No. 468. Wednesday, August 27, 1712. Steele.

Erat Homo ingeniosus, acutus, acer, et qui plurimum et salis haberet et fellis, nec candoris minus.'
Plin. Epist.

My Paper is in a kind a Letter of News, but it regards rather what passes in the World of Conversation than that of Business. I am very sorry that I have at present a Circumstance before me, which is of very great Importance to all who have a Relish for Gayety, Wit, Mirth, or Humour; I mean the Death of poor Dick Eastcourt. [1] I have been oblig'd to him for so many Hours of Jollity, that it is but a small Recompence, tho' all I can give him, to pass a Moment or two in Sadness for the Loss of so agreeable a Man. Poor Eastcourt! the last Time I saw him we were plotting to shew the Town his great Capacity for acting in its full Light, by introducing him as dictating to a Set of young Players, in what manner to speak this Sentence, and utter t'other Passion--He had so exquisite a Discerning of what was defective in any Object before him, that in an Instant he could shew you the ridiculous Side of what would pass for beautiful and just, even to Men of no ill Judgment, before he had pointed at the Failure. He was no less skilful in the Knowledge of Beauty; and, I dare say, there is no one who knew him well, but can repeat more well-turned Compliments, as well as smart Repartees, of Mr. Eastcourt's, than of any other Man in England. This was easily to be observed in his inimitable Faculty of telling a Story, in which he would throw in natural and unexpected Incidents to make his Court to one Part, and rally the other Part of the Company: Then he would vary the Usage he gave them, according as he saw them bear kind or sharp Language. He had the Knack to raise up a pensive Temper, and mortifie an impertinently gay one, with the most agreeable Skill imaginable. There are a thousand things which crowd into my Memory, which make me too much concerned to tell on about him. Hamlet holding up the Skull which the Grave-digger threw to him, with an Account that it was the Head of the King's Jester, falls into very pleasing Reflections, and cries out to his Companion,

'Alas, poor_ Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, _a Fellow of infinite Jest, of most excellent Fancy; he hath born me on his Back a thousand times: And how abhorred my Imagination is now, my Gorge rises at it. Here hung those Lips that I have kiss'd I know not how oft. Where be your Gibes now, your Gambols, your Songs, your Flashes of Merriment, that were wont to set the Table on a Roar: No one now to mock your own Jeerings: quite Chop-fallen. Now get you to my Lady's Chamber, and tell her, Let her paint an Inch thick, to this Favour she must come. Make her laugh at that.'

It is an Insolence natural to the Wealthy, to affix, as much as in them lies, the Character of a Man to his Circumstances. Thus it is ordinary with them to praise faintly the good Qualities of those below them, and say, It is very extraordinary in such a Man as he is, or the like, when they are forced to acknowledge the Value of him whose Lowness upbraids their Exaltation. It is to this Humour only, that it is to be ascribed, that a quick Wit in Conversation, a nice Judgment upon any Emergency, that could arise, and a most blameless inoffensive Behaviour, could not raise this Man above being received only upon the Foot of contributing to Mirth and Diversion. But he was as easy under that Condition, as a Man of so excellent Talents was capable; and since they would have it, that to divert was his Business, he did it with all the seeming Alacrity imaginable, tho' it stung him to the Heart that it was his Business. Men of Sense, who could taste his Excellencies, were well satisfied to let him lead the Way in Conversation, and play after his own Manner; but Fools who provoked him to Mimickry, found he had the Indignation to let it be at their Expence who called for it, and he would shew the Form of conceited heavy Fellows as Jests to the Company at their own Request, in Revenge for interrupting him from being a Companion to put on the Character of a Jester.

What was peculiarly excellent in this memorable Companion, was, that in the Accounts he gave of Persons and Sentiments, he did not only hit the Figure of their Faces, and Manner of their Gestures, but he would in his Narration fall into their very Way of thinking, and this when he recounted Passages, wherein Men of the best Wit were concerned, as well as such wherein were represented Men of the lowest Rank of Understanding. It is certainly as great an Instance of Self-love to a Weakness, to be impatient of being mimick'd, as any can be imagined. There were none but the Vain, the Formal, the Proud, or those who were incapable of amending their Faults, that dreaded him; to others he was in the highest Degree pleasing; and I do not know any Satisfaction of any indifferent kind I ever tasted so much, as having got over an Impatience of seeing my self in the Air he could put me when I have displeased him. It is indeed to his exquisite Talent this way, more than any Philosophy I could read on the Subject, that my Person is very little of my Care; and it is indifferent to me what is said of my Shape, my Air, my Manner, my Speech, or my Address. It is to poor Eastcourt I chiefly owe that I am arrived at the Happiness of thinking nothing a Diminution to me, but what argues a Depravity of my Will.

