Story type: Essay
Friday, April 6, 1711. Steele.
‘Nil illi larva aut tragicis opus esse Cothurnis.’
The late Discourse concerning the Statutes of the Ugly-Club, having been so well received at Oxford, that, contrary to the strict Rules of the Society, they have been so partial as to take my own Testimonial, and admit me into that select Body; I could not restrain the Vanity of publishing to the World the Honour which is done me. It is no small Satisfaction, that I have given Occasion for the President’s shewing both his Invention and Reading to such Advantage as my Correspondent reports he did: But it is not to be doubted there were many very proper Hums and Pauses in his Harangue, which lose their Ugliness in the Narration, and which my Correspondent (begging his Pardon) has no very good Talent at representing. I very much approve of the Contempt the Society has of Beauty: Nothing ought to be laudable in a Man, in which his Will is not concerned; therefore our Society can follow Nature, and where she has thought fit, as it were, to mock herself, we can do so too, and be merry upon the Occasion.
‘Your making publick the late Trouble I gave you, you will find to have been the Occasion of this: Who should I meet at the Coffee-house Door t’other Night, but my old Friend Mr. President? I saw somewhat had pleased him; and as soon as he had cast his Eye upon me,
“Oho, Doctor, rare News from London, (says he); the SPECTATOR has made honourable Mention of the Club (Man) and published to the World his sincere Desire to be a Member, with a recommendatory Description of his Phiz: And tho’ our Constitution has made no particular Provision for short Faces, yet, his being an extraordinary Case, I believe we shall find an Hole for him to creep in at; for I assure you he is not against the Canon; and if his Sides are as compact as his Joles, he need not disguise himself to make one of us.”
I presently called for the Paper to see how you looked in Print; and after we had regaled our selves a while upon the pleasant Image of our Proselite, Mr. President told me I should be his Stranger at the next Night’s Club: Where we were no sooner come, and Pipes brought, but Mr. President began an Harangue upon your Introduction to my Epistle; setting forth with no less Volubility of Speech than Strength of Reason, “That a Speculation of this Nature was what had been long and much wanted; and that he doubted not but it would be of inestimable Value to the Publick, in reconciling even of Bodies and Souls; in composing and quieting the Minds of Men under all corporal Redundancies, Deficiencies, and Irregularities whatsoever; and making every one sit down content in his own Carcase, though it were not perhaps so mathematically put together as he could wish.” And again, “How that for want of a due Consideration of what you first advance, viz. that our Faces are not of our own choosing, People had been transported beyond all good Breeding, and hurried themselves into unaccountable and fatal Extravagancies: As, how many impartial Looking-Glasses had been censured and calumniated, nay, and sometimes shivered into ten thousand Splinters, only for a fair Representation of the Truth? How many Headstrings and Garters had been made accessory, and actually forfeited, only because Folks must needs quarrel with their own Shadows? And who (continues he) but is deeply sensible, that one great Source of the Uneasiness and Misery of human Life, especially amongst those of Distinction, arises from nothing in the World else, but too severe a Contemplation of an indefeasible Contexture of our external Parts, or certain natural and invincible Disposition to be fat or lean? When a little more of Mr. SPECTATOR’S Philosophy would take off all this; and in the mean time let them observe, that there’s not one of their Grievances of this Sort, but perhaps in some Ages of the World has been highly in vogue; and may be so again, nay, in some Country or other ten to one is so at this Day. My Lady Ample is the most miserable Woman in the World, purely of her own making: She even grudges her self Meat and Drink, for fear she should thrive by them; and is constantly crying out, In a Quarter of a Year more I shall be quite out of all manner of Shape! Now [the] Lady’s Misfortune seems to be only this, that she is planted in a wrong Soil; for, go but t’other Side of the Water, it’s a Jest at Harlem to talk of a Shape under eighteen Stone. These wise Traders regulate their Beauties as they do their Butter, by the Pound; and Miss Cross, when she first arrived in the Low-Countries, was not computed to be