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ed up a small pebble of so odd a make, that he said he would present it to a friend of his, an eminent virtuoso. After we had walked some time, I made a full stop with
face towards the west, which Will knowing to be my usual method of asking what's o'clock, in an afternoon, immediately pulled out his watch, and told me we had seven minutes good. We took a turn or two more, when to my great surprise, I saw him squir away his watch a considerable way into the Thames, and with great sedateness in his looks put up the pebble, he had before found, in his fob. As I have naturally an aversion to much speaking, and do not love to be the messenger of ill news, especially when it comes too late to be useful, I left him to be convinced of his mistake in due time, and continued my walk, reflecting on these little absences and distractions in mankind, and resolving to make them the subject of a future speculation.
I was the more confirmed in my design, when I considered that they were very often blemishes in the characters of men of excellent sense; and helped to keep up the reputation of that Latin proverb, which Mr. Dryden has translated in the following lines :
Great wit to madness sure is near ally'd,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide. * My reader, does, I hope, perceive, that I distinguish a man who is absent, because he thinks of something else, from one who is absent, because he thinks of nothing at all. The latter is too innocent a creature to be taken notice of; but the distractions of the former may, I believe, be generally accounted for from one of these reasons.
* Nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementia.-Se. neca De Tranquil. Anim. cap. xv.
Either their minds are wholly fixed on some particular science, which is often the case of mathematicians and other learned men; or are wholly
with some violent passion, such as anger, fear, or love, which ties the mind to some distant object; or, lastly, these distractions proceed from a certain vivacity and fickleness in a man's temper, which while it raises up infinite numbers of ideas in the mind, is continually pushing it on, without allowing it to rest on any particular image. Nothing therefore is more unnatural than the thoughts and conceptions of such a man, which are seldom occasioned either by the company he is in, or any of those objects which are placed before him. While you fancy he is admiring a beautiful woman, it is an even wager that he is solving a position in Euclid; and while you may imagine he is reading the Paris Gazette, it is far from being impossible, that he is pulling down and rebuilding the front of his countryhouse.
At the same time that I am endeavouring to expose this weakness in others, I shall readily confess that I once laboured under the same infirmity myself. The method I took to conquer it was a firm resolution to learn something from whatever I was obliged to see, or hear. There is a way of thinking, if a man can attain to it, by which he may strike somewhat out of any thing. I can at present observe those starts of good sense, and struggles of unimproved reason in the conversation of a clown, with as much satisfaction as the most shining periods of the most finished orator; and can make a shift to command my attention at a puppet-show or an opera, as well as at Hamlet or Othello. I always make one of the company I am in; for though I say little myself, my' attention to others, and those nods of approbation which I never
bestow unmerited, sufficiently shew that I am among them. Whereas Will Honeycomb, though a fellow of good sense, is every day doing and saying an hundred things, which he afterwards confesses,
with a well-bred frankness, were somewhat mal a propos, and undesigned
I chanced the other day to get into a coffee-house, where Will was standing in the midst of several auditors, whom he had gathered round him, and was giving them an account of the person and character of Moll Hinton. My appearance before him just put him in mind of me, without making him reflect that I was actually present, So that keeping his eyes full upon me, to the great surprise of his audience, he broke off his first harangue, and proceeded thus:
- Why now there's my friend,' mentioning me by my name,' he is a fellow that thinks a great deal, but never opens his mouth; I warrant you he is now thrusting his short face into some coffee-house about 'Change. I was his bail in the time of the Popish plot, when he was taken up for a jesuit. If he had looked on me a little longer, he had certainly described me so particularly, without ever considering what led him into it, that the whole company must necessarily have found me out; for which reason, remembering the old proverb, Out of sight out of mind,' I left the room ; and upon meeting him an hour afterwards, was asked by him, with a great deal of good humour, in what part of the world I lived, that he had not seen me these three days.
Monsieur Bruyere has given us the character of an absent man with a great deal of humour, which he has pushed to an agreeable extravagance: with the heads of it I shall conclude my present paper. Menalcas,'
that excellent author, down in the morning, opens his door to go out, but shuts it again, because he perceives that he has his
night-cap on; and examining himself further, finds that he is but half-shaved, that he has stuck his sword on his right side, that his stockings are about his heels, and that his shirt is over his breeches. When he is dressed he goes to court, comes into the drawing-room, and walking bolt-upright under a branch of candlesticks, his wig is caught up by one of them, and hangs dangling in the air. All the courtiers fall a laughing, but Menalcas laughs louder than any of them, and looks about for the person that is the jest of the company. Coming down to the court gate he finds a coach, which taking for his own, he whips into it: and the coachman drives off, not doubting but he carries his master. As soon as he stops, Menalcas throws himself out of the coach, crosses the court, ascends the stair-case, and runs through all the chambers with the greatest familiarity; reposes himself on a couch, and fancies himself at home. The master of the house at last comes in; Menalcas rises to receive him, and desires him to sit down; he talks, muses, and then talks again. The gentleman of the house is tired and amazed; Menalcas is no less so, but is every moment in hopes that his impertinent guest will at last end his tedious visit. Night comes
when Menalcas is hardly undeceived. • When he is playing at back-gammon, he calls for full glass of wine and water; it is his turn to throw; he has the box in one hand, and his glass in the other; and being extremely dry, and unwilling to lose time, he swallows down both the dice, and at the same time throws his wine into the tables. He writes a letter, and flings the sand into the inkbottle; he writes a second, and mistakes the superscription. A nobleman receives one of them, and upon opening it reads as follows: “ I would have you, honest Jack, immediately upon the receipt of this, take in hay enough to serve me the winter.” His
farmer receives the other, and is amazed to see in it, “My lord, I received your grace's commands, with an entire submission to.”—If he is at an entertainment, you may see the pieces of bread continually multiplying round his plate. It is true the rest of the company want it, as well as their knives and forks, which Menalcas does not let them keep long. Sometimes in a morning he puts his whole family in a hurry, and at last goes out without being able to stay for his coach or dinner, and for that day you may see him in every part of the town, except the very place where he had appointed to be upon a business of importance. You would often take him for every thing that he is not; for a fellow quite stupid, for he hears nothing; for a fool, for he talks to himself, and has an hundred grimaces and motions in his head, which are altogether involuntary; for a proud man, for he looks full upon you, and takes no notice of your saluting him. The truth of it is, his eyes are open, but he makes no use of them, and neither sees you, nor any man, nor any thing else. He came once from his country-house, and his own footmen undertook to rob him, and succeeded. They held a flambeau to his throat, and bid him deliver his purse; he did so, and coming home told his friends he had been robbed; they desired to know the particulars, “ Ask my servants,” says Menalcas, “ for they were with me”.