No. 448. Monday, August 4, 1712. Steele.

Foedius hoc aliquid quandoque audebis.'

The first Steps towards Ill are very carefully to be avoided, for Men insensibly go on when they are once entered, and do not keep up a lively Abhorrence of the least Unworthiness. There is a certain frivolous Falshood that People indulge themselves in, which ought to be had in greater Detestation than it commonly meets with: What I mean is a Neglect of Promises made on small and indifferent Occasions, such as Parties of Pleasure, Entertainments, and sometimes Meetings out of Curiosity in Men of like Faculties to be in each other's Company. There are many Causes to which one may assign this light Infidelity. Jack Sippet never keeps the Hour he has appointed to come to a Friend's to Dinner; but he is an insignificant Fellow who does it out of Vanity. He could never, he knows, make any Figure in Company, but by giving a little Disturbance at his Entry, and therefore takes Care to drop in when he thinks you are just seated. He takes his Place after having discomposed every Body, and desires there may be no Ceremony; then does he begin to call himself the saddest Fellow, in disappointing so many Places as he was invited to elsewhere. It is the Fop's Vanity to name Houses of better Chear, and to acquaint you that he chose yours out of ten Dinners which he was obliged to be at that Day. The last Time I had the Fortune to eat with him, he was imagining how very fat he should have been had he eaten all he had ever been invited to. But it is impertinent to dwell upon the Manners of such a Wretch as obliges all whom he disappoints, though his Circumstances constrain them to be civil to him. But there are those that every one would be glad to see, who fall into the same detestable Habit. It is a merciless thing that any one can be at Ease, and suppose a Set of People who have a Kindness for him, at that Moment waiting out of Respect to him, and refusing to taste their Food or Conversation with the utmost Impatience. One of these Promisers sometimes shall make his Excuses for not coming at all, so late that half the Company have only to lament, that they have neglected Matters of Moment to meet him whom they find a Trifler. They immediately repent of the Value they had for him; and such Treatment repeated, makes Company never depend upon his Promise any more; so that he often comes at the Middle of a Meal, where he is secretly slighted by the Persons with whom he eats, and cursed by the Servants, whose Dinner is delayed by his prolonging their Master's Entertainment. It is wonderful, that Men guilty this Way, could never have observed, that the whiling Time, the gathering together, and waiting a little before Dinner, is the most awkwardly passed away of any Part in the four and twenty Hours. If they did think at all, they would reflect upon their Guilt, in lengthning such a Suspension of agreeable Life. The constant offending this Way, has, in a Degree, an Effect upon the Honesty of his Mind who is guilty of it, as common Swearing is a kind of habitual Perjury: It makes the Soul unattentive to what an Oath is, even while it utters it at the Lips. Phocion beholding a wordy Orator while he was making a magnificent Speech to the People full of vain Promises, Methinks, said he, I am now fixing my Eyes upon a Cypress Tree, it has all the Pomp and Beauty imaginable in its Branches, Leaves, and Height, but alas it bears no Fruit.

Though the Expectation which is raised by impertinent Promisers is thus barren, their Confidence, even after Failures, is so great, that they subsist by still promising on. I have heretofore discoursed of the insignificant Liar, the Boaster, and the Castle-Builder, and treated them as no ill-designing Men, (tho' they are to be placed among the frivolously false ones) but Persons who fall into that Way purely to recommend themselves by their Vivacities; but indeed I cannot let heedless Promisers, though in the most minute Circumstances, pass with so slight a Censure. If a Man should take a Resolution to pay only Sums above an hundred Pounds, and yet contract with different People Debts of five and ten, how long can we suppose he will keep his Credit? This Man will as long support his good Name in Business, as he will in Conversation, who without Difficulty makes Assignations which he is indifferent whether he keeps or not.

I am the more severe upon this Vice, because I have been so unfortunate as to be a very great Criminal my self. Sir ANDREW FREEPORT, and all other my Friends who are scrupulous to Promises of the meanest Consideration imaginable from an Habit of Virtue that way, have often upbraided me with it. I take Shame upon my self for this Crime, and more particularly for the greatest I ever committed of the Sort, that when as agreeable a Company of Gentlemen and Ladies as ever were got together, and I forsooth, Mr. SPECTATOR, to be of the Party with Women of Merit, like a Booby as I was, mistook the time of Meeting, and came the Night following. I wish every Fool who is negligent in this Kind, may have as great a Loss as I had in this; for the same Company will never meet more, but are dispersed into various Parts of the World, and I am left under the Compunction that I deserve, in so many different Places to be called a Trifler.

This Fault is sometimes to be accounted for, when desirable People are fearful of appearing precious and reserved by Denials; but they will find the Apprehension of that Imputation will betray them into a childish Impotence of Mind, and make them promise all who are so kind to ask it of them. This leads such soft Creatures into the Misfortune of seeming to return Overtures of Good-will with Ingratitude. The first Steps in the Breach of a Man's Integrity are much more important than Men are aware of. The Man who scruples breaking his Word in little Things would not suffer in his own Conscience so great Pain for Failures of Consequence, as he who thinks every little Offence against Truth and Justice a Disparagement. We should not make any thing we our selves disapprove habitual to us, if we would be sure of our Integrity.

I remember a Falshood of the trivial Sort, tho' not in relation to Assignations, that exposed a Man to a very uneasie Adventure. Will. Trap and Jack Stint were Chamber-fellows in the Inner-Temple about 25 Years ago. They one Night sate in the Pit together at a Comedy, where they both observed and liked the same young Woman in the Boxes. Their Kindness for her entered both Hearts deeper than they imagined. Stint had a good Faculty at writing Letters of Love, and made his Address privately that way; while Trap proceeded in the ordinary Course, by Money and her Waiting-Maid. The Lady gave them both Encouragement, receiving Trap into the utmost Favour, and answering at the same time Stint's Letters, and giving him appointments at third Places. Trap began to suspect the Epistolary Correspondence of his Friend, and discovered also that Stint opened all his Letters which came to their common Lodgings, in order to form his own Assignations. After much Anxiety and Restlessness, Trap came to a Resolution, which he thought would break off their Commerce with one another without any hazardous Explanation. He therefore writ a Letter in a feigned Hand to Mr. Trap at his Chambers in the Temple. Stint, according to Custom, seized and opened it, and was not a little surpriz'd to find the Inside directed to himself, when, with great Perturbation of Spirit, he read as follows.

Mr. Stint,

You have gained a slight Satisfaction at the Expence of doing a very heinous Crime. At the Price of a faithful Friend you have obtained an inconstant Mistress. I rejoice in this Expedient I have thought of to break my Mind to you, and tell you, You are a base Fellow, by a Means which does not expose you to the Affront except you deserve it. I know, Sir, as criminal as you are, you have still Shame enough to avenge yourself against the Hardiness of any one that should publickly tell you of it. I therefore, who have received so many secret Hurts from you, shall take Satisfaction with Safety to my self. I call you Base, and you must bear it, or acknowledge it; I triumph over you that you cannot come at me; nor do I think it dishonourable to come in Armour to assault him, who was in Ambuscade when he wounded me.

What need more be said to convince you of being guilty of the basest Practice imaginable, than that it is such as has made you liable to be treated after this Manner, while you your self cannot in your own Conscience but allow the Justice of the Upbraidings of Your Injured Friend,

Ralph Trap.


Translation of motto:
JUV. Sat. ii. 82.
'In time to greater baseness you proceed.'