Transcribed from the 1886 Cassell & Co. edition by David Price, email email@example.com
NATURE AND ART
BY MRS. INCHBALD.
CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED: LONDON, PARIS, NEW YORK & MELBOURNE. 1886.
Elizabeth Simpson was born on the 15th of October, 1753, one of the eight children of a poor farmer, at Standingfield, near Bury St. Edmunds. Five of the children were girls, who were all gifted with personal beauty. The family was Roman Catholic. The mother had a delight in visits to the Bury Theatre, and took, when she could, her children to the play. One of her sons became an actor, and her daughter Elizabeth offered herself at eighteen—her father then being dead—for engagement as an actress at the Norwich Theatre. She had an impediment of speech, and she was not engaged; but in the following year, leaving behind an affectionate letter to her mother, she stole away from Standingfield, and made a bold plunge into the unknown world of London, where she had friends, upon whose help she relied. Her friends happened to be in Wales, and she had some troubles to go through before she found a home in the house of a sister, who had married a poor tailor. About two months after she had left Standingfield she married, in London, Mr. Inchbald, an actor, who had paid his addresses to her when she was at home, and who was also a Roman Catholic. On the evening of the wedding day the bride, who had not yet succeeded in obtaining an engagement, went to the play, and saw the bridegroom play the part of Mr. Oakley in the "Jealous Wife." Mr. Inchbald was thirty-seven years old, and had sons by a former marriage. In September, 1772, Mrs. Inchbald tried her fortune on the stage by playing Cordelia to her husband's Lear. Beauty alone could not assure success. The impediment in speech made it impossible for Mrs. Inchbald to succeed greatly as an actress. She was unable to realise her own conceptions. At times she and her husband prospered so little that on one day their dinner was of turnips, pulled and eaten in a field, and sometimes there was no dinner at all. But better days presently followed; first acquaintance of Mrs. Inchbald with Mrs. Siddons grew to a strong friendship, and this extended to the other members of the Kemble family.
After seven years of happy but childless marriage, Mrs. Inchbald was left a widow at the age of twenty-six. In after years, when devoting herself to the baby of one of her landladies, she wrote to a friend,—"I shall never again have patience with a mother who complains of anything but the loss of her children; so no complaints when you see me again. Remember, you have had two children, and I never had one." After her husband's death, Mrs. Inchbald's beauty surrounded her with admirers, some of them rich, but she did not marry again. To one of those who offered marriage, she replied that her temper was so uncertain that nothing but blind affection in a husband could bear with it. Yet she was patiently living and fighting the world on a weekly salary of about thirty shillings, out of which she helped her poorer sisters. When acting at Edinburgh she spent on herself only eight shillings a week in board and lodging. It was after her husband's death that Mrs. Inchbald finished a little novel, called "A Simple Story," but it was not until twelve years afterwards that she could get it published. She came to London again, and wrote farces, which she could not get accepted; but she obtained an increase of salary to three pounds a week by unwillingly consenting not only to act in plays, but also to walk in pantomime. At last, in July, 1784, her first farce, "The Mogul Tale," was acted. It brought her a hundred guineas. Three years later her success as a writer had risen so far that she obtained nine hundred pounds by a little piece called "Such Things Are." She still lived sparingly, invested savings, and was liberal only to the poor, and chiefly to her sisters and the poor members of her family. She finished a sketch of her life in 1786, for which a publisher, without seeing it, offered a thousand pounds. But there was more satirical comment in it than she liked, and she resolved to do at once what she would wish done at the point of death. She destroyed the record.
In 1791 Mrs. Inchbald published her "Simple Story." Her other tale, "Nature and Art," followed in 1794, when Mrs. Inchbald's age was forty- one. She had retired from the stage five years before, with an income of fifty-eight pounds a year, all she called her own out of the independence secured by her savings. She lived in cheap lodgings, and had sometimes to wait altogether on herself; at one lodging "fetching up her own water three pair of stairs, and dropping a few tears into the heedless stream, as any other wounded deer might do." Later in life, she wrote to a friend from a room in which she cooked, and ate, and also her saucepans were cleaned:—"Thank God, I can say No. I say No to all the vanities of the world, and perhaps soon shall have to say that I allow my poor infirm sister a hundred a year. I have raised my allowance to eighty; but in the rapid stride of her wants, and my obligation as a Christian to make no selfish refusal to the poor, a few months, I foresee, must make the sum a hundred." In 1816, when that sister died, and Mrs. Inchbald buried the last of her immediate home relations—though she had still nephews to find money for—she said it had been a consolation to her when sometimes she cried with cold to think that her sister, who was less able to bear privation, had her fire lighted for her before she rose, and her food brought to her ready cooked.
