A Hundred Years Ago
THE " SPECTATOR," OCTOBER l7ru, 1829. LETTERS FROM A RECLUSE.
You, who are a Spectator on one of the great stages of the world, can have no idea how events strike the mind of a recluse like myself, who lives in a solitude, and sees the world only through the windows of newspapers. Not a breath of opinion reaches the stillness in which I live : I am removed far beyond the reach of even the distant hum of society, or as the modern orthography I believe orders it, the humbug. A candid French writer says, If I may judge from myself, man is a stupid animal " ; and if I may judge from my own condition of understanding, the suggested interpretation of the above proverb is too true a one. Depend upon it, a single mind is as incapable of digesting knowledge, as a single millstone is incapable of grinding corn. Friction is a law of nature.
Why is it that a man cannot walk straight and steady on a dizzy 7—Because, answer the philosophers, ho wants objects of comparison by which he may regulate his perpendicular ; for though man walks every day, yet being, as the Frenchman observes, a stupid animal, he never acquires the art of performing the exercise without such outward aids. Goats have here the advantage ; but I am not a goat, my friend, and my under- standing totters in its narrow and solitary path, for want of immediate objects assuring correctness. The newspapers spread the world in a map under may eye ; but what a chart is to an untravelled man, they are to me—I see this topic and that topic, but have no idea of their true characters, proportions, and relative importance. For example, I have this week read of the peace between Russia and Turkey, the debut of Miss Kemble, and the imperial of Lord Stuart de Rothesay ; and I can scarcely judge which. matter is considered as of greatest moment to society. It seems to me as if your news-writers wrote on music-paper, with five scores of emphasis under every line. Or, to speak graphically, there is no perspective in your prints ; which are to my eye as Chinese landscapes. You, who see the actual move- ments of the world, doubtless know from_ experience how to inter- pret the representations of them ; but to judge of my perplexities, you must consider what I am, and that you cannot understand without knowing where I am, and how I live.
Within a dozen miles there is not a person with whom I can converse ; and for days together I speak only to my housekeeper, and a helper who tends my horse, and what is termed the garden. Through this gaunt scene, cut a couple of square apertures ; insert the frames of the Chronicle and the Standard ; and you have my position and means of seeing the world.
On Wednesday, the street-keeper of Cheapside applied to the Lord Mayor for an order to compel the hackney-coachmen to leave the stand in that street. The Lord Mayor said, it would no doubt be a great convenience to the shop-keepers in Cheapside, to get rid of the coach-stand ; but he advised the deputies to consult with the city solicitor. The hackney-coachmen ask where they are to have a stand,if not in a wide street ; and whether, the accommodation of the public is not of more importance than that of a few shopkeepers who took up their abode in Cheapside with the knowledge of the established hackney-coach stand opposite to them 7 In other parts of the City, it is said, similar attempts will be made to drive away the hackney-coaches.