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Monday, October 22, 2012

Eighteenth Century Reality TV

"But these people are not more fond of wonders than liberal in rewarding those who show them.  From the wonderful dog of knowledge, at present under the patronage of the nobility, down to the man with the box, who professes to show 'the best imitation of nature that was ever seen,' they all live in luxury.  A singing woman shall collect subscriptions in her own coach and six;  a fellow shall make a fortune by tossing a straw hat from his toe to his nose;  one in particular has found that eating fire was the most ready way to live;  and, another, who jingles several bells fixed to his cap, is the only man that I know of who has received emolument from the labours of his head.

A young author, a man of good-nature and learning, was complaining to me some nights ago of this misplaced generosity of the times.  'Here,' says he, 'have I spent part of my youth in attempting to instruct and amuse my fellow-creatures, and all my reward has been solitude, poverty, and reproach;  while a fellow, possessed of even the smallest share of fiddling merit, or who has perhaps learned to whistle double, is rewarded, applauded, and caressed!'  'Prithee, young man,' says I to him, 'are you ignorant, that in so large a city as this it is better to be an amusing than a useful member of society?  Can you leap up, and touch your feet four times before you come to the ground?'  'No, sir.'  'Can you pimp for a man of quality?'  'No, sir.'  'Can you stand upon two horses at full speed?'  'No, sir.'  'Can you swallow a penknife?'  'I can do none of these tricks.'  'Why then,' cried I, 'there is no other prudent means of subsistence left, but to apprise the town that you speedily intend to eat up your own nose by subscription.'The Citizen of the World by Oliver Goldsmith, Letter Forty-Five

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