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Upon the Usefulness of
YNTHIO, Eugenius and Philander had retired together from the town to a country village, that lies upon the Thames. Their defign was to pafs away the heats of the Summer among the fresh breezes, that rife from the river, and the agreeable mixture of shades and fountains, in which the whole country naturally abounds. They were all three very well versed in the politer parts of learning, and had travelled into the most refined nations of Europe: fo that they were capable of entertaining themfelves on a thousand different fubjects without A 5
running into the common topics of defaming public parties, or particular perfons. As they were intimate friends they took the freedom to diffent from one another in difcourse, or upon occasion to speak a Latin fentence without fearing the imputation of pedantry or ill-breeding.
They were one evening taking a walk together in the fields when their difcourfe accidentally fell upon feveral unprofitable parts of learning. It was Cynthio's humour to run down every thing that was rather for oftentation than ufc. He was ftill preferring good fenfe to arts and fciences, and often took a pleasure to appear ignorant, that he might the better turn to ridicule those that valued them felves on their books and studies, though at the fame time one might very well fee that he could not have attacked many parts of learning fo fuccefsfully, had not he borrowed his Affiftances from them. After having rally'd a fet or two of Virtufos, he fell upon the Medallifts.
These gentlemen, fays he, value themselves upon being critics in Ruft, and will undertake to tell you the different ages of it, by its colour. They are poffeffed with a kind of learned avarice, and are for getting together hoards of fuch money only as was current among the Greeks and Latins. There are feveral of them that are better acquainted with the faces of the Antonines, than of the Stuarts, and would rather choose to count out a Sum in Sefterces, than in pounds sterling. I have heard of one in Italy that used to swear by the head of Otho. Nothing can be pleasanter than to fee a circle of thefe Virtuofos about a cabinet of Medals, defcanting upon the value, rarity and
authenticalnefs of the feveral pieces that lie before them. One takes up a coin of Gold, and after having well weighed the figures and inscription, tells you very gravely if it were brass, it would be invaluable. Another falls a ringing a Pefcennius Niger, and judiciously distinguishes the found of it to be modern. A third defires you to obferve well the Toga on fuch a reverse, and afks you whether you can in confcience believe the fleeve of it to be of the true Roman cut.
I must confefs, fays Philander, the knowledge of Medals has moft of thofe difadvantages that can render a science ridiculous, to fuch as are not well verfed in it. Nothing is more eafy than to reprefent as impertinences any parts of learning that have no immediate relation to the happiness or convenience of mankind. When. man spends his whole life among the Stars and Planets, or lays out a twelvemonth on the spots in the Sun, however noble his fpeculations may be, they are very apt to fall into burlesque. But it is still more natural to laugh at fuch studies as are employed on low and vulgar objects. What curious obfervations have been made on Spiders, Lobsters and Cockle-fhells? yet the very naming of them is almoft fufficient to turn them into raillery. It is no wonder therefore that the science of Medals, which is charged with fo many unconcerning parts of knowledge, and built on fuch. mean materials, fhould appear ridiculous to thofe that have not taken the pains to examine it.
Eugenius was very attentive to what Philander faid on the subject of Medals. He was one that endeavoured rather to be agreeable than fhining in converfation, for which reafon he was more
beloved, though not fo much admired as Cynthio. I must confefs, fays he, I find myself very much inclined to speak against a fort 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 fome time upon it. I am glad then, fays 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 prefent you do not know but it may have its ufefulness. But fhould I endeavour to convince you of it, I might fail in my Attempt, and fo render my fcience ftill more contemptible. On the contrary, fays Cynthio, we are already fo perfuaded of the unprofitableness of your science, that you can but leave us where you find us, but if you fucceed you increase the number of your party. Well, fays Philander, in hopes of making two such confiderable profelytes, 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 diffent from me, or have any difficulties that you think me capable of removing. To make use of the liberty you give us, fays Eugenius, I must tell you what I believe furprises all beginners as well as myself. We are apt to think your Medallifts a little fantastical in the different prices they fet upon their Coins, without any regard to the ancient value or the metal of which they are compofed. A filver Medal, for example, fhall be more efteemed than a golden one, and a piece of brass than either. To answer you, fays Philander, in the language of a Medallift, you are
not to look upon a cabinet of Medals as a treafure of money, but of knowledge, nor muft you fancy any charms in gold, but in the figures and inscriptions that adorn it. The intrinfic value of an old coin does not confift in its metal but its erudition. It is the Device that has raifed the fpecies, fo that at present an As or an Obulus 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 perfuade Eugenius and myself that it is better to have a pocket full of Ótho's 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, fays Philander, is the fhewing us the Faces of all the great perfons of antiquity. A cabinet of Medals is a collection of pictures in miniature. Juvenal calls them very humorously,
Concifum argentum in titulos, faciefque minutas.
You here fee the Alexanders, Cefars, Pompeys, Trajans, and the whole catalogue of Heroes, who have many of them fo diftinguished themfelves from the rest of mankind that we almost look upon them as another fpecies. It is an agreeable amusement to compare in our own thoughts