Even at fifty Mrs. Inchbald's beauty of face inspired admiration. The beauty of the inner life increased with years. Lively and quick of temper, impulsive, sensitive, she took into her heart all that was best in the sentiments associated with the teaching of Rousseau and the dreams of the French Revolution. Mrs. Inchbald spoke her mind most fully in this little story, which is told with a dramatic sense of construction that swiftly carries on the action to its close. She was no weak sentimentalist, who hung out her feelings to view as an idle form of self- indulgence. Most unselfishly she wrought her own life to the pattern in her mind; even the little faults she could not conquer, she well knew.
Mrs. Inchbald died at the age of sixty-eight, on the 1st of August, 1821, a devout Roman Catholic, her thoughts in her last years looking habitually through all disguises of convention up to Nature's God.
At a time when the nobility of Britain were said, by the poet laureate, to be the admirers and protectors of the arts, and were acknowledged by the whole nation to be the patrons of music—William and Henry, youths under twenty years of age, brothers, and the sons of a country shopkeeper who had lately died insolvent, set out on foot for London, in the hope of procuring by their industry a scanty subsistence.
As they walked out of their native town, each with a small bundle at his back, each observed the other drop several tears: but, upon the sudden meeting of their eyes, they both smiled with a degree of disdain at the weakness in which they had been caught.
"I am sure," said William (the elder), "I don't know what makes me cry."
"Nor I neither," said Henry; "for though we may never see this town again, yet we leave nothing behind us to give us reason to lament."
"No," replied William, "nor anybody who cares what becomes of us."
"But I was thinking," said Henry, now weeping bitterly, "that, if my poor father were alive, he would care what was to become of us: he would not have suffered us to begin this long journey without a few more shillings in our pockets."
At the end of this sentence, William, who had with some effort suppressed his tears while his brother spoke, now uttered, with a voice almost inarticulate,—"Don't say any more; don't talk any more about it. My father used to tell us, that when he was gone we must take care of ourselves: and so we must. I only wish," continued he, giving way to his grief, "that I had never done anything to offend him while he was living."
"That is what I wish too," cried Henry. "If I had always been dutiful to him while he was alive, I would not shed one tear for him now that he is gone—but I would thank Heaven that he has escaped from his creditors."
In conversation such as this, wherein their sorrow for their deceased parent seemed less for his death than because he had not been so happy when living as they ought to have made him; and wherein their own outcast fortune was less the subject of their grief, than the reflection what their father would have endured could he have beheld them in their present situation;—in conversation such as this, they pursued their journey till they arrived at that metropolis, which has received for centuries past, from the provincial towns, the bold adventurer of every denomination; has stamped his character with experience and example; and, while it has bestowed on some coronets and mitres—on some the lasting fame of genius—to others has dealt beggary, infamy, and untimely death.
After three weeks passed in London, a year followed, during which William and Henry never sat down to a dinner, or went into a bed, without hearts glowing with thankfulness to that Providence who had bestowed on them such unexpected blessings; for they no longer presumed to expect (what still they hoped they deserved) a secure pittance in this world of plenty. Their experience, since they came to town, had informed them that to obtain a permanent livelihood is the good fortune but of a part of those who are in want of it: and the precarious earning of half-a-crown, or a shilling, in the neighbourhood where they lodged, by an errand, or some such accidental means, was the sole support which they at present enjoyed.
They had sought for constant employment of various kinds, and even for servants' places; but obstacles had always occurred to prevent their success. If they applied for the situation of a clerk to a man of extensive concerns, their qualifications were admitted; but there must be security given for their fidelity;—they had friends, who would give them a character, but who would give them nothing else.
If they applied for the place even of a menial servant, they were too clownish and awkward for the presence of the lady of the house;—and once, when William (who had been educated at the free grammar-school of the town in which he was born, and was an excellent scholar), hoping to obtain the good opinion of a young clergyman whom he solicited for the favour of waiting upon him, said submissively, "that he understood Greek and Latin," he was rejected by the divine, "because he could not dress hair."
Weary of repeating their mean accomplishments of "honesty, sobriety, humility," and on the precipice of reprobating such qualities,—which, however beneficial to the soul, gave no hope of preservation to the body,—they were prevented from this profanation by the fortunate remembrance of one qualification, which Henry, the possessor, in all his distress, had never till then called to his recollection; but which, as soon as remembered and made known, changed the whole prospect of wretchedness placed before the two brothers; and they never knew want more.
