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was very precise ; and it was the main precept in it, with the greatest penalties annexed, not to add to or diminish from their coats one thread, without a positive command in the will. Now, the coats their father had left them were, it is true, of very good cloth, and, besides, so neatly sewn, you would swear they were all of a piece ; but at the same time very plain, and with little or no ornament : and it happened that before they were a month in town great shoulder-knots came up : straight all the world was shoulder-knots; no approaching the ladies' ruelles without the quota of shoulder-knots. That fellow, cries one, has no soul; where is his shoulder-knot ? Our three brethren soon discovered their want by sad experience, meeting in their walks with forty mortifications and indignities. If they went to the playhouse, the door-keeper showed them into the twelvepenny gallery. If they called a boat, says a waterman, I am first sculler.
If they stepped to the Rose to take a bottle, the drawer would cry, Friend, we sell no ale. If they went to visit a lady, a footman met them at the door with, Pray send up your message. In this unhappy case, they went immediately to consult their father's will, read it over and over, but not a word of the shoulder-knot. What should they do? what temper should they find ? obedience was absolutely necessary, and yet shoulder-knots appeared extremely requisite. After much thought, one of the brothers, who happened to be more book-learned than the other two, said, he had found an expedient. It is true, said he, there is nothing here in this will, totidem verbis, making mention of shoulder-knots : but I dare conjecture, we may find them inclusive, or totidem
syllabis. This distinction was immediately approved by all; and so they fell again to examine ; but their evil star had so directed the matter, that the first syllable was not to be found in the whole writings. Upon which disappointment, he who found the former evasion took heart, and said : Brothers, there are yet hopes; for though we cannot find them totidem verbis, nor totidem syllabis, I dare engage we shall make them out tertio modo, or totidem literis. This discovery was also highly commended, upon which they fell once more to the scrutiny, and picked out S,H,O,U, L,D,E,R; when the same planet, enemy to their repose, had wonderfully contrived that a K was not to be found. Here was a weighty difficulty ! but the distinguishing brother, for whom we shall hereafter find a name, now his hand was in, proved by a very good arg’iment that K was a modern illegitimate letter, unknown to the learned ages, nor anywhere to be found in ancient manuscripts. Calendæ hath in Q. V. C. been sometimes written with a K, but erroneously ; for in the best copies it is ever spelt with a C. And by consequence it was a gross mistake in our language to spell knot with a K; but that from henceforward he would take care it should be written with a C. Upon this all farther difficulty vanished ; shoulderknots were made clearly out to be jure paterno : and our three gentlemen swaggered with as large and as flaunting ones as the best.
A DIGRESSION IN PRAISE OF
I HAVE sometimes heard of an Iliad in a nut-shell ; but it has been my fortune to have much oftener seen a nut-shell in an Iliad. There is no doubt that human life has received most wonderful advantages from both; but to which of the two the world is chiefly indebted, I shall leave among the curious, as a problem worthy of their utmost inquiry. For the invention of the latter, I think the commonwealth of learning is chiefly obliged to the great modern improvement of digressions : the late refinements in knowledge running parallel to those of diet in our nation, which, among men of a judicious taste, are dressed up in various compounds, consisting in soups and olios, fricassees and ragouts.
It is true, there is a sort of morose, detracting, illbred people, who pretend utterly to disrelish these polite innovations; and as to the similitude from diet, they allow the parallel, but are so bold to pronounce the example itself a corruption and degeneracy of taste. They tell us that the fashion of jumbling fifty things together in a dish was at first introduced, in compliance to a depraved and debauched appetite, as well as to a crazy constitution : and to see a man
hunting through an olio after the head and brains of a goose, a widgeon, or a woodcock, is a sign he wants a stomach and digestion for more substantial victuals. Farther, they affirm that digressions in a book are like foreign troops in a state, which argue the nation to want a heart and hands of its own, and often either subdue the natives, or drive them into the most unfruitful corners.
But, after all that can be objected by these supercilious censors, it is manifest the society of writers would quickly be reduced to a very inconsiderable number, if men were put upon making books with the fatal confinement of delivering nothing beyond what is to the purpose. It is acknowledged, that were the case the same among us, as with the Greeks and Romans, when learning was in its cradle, to be reared, and fed, and clothed, by invention, it would be an easy task to fill up volumes upon particular occasions, without farther expatiating from the subjects than by moderate excursions, helping to advance or clear the main design. But with knowledge it has fared as with a numerous army, encamped in a fruitful country; which, for a few days, maintains itself by the product of the soil it is on; till, provisions being spent, they are sent to forage many a mile, among friends or enemies, it matters not. Meanwhile, the neighbouring fields, trampled and beaten down, become barren and dry, affording no sustenance but clouds of dust.
The whole course of things being thus entirely changed between us and the ancients, and the moderns wisely sensible of it, we of this age have discovered a shorter and more prudent method to become scholars and wits, without the fatigue of reading or of thinking.
The most accomplished way of using books at present is two-fold : either, first, to serve them as some men do lords, learn their titles exactly, and then brag of their acquaintance ; or, secondly, which is indeed the choicer, the profounder, and politer method, to get a thorough insight into the index, by which the whole book is governed and turned, like fishes by the tail. For, to enter the palace of learning at the great gate requires an expense of time and forms; therefore men of much haste and little ceremony are content to get in by the back door. For the arts are all in flying march, and therefore more easily subdued by attacking them in the rear. Thus men catch knowledge by throwing their wit on the posteriors of a book, as boys do sparrows with flinging salt upon their tails. Thus human life is best understood by the wise man's rule of regarding the end. Thus are the sciences found, like Hercules's oxen, by tracing them backwards. Thus are old sciences unravelled, like old stockings, by beginning at the foot. Besides all this, the army of the sciences has been of late, with a world of martial discipline, drawn into its close order, so that a view or a muster may be taken of it with abundance of expedition. For this great blessing we are wholly indebted to systems and abstracts, in which the modern fathers of learning, like prudent usurers, spent their sweat for the ease of us their children. For labour is the seed of idleness, and it is the peculiar happiness of our noble age to gather the fruit.
Now, the method of growing wise, learned, and sublime, having become so regular an affair, and so established in all its forms, the number of writers must needs have increased accordingly, and to a pitch