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observations have been made on spiders, lobsters, and cockle-shells ? yet the very naming of them is almost sufficient to turn them into raillery. It is no wonder therefore that the science of medals, which is charged with so many unconcerning parts of knowledge, and built on such mean materials, should appear ridiculous to those that have not taken the pains to examine it.
Eugenius was very attentive to what Philander said on the subject of medals. He was one that endeavoured rather to be agreeable than shining in conversation, for which reason he was more beloved, though not so much admired as Cynthio. I must confess, says he, I find myself very much inclined to speak against a sort of study that I know nothing of. I have, however, one strong prejudice in favour of it, that Philander has thought it worth his while to employ some time upon it, I am glad then, says Cynthio, that I have thrown him on a, science of which I have long wished to hear the usefulness. There, says Philander, you must excuse me, At present you do not know but it may have its usefulness. But, should I endeavour to convince you of it, I might fail in my attempt, and so render my science still more contemptible. On the contrary, says Cynthio, we are already so persuaded of the unprofitableness of your science, that you can but leave us where you find us; but, if you succeed, you increase the number of your party. Well, says Philander, in hopes of making two such considerable proselytes, I am very well content to talk away an evening with you on the subject; but on this condition, that you
will communicate your thoughts to me freely when you dissent from me, or have any difficulties that you think me capable of removing. To make use of the liberty you give us, says Eugenius, I must tell you what I believe surprises all beginners as well as myself. We are apt to think your medallists a little fantastical in the different prices they set upon their coins, without any regard to the ancient value or the metal of which they are composed. A silver medal, for example, shall be more esteemed than a golden one, and a piece of brass than either. To answer you, says Philander, in the language of a medallist, you are not to look upon a cabinet of medals as a treasure of money, but of knowledge, nor must you fancy any charms in gold, but in the figures and inscriptions that adorn it. The intrinsic value of an old coin does not consist in its metal but its erudition. It is the device that has raised the species, so that, at present, an as or an obolus may carry a higher price than a denarius or a drachma; and a piece of money, that was not worth a penny fifteen hundred years ago, may be now rated at fifty crowns, or perhaps a hundred guineas. I find, says Cynthio, that, to have a relish for ancient coins, it is necessary to have a contempt of the modern. But I am afraid you will never be able, with all your medallic eloquence, to persuade Eugenius and myself that it is better to have a pocket full of Othos and Gordians than of Jacobus's or Louis d'ors. This however we shall be judges of, when you have let us know the several uses of old coins.
The first and most obvious one, says Philander, is the showing us the faces of all the great persons of antiquity. A cabinet of medals is a collection of pictures in miniature. Juvenal calls them, very humorously,
Concisum argentum in titulos, faciesque minutas. Sat. 5. You here see the Alexanders, Cæsars, Pompeys, Trajans, and the whole catalogue of heroes, who have many of them so distinguished themselves from the rest of mankind, that we almost look upon them as another species. It is an agreeable amusement to compare, in our own thoughts, the face of a great man with the character that authors have given us of him, and to try if we can find out in his looks and features either the haughty, cruel, or merciful temper that discovers itself in the history of his actions. We find too on medals the representations of ladies that have given Occasion to whole volumes on the account only of a face. We have here the pleasure to examine their looks and dresses, and to survey at leisure those beauties that have sometimes been the happiness or misery of whole kingdoms: nor do you only meet the faces of such as are famous in history, but of several whose names are not to be found any where except on medals. Some of the emperors, for example, have had wives, and some of them children, that no authors have mentioned. We are therefore obliged to the study of coins for having made new discoveries to the learned, and given them information of such persons as are to be met with on no other kind of records. You must give me leave, says Cynthio, to reject this last use of medals. I do not think it worth while to trouble myself with a person's name or face that receives all his reputation from the mint, and would never have been known in the world had there not been such things as medals. A man's memory finds sufficient employment on such as have really signalised themselves by their great actions, without charging itself with the names of an insignificant people, whose whole history is written on the edges of an old coin.
If you are only for such persons as have made a noise in the world, says Philander, you have on medals a long list of heathen deities, distinguished from each other by their proper titles and ornaments. You see the copies of several statues that have had the politest nations of the world fall down before them. You have here too several persons of a more thin and shadowy nature, as Hope, Constancy, Fidelity, Abundance, Honour, Virtue, Eternity, Justice, Moderation, Happiness, and in short a whole creation of the like imaginary substances. To these you may add the genies of nations, provinces, cities, highways, and the like allegorical beings. In devices of this nature one sees a pretty poetical invention, and may often find as much thought on the reverse of a medal as in a canto of Spenser. Not to interrupt you, says Eugenius, I fancy it is this use of medals that has recommended them to several history painters, who, perhaps, without this assistance, would have found it very difficult to have invented such an airy species of beings, when they are obliged to put a moral virtue into colours, or to find out a proper dress for a passion. It is doubtless for this reason, says Philander, that painters have not a little contributed to bring the study of medals in vogue. For not to mention several others, Caraccio is said to have assisted Aretine by designs that he took from the Spintriæ of Tiberius. Raphael had thoroughly studied the figures on old Coins. Patin tells us, that Le Brun had done the same. And it is well known that Rubens had a noble collection of medals in his own possession. But I must not quit this head before I tell you, that you see on medals not only the names and persons of emperors, kings, consuls, proconsuls, prætors, and the like characters of importance, but of some of the poets, and of several who had won the prizes at the Olympic games. It was a noble time, says Cynthio, when trips and Cornish hugs could make a man immortal. How many heroes would Moorfields have furnished out in the days of old ? A fellow that can now only win a hat or a belt, had he lived among the Greeks, might have had his face stamped upon their coins. But these were the wise ancients, who had more esteem for a Milo than a Homer, and heaped up greater honours on Pindar's jockies, than on the poet himself. But by this time, I suppose, you have drawn up all your medallic people, and indeed they make a much more formidable body than I could have imagined. You have shown us all conditions, sexes and ages, emperors and empresses, men and children, gods and wrestlers
. Nay you have conjured up persons that exist no where else but on old coins, and have made our passions and virtues and vices visible. I could never have thought that a cabinet of medals had been so well peopled. But, in the next place, says Philander, as we see on
coins the different faces of persons, we see on them too their different habits and dresses, according to the mode that prevailed in the several ages when the medals were stamped. This is another use, says Cynthio, that, in my opinion, contributes rather to make a man learned than wise, and is neither capable of pleasing the understanding nor imagination. I know there are several supercilious critics, that will treat an author with the greatest contempt imaginable, if he fancies the old Romans wore a girdle, and are amazed' at a man's ignorance, who believes the toga had any sleeves to it till the declension of the Roman empire. Now I would fain know the great importance of this kind of learning, and why it should not be as noble a task to write upon a bib and hanging-sleeves, as on the bulla and prætexta. The reason is, that we are familiar with the names of the one, and meet with the other no where but in learned authors. An antiquary will scorn to mention a pinner or a night-rail, a petticoat or a manteau; but will talk as gravely as a father of the church on the vitta and peplus, the stola and instita. How would an old Roman laugh, were it possible for him to see the solemn dissertations that have been made on these weighty subjects. To set them in their natural light, let us fancy, if you please, that about a thousand years hence, some profound author shall write a learned treatise on the habits of the present age, distinguished into the following titles and chapters.
Of the old British trowser.
The opinion of several learned men concerning the use of the shoulder-knot.
Such-a-one mistaken in his account of the surtout, &c.
I must confess, says Eugenius, interrupting him, the knowledge of these affairs is in itself very little improving but as it is impossible without it to understand