Reader—Henry could play upon the fiddle.
No sooner was it publicly known that Henry could play most enchantingly upon the violin, than he was invited into many companies where no other accomplishment could have introduced him. His performance was so much admired, that he had the honour of being admitted to several tavern feasts, of which he had also the honour to partake without partaking of the expense. He was soon addressed by persons of the very first rank and fashion, and was once seen walking side by side with a peer.
But yet, in the midst of this powerful occasion for rejoicing, Henry, whose heart was particularly affectionate, had one grief which eclipsed all the happiness of his new life;—his brother William could not play on the fiddle! consequently, his brother William, with whom he had shared so much ill, could not share in his good fortune.
One evening, Henry, coming home from a dinner and concert at the Crown and Anchor found William, in a very gloomy and peevish humour, poring over the orations of Cicero. Henry asked him several times "how he did," and similar questions, marks of his kind disposition towards his beloved brother: but all his endeavours, he perceived, could not soothe or soften the sullen mind of William. At length, taking from his pocket a handful of almonds, and some delicious fruit (which he had purloined from the plenteous table, where his brother's wants had never been absent from his thoughts), and laying them down before him, he exclaimed, with a benevolent smile, "Do, William, let me teach you to play upon the violin."
William, full of the great orator whom he was then studying, and still more alive to the impossibility that his ear, attuned only to sense, could ever descend from that elevation, to learn mere sounds—William caught up the tempting presents which Henry had ventured his reputation to obtain for him, and threw them all indignantly at the donor's head.
Henry felt too powerfully his own superiority of fortune to resent this ingratitude: he patiently picked up the repast, and laying it again upon the table, placed by its side a bottle of claret, which he held fast by the neck, while he assured his brother that, "although he had taken it while the waiter's back was turned, yet it might be drank with a safe conscience by them; for he had not himself tasted one drop at the feast, on purpose that he might enjoy a glass with his brother at home, and without wronging the company who had invited him."
The affection Henry expressed as he said this, or the force of a bumper of wine, which William had not seen since he left his father's house, had such an effect in calming the displeasure he was cherishing, that, on his brother offering him the glass, he took it; and he deigned even to eat of his present.
Henry, to convince him that he had stinted himself to obtain for him this collation, sat down and partook of it.
After a few glasses, he again ventured to say, "Do, brother William, let me teach you to play on the violin."
Again his offer was refused, though with less vehemence: at length they both agreed that the attempt could not prosper.
"Then," said Henry, "William, go down to Oxford or to Cambridge. There, no doubt, they are as fond of learning as in this gay town they are of music. You know you have as much talent for the one as I for the other: do go to one of our universities, and see what dinners, what suppers, and what friends you will find there."
William did go to one of those seats of learning, and would have starved there, but for the affectionate remittances of Henry, who shortly became so great a proficient in the art of music, as to have it in his power not only to live in a very reputable manner himself, but to send such supplies to his brother, as enabled him to pursue his studies.
With some, the progress of fortune is rapid. Such is the case when, either on merit or demerit, great patronage is bestowed. Henry's violin had often charmed, to a welcome forgetfulness of his insignificance, an effeminate lord; or warmed with ideas of honour the head of a duke, whose heart could never be taught to feel its manly glow. Princes had flown to the arms of their favourite fair ones with more rapturous delight, softened by the masterly touches of his art: and these elevated personages, ever grateful to those from whom they receive benefits, were competitors in the desire of heaping favours upon him. But he, in all his advantages, never once lost for a moment the hope of some advantage for his brother William: and when at any time he was pressed by a patron to demand a "token of his regard," he would constantly reply—"I have a brother, a very learned man, if your lordship (your grace, or your royal highness) would confer some small favour on him!"
His lordship would reply, "He was so teased and harassed in his youth by learned men, that he had ever since detested the whole fraternity."
His grace would inquire, "if the learned man could play upon any instrument."
And his highness would ask "if he could sing."
Rebuffs such as these poor Henry met with in all his applications for William, till one fortunate evening, at the conclusion of a concert, a great man shook him by the hand, and promised a living of five hundred a year (the incumbent of which was upon his death-bed) to his brother, in return for the entertainment that Henry had just afforded him.
Henry wrote in haste to William, and began his letter thus: "My dear brother, I am not sorry you did not learn to play upon the fiddle."
