The citizen of the world: or, letters from a Chinese philosopher, residing in London, to his friends in the east. ... [pt.1]
Goldsmith, Oliver, 1730?-1774.
Page  122

LETTER XXVIII.

From the same.

WERE we to estimate the learning of the English by the number of books that are every day published among them, perhaps no country, not even China itself, could equal them in this particular. I have reckoned not less than twenty-three new books published in one day; which upon computation, makes eight thousand three hundred and ninety-five in one year. Most of these are not confined to one single science, but embrace the whole circle. History, po∣liticks, poetry, mathematics, metaphysics, and the philosophy of nature are all comprized in a manual not larger than that in which our children are taught the letters. If then we suppose the learned of England to read but an eighth part of the works which daily come from the press (and sure none can pretend to learning upon less easy terms) at this rate every scholar will read a thousand books in one year. From such a calculation you may conjecture what an amazing fund of literature a man must be possessed of, who thus reads three new books every day, not one of which but contains all the good things that ever were said or written.

And yet I know not how it happens, but the En∣glish are not in reality so learned as would seem from this calculation. We meet but few who know all arts and sciences to perfection; whether it is that the ge∣nerality are incapable of such extensive knowledge, or that the authors of those books are not adequate in∣structors. Page  123 In China, the emperor himself takes cog∣nisance of all the doctors in the kingdom who profess authorship. In England, every man may be an author that can write; for they have by law a liberty not only of saying what they please, but of being also as dull as they please.

Yesterday I testified my surprize to the man in black, where writers could be found in sufficient number to throw off the books I daily saw crowding from the press. I at first imagined, that their learned seminaries might take this method of instructing the world. But to obviate this objection, my companion assured me, that the doctors of colleges never wrote, and that some of them had actually forgot their reading; but if you desire, continued he, to see a collection of authors, I fancy, I can introduce you this evening to a club, which assembles every Saturday at seven, at the sign of the Broom near Islington, to talk over the business of the last, and the entertainment of the week ensuing. I accepted his invitation, we walked together, and en∣tered the house some time before the usual hour for the company assembling.

My friend took this opportunity of letting me into the characters of the principal members of the club, not even the host excepted, who, it seems, was once an author himself, but preferred by a bookseller to this situation as a reward for his former services.

The first person, said he, of our society, is doctor Nonentity, a metaphysician. Most people think him a profound scholar; but as he seldom speaks, I cannot be positive in that particular; he generally spreads Page  124 himself before the fire, sucks his pipe, talks little, drinks much, and is reckoned very good company. I'm told he writes indexes to perfection, he makes essays on the origin of evil, philosophical enquiries upon any subject, and draws up an answer to any book upon twenty-four hours warning. You may distin∣guish him from the rest of the company by his long grey wig, and the blue handkerchief round his neck.

The next to him in merit and esteem is Tim Sylla∣bub, a drole creature; he sometimes shines as a star of the first magnitude among the choice spirits of the age; he is reckoned equally excellent at a rebus, a riddle, a baudy song, and an hymn for the tabernacle. You will know him by his shabby finery, his powdered wig, dirty shirt, and broken silk stockings.

After him succeeds Mr. Tibs, a very useful hand; he writes receipts for the bite of a mad dog, and throws off an eastern tale to perfection; he under∣stands the business of an author as well as any man; for no bookseller alive can cheat him; you may distinguish him by the peculiar clumsiness of his figure and the coarseness of his coat: however, though it be coarse, (as he frequently tells the company) he has paid for it.

Lawyer Squint is the politician of the society; he makes speeches for parliament, writes addresses to his fellow subjects, and letters to noble commanders; he gives the history of every new play, and finds season∣able thoughts upon every occasion.—My companion Page  12 was proceeding in his description, when the host came running in with terror on his countenance to tell us, that the door was beset with bailiffs. If that be the case then, says my companion, we had as good be going; for I am positive we shall not see one of the company this night. Wherefore disappointed we were both obliged to return home, he to enjoy the oddities which compose his character alone, and I to write as usual to my friend the occurrences of the day.

Adieu.