Leigh Hunt

Upon indexes

Indexing has been held to be the driest as well as lowest species of writing. We shall not dispute the humbleness of it; but the task need not be so very dry. Calling to mind Indexes in general, we found them presenting us a variety of pleasant memories and contrasts. We thought of those to the Spectator, which we used to look at so often at school, for the sake of choosing a paper to abridge. We thought of the Index to “The Pantheon, or Fabulous Histories of the Heathen Gods,” which we used to look at oftener. We remember how we imagined we should feel some day, if ever our name should appear in the list of H’s; as thus, Home, Howard, Hume, Huniades, [Hunt]. The poets would have been better; but then the names, though more fitting, were not so flattering; as, for instance, Halifax, Hammond, Harte, Hughes, [Hunt]. We did not like to come after Hughes.

We have just been looking at the Indexes to the Tatler and Spectator, and never were more forcibly struck with the feeling we formerly expressed about a man’s being better pleased with other writers than himself. Our Index seems the poorest and most second-hand thing in the world after theirs; but let anyone read theirs, and then call an Index a dry thing if he can. As there is “a soul of goodness in things evil,” so there is a soul of humour in things dry, and in things dry by profession. Lawyers know this, as well as Index-makers, or they would die of sheer thirst and aridity. But as grapes, ready to burst with wine, issue out of the most stony places, like jolly fellows bringing burgundy out of a cellar; so an Index like the Tatler’s often gives us a taste of the quintessence of its humour. For instance:—

“Bickerstaff, Mr., account of his ancestors, 141. How his race was improved, 142. Not in partnership with Lillie, 250. Catched writing nonsense, 47.

“Dead men, who are to be so accounted, 247.”

Sometimes he has a stroke of pathos, as touching in its brevity as the account it refers to; as—

“Love-letters between Mr. Bickerstaff and Maria, 184–186. Found in a grave, 289.”

Sometimes he is simply moral and graceful; as—

“Tenderness and humanity inspired by the Muses, 258. No true greatness of mind without it, ibid.”

At another, he says perhaps more than he intended; as—

“Laura, her perfections and excellent character, 19. Despised by her husband, ibid.”

The Index to Cotton’s “ Montaigne,” probably written by the translator himself, is often pithy and amusing. Thus, in volume ii.:—

“Anger is pleased with, and flatters itself, 618.

“Beasts inclined to avarice, 225.

“Children abandoned to the care and government of their fathers, 613.

“Drunkenness, to a high and dead degree, 16.

“Joy, profound, has more severity than gaiety in it.

“Monsters are not so to God, 612.

“Voluptuousness of the Cynicks, 418.”

Sometimes we meet with graver quaintnesses and curious relations, as in the Index to Sandys’s “Ovid”:—

“Diana, no virgin, scoft at by Lucian, p. 55.

“Dwarfes, an Italian Dwarf carried about in a parrot’s cage, p. 113.

“Eccho, at Twilleries in Paris, heard to repeat a verse without failing in one syllable, p. 58.

“Ship of the Tyrrhenians miraculously stuck fast in the sea, p. 63. A Historie of a Bristol ship stuck fast in the deepe Sea by Witchcraft: for which twentie-five Witches were executed, ibid.”

But this subject, we find, will furnish ample materials for a separate article [never written]; and therefore we stop here for the present. We have still a notion upon us, that, because we have been making an Index, we are bound to be very business-like and unamusing.

(1820)

MLA Citation

Hunt, Leigh. “Upon indexes.” 1820. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 30 Dec 2007. 28 May 2017 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/hunt/indexes/>.

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