The incumbent of this living died—William underwent the customary examinations, obtained successively the orders of deacon and priest; then as early as possible came to town to take possession of the gift which his brother's skill had acquired for him.
William had a steady countenance, a stern brow, and a majestic walk; all of which this new accession, this holy calling to religious vows, rather increased than diminished. In the early part of his life, the violin of his brother had rather irritated than soothed the morose disposition of his nature: and though, since their departure from their native habitation, it had frequently calmed the violent ragings of his huger, it had never been successful in appeasing the disturbed passions of a proud and disdainful mind.
As the painter views with delight and wonder the finished picture, expressive testimony of his taste and genius; as the physician beholds with pride and gladness the recovering invalid, whom his art has snatched from the jaws of death; as the father gazes with rapture on his first child, the creature to whom he has given life; so did Henry survey, with transporting glory, his brother, dressed for the first time in canonicals, to preach at his parish church. He viewed him from head to foot—smiled—viewed again—pulled one side of his gown a little this way, one end of his band a little that way; then stole behind him, pretending to place the curls of his hair, but in reality to indulge and to conceal tears of fraternal pride and joy.
William was not without joy, neither was he wanting in love or gratitude to his brother; but his pride was not completely satisfied.
"I am the elder," thought he to himself, "and a man of literature, and yet am I obliged to my younger brother, an illiterate man." Here he suppressed every thought which could be a reproach to that brother. But there remained an object of his former contempt, now become even detestable to him; ungrateful man. The very agent of his elevation was now so odious to him, that he could not cast his eyes upon the friendly violin without instant emotions of disgust.
In vain would Henry, at times, endeavour to subdue his haughtiness by a tune on this wonderful machine. "You know I have no ear," William would sternly say, in recompense for one of Henry's best solos. Yet was William enraged at Henry's answer, when, after taking him to hear him preach, he asked him, "how he liked his sermon," and Henry modestly replied (in the technical phrase of his profession), "You know, brother, I have no ear."
Henry's renown in his profession daily increased; and, with his fame, his friends. Possessing the virtues of humility and charity far above William, who was the professed teacher of those virtues, his reverend brother's disrespect for his vocation never once made him relax for a moment in his anxiety to gain him advancement in the Church. In the course of a few years, and in consequence of many fortuitous circumstances, he had the gratification of procuring for him the appointment to a deanery; and thus at once placed between them an insurmountable barrier to all friendship, that was not the effect of condescension on the part of the dean.
William would now begin seriously to remonstrate with his brother "upon his useless occupation," and would intimate "the degradation it was to him to hear his frivolous talent spoken of in all companies." Henry believed his brother to be much wiser than himself, and suffered shame that he was not more worthy of such a relation. To console himself for the familiar friend, whom he now perceived he had entirely lost, he searched for one of a softer nature—he married.
As Henry despaired of receiving his brother's approbation of his choice, he never mentioned the event to him. But William, being told of it by a third person, inquired of Henry, who confirmed the truth of the intelligence, and acknowledged, that, in taking a wife, his sole view had been to obtain a kind companion and friend, who would bear with his failings and know how to esteem his few qualifications; therefore, he had chosen one of his own rank in life, and who, having a taste for music, and, as well as himself, an obligation to the art—
"And is it possible," cried the dean, "that what has been hinted to me is true? Is it possible that you have married a public singer?"
"She is as good as myself," returned Henry. "I did not wish her to be better, for fear she should despise me."
"As to despise," answered the dean, "Heaven forbid that we should despise anyone, that would be acting unlike a Christian; but do you imagine I can ever introduce her to my intended wife, who is a woman of family?"
Henry had received in his life many insults from his brother; but, as he was not a vain man, he generally thought his brother in the right, and consequently submitted with patience; but, though he had little self-love, he had for his wife an unbounded affection. On the present occasion, therefore, he began to raise his voice, and even (in the coarse expression of clownish anger) to lift his hand; but the sudden and affecting recollection of what he had done for the dean—of the pains, the toils, the hopes, and the fears he had experienced when soliciting his preferment—this recollection overpowered his speech, weakened his arm, and deprived him of every active force, but that of flying out of his brother's house (in which they then were) as swift as lightning, while the dean sat proudly contemplating "that he had done his duty."
