No. 582. Wednesday, August 18, 1714.

--Tenet insanabile multos Scribendi Cacoethes--'

There is a certain Distemper, which is mentioned neither by Galen nor Hippocrates, nor to be met with in the London Dispensary. Juvenal, in the Motto of my Paper, terms it a Cacoethes; which is a hard Word for a Disease called in plain English, the Itch of Writing. This Cacoethes is as Epidemical as the Small-Pox, there being very few who are not seized with it some time or other in their Lives. There is, however, this Difference in these two Distempers, that the first, after having indisposed you for a time, never returns again; whereas this I am speaking of, when it is once got into the Blood, seldom comes out of it. The British Nation is very much afflicted with this Malady, and tho' very many Remedies have been applied to Persons infected with it, few of them have ever proved successful. Some have been cauterized with Satyrs and Lampoons, but have received little or no Benefit from them; others have had their Heads fastned for an Hour together between a Cleft Board, which is made use of as a Cure for the Disease when it appears in its greatest Malignity. [1] There is indeed one kind of this Malady which has been sometimes removed, like the Biting of a Tarantula, with the sound of a musical Instrument, which is commonly known by the Name of a Cat-Call. But if you have a Patient of this kind under your Care, you may assure your self there is no other way of recovering him effectually, but by forbidding him the use of Pen, Ink and Paper.

But to drop the Allegory before I have tired it out, there is no Species of Scriblers more offensive, and more incurable, than your Periodical Writers, whose Works return upon the Publick on certain Days and at stated Times. We have not the Consolation in the Perusal of these Authors, which we find at the reading of all others, (namely) that we are sure if we have but Patience, we may come to the End of their Labours. I have often admired a humorous Saying of Diogenes, who reading a dull Author to several of his Friends, when every one began to be tired, finding he was almost come to a blank leaf at the End of it, cried, Courage, Lads, I see Land. On the contrary, our Progress through that kind of Writers I am now speaking of is never at an End. One Day makes Work for another, we do not know when to promise our selves Rest.

It is a melancholy thing to consider, that the Art of Printing, which might be the greatest Blessing to Mankind, should prove detrimental to us, and that it should be made use of to scatter Prejudice and Ignorance through a People, instead of conveying to them Truth and Knowledge.

I was lately reading a very whimsical Treatise, entitled, William Ramsey's Vindication of Astrology. This profound Author, among many mystical Passages, has the following one:

'The Absence of the Sun is not the Cause of Night, forasmuch as his Light is so great that it may illuminate the Earth all over at once as clear as broad Day, but there are tenebrificous and dark Stars, by whose Influence Night is brought on, and which do ray out Darkness and Obscurity upon the Earth, as the Sun does Light.'

I consider Writers in the same View this sage Astrologer does the Heavenly Bodies. Some of them are Stars that scatter Light as others do Darkness. I could mention several Authors who are tenebrificous Stars of the first Magnitude, and point out a Knot of Gentlemen, who have been dull in Consort, and may be looked upon as a dark Constellation. The Nation has been a great while benighted with several of these Antiluminaries. I suffered them to ray out their Darkness as long as I was able to endure it, till at length I came to a Resolution of rising upon them, and hope in a little time to drive them quite out of the British Hemisphere.

[Footnote 1: Put in the Pillory.]

Translation of motto:
JUV. Sat. vii. 51.
'The curse of writing is an endless itch.'
(Ch. Dryden).