I have been for many Years loud in this Assertion, That there are very few that can see or hear, I mean that can report what they have seen or heard; and this thro' Incapacity or Prejudice, one of which disables almost every Man who talks to you from representing things as he ought. For which Reason I am come to a Resolution of believing nothing I hear; and I contemn the Men given to Narration under the Appellation of a Matter of Fact Man: And according to me, a Matter of Fact Man is one whose Life and Conversation is spent in the Report of what is not Matter of Fact.
I remember when Prince Eugene was here, there was no knowing his Height or Figure, till you, Mr. SPECTATOR, gave the Publick Satisfaction in that Matter. In Relations, the Force of the Expression lies very often more in the Look, the Tone of Voice, or the Gesture, than the Words themselves; which being repeated in any other Manner by the Undiscerning, bear a very different Interpretation from their original Meaning. I must confess, I formerly have turn'd this Humour of mine to very good Account; for whenever I heard any Narration utter'd with extraordinary vehemence, and grounded upon considerable Authority, I was always ready to lay any Wager that it was not so. Indeed I never pretended to be so rash, as to fix the Matter in any particular Way in Opposition to theirs; but as there are a hundred Ways of any thing happening, besides that it has happen'd, I only controverted its falling out in that one Manner as they settled it, and left it to the Ninety nine other Ways, and consequently had more Probability of Success. I had arrived at a particular skill in warming a Man so far in his Narration, as to make him throw in a little of the Marvelous, and then, if he has much Fire, the next Degree is the Impossible. Now this is always the Time for fixing the Wager. But this requires the nicest Management, otherwise very probably the Dispute may arise to the old Determination by Battle. In these Conceits I have been very fortunate, and have won some Wagers of those who have professedly valued themselves upon Intelligence, and have put themselves to great Charge and Expence to be misinformed considerably sooner than the Rest of the World.
Having got a comfortable Sum by this my Opposition to publick Report, I have brought my self now to so great a Perfection in Inattention, more especially to Party Relations, that at the same time I seem with greedy Ears to devour up the Discourse, I certainly don't know one Word of it, but pursue my own Course of Thought, whether upon Business or Amusement, with much Tranquility: I say Inattention, because a late Act of Parliament has secur'd all Party-Lyars from the Penalty of a Wager,  and consequently made it unprofitable to attend them. However, good Breeding obliges a Man to maintain the Figure of the keenest Attention, the true Posture of which in a Coffee-house I take to consist in leaning over a Table, with the Edge of it pressing hard upon your Stomach; for the more Pain the Narration is received with, the more gracious is your bending over: Besides that the Narrator thinks you forget your Pain by the Pleasure of hearing him.
Fort Knock has occasioned several very perplexed and inelegant Heats and Animosities; and there was one t'other day in a Coffee-house where I was, that took upon him to clear that Business to me, for he said he was there. I knew him to be that sort of Man that had not strength of Capacity to be inform'd of any thing that depended merely upon his being an Eye-Witness, and therefore was fully satisfied he could give me no Information, for the very same Reason he believed he could, for he was there. However, I heard him with the same Greediness as Shakespear describes in the following Lines:
'I saw a Smith stand on his Hammer, thus,
With open Mouth swallowing a Taylor's News.'
I confess of late I have not been so much amazed at the Declaimers in Coffee-houses as I formerly was, being satisfied that they expect to be rewarded for their Vociferations. Of these Liars there are two Sorts. The Genius of the first consists in much Impudence and a strong Memory; the others have added to these Qualifications a good Understanding and smooth Language. These therefore have only certain Heads, which they are as eloquent upon as they can, and may be call'd Embellishers; the others repeat only what they hear from others as literally as their Parts or Zeal will permit, and are called Reciters. Here was a Fellow in Town some Years ago, who used to divert himself by telling a Lie at Charing-Cross in the Morning at eight of [the] Clock, and then following it through all Parts of the Town till eight at Night; at which time he came to a Club of his Friends, and diverted them with an Account what Censure it had at Will's in Covent-Garden, how dangerous it was believed to be at Child's, and what Inference they drew from it with Relation to Stocks at Jonathan's. I have had the Honour to travel with this Gentleman I speak of in Search of one of his Falshoods; and have been present when they have described the very Man they have spoken to, as him who first reported it, tall or short, black or fair, a Gentleman or a Raggamuffin, according as they liked the Intelligence. I have heard one of our ingenious Writers of News say, that when he has had a Customer come with an Advertisement of an Apprentice or a Wife run away, he has desired the Advertiser to compose himself a little, before he dictated the Description of the Offender: For when a Person is put into a publick Paper by a Man who is angry with him, the real Description of such Person is hid in the Deformity with which the angry Man described him; therefore this Fellow always made his Customers describe him as he would the Day before he offended, or else he was sure he would never find him out. These and many other Hints I could suggest to you for the Elucidation of all Fictions; but I leave it to your own Sagacity to improve or neglect this Speculation.
_I am, SIR,
Your most obedient,
Postscript to the Spectator, Number 502.
N. B. There are in the Play of the Self-Tormentor of Terence's, which is allowed a most excellent Comedy, several Incidents which would draw Tears from any Man of Sense, and not one which would move his Laughter.
[Footnote 1: By 7 Anne, cap. 17, all wagers laid upon a contingency relating to the war with France were declared void.]Translation of motto: