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"Dr. Freind was with me, and pulled out a two-peruy pamphlet just published, called The State of Wit," giving a character of all the papers that have come out of late. The author seems to be a whig; yet he speaks very highly of a paper called 'The Examiner ;' and says he supposes the author of it is Dr. Swift. But above all things he praises the Tattlers and Spectators; and I believe Steele and Addison were privy to the printing of it. Thus one is treated by those impudent dogs!"
Journal to Stella, May 14, 1711.
The light thrown by this little tract on the various periodical papers of the time when it was written will, we doubt not, be deemed a sufficient reason for having preserved it in this Collection. It is somewhat remarkable, that it was advertised at the end of the original Examiner of May 17, and not at all in the Spectator.-Though published anonymously; from the initials J. G. being placed at the conclusion, and from its singular impartiality, there is great reason to suppose it the production of Mr. Gay. N.
THE PRESENT STATE OF WIT.
Westminster, May 3, 1711.
You acquaint me, in your last, that you are still so busy building at that your friends must not hope to see you in town this year; at the same time you desire me, that you may not be quite at a loss in conversation among the beau monde next winter, to send you an account of the present state of wit in town; which, without farther preface, I shall therefore endeavour to perform, and give you the histories and characters of all our periodical papers, whether monthly, weekly, or diurnal, with the same freedom I used to send you our other town news.
I shall only premise, that as you know I never cared one farthing either for whig or tory; so I shall consider our writers purely as they are such, without any respect to which party they may belong.
Dr. King has for some time laiu down his Monthly Philosophical Transactions, which, the titlepage informed us at first, were only "to be continued as they sold;"†
* Dr. William King, born in 1663, was educated at Westminster school, and thence elected a student of Christ Church; he was admitted an advocate in Doctors Commons in 1692, and appointed judge of the high court of admiralty in Ireland in 1702. A natural indolence, and a turn for dissipation, having greatly reduced his circumstances, he was indebted to the friendship of Dr. Swift, at the end of the year! 1711, for the office of gazetteer; which he enjoyed but a few months; the labour being more than suited his inclinations. He died Dec. 25, 1712. His Original Works, which are remarkable for a peculiar vein of humour, and exquisite raillery, were printed, with Historical Notes and Memoirs of the Author, in three volumes, 8vo. 1776. N The Monthly Transactions began in January, 1708-9; and end ed in September, 1709. N.
and though that gentleman has a world of wit, yet, as it lies in one particular way of raillery, the town soon grew weary of his writings; though I cannot but think, that their author deserves a much better fate than to languish out the small remainder of his life in the Fleet prison.
About the same time that the doctor left off writing, one Mr. Ozell* put out his Monthly Amusement, which is still continued; and, as it is generally some French novel or play indifferently translated, is more or less taken notice of as the original piece is more or less agreeable.
As to our weekly papers, the poor Review† is quite exhausted, and grown so very contemptible, that though he has provoked all his brothers of the quill round, none of them will enter into controversy with him. This fellow, who had excellent natural parts, but wanted a small foundation of learning, is a lively instance of those wits,
* John Ozell, a voluminous translator; who, having incurred the displeasure of Mr. Pope, was very severely handled by him and his Commentator, in the Dunciad and the notes upon it. Mr. Ozell published hardly any thing original; and his translations are not in much repute. He was auditor-general of the city and bridge acrompts, of St. Paul's cathedral, and of St. Thomas's hospital: and is said to have been a very worthy man, and an excellent companion. He died Oct. 15, 1743. N.
This paper was entirely the production of Daniel De Foe, who was equally famous for politics and poetry. He set out in life as a hosier; but in that situation being very unsuccessful, he was induced to apply to his pen for subsistence. He was invited in 1694 to settle at Cadiz, as an agent to the English merchants; which he declined from patriotic motives; and was some time after appointed accomptant to the commissioners of the glass duty. For one of his performan ces he was condemned to the pillory; and, when exalted above his fellows, he cheerfully underwent the punishment, and wrote "A Hymn. to the Pillory," as a defiance to the ministry. He published many books and pamphlets; but is perhaps at present best known by his "History of Robinson Crusoe." He died at Islington, in easy cir cumstances, and at a very advanced age, April 26, 1731. M
who, as an ingenious author says, skimming."
"will endure but one
The Observator was almost in the same condition; but, since our party struggles have run so high, he is much mended for the better; which is imputed to the charitable assistance of some outlying friends.* These two authors might, however, have flourished some time
* John Tutchin was concerned on the side of Monmouth in the time of Charles II; and, for a political piece which he wrote in favour of him afterward, was sentenced by Jefferies to be whipped through several towns in the West, and handled so severely that he petitioned James II. to be hanged. When that king died in exile, he wrote an invective against his memory, occasioned by some humane elegies on his death. The Observator (a title which had before been used by L'Estrange) was resumed by Tutchin, April 1, 1702; and continued by him till 1707; very manfully putting his name to all that he published. Becoming obnoxious to the tories, he was attacked by some unknown persons, who so cruelly beat him, as to occasion an illness which terminated in death. In the last paper which he published, he complains of being a prisoner for a small debt, which he was not able to pay; and that ever since he received the blows on his head, he had been languishing, and his head imposthumated. "Add to this," he says, an empty purse, sick heart, a numerous family, and being neg lected by my friends that I have served; and you need not wonder that my pulse beats low." Observator, Sept. 20, 1707. He died in three days after, at the age of 44. But his paper was continued by George Ridpath, under the title of "The Observator revived ;" and was published for "the advantage of the widow and family of Captain Tutchin."-Ridpath was also author of "The Flying Post," in opposition to "The Postboy" of Abel Roper; two scandalous papers, for which they equally and alternately deserved to be cudgeled, and were so:
There Ridpath, Roper, cudgel'd might ye view,
Ridpath was committed to Newgate, Sept. 8, 1712, for some scandalous reflections in "The Flying Post;" and it is remarkable that he and Roper both died on the same day, Nov. 16, 1729. N.
+ Good portraits of De Foe and Ridpath (who are styled "The British Libellers") were engraved under a head of Steele (in the character of "Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq. the British Censor") as an orna. ment to a whimsical poem in folio, called "The Three Champions,"