'The Character of the Tatler', c. 1709
SIR, As to that Part of your Letter wherein you lay your Commands upon me, to give you some Account of the Author of a Paper ca11'd, 'The Tat1er', and who he is, I have taken what Care I can to gratifie your Curiosity in this Point, tho' to little or no Purpose, for after the most diligent Enquiry I cannot find him: I thought I had had him once, coming to the House where he was said to be at Dinner; but as I entered the Room he disappear'd; whether he flew out of the Window, or up the Chimney, or what other Way he escaped, I cannot say: But I am informed he is very much like will in the Whisp, he is always farther off when you conceive you have him in your Hand. The most I can learn of him is that his True Name is Abednego Umbra; (1) he was formerly in the Reign of King Thorismond the Second a Member of the Colledge in the University of -; (2) I am acquainted with a Fellow of the same House with him, his Contemporary, who remembers Nego, as they us'd to call him, perfectly well, who gives me this Description of him, That he is a Tall, Short, Lean, Fat,
204 Addison and Steele: The Critical Heritage
Black, Fair, Dull, Witty, Somebody, Nobody, and so forth; from whence you may guess whence he was Born, that is, what Countryman he is, without a Pair of Spectacles. He was Born of Christian Parents, (as 'tis whispered, for 'tis said he denies it,) whose Nativity was Calculated by Prophet Partridge a little before his Death; but he would not speak out what Destiny the Stars had assigned him to, but he left it in Shorthand, as a Legacy to his Wife - , but never to be Publish'd till after his Resurrection which is to be on the same Day with Monsieur the French Chymical Prophet, some Time since also Deceas'd, at least he disappear'd. Here are strange Stories go of this 'Tatler': He so often varies his Shape, that Proteus, Posture Clerk and Gerkin, are but Tom Fools to him. But what is most surprizing, is that he can change others also as well as himself into what Forms he pleases; which Operation he performs by a new-invented Sort of Mathematical Mill, call'd, Whimsie, into which he puts the Subject Matter he is to work upon. And tho' the Persons he seizes go into the Whimsical Mill never so Beautiful, Wise, Prudent, Learned, &c. they immediately come out again the most Hideous, Deformed, Ignorant, Foolish, Ridiculous, Animals imaginable; (3) not fit to be Ambassadors to Scare-Crows, or to the King of Bantam. (3) This Engine, I mean the Whimsie Mill, is managed by a limited number of Performers, called Directors, (4) who meet so many Times a Week to consider with great Deliberation about the Method of carrying on this Grand Affair of so much Consequence to the Sleepy World; no one is to be entered into this Society but under the Sacred Seal of Secresie, and signing a Paper, whereby they oblige themselves to call every Thing by a Wrong Name, take every Thing in a Wrong Sense, and put False, and Rude, New and Unheard-of, Interpretations upon Nature, Manners, and Religion. Two of these most Famous Directors are Dr. T--------I, an Old Fumbling Pedlar, a Seller of Small Wares to Poor, Silly, People, who have bad Eyes. Mr. H----y, that Famous Polemical Knight Errant, who has challenged all the Race of Nimrod, the great Hunter, to show a better Title to their own Dominions than he can to them, for himself, L----y, (5) he is now entering the Lists against Gog, Magog, and vows he will not leave a Giant living upon Earth. But of this Class I am assured you will hear more hereafter. But to return to the Esq; strongly presumed to be Seignior Chalybo; Captain 8----1, that mighty Wit, who surpasses all Mens Understanding, and knows Nobody, even not himself: For tho' there was a Time when he was Poor Seignior Chalybo, he now, I say, is willing to change his Name, and to be I.~.- Esq; with a
205 Addison and Steele: The Critical Heritage
seeming great deal of Entreaty; tho' I must confess I fancy Fame is mistaken in the Name, for Seignior Chalybo is all Perfection, all Humane, all Polite; he is Somebody, and his Jests and Turns are all very Natural, but Esq; B alias Abednego Umbra, scorns to be confined to Civility of Nature; he Soars above common Thoughts and Actions; he turns all the Creatures he Transmutes into Figures, the most unlike Nature possible, and to what they were before in themselves. He turns a pretty Parrot into a Rhinoceros, an humble Bee into an Elephant, for the Service of Aurenge Zebe, (6) &c. But how comes this to be discover'd? Why, they say one Tonsonius, (7) a Sorcerer, is conveyed into his Presence every Night, riding upon the Back of a Palantine (but he must be Hoodwinkt,) where without saying one Word upon Forfeiture of his Life and Fortune, there is put into his Hand an Engine, called a Clavis, which goes by the Name of The Modern Interpreter of Metamorphoses. Mrs. Crackenthorpe (8) hearing that Esq; B, was acquainted with Mr. Flamsted, writ an Ingenious Letter to him by the Peny-Post, to meet her at the said Philosopher's House in Greenwich-Park at the Hour One, by Moon-light, (knowing the Esq's; Bashfulness, how 10th he was to be seen Publickly and Barefac'd,) that they Three might be Merry together, and Dance the Hay. She comes to the Place appointed, when behold who should she meet there but the Devil upon Two Sticks; the poor Lady fell in Fits, and from that Fright has never been able to write Sense, of which sad Mischance her Printer gives the World an Account Three Times a Week.