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I am one of those unhappy mortals who are retired from the fatigues of business in town, to be tired and fatigued for want of business in the country. While I was in trade, I always languished for retirement; now that is obtained, I long for business again. The air which I thought conveyed the blessings of health and vigour, the flowers that regaled every sense, and the babbling streams that I doted on with rapture, are all become insipid. I spurn at these, and throw them aside as a boy does his toys; and like him, feel no satisfaction but in the hope of obtaining others that are new. May we not, then, say that all our happiness is centred in expectation, and, like a coy mistress, ever flies before us? Tired of a village life and of myself, I flew for refuge to the country town, whence I date this letter, there hoping to share the mean between London and the country, and to variegate life, and partake of the pleasures both of business and retirement; but here I am again disappointed. The only diversion, and indeed almost the only business of this place, is going to the Wow-wow. When first I arrived here, I called at a gentleman's house to whom I was recommended by a friend in London, when a servant who came to the door, told me it was impossible I could speak to his master then, for he was just gone to the Wow-wow. My wife being indisposed, I sent for an eminent apothecary, but he not coming immediately I flew with impatience to his house, where finding his spouse, (2) [This pleasant paper, with the two succeeding ones, originally appeared in the Public Ledger, a daily paper, established in January 1760, and telling her my wife's case, she cried, “Poor lady, I am sorry for her, and wish, Sir, you had happened to come a little sooner, for Mr. * * * would certainly have waited on her, but he is just gone to the Wow-wow.” A tradesman who has gained money enough in town to retire, and commence gentleman in the country, thinks himself entitled to as much respect, perhaps, as those who make larger claims, and I own I found myself piqued at this behaviour.
by Newbery, of St. Paul's Church-yard, and have never before been collected.]
Thus disconcerted, I made for my inn, but passing by a tradesman's shop whence I had ordered some goods, I called to pay him. Here I saw only two boys at shuttlecock, to whom I told my business. They were too earnestly engaged to give me any other answer, but that if I wanted to pay any money there I must go to the Wow-wow.
Arriving at the inn, I found my wife a little recovered, and therefore rang for dinner: “Lord, my dear,” says she, “it is to no purpose to ring, for you can get no dinner here; the master of the house is cook himself, and not expecting company so late, the drawer says he is just gone to the Wow-wow, which I suppose is the next market-town.” At this instant entered my landlord with an affected air of complaisance; but notwithstanding he had set his features to the semblance of a smile, I could perceive he was out of humour at being sent for.
After dinner, curiosity led me to see this wonderful place of entertainment, this Wow-wow, and I made my inquiry accordingly; but I should have missed the place of rendezvous, if I had not been directed to it by a number of women who were catechising a man, who it seems had made a little mistake; and instead of going for the midwife as he had been directed, had strolled into the Wow-wow, which I found, to my surprise, was a confused heap of people of all denominations assembled at a public-house to read newspapers, and to hear the tittle-tattle of the day.
When I entered, the first object that engaged my attention was a middle-aged man seated above the rest, who, with a pipe in one hand and a piece of chalk in the other, was rectifying the mistakes made by several generals engaged in the present war.
“Finck,” () says he, “was a fool to do as he has done; do you think I would have suffered Daun to have cooped me up in this manner P Here lay his army; Daun's was there, and there, and there (still chalking the table). Now here lies a morass as big as ours in the dyke-mead; he should have drawn his men off here, and guarded this pass, and all had been right: but he was either a fool or feed to do as he has done. There is bribery in other countries I find as well as in ours.”
He had scarcely finished, when another, taking up a newspaper, read a paragraph, importing that a squadron of Dutch men-of-war were seen with their flag flying in Pondicherry harbour. This brought on the question whether Pondicherry was in Europe or America, which was debated with such warmth by some of the company, that we should certainly have had a war at the Wow-wow, had not an Oxford scholar, led there by curiosity, pulled a new magazine out of his pocket, in which he said there were some pieces extremely curious and that deserved their attention. He then read the Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves, (2) to the entire satisfaction of the audience, which being finished, he threw the pamphlet on the table: “that piece, gentlemen,” says he, “is written in the very spirit and manner of Cervantes; there is great knowledge of human nature, and evident marks of the master in almost every sentence; and from the plan, the humour, and the execution, I can venture to say that it dropped from the pen of the ingenious Dr. * Every one was pleased with the performance, and I was particularly gratified in hearing all the sensible part of the company give orders for the British Magazine. I was surprised, and indeed disgusted, to find in this odd assembly several gentlemen of exceeding good sense, but was somewhat satisfied when they told me, that they were drawn thither for want of business and diversions, and that this want had established a Wow-wow, or meeting of Newshunters, in every town in the kingdom. “This odd mixture of company,” says one of them, “may to you, Sir, seem disagreeable; but in the country a man must club his talents thus unequally, or seclude himself from company entirely ; and though this meeting may give you no favourable idea of a country life, it will convince you that the human race, as well as other animals, are impatient for society, and that a man of sense would rather converse with his cook-maid than be alone, and especially if she be handlearned to fight like Alexander; they have done more; they have relieved those enemies in distress which their valour subdued; they have surpassed the old Macedonians in bravery and generosity; could they learn to scold their enemies less, all the world must own their superiority in politeness, as well as in arms and humanity. I must own, nothing gives me more uneasiness in conversation, than to hear men talk of the French with detestation; to hear them condemned as guilty of every vice, and scarely allowed any national virtue. I am the more displeased at such ignorant assertions because they are false, and because I don't much care to contradict them. To speak well of France in some companies, is almost as bad as if one acknowledged himself to be a spy; I am obliged, therefore, to sit silent, while I hear unlettered men talk of a people they do not know, and condemn them in the gross they know not why. The French have been long acknowledged to have much bravery: a great part of Europe has owned their superiority in this respect; and I know scarcely any country but that which has beaten them, that dares deny the contrary. In short, I consider them in the same light with the subordinate characters in an epic poem, who are generally described as very terrible, only to heighten our idea of the hero who conquers them. To beat the French, and to scold them too, is outheroding Herod; if we were not able to knock them o' the head, I should not be displeased if we shewed our resentment by addressing their ears with reproach; but as it is, we only resemble a country justice, who, not content with putting a culprit in the stocks, stands by to reproach him for getting there. Jack Reptile is a professed Antigallican; he gets drunk
(1) [The Prussian general who, in November 1759, surrendered with his whole army to the Austrians under General Daun at Maxer.] (2) [The Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves first appeared in
various numbers of the British Magazine, a work established by Smollett, in 1760. “Smollett appears to have executed his task with very little presome.”
As one of Alexander's soldiers was railing against the Persians, condemning the whole nation as a pack of cowardly, effeminate, and perfidious scoundrels, “my friend,” cries the hero, overhearing him, “I have employed you to fight the Persians, not to scold them.” The English have meditation. During a part of the time he was residing at Paxmore, in Berwickshire, on a visit to the late George Home, Esq., and when post-time drew near, he used to retire for half an hour or an hour, to prepare the necessary quantity of copy, as it is technically called in the printing-house, which
he never gave himself the trouble to correct, or even to read over."—SIR. W. Scott, Prose Works, vol. iii. p. 149.]