It has as much surprized me as any thing in Nature, to have it frequently said, That he was not a good Player: But that must be owing to a Partiality for former Actors in the Parts in which he succeeded them, and judging by Comparison of what was liked before, rather than by the Nature of the Thing. When a Man of his Wit and Smartness could put on an utter Absence of common Sense in his Face as he did in the Character of Bulfinch in the Northern Lass [2] and an Air of insipid Cunning and Vivacity in the Character of Pounce in the Tender Husband, [3] it is Folly to dispute his Capacity and Success, as he was an Actor.

Poor Eastcourt! let the Vain and Proud be at Rest; thou wilt no more disturb their Admiration of their dear selves, and thou art no longer to drudge in raising the Mirth of Stupids, who know nothing of thy Merit, for thy Maintenance.

It is natural for the Generality of Mankind to run into Reflections upon our Mortality, when Disturbers of the World are laid at Rest, but to take no Notice when they who can please and divert are pulled from us: But for my Part, I cannot but think the Loss of such Talents as the Man of whom I am speaking was Master of, a more melancholy Instance of Mortality, than the Dissolution of Persons of never so high Characters in the World, whose Pretensions were that they were noisy and mischievous.

But I must grow more succinct, and as a SPECTATOR, give an Account of this extraordinary Man, who, in his Way, never had an Equal in any Age before him, or in that wherein he lived. I speak of him as a Companion, and a Man qualified for Conversation. His Fortune exposed him to an Obsequiousness towards the worst Sort of Company, but his excellent Qualities rendered him capable of making the best Figure in the most refined. I have been present with him among Men of the most delicate Taste a whole Night, and have known him (for he saw it was desired) keep the Discourse to himself the most Part of it, and maintain his good Humour with a Countenance in a Language so delightful, without Offence to any Person or Thing upon Earth, still preserving the Distance his Circumstances obliged him to; I say, I have seen him do all this in such a charming manner, that I am sure none of those I hint at will read this, without giving him some Sorrow for their abundant Mirth, and one Gush of Tears for so many Bursts of Laughter. I wish it were any Honour to the pleasant Creature's Memory, that my Eyes are too much suffused to let me [go on--[4].]


[Footnote 1: See p. 204, vol. ii. [Footnote 1 of No. 264.]

[Footnote 2: By Richard Brome, first acted in 1632.]

[Footnote 3: By Steele.]

[Footnote 4:

[go on--

It is a felicity his Friends may rejoice in, that he had his Senses, and used them as he ought to do, in his last Moments. It is remarkable that his Judgment was in its calm Perfection to the utmost Article, for when his Wife out of her fondness, desired she might send for a certain illiterate Humourist (whom he had accompanied in a thousand mirthful Moments, and whose Insolence makes Fools think he assumes from conscious Merit) he answered, 'Do what you please, but he won't come near me.' Let poor Eastcourt's Negligence about this Message convince the unwary of a triumphant Empiric's Ignorance and Inhumanity.]

This passage, omitted from the reprint, expresses Steele's anger at the neglect of Estcourt in his last hours by Dr. John Radcliffe, one of the chief physicians of the time, who as a rough-spoken humourist made many enemies, and was condemned as an empiric by many of his professional brethren. When called, in 1699, to attend King William, who asked his opinion on his swollen ankles, he said, 'I would not have your Majesty's two legs for your three kingdoms.' His maxim for making a fortune was to use all men ill, but Mead, it has been observed, made more money by the opposite method. Not very long after this better censure of Radcliffe for neglect of Estcourt, attempts were made to censure him formally in the House of Commons for refusal to attend in the last illness of Queen Anne, although requested to do so by the Privy Council. He denied that he had been asked to attend. He died himself three months after the Queen (in 1714, aged 64), his last days embittered by the public odium following the charge of disrespect to his dying sovereign. He died unmarried, and left the greater part of his money to beneficent uses, among them the erection of an infirmary and of the Radcliffe Library in Oxford.]

Translation of motto:
PLIN. Epist.
'He was an ingenious, pleasant fellow, and one who had a great deal of
wit and satire, with an equal share of good humour.'