the republic of letters.
This at least is very probable, that some of these gentlemen may contribute a share of their abilities to the carrying on this work; in which, as nothing shall ever appear in it inconsistent with decency, or the religion and true civil interest of my country, no person, how great soever, need be ashamed of being imagined to have a part; unless he should be weak enough to be ashamed of writing at all; that is, of having more sense than his neighbours, or of communicating it to them.
I come now to consider the only remaining article, viz. the price, which is one-third more than my contemporary weekly historians set on their labours.
And here I might, with modesty enough, insist, that if I am either what or who I pretend to be, I have sufficient title to this distinction. It is well known that, among mechanics, a much larger advance is often allowed only for a particular name. A genteel person would not be suspected of dealing with any other than the most eminent in his trade, though he is convinced he pays an additional price by so doing. And I hope the polite world, especially when they consider the regard to fashion which I have above professed, will not scruple to allow me the same pre-eminence.
But, in reality, this is the cheapest paper which was ever given to the Public, both in quality, of which enough hath been said already, and in which light a shilling would, I apprehend, be a more moderate price than the three halfpence which is demanded by some others: and secondly, (which my bookseller chiefly insists on) in quantity; as I shall contain, he says, full three times as many letters as the above-mentioned papers; and for which reason he at first advised me to demand fourpence at least, for that one-ninth part would be still abated to the Public. To be serious, I would desire my reader to weigh fairly with himself, whether he doth not gain six times the knowledge and amusement by my paper, compared to any other; and then I think he will have no difficulty to determine in my favour.
Indeed, the prudent part of mankind will be considerable gainers by purchasing my paper; for as it will contain every thing which is worth their knowing, all others will become absolutely needless: and I leave to their determination, whether three pennyworth of truth and sense is not more worth their purchasing, than all the rubbish and nonsense of the week, which will cost them twenty times as much. In other words, is it not better to give their understanding an entertainment once a week, than to surcharge it every day with coarse and homely fare?
I shall conclude the whole in the words of the fair and honest tradesman: Gentlemen, upon my word and honour, I can afford it no cheaper; and I believe there is no shop in town will use you better for the price.