No. 221. Tuesday, November 13, 1711. Addison.

--Ab Ovo Usque ad Mala--

When I have finished any of my Speculations, it is my Method to consider which of the ancient Authors have touched upon the Subject that I treat of. By this means I meet with some celebrated Thought upon it, or a Thought of my own expressed in better Words, or some Similitude for the Illustration of my Subject. This is what gives Birth to the Motto of a Speculation, which I rather chuse to take out of the Poets than the Prose-writers, as the former generally give a finer Turn to a Thought than the latter, and by couching it in few Words, and in harmonious Numbers, make it more portable to the Memory.

My Reader is therefore sure to meet with at least one good Line in every Paper, and very often finds his Imagination entertained by a Hint that awakens in his Memory some beautiful Passage of a Classick Author.

It was a Saying of an ancient Philosopher, which I find some of our Writers have ascribed to Queen Elizabeth, who perhaps might have taken occasion to repeat it, That a good Face is a Letter of Recommendation. [1] It naturally makes the Beholders inquisitive into the Person who is the Owner of it, and generally prepossesses them in his Favour. A handsome Motto has the same Effect. Besides that, it always gives a Supernumerary Beauty to a Paper, and is sometimes in a manner necessary when the Writer is engaged in what may appear a Paradox to vulgar Minds, as it shews that he is supported by good Authorities, and is not singular in his Opinion.

I must confess, the Motto is of little Use to an unlearned Reader, for which Reason I consider it only as a Word to the Wise. But as for my unlearned Friends, if they cannot relish the Motto, I take care to make Provision for them in the Body of my Paper. If they do not understand the Sign that is hung out, they know very well by it, that they may meet with Entertainment in the House; and I think I was never better pleased than with a plain Man's Compliment, who, upon his Friends telling him that he would like the Spectator much better if he understood the Motto, replied, That good Wine needs no Bush.

I have heard of a Couple of Preachers in a Country Town, who endeavoured which should outshine one another, and draw together the greatest Congregation. One of them being well versed in the Fathers, used to quote every now and then a Latin Sentence to his illiterate Hearers, who it seems found themselves so edified by it, that they flocked in greater Numbers to this learned Man than to his Rival. The other finding his Congregation mouldering every Sunday, and hearing at length what was the Occasion of it, resolved to give his Parish a little Latin in his Turn; but being unacquainted with any of the Fathers, he digested into his Sermons the whole Book of Quæ Genus, adding however such Explications to it as he thought might be for the Benefit of his People. He afterwards entered upon As in præsenti, [2] which he converted in the same manner to the Use of his Parishioners. This in a very little time thickned his Audience, filled his Church, and routed his Antagonist.

The natural Love to Latin which is so prevalent in our common People, makes me think that my Speculations fare never the worse among them for that little Scrap which appears at the Head of them; and what the more encourages me in the Use of Quotations in an unknown Tongue is, that I hear the Ladies, whose Approbation I value more than that of the whole Learned World, declare themselves in a more particular manner pleased with my Greek Mottos.

Designing this Days Work for a Dissertation upon the two Extremities of my Paper, and having already dispatch'd my Motto, I shall, in the next place, discourse upon those single Capital Letters, which are placed at the End of it, and which have afforded great Matter of Speculation to the Curious. I have heard various Conjectures upon this Subject. Some tell us that C is the Mark of those Papers that are written by the Clergyman, though others ascribe them to the Club in general: That the Papers marked with R were written by my Friend Sir ROGER: That L signifies the Lawyer, whom I have described in my second Speculation; and that T stands for the Trader or Merchant: But the Letter X, which is placed at the End of some few of my Papers, is that which has puzzled the whole Town, as they cannot think of any Name which begins with that Letter, except Xenophon and Xerxes, who can neither of them be supposed to have had any Hand in these Speculations.

