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THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE.
The wits of the present age being so very numerous and penetrating, it seems the grandees of church and state begin to fall under horrible apprehensions, lest these gentlemen, during the intervals of a long peace, should find leisure to pick holes in the weak sides of religion and government. To prevent which, there has been much thought employed of late, upon certain projects for taking off the force and edge of those formidable enquirers, from canvassing and reasoning upon such delicate points. They have at length fixed upon one, which will require some time as well as cost to perfect. Meanwhile, the danger hourly increasing, by new levies of wits, all appointed (as there is reason to fear,) with pen, ink, and paper, which may, at an hour's warning, bé drawn out into pamphlets, and other offensive weapons, ready for immediate execution, it was judged of absolute necessity, that some present expedient be thought on, till the main design can be brought to maturity. To this end, at a grand committee some days ago, this important discovery was made by a certain curious and refined observer,—that seamen have a custom, when they meet a whale, to fling him out an empty tub by way of amusement, to divert him from laying vio
lent hands upon the ship. This parable was immediately mythologised : the whale was interpreted to be Hobbes's Leviathan, which tosses and plays with all schemes of religion and government, whereof a great many are hollow, and dry, and empty, and noisy, and wooden, and given to rotation : this is the leviathan, whence the terrible wits of our age are said to borrow their weapons. The ship in danger is easily understood to be its old antitype, the commonwealth. But how to analyse the tub, was a matter of difficulty : when, after long enquiry and debate, the literal meaning was preserved ; and it was decreed, that, in order to prevent these leviathans from tossing and sporting with the commonwealth, which of itself is too apt to fluctuate, they should be diverted from that game by a Tale of a Tub. And, my genius being conceived to lie not unhappily that way, I had the honour done me to be engaged in the performance.
This is the sole design in publishing the following treatise, which I hope will serve for an interim of some months to employ those unquiet spirits, till the perfecting of that great work; into the secret of which, it is reasonable the courteous reader should have some little light.
It is intended, that a large academy be erected, capable of containing nine thousand seven hundred forty and three persons; which, by modest computation, is reckoned to be pretty near the current number of wits in this island. These are to be disposed into the several schools of this academy, and there pursue those studies to which their genius most inclines them. The undertaker himself will publish his proposals with all convenient speed; to which I shall refer the curious reader for a more particular account, mentioning
at present only a few of the principal schools. There is, first, a large pæderastic school, with French and Italian masters. There is also the spelling school, a very spacious building : the school of looking-glasses : the school of swearing: the school of critics : the school of salivation: the school of hobby-horses : the school of poetry: the school of tops: the school of spleen: the school of gaming : with many others, too tedious to recount. No person to be admitted member into any of these schools, without an attestation under two sufficient persons' hands, certifying him to be a wit.
But, to return: I am sufficiently instructed in the principal duty of a preface, if my genius were capable of arriving at it. Thrice have I forced my imagination to make the tour of my invention, and thrice it has returned empty ; the latter having been wholly drained by the following treatise. Not so, my more successful brethren the moderns; who will by no means let slip a preface or dedication, without some notable distinguishing stroke to surprise the reader at the entry, and kindle a wonderful expectation of what is to ensue. Such was that of a most ingenious poet, who, soliciting his brain for something new, compared himself to the hangman, and his patron to the patient; this was insigne, recens, indictum ore alio. When I went through that necessary and noble course of study, I had the happiness to observe many such egregious touches, which I shall not injure the authors by transplanting: because I have remarked, that nothing is so very tender as a modern piece of wit, and which is apt to suffer so much in the carriage. Some things are extremely witty to-day, or fasting, or in this place, or at eight o'clock, or over a bottle, or spoke by Mr. What’d'y'call’m, or in a summer's morning: any of the which, by the smallest transposal or misapplication, is utterly annihilate. Thus, wit has its walks and purlieus, out of which it may not stray the breadth of a hair, upon peril of being lost. The moderns have artfully fixed this mercury, and reduced it to the circumstances of time, place, and person. Such a jest there is, that will not pass out of Covent-Garden; and such a one, that is no where intelligible but at Hyde-Park corner. Now, though it sometimes tenderly affects me to consider, that all the towardly passages I shall deliver in the following treatise, will grow quite out of date and relish with the first shifting of the present scene, yet I must needs subscribe to the justice of this proceeding: because, I cannot imagine why we should be at expense to furnish wit for succeeding ages, when the former have made no sort of provision for ours: wherein I speak the sentiment of the very newest, and consequently the most orthodox refiners, as well as my own. However, being extremely solicitous, that every accomplished person, who has got into the taste of wit calculated for this present month of August, 1697, should descend to the very bottom of all the sublime, throughout this treatise; I hold fit to lay down this general maxim: whatever reader desires to have a thorough comprehension of an author's thoughts, cannot take a better method, than by putting himself into the circumstances and postures of life, that the writer was in upon every important passage, as it flowed from his this will introduce a parity, and strict correspondence of ideas, between the reader and the author. Now, to assist the diligent reader in so delicate an affair, as far as brevity will permit, I have recollected, that the shrewdest pieces of this treatise were conceived in bed in a garret; at other times, for a reason best known to myself, I thought fit to sharpen my invention with hunger; and in general, the whole work was begun, continued, and ended, under a long course of physic, and a great want of money. Now, I do affirm, it will be absolutely impossible for the candid peruser to go along with me in a great many bright passages, unless, upon the several difficulties emergent, he will please to capacitate and prepare himself by these directions. And this I lay down as my principal postulatum.
Because I have professed to be a most devoted servant of all modern forms, I apprehend some curious wit may object against me, for proceeding thus far in a preface, without declaiming, according to the custom, against the multitude of writers, whereof the whole multitude of writers most reasonably complain. I am just come from perusing some hundreds of prefaces, wherein the authors do, at the very beginning, address the gentle reader concerning this enormous grievance. Of these I have preserved a few examples, and shall set them down as near as my memory
has been able to retain them.
One begins thus ; For a man to set up for a writer, when the press swarms with, &c.
Another; The tax upon paper does not lessen the number of scribblers, who daily pester, &c.
Another; When every little would-be-wit takes pen in hand, 'tis in vain to enter the lists, &c.
Another; To observe what trash the press swarms with, &c.