No. 367 [from The Spectator] by Joseph Addison

Story type: Essay

No. 367
Thursday, May 1, 1712. Addison.

‘–Periturae parcite chartae.’


I have often pleased my self with considering the two kinds of Benefits which accrue to the Publick from these my Speculations, and which, were I to speak after the manner of Logicians, I would distinguish into the Material and the Formal. By the latter I understand those Advantages which my Readers receive, as their Minds are either improv’d or delighted by these my daily Labours; but having already several times descanted on my Endeavours in this Light, I shall at present wholly confine my self to the Consideration of the former. By the Word Material I mean those Benefits which arise to the Publick from these my Speculations, as they consume a considerable quantity of our Paper Manufacture, employ our Artisans in Printing, and find Business for great Numbers of Indigent Persons.

Our Paper-Manufacture takes into it several mean Materials which could be put to no other use, and affords Work for several Hands in the collecting of them, which are incapable of any other Employment. Those poor Retailers, whom we see so busy in every Street, deliver in their respective Gleanings to the Merchant. The Merchant carries them in Loads to the Paper-Mill, where they pass thro’ a fresh Set of Hands, and give life to another Trade. Those who have Mills on their Estates, by this means considerably raise their Rents, and the whole Nation is in a great measure supply’d with a Manufacture, for which formerly she was obliged to her Neighbours.

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The Materials are no sooner wrought into Paper, but they are distributed among the Presses, where they again set innumerable Artists at Work, and furnish Business to another Mystery. From hence, accordingly as they are stain’d with News or Politicks, they fly thro’ the Town in Post-Men, Post-Boys, Daily-Courants, Reviews, Medleys, and Examiners. Men, Women, and Children contend who shall be the first Bearers of them, and get their daily Sustenance by spreading them. In short, when I trace in my Mind a Bundle of Rags to a Quire of Spectators, I find so many Hands employ’d in every Step they take thro their whole Progress, that while I am writing a Spectator, I fancy my self providing Bread for a Multitude.

If I do not take care to obviate some of my witty Readers, they will be apt to tell me, that my Paper, after it is thus printed and published, is still beneficial to the Publick on several Occasions. I must confess I have lighted my Pipe with my own Works for this Twelve-month past: My Landlady often sends up her little Daughter to desire some of my old Spectators, and has frequently told me, that the Paper they are printed on is the best in the World to wrap Spice in. They likewise make a good Foundation for a Mutton pye, as I have more than once experienced, and were very much sought for, last Christmas, by the whole Neighbourhood.

It is pleasant enough to consider the Changes that a Linnen Fragment undergoes, by passing thro’ the several Hands above mentioned. The finest pieces of Holland, when worn to Tatters, assume a new Whiteness more beautiful than their first, and often return in the shape of Letters to their Native Country. A Lady’s Shift may be metamorphosed into Billet[s]-doux, and come into her Possession a second time. A Beau may peruse his Cravat after it is worn out, with greater Pleasure and Advantage than ever he did in a Glass. In a word, a Piece of Cloth, after having officiated for some Years as a Towel or a Napkin, may by this means be raised from a Dung-hill, and become the most valuable Piece of Furniture in a Prince’s Cabinet.

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The politest Nations of Europe have endeavoured to vie with one another for the Reputation of the finest Printing: Absolute Governments, as well as Republicks, have encouraged an Art which seems to be the noblest and most beneficial that was ever invented among the Sons of Men. The present King of France, in his Pursuits after Glory, has particularly distinguished himself by the promoting of this useful Art, insomuch that several Books have been printed in the Louvre at his own Expence, upon which he sets so great a value, that he considers them as the noblest Presents he can make to foreign Princes and Ambassadors. If we look into the Commonwealths of Holland and Venice, we shall find that in this Particular they have made themselves the Envy of the greatest Monarchies. Elziver and Aldus are more frequently mentioned than any Pensioner of the one or Doge of the other.

The several Presses which are now in England, and the great Encouragement which has been given to Learning for some Years last past, has made our own Nation as glorious upon this Account, as for its late Triumphs and Conquests. The new Edition which is given us of Caesar’s Commentaries, has already been taken notice of in foreign Gazettes, and is a Work that does honour to the English Press. [1] It is no wonder that an Edition should be very correct, which has passed thro’ the Hands of one of the most accurate, learned and judicious Writers this Age has produced. The Beauty of the Paper, of the Character, and of the several Cuts with which this noble Work is illustrated, makes it the finest Book that I have ever seen; and is a true Instance of the English Genius, which, tho’ it does not come the first into any Art, generally carries it to greater Heights than any other Country in the World. I am particularly glad that this Author comes from a British Printing-house in so great a Magnificence, as he is the first who has given us any tolerable Account of our Country.

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My Illiterate Readers, if any such there are, will be surprized to hear me talk of Learning as the Glory of a Nation, and of Printing as an Art that gains a Reputation to a People among whom it flourishes. When Men’s Thoughts are taken up with Avarice and Ambition, they cannot look upon any thing as great or valuable, which does not bring with it an extraordinary Power or Interest to the Person who is concerned in it. But as I shall never sink this Paper so far as to engage with Goths and Vandals, I shall only regard such kind of Reasoners with that Pity which is due to so Deplorable a Degree of Stupidity and Ignorance.


[Footnote 1: Just published, 1712, by Dr. Samuel Clarke, then 37 years old. He had been for 12 years chaplain to the Bishop of Norwich, and Boyle Lecturer in 1704-5, when he took for his subject the Being and Attributes of God and the Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion. He had also translated Newton’s Optics, and was become chaplain to the Queen, Rector of St. Jamess, Westminster, and D. D. of Cambridge. The accusations of heterodoxy that followed him through his after life date from this year, 1712, in which, besides the edition of Caesar, he published a book on the Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity.]

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