No. 54.

Wednesday, May 2, 1711. [Steele.

-Strenua nos exercet inertia. -Hor.

THE following Letter being the first that I have received from the learned University of Cambridge, I could not but do my self the Honour of publishing it. It gives an Account of a new Sect of Philosophers which has arose in that famous Residence of Learning; and is, perhaps, the only Sect this Age is likely to produce.


Cambridge, April 26.

Believing you to be an universal Encourager of liberal Arts and Sciences, and glad of any Information from the learned World, I thought an Account of a Sect of Philosophers very frequent among us, but not taken Notice of, as far as I can remember, by any Writers either ancient or modern, would not be unacceptable to you. The Philosophers of this Sect are in the Language of our University called Lowngers. I am of Opinion, that, as in many other things, so likewise in this, the Ancients have been defective; viz, in mentioning no Philosophers of this Sort. Some indeed will affirm that they are a kind of Peripateticks, because we see them continually walking about. But I would have these Gentlemen consider, that tho' the ancient Peripateticks walked much, yet they wrote much also; (witness, to the Sorrow of this Sect, Aristotle and others): Whereas it is notorious that most of our Professors never lay out a Farthing either in Pen, Ink, or Paper. Others are for deriving them from Diogenes, because several of the leading Men of the Sect have a great deal of the cynical Humour in them, and delight much in Sun-shine. But then again, Diogenes was content to have his constant Habitation in a narrow Tub; whilst our Philosophers are so far from being of his Opinion, that it's Death to them to be confined within the Limits of a good handsome convenient Chamber but for half an Hour. Others there are, who from the Clearness of their Heads deduce the Pedigree of Lowngers from that great Man (I think it was either Plato or Socrates ) who after all his Study and Learning professed, That all he then knew was, that he knew nothing. You easily see this is but a shallow Argument, and may be soon confuted.

I have with great Pains and Industry made my Observations from time to time upon these Sages; and having now all Materials ready, am compiling a Treatise, wherein I shall set forth the Rise and Progress of this famous Sect, together with their Maxims, Austerities, Manner of living, &c. Having prevailed with a Friend who designs shortly to publish a new Edition of Diogenes Laertius, to add this Treatise of mine by way of Supplement; I shall now, to let the World see what may be expected from me (first begging Mr. SPECTATOR's Leave that the World may see it) briefly touch upon some of my chief Observations, and then subscribe my self your humble Servant. In the first Place I shall give you two or three of their Maxims: The fundamental one, upon which their whole System is built, is this, viz. That Time being an implacable Enemy to and Destroyer of all things, ought to be paid in his own Coin, and be destroyed and murdered without Mercy by all the Ways that can be invented. Another favourite Saying of theirs is, That Business was designed only for Knaves, and Study for Blockheads. A third seems to be a ludicrous one, but has a great Effect upon their Lives; and is this, That the Devil is at Home. Now for their Manner of Living: And here I have a large Field to expatiate in; but I shall reserve Particulars for my intended Discourse, and now only mention one or two of their principal Exercises. The elder Proficients employ themselves in inspecting mores hominum multorum, in getting acquainted with all the Signs and Windows in the Town. Some are arrived at so great Knowledge, that they can tell every time any Butcher kills a Calf, every time any old Woman's Cat is in the Straw; and a thousand other Matters as important. One ancient Philosopher contemplates two or three hours every Day over a Sun-Dial; and is true to the Dial,

---------- As the Dial to the Sun,

Although it be not shone upon.

Our younger Students are content to carry their Speculations as yet no farther than Bowling-greens, Billiard-Tables, and such like Places. This may serve for a Sketch of my Design; in which I hope I shall have your Encouragement. I am,


I must be so just as to observe I have formerly seen of this Sect at our other University; tho' not distinguished by the Appellation which the learned Historian, my Correspondent, reports they bear at Cambridge. They were ever looked upon as a People that impaired themselves more by their strict Application to the Rules of their Order, than any other Students whatever. Others seldom hurt themselves any further than to gain weak Eyes and sometimes Head-Aches; but these Philosophers are seized all over with a general Inability, Indolence, and Weariness, and a certain Impatience of the Place they are in, with an Heaviness in removing to another.

The Lowngers are satisfied with being merely Part of the Number of Mankind, without distinguishing themselves from amongst them. They may be said rather to suffer their Time to pass, than to spend it, without Regard to the past, or Prospect of the future. All they know of Life is only the present Instant, and do not taste even that. When one of this Order happens to be a Man of fortune, the Expence of his Time is transferr'd to his Coach and Horses, and his Life is to be measured by their Motion, not his own Enjoyments or Sufferings. The chief Entertainment one of these Philosophers can possibly propose to himself; is to get a Relish of Dress: This, methinks, might diversifie the Person he is weary of (his own dear self) to himself. I have known these two Amusements make one of these Philosophers make a tolerable Figure in the World; with a variety of Dresses in publick Assemblies in Town, and quick Motion of his Horses out of it, now to Bath, now to Tunbridge, then to Newmarket, and then to London, he has in Process of Time brought it to pass, that his Coach and his Horses have been mentioned in all those Places. When the Lowngers leave an Academick Life, and instead of this more elegant way of appearing in the polite World, retire to the Seats of their Ancestors, they usually join a Pack of Dogs, and employ their Days in defending their Poultry from Foxes: I do not know any other Method that any of this Order has ever taken to make a Noise in the World; but I shall enquire into such about this Town as have arrived at the Dignity of being Lowngers by the Force of natural Parts, without having ever seen an University; and send my Correspondent, for the Embellishment of his Book, the Names and history of those who pass their Lives without any Incidents at all; and how they shift Coffee-houses and Chocolate-houses from Hour to Hour, to get over the insupportable Labour of doing nothing.


1. Socrates in his Apology, or Defence before his Judges, as reported by Plato. The oracle having said that there was none wiser than he, he had sought to confute the oracle, and found the wise man of the world foolish through belief in his own wisdom. 'When I left him I reasoned thus with myself, I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing, whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not fancy that I do.'

2. True as Dial to the Sun,

Although it be not shined upon.

Hudibras. Part III. c. 2.

3. This Letter may be by Laurence Eusden. See Note to No.78.