For several days Henry did not call, as was his custom, to see his brother. William's marriage drew near, and he sent a formal card to invite him on that day; but not having had the condescension to name his sister-in-law in the invitation, Henry thought proper not to accept it, and the joyful event was celebrated without his presence. But the ardour of the bridegroom was not so vehement as to overcome every other sensation—he missed his brother. That heartfelt cheerfulness with which Henry had ever given him joy upon every happy occasion—even amidst all the politer congratulations of his other friends—seemed to the dean mournfully wanting. This derogation from his felicity he was resolved to resent; and for a whole year these brothers, whom adversity had entwined closely together, prosperity separated.
Though Henry, on his marriage, paid so much attention to his brother's prejudices as to take his wife from her public employment, this had not so entirely removed the scruples of William as to permit him to think her a worthy companion for Lady Clementina, the daughter of a poor Scotch earl, whom he had chosen merely that he might be proud of her family, and, in return, suffer that family to be ashamed of his.
If Henry's wife were not fit company for Lady Clementina, it is to be hoped that she was company for angels. She died within the first year of her marriage, a faithful, an affectionate wife, and a mother.
When William heard of her death, he felt a sudden shock, and a kind of fleeting thought glanced across his mind, that
"Had he known she had been so near her dissolution, she might have been introduced to Lady Clementina, and he himself would have called her sister."
That is (if he had defined his fleeting idea), "They would have had no objection to have met this poor woman for the last time, and would have descended to the familiarity of kindred, in order to have wished her a good journey to the other world."
Or, is there in death something which so raises the abjectness of the poor, that, on their approach to its sheltering abode, the arrogant believer feels the equality he had before denied, and trembles?
The wife of Henry had been dead near six weeks before the dean heard the news. A month then elapsed in thoughts by himself, and consultations with Lady Clementina, how he should conduct himself on this occurrence. Her advice was,
"That, as Henry was the younger, and by their stations, in every sense the dean's inferior, Henry ought first to make overtures of reconciliation."
The dean answered, "He had no doubt of his brother's good will to him, but that he had reason to think, from the knowledge of his temper, he would be more likely to come to him upon an occasion to bestow comfort, than to receive it. For instance, if I had suffered the misfortune of losing your ladyship, my brother, I have no doubt, would have forgotten his resentment, and—"
She was offended that the loss of the vulgar wife of Henry should be compared to the loss of her—she lamented her indiscretion in forming an alliance with a family of no rank, and implored the dean to wait till his brother should make some concession to him, before he renewed the acquaintance.
Though Lady Clementina had mentioned on this occasion her indiscretion, she was of a prudent age—she was near forty—yet, possessing rather a handsome face and person, she would not have impressed the spectator with a supposition that she was near so old had she not constantly attempted to appear much younger. Her dress was fantastically fashionable, her manners affected all the various passions of youth, and her conversation was perpetually embellished with accusations against her own "heedlessness, thoughtlessness, carelessness, and childishness."
There is, perhaps in each individual, one parent motive to every action, good or bad. Be that as it may, it was evident, that with Lady Clementina, all she said or did, all she thought or looked, had but one foundation—vanity. If she were nice, or if she were negligent, vanity was the cause of both; for she would contemplate with the highest degree of self-complacency, "What such-a-one would say of her elegant preciseness, or what such-a-one would think of her interesting neglect."
If she complained she was ill, it was with the certainty that her languor would be admired: if she boasted she was well, it was that the spectator might admire her glowing health: if she laughed, it was because she thought it made her look pretty: if she cried, it was because she thought it made her look prettier still. If she scolded her servants, it was from vanity, to show her knowledge superior to theirs: and she was kind to them from the same motive, that her benevolence might excite their admiration. Forward and impertinent in the company of her equals, from the vanity of supposing herself above them, she was bashful even to shamefacedness in the presence of her superiors, because her vanity told her she engrossed all their observation. Through vanity she had no memory, for she constantly forgot everything she heard others say, from the minute attention which she paid to everything she said herself.
She had become an old maid from vanity, believing no offer she received worthy of her deserts; and when her power of farther conquest began to be doubted, she married from vanity, to repair the character of her fading charms. In a word, her vanity was of that magnitude, that she had no conjecture but that she was humble in her own opinion; and it would have been impossible to have convinced her that she thought well of herself, because she thought so well, as to be assured that her own thoughts undervalued her.
That, which in a weak woman is called vanity, in a man of sense is termed pride. Make one a degree stranger, or the other a degree weaker, and the dean and his wife were infected with the self-same folly. Yet, let not the reader suppose that this failing (however despicable) had erased from either bosom all traces of humanity. They are human creatures who are meant to be portrayed in this little book: and where is the human creature who has not some good qualities to soften, if not to counterbalance, his bad ones?
