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Exquiritque, auditque, virum monumenta priorum.
Of all our dealers in second-hand wares, few bring their goods to so bad a market, as those humble wits who retail other peoples' worn-out jokes. A man's good sayings are so personally his own, and depend so much upon manner and circumstances, that they make a poor figure in other people's mouths, and suffer even more by printing than they do by repeating: It is also a very difficult thing to pen a witticism; for by the time we have adjusted all the descriptive arrangements of this man said, and t'other man replied, we have miserably blunted the edge of the repartee. These difficulties however have been happily overcome by Mr. Joseph Miller and other facetious compilers, whose works are in general circulation, and may be heard of in most clubs and companies where gentlemen meet, who love to say a good thing without the trouble of inventing it. We are also in a fair train of knowing every thing that a late celebrated author said, as well as wrote, without an exception even of his most secret ejaculations. We may judge how valuable these diaries will be to posterity, when we reflect how much we should now be edified, had any of the antients given us as minute a collectanea of their illustrious contemporaries.
We have, it is true, a few of Cicero's table-jokes; but how delightful would it be to know what he
said, when nobody heard him! How piously he reproached himself when he laid in bed too late in a morning, or eat too heartily at Hortensius's or Cæsar's table. We are told indeed that Cato the Censor loved his jest, but we should have been doubly glad to have partaken of it: what a pity it is that nobody thought it worth their while to record some pleasanter specimen than Macrobius has given us of his retort upon Q. Albidius, a glutton and a spendthrift, when his house was on fire- What he could not eat, he has burnt,' said Cato; where the point of the jest lies in the allusion to a particular kind of sacrifice, and the good humour of it with himself. It was better said by P. Syrus the actor, when he saw one Mucius, a malevolent fellow, in a very melancholy mood- Either some ill fortune has befallen Mucius, or some good has happened to one of his acquaintance.' .
A man's fame shall be recorded to posterity by the trifling merit of a jest, when the great things he has done would else have been buried in oblivion: Who would now have known that L. Mallius was once the best painter in Rome, if it was not for his repartee to Servilius Geminus? You paint better than you model,' says Geminus, pointing to Mallius's children, who were crooked and ill-favoured. Like enough,' replied the artist; I paint in the daylight, but I model, as you call it, in the
Cicero, it is well known, was a great joker, and some of his good sayings have reached us; it does not appear as if his wit had been of the malicious sort, and yet Pompey, whose temper could not stand a jest, was so galled by him, that he is reported to have said with great bitterness-Oh! that Cicero would go over to my enemies, for then he would be afraid of me.'-If Cicero forgave this
sarcasm, I should call him not only a better-tempered, but a braver man than Pompey.
But of all the antient wits, Augustus seems to have had most point, and he was as remarkable for taking a jest, as for giving it. A country fellow came to Rome, who was so like the emperor, that all the city ran after him; Augustus heard of it, and ordering the man into his presence- Harkye, friend!' says he, when was your mother in Rome?' Never, an please you!' replied the countryman, but my father has been here many a time and oft.' The anecdote of the old soldier is still more to his credit: he solicited the emperor to defend him in a suit; Augustus sent his own advocate into court; the soldier was dissatisfied, and said to the emperor I did not fight for you by proxy at Actium'-Augustus felt the reproof, and condescended to his request in person. When Pacuvius
Taurus greedily solicited a largess from the empe ror, and to urge him to the greater liberality added, that all the world would have it, that he had made him a very bountiful donation-But you know better,' said Augustus, than to believe the world, -and dismissed the sycophant without his errand. I shall mention one more case, where, by a very courtly evasion, he parried the solicitation of his captain of the guard, who had been cashiered, and was petitioning the emperor to allow him his pay; telling him that he did not ask that indulgence for the sake of the money which might accrue to him, but that he might have it to say he had resigned his commission, and not been cashiered- If that be all your reason,' says the emperor, 'tell the world that you have received it, and I will not deny that I have paid it.'
Vatinius, who was noted to a proverb as a common slanderer, and particularly obnoxious for his
scurrility against Cicero, was pelted by the populace in the amphitheatre, whilst he was giving them the Gladiators: he complained to the Ediles of the insult, and got an edict forbidding the people to cast any thing into the area but apples. An arch fellow brought a furious large fir-apple to the famous lawyer Cascellius, and demanded his opinion upon the edict. I am of opinion,' says Cascellius, that your fir-apple is literally and legally an apple, with this proviso however, that you intend to throw it at Natinius's head."
As there is some danger in making too free with old jokes, I shall hold my hand for the present; but if these should succeed in being acceptable to my readers, I shall not be afraid of meeting Mr. Joseph Miller and his modern witticisms with my antients. In that case I shall not despair of being to lay before the public a veritable Roman newspaper, com-. pounded of events in the days of Julius Cæsar: by what happy chance I traced this valuable relic, and with what pains I possessed myself of it, may be matter of future explanation: I have the satisfaction however to premise to the reader, that it is written with great freedom, and as well sprinkled with private anecdotes as any of the present day, whose agreeable familiarity is so charming to every body but the parties concerned: it has also a good dash of the dramatic; and as some fastidious people have been inclined to treat our intelligencers and reviewers with a degree of neglect bordering upon contempt, I shall have pleasure in shewing that they have classical authority for all their quirks and conceits, and that they are all written in the true quaint spirit of criticism: it is to be lamented that the Roman theatre furnishes no ladies to match the heroines of our stage; but I can produce some encomiums upon Laberius, Roscius, and the famous
Publius Syrus, which would not be unapplicable to some of our present capital actors: I am sorry to be obliged to confess, that they were not in the habit of speaking epilogues in those days; but I have a substitute in a prologue written and spoken by Decimus Laberius, which I am tempted to throw out as a lure to my newspaper; but I must first explain upon what occasion it was composed.
This Laberius was a Roman knight of good family, and a man withal of high spirit and pretensions, but unfortunately he had a talent for the drama: he read his own plays better than any man then living could act them, for neither Garrick nor Henderson was yet born. P. Clodius, the fine gentleman and rake of the age, had the indecorum to press Laberius to come forward on the public stage, and take the principal character in one of his own plays: Laberius was indignant, and Clodius proceeded to menaces: Do your worst,' says the Roman knight, you can but send me to Dyracchium and back again'-proudly intimating that he would suffer the like banishment with Cicero, rather than consent to his demand; for acting was not then the amusemeut of people of fashion, and private theatres were not thought of. Julius Cæsar was no less captivated with Laberius's talents than Clodius had been, and being a man not apt to be discouraged by common difficulties, took up the same solicitation, and assailed our Roman knight, who was now sixty years of age, and felt his powers in their decline: conscious of this decline no less than of his own dignity, he resisted the degrading request; he interceded, he implored of Cæsar to excuse him: it was to no purpose, Cæsar had made it his point, and his point he would carry the word of Cæsar was law, and Laberius, driven out of all his defences, was obliged to submit and com