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THE BEE, No. I.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6, 1759.
THERE is not, perhaps, a more whimsically dismal figure in Nature, than a man of real modesty who assumes an air of impudence; who, while his heart beats with anxiety, studies ease, and affects good humour. In this situation, however, a periodical writer often finds himself, upon his first attempt to address the public in form. All his power of pleasing is damped by solicitude, and his cheerfulness dashed with apprehension. Impressed with the terrors of the tribunal before which he is going to appear, his natural humour turns to pertness, and for real wit he is obliged to substitute vivacity. His first publication draws a crowd; they part dissatisfied, and the author, never more to be indulged with a favourable hearing, is left, to condemn the indelicacy of his own address, or their want of discernment.
For my part, as I was never distinguished for address, and have often even blundered in making my bow, such bodings as these had like to have totally repressed my ambition. I was at a loss whether to give the public specious promises, or give none; whether to be merry or sad on this solemn occasion. If I should decline all merit, it was too probable the hasty reader might have taken me at my word. If, on the other hand, like labourers in the magazine trade, I had, with modest impudence, humbly presumed to promise an epitome of all the good things that ever were said or written, this might have disgusted those readers I most desire to please. Had I
been merry, I might have been censured as vastly low; and had I been sorrowful, I might have been left to mourn in solitude and silence; in short, which ever way I turned, nothing presented but prospects of terror, despair, chandlers' shops, and waste paper.
In this debate, between fear and ambition, my publisher happening to arrive, interrupted for a while my anxiety. Perceiving my embarrassment about making my first appearance, he instantly offered his assistance and advice: "You must know, Sir," says he, "that the republic of letters is at present divided "into three classes. One writer, for instance, excels "at a plan, or a title-page; another works away the "body of the book; and a third is a dab at an in"dex. Thus a magazine is not the result of any single man's industry; but goes through as many "hands as a new pin, before it is fit for the publick. "I fancy, Sir," continues he, "I can provide an emi"nent hand, and upon moderate terms, to draw up
a promising plan to smooth up our readers a little, "and pay them, as Colonel Charteries paid his seraglio, at the rate of three halfpence in hand, and "three shillings more in promises."
He was proceeding in his advice, which, however, I thought proper to decline by assuring him, that as I intended to pursue no fixed method, so it was impossible to form any regular plan; determined never to be tedious in order to be logical, wherever pleasure presented I was resolved to follow. Like the Bee, which I had taken for the title of my paper, I would rove from flower to flower, with seeming inattention, but concealed choice, expatiate over all the beauties of the season, and make my industry my
This reply may also serve as an apology to the reader, who expects, before he sits down, a bill of his
future entertainment. It would be improper to pall his curiosity by lessening his surprise, or anticipate any pleasure I am able to procure him, by saying what shall come next. Thus much, however, he may be assured of, that neither war nor scandal shall make any part of it. Homer finely imagines his deity turning away with horror from the prospect of a field of battle, and seeking tranquillity among a nation noted for peace and simplicity. Happy could any effort of mine, but for a moment, repress that savage pleasure some men find in the daily accounts of human misery! How gladly would I lead them from scenes of blood and altercation, to prospects of innocence and ease, where every breeze breathes health, and every sound is but the echo of tranquillity!
But whatever the merit of his intentions may be, every writer is now convinced that he must be chiefly indebted to good fortune for finding readers willing to allow him any degree of reputation. It has been remarked that almost every character which has excited either attention or praise, has owed part of its success to merit, and part to an happy concurrence of circumstances in its favour. Had Cæsar or Cromwell exchanged countries, the one might have been a serjeant, and the other an exciseman. So it is with wit, which generally succeeds more from being happily addressed, than from its native poignancy. A bon mot, for instance, that might be relished at White's may lose all its flavour when delivered at the Cat and Bag-pipes in St. Giles's. A jest calculated to spread at a gaming-table, may be received with a perfect neutrality of face, should it happen to drop in a mackerel-boat. We have all seen dunces triumph in such companies, when men of real humour were disregarded, by a general combination in favour of stupidity. To drive the observation as far
as it will go, should the labours of a writer, who designs his performances for readers of a more refined appetite, fall into the hands of a devourer of compilations, what can he expect but contempt and confusion! If his merits are to be determined by judges who estimate the value of a book from its bulk, or its frontispiece, every rival must acquire an easy superiority, who with persuasive eloquence promises four extraordinary pages of letter-press, or three beautiful prints, curiously coloured from nature.
But to proceed; though I cannot promise as much entertainment, or as much elegance, as others have done, yet the reader may be assured he shall have as much of both as I can. He shall at least, find me alive while I study his entertainment; for I solemnly assure him, I was never yet possessed of the secret at once of writing and sleeping.
During the course of this paper, therefore, all the wit and learning I have are heartily at his service; which if, after so candid a confession, he should notwithstanding still find it intolerably dull, low, or sad stuff, this I protest is more than I know. I have a clear conscience, and am entirely out of the
Yet I would not have him, upon the perusal of a single paper, pronounce me incorrigible; he may try a second, which, as there is a studied difference in subject and style, may be more suited to his taste; if this also fails, I must refer him to a third, or even to a fourth, in case of extremity: if he should still continue refractory, and find me dull to the last, I must inform him, with Bays in the Rehearsal, that I think him a very odd kind of a fellow, and desire no more of his acquaintance.
It is with such reflections as these I endeavour to fortify myself against the future contempt or neglect of some readers, and am prepared for their dislike
by mutual recrimination. If such should impute dealing neither in battles nor scandal to me as a fault, instead of acquiescing in their censure, I must beg leave to tell them a story.
A traveller, in his way to Italy, happening to pass at the foot of the Alps, found himself at last in a country where the inhabitants had each a large excrescence depending from the chin, like the pouch of a monkey. This deformity, as it was endemic, and the people little used to strangers, it had been the custom time immemorial to look upon as the greatest ornament of the human visage. Ladies grew toasts from the size of their chins, and none were regarded as pretty fellows, but such whose faces were broadest at the bottom. It was Sunday; a country church was at hand, and our traveller was willing to perform the duties of the day. Upon his first appearance at the church door, the eyes of all were naturally fixed upon the stranger; but what was their amazement, when they found that he actually wanted that emblem of beauty, a pursed chin! This was a defect that not a single creature had sufficient gravity (though they were noted for being grave) to withstand. Stifled bursts of laughter, winks, and whispers, circulated from visage to visage, and the prismatic figure of the stranger's face was a fund of infinite gaiety; even the parson, equally remarkable for his gravity and chin, could hardly refrain joining in the good-humour. Our traveller could no longer patiently continue an object for deformity to point Good folks, said he, I perceive that I am the unfortunate cause of all this good-humour. It is true, I may have faults in abundance, but I shall never be induced to reckon my want of a swelled face among the number*.
* Dr. Goldsmith inserted this Introduction, with a few trifling alterations, in the volume of Essays he published in the year 1765. VOL. IV.