Story type: Essay
Thursday, June 12, 1712. Addison.
‘Qui mores hominun multorum vidit?’
When I consider this great City in its several Quarters and Divisions, I look upon it as an Aggregate of various Nations distinguished from each other by their respective Customs, Manners and Interests. The Courts of two Countries do not so much differ from one another, as the Court and City in their peculiar Ways of Life and Conversation. In short, the Inhabitants of St. James’s, notwithstanding they live under the same Laws, and speak the same Language, are a distinct People from those of Cheapside, who are likewise removed from those of the Temple on the one side, and those of Smithfield on the other, by several Climates and Degrees in their way of Thinking and Conversing together.
For this Reason, when any publick Affair is upon the Anvil, I love to hear the Reflections that arise upon it in the several Districts and Parishes of London and Westminster, and to ramble up and down a whole Day together, in order to make my self acquainted with the Opinions of my Ingenious Countrymen. By this means I know the Faces of all the principal Politicians within the Bills of Mortality; and as every Coffee-house has some particular Statesman belonging to it, who is the Mouth of the Street where he lives, I always take care to place my self near him, in order to know his Judgment on the present Posture of Affairs. The last Progress that I made with this Intention, was about three Months ago, when we had a current Report of the King of France’s Death. As I foresaw this would produce a new Face of things in Europe, and many curious Speculations in our British Coffee-houses, I was very desirous to learn the Thoughts of our most eminent Politicians on that Occasion.
That I might begin as near the Fountain Head as possible, I first of all called in at St James’s, where I found the whole outward Room in a Buzz of Politics. The Speculations were but very indifferent towards the Door, but grew finer as you advanced to the upper end of the Room, and were so very much improved by a Knot of Theorists, who sat in the inner Room, within the Steams of the Coffee-Pot, that I there heard the whole Spanish Monarchy disposed of, and all the Line of Bourbon provided for in less than a Quarter of an Hour.
I afterwards called in at Giles’s, where I saw a Board of French Gentlemen sitting upon the Life and Death of their Grand Monarque. Those among them who had espoused the Whig Interest, very positively affirmed, that he departed this Life about a Week since, and therefore proceeded without any further Delay to the Release of their Friends on the Gallies, and to their own Re-establishment; but finding they could not agree among themselves, I proceeded on my intended Progress.
Upon my Arrival at Jenny Man’s, I saw an alerte young Fellow that cocked his Hat upon a Friend of his who entered just at the same time with my self, and accosted him after the following Manner. Well, Jack, the old Prig is dead at last. Sharp’s the Word. Now or never, Boy. Up to the Walls of Paris directly. With several other deep Reflections of the same Nature.
I met with very little Variation in the Politics between Charing-Cross and Covent-Garden. And upon my going into Wills I found their Discourse was gone off from the Death of the French King to that of Monsieur Boileau, Racine, Corneile, and several other Poets, whom they regretted on this Occasion, as Persons who would have obliged the World with very noble Elegies on the Death of so great a Prince, and so eminent a Patron of Learning.
At a Coffee-house near the Temple, I found a couple of young Gentlemen engaged very smartly in a Dispute on the Succession to the Spanish Monarchy. One of them seemed to have been retained as Advocate for the Duke of Anjou, the other for his Imperial Majesty. They were both for regulating the Title to that Kingdom by the Statute Laws of England; but finding them going out of my Depth, I passed forward to Paul’s Church-Yard, where I listen’d with great Attention to a learned Man, who gave the Company an Account of the deplorable State of France during the Minority of the deceased King. I then turned on my right Hand into Fish-street, where the chief Politician of that Quarter, upon hearing the News, (after having taken a Pipe of Tobacco, and ruminated for some time) If, says he, the King of France is certainly dead, we shall have Plenty of Mackerell this Season; our Fishery will not be disturbed by Privateers, as it has been for these ten Years past. He afterwards considered how the Death of this great Man would affect our Pilchards, and by several other Remarks infused a general Joy into his whole Audience.
I afterwards entered a By Coffee-house that stood at the upper end of a narrow Lane, where I met with a Nonjuror, engaged very warmly with a Laceman who was the great Support of a neighbouring Conventicle. The Matter in Debate was, whether the late French King was most like Augustus Caesar, or Nero. The Controversie was carried on with great Heat on both Sides, and as each of them looked upon me very frequently during the Course of their Debate, I was under some Apprehension that they would appeal to me, and therefore laid down my Penny at the Bar, and made the best of my way to Cheapside.
I here gazed upon the Signs for some time before I found one to my Purpose. The first Object I met in the Coffeeroom was a Person who expressed a great Grief for the Death of the French King; but upon his explaining himself, I found his Sorrow did not arise from the Loss of the Monarch, but for his having sold out of the Bank about three Days before he heard the News of it: Upon which a Haberdasher, who was the Oracle of the Coffee-house, and had his Circle of Admirers about him, called several to witness that he had declared his Opinion above a Week before, that the French King was certainly dead; to which he added, that considering the late Advices we had received from France, it was impossible that it could be otherwise. As he was laying these together, and dictating to his Hearers with great Authority, there came in a Gentleman from Garraway’s, who told us that there were several Letters from France just come in, with Advice that the King was in good Health, and was gone out a Hunting the very Morning the Post came away: Upon which the Haberdasher stole off his Hat that hung upon a wooden Pegg by him, and retired to his Shop with great Confusion. This Intelligence put a Stop to my Travels, which I had prosecuted with [much ] Satisfaction; not being a little pleased to hear so many different Opinions upon so great an Event, and to observe how naturally upon such a Piece of News every one is apt to consider it with a Regard to his own particular Interest and Advantage.
[Footnote 1: [great]]