so handsom as Madam Van Brisket by near half a Tun. On the other hand, there’s ‘Squire Lath, a proper Gentleman of Fifteen hundred Pound per Annum, as well as of an unblameable Life and Conversation; yet would not I be the Esquire for half his Estate; for if it was as much more, he’d freely pare with it all for a pair of Legs to his Mind: Whereas in the Reign of our first King Edward of glorious Memory, nothing more modish than a Brace of your fine taper Supporters; and his Majesty without an Inch of Calf, managed Affairs in Peace and War as laudably as the bravest and most politick of his Ancestors; and was as terrible to his Neighbours under the Royal Name of Long-shanks, as Coeur de Lion to the Saracens before him. If we look farther back into History we shall find, that Alexander the Great wore his Head a little over the left Shoulder; and then not a Soul stirred out ’till he had adjusted his Neck-bone; the whole Nobility addressed the Prince and each other obliquely, and all Matters of Importance were concerted and carried on in the Macedonian Court with their Polls on one Side. For about the first Century nothing made more Noise in the World than Roman Noses, and then not a Word of them till they revived again in Eighty eight.  Nor is it so very long since Richard the Third set up half the Backs of the Nation; and high Shoulders, as well as high Noses, were the Top of the Fashion. But to come to our selves, Gentlemen, tho’ I find by my quinquennial Observations that we shall never get Ladies enough to make a Party in our own Country, yet might we meet with better Success among some of our Allies. And what think you if our Board sate for a Dutch Piece? Truly I am of Opinion, that as odd as we appear in Flesh and Blood, we should be no such strange Things in Metzo-Tinto. But this Project may rest ’till our Number is compleat; and this being our Election Night, give me leave to propose Mr. SPECTATOR: You see his Inclinations, and perhaps we may not have his Fellow.”
I found most of them (as it is usual in all such Cases) were prepared; but one of the Seniors (whom by the by Mr. President had taken all this Pains to bring over) sate still, and cocking his Chin, which seemed only to be levelled at his Nose, very gravely declared,
“That in case he had had sufficient Knowledge of you, no Man should have been more willing to have served you; but that he, for his part, had always had regard to his own Conscience, as well as other Peoples Merit; and he did not know but that you might be a handsome Fellow; for as for your own Certificate, it was every Body’s Business to speak for themselves.”
Mr. President immediately retorted,
“A handsome Fellow! why he is a Wit (Sir) and you know the Proverb;”
and to ease the old Gentleman of his Scruples, cried,
“That for Matter of Merit it was all one, you might wear a Mask.”
This threw him into a Pause, and he looked, desirous of three Days to consider on it; but Mr. President improved the Thought, and followed him up with an old Story,
“That Wits were privileged to wear what Masks they pleased in all Ages; and that a Vizard had been the constant Crown of their Labours, which was generally presented them by the Hand of some Satyr, and sometimes of Apollo himself:”
For the Truth of which he appealed to the Frontispiece of several Books, and particularly to the English Juvenal,  to which he referred him; and only added,
“That such Authors were the Larvati  or Larva donati of the Ancients.”
This cleared up all, and in the Conclusion you were chose Probationer; and Mr. President put round your Health as such, protesting,
“That tho’ indeed he talked of a Vizard, he did not believe all the while you had any more Occasion for it than the Cat-a-mountain;”
so that all you have to do now is to pay your Fees, which here are very reasonable if you are not imposed upon; and you may stile your self Informis Societatis Socius: Which I am desired to acquaint you with; and upon the same I beg you to accept of the Congratulation of,
Your oblig’d humble Servant,
R. A. C.
Oxford March 21.
[Footnote 1: this]
[Footnote 2: At the coming of William III.]
[Footnote 3: The third edition of Dryden’s Satires of Juvenal and Persius, published in 1702, was the first ‘adorn’d with Sculptures.’ The Frontispiece represents at full length Juvenal receiving a mask of Satyr from Apollo’s hand, and hovered over by a Cupid who will bind the Head to its Vizard with a Laurel Crown.]
[Footnote 4: Larvati were bewitched persons; from Larva, of which the original meaning is a ghost or spectre; the derived meanings are, a Mask and a Skeleton.]