In Answer to these inquisitive Gentlemen, who have many of them made Enquiries of me by Letter, I must tell them the Reply of an ancient Philosopher, who carried something hidden under his Cloak. A certain Acquaintance desiring him to let him know what it was he covered so carefully; I cover it, says he, on purpose that you should not know. I have made use of these obscure Marks for the same Purpose. They are, perhaps, little Amulets or Charms to preserve the Paper against the Fascination and Malice of evil Eyes; for which Reason I would not have my Reader surprized, if hereafter he sees any of my Papers marked with a Q, a Z, a Y, an &c., or with the Word Abracadabra [3]

I shall, however, so far explain my self to the Reader, as to let him know that the Letters, C, L, and X, are Cabalistical, and carry more in them than it is proper for the World to be acquainted with. Those who are versed in the Philosophy of Pythagoras, and swear by the Tetrachtys, [4] that is, the Number Four, will know very well that the Number Ten, which is signified by the Letter X, (and which has so much perplexed the Town) has in it many particular Powers; that it is called by Platonick Writers the Complete Number; that One, Two, Three and Four put together make up the Number Ten; and that Ten is all. But these are not Mysteries for ordinary Readers to be let into. A Man must have spent many Years in hard Study before he can arrive at the Knowledge of them.

We had a Rabbinical Divine in England, who was Chaplain to the Earl of Essex in Queen Elizabeth's Time, that had an admirable Head for Secrets of this Nature. Upon his taking the Doctor of Divinity's Degree, he preached before the University of Cambridge, upon the First Verse of the First Chapter of the First Book of Chronicles, in which, says he, you have the three following Words,

Adam, Sheth, Enosh.

He divided this short Text into many Parts, and by discovering several Mysteries in each Word, made a most Learned and Elaborate Discourse. The Name of this profound Preacher was Doctor Alabaster, of whom the Reader may find a more particular Account in Doctor Fullers Book of English Worthies. [5] This Instance will, I hope, convince my Readers that there may be a great deal of fine Writing in the Capital Letters which bring up the Rear of my Paper, and give them some Satisfaction in that Particular. But as for the full Explication of these Matters, I must refer them to Time, which discovers all things.


[Footnote 1: Diogenes Laertius, Bk. V. ch. I.]

[Footnote 2: Quæ Genus and As in Præsenti were the first words in collections of rules then and until recently familiar as part of the standard Latin Grammar, Lilly's, to which Erasmus and Colet contributed, and of which Wolsey wrote the original Preface.]

[Footnote 3: Abraxas, which in Greek letters represents 365, the number of the deities supposed by the Basilidians to be subordinate to the All Ruling One, was a mystical name for the supreme God, and was engraved as a charm on stones together with the figure of a human body (Cadaver), with cats head and reptiles feet. From this the name Abracadabra may have arisen, with a sense of power in it as a charm. Serenus Sammonicus, a celebrated physician who lived about A.D. 210, who had, it is said, a library of 62,000 volumes, and was killed at a banquet by order of Caracalla, said in an extant Latin poem upon Medicine and Remedies, that fevers were cured by binding to the body the word Abracadabra written in this fashion:

Abracadabra Abracadabr Abracadab Abracada

and so on, till there remained only the initial A. His word was taken, and this use of the charm was popular even in the Spectators time. It is described by Defoe in his History of the Plague.]

[Footnote 4: The number Four was called Tetractys by the Pythagoreans, who accounted it the most powerful of numbers, because it was the foundation of them all, and as a square it signified solidity. They said it was at the source of Nature, four elements, four seasons, &c., to which later speculators added the four rivers of Paradise, four evangelists, and association of the number four with God, whose name was a mystical Tetra grammaton, Jod, He, Vau, He.]

[Footnote 5: Where it is explained that Adam meaning Man; Seth, placed; and Enosh, Misery: the mystic inference is that Man was placed in Misery.]

Translation of motto:
HOR. 3 Sat. I. 1. v. 6.
'From eggs, which first are set upon the board,
To apples ripe, with which it last is stored.'