The dean, with all his pride, could not wholly forget his brother, nor eradicate from his remembrance the friend that he had been to him: he resolved, therefore, in spite of his wife's advice, to make him some overture, which he had no doubt Henry's good-nature would instantly accept. The more he became acquainted with all the vain and selfish propensities of Lady Clementina, the more he felt a returning affection for his brother: but little did he suspect how much he loved him, till (after sending to various places to inquire for him) he learned—that on his wife's decease, unable to support her loss in the surrounding scene, Henry had taken the child she brought him in his arms, shaken hands with all his former friends—passing over his brother in the number—and set sail in a vessel bound for Africa, with a party of Portuguese and some few English adventurers, to people there the uninhabited part of an extensive island.
This was a resolution, in Henry's circumstances, worthy a mind of singular sensibility: but William had not discerned, till then, that every act of Henry's was of the same description; and more than all, his every act towards him. He staggered when he heard the tidings; at first thought them untrue; but quickly recollected, that Henry was capable of surprising deeds! He recollected with a force which gave him torture, the benevolence his brother had ever shown to him—the favours he had heaped upon him—the insults he had patiently endured in requital!
In the first emotion, which this intelligence gave the dean, he forgot the dignity of his walk and gesture: he ran with frantic enthusiasm to every corner of his deanery where the least vestige of what belonged to Henry remained—he pressed close to his breast, with tender agony, a coat of his, which by accident had been left there—he kissed and wept over a walking-stick which Henry once had given him—he even took up with delight a music book of his brother's—nor would his poor violin have then excited anger.
When his grief became more calm, he sat in deep and melancholy meditation, calling to mind when and where he saw his brother last. The recollection gave him fresh cause of regret. He remembered they had parted on his refusing to suffer Lady Clementina to admit the acquaintance of Henry's wife. Both Henry and his wife he now contemplated beyond the reach of his pride; and he felt the meanness of his former and the imbecility of his future haughtiness towards them.
To add to his self-reproaches, his tormented memory presented to him the exact countenance of his brother at their last interview, as it changed, while he censured his marriage, and treated with disrespect the object of his conjugal affection. He remembered the anger repressed, the tear bursting forth, and the last glimpse he had of him, as he left his presence, most likely for ever.
In vain he now wished that he had followed him to the door—that he had once shaken hands and owned his obligations to him before they had parted. In vain he wished too, that, in this extreme agony of his mind, he had such a friend to comfort him, as Henry had ever proved.
The avocations of an elevated life erase the deepest impressions. The dean in a few months recovered from those which his brother's departure first made upon him: and he would now at times even condemn, in anger, Henry's having so hastily abandoned him and his native country, in resentment, as he conceived, of a few misfortunes which his usual fortitude should have taught him to have borne. Yet was he still desirous of his return, and wrote two or three letters expressive of his wish, which he anxiously endeavoured should reach him. But many years having elapsed without any intelligence from him, and a report having arrived that he, and all the party with whom he went, were slain by the savage inhabitants of the island, William's despair of seeing his brother again caused the desire to diminish; while attention and affection to a still nearer and dearer relation than Henry had ever been to him, now chiefly engaged his mind.
Lady Clementina had brought him a son, on whom from his infancy, he doated—and the boy, in riper years, possessing a handsome person and evincing a quickness of parts, gratified the father's darling passion, pride, as well as the mother's vanity.
The dean had, beside this child, a domestic comfort highly gratifying to his ambition: the bishop of —- became intimately acquainted with him soon after his marriage, and from his daily visits had become, as it were, a part of the family. This was much honour to the dean, not only as the bishop was his superior in the Church, but was of that part of the bench whose blood is ennobled by a race of ancestors, and to which all wisdom on the plebeian side crouches in humble respect.
Year after year rolled on in pride and grandeur; the bishop and the dean passing their time in attending levees and in talking politics; Lady Clementina passing hers in attending routs and in talking of herself, till the son arrived at the age of thirteen.
Young William passed his time, from morning till night, with persons who taught him to walk, to ride, to talk, to think like a man—a foolish man, instead of a wise child, as nature designed him to be.
This unfortunate youth was never permitted to have one conception of his own—all were taught him—he was never once asked, "What he thought;" but men were paid to tell "how to think." He was taught to revere such and such persons, however unworthy of his reverence; to believe such and such things, however unworthy of his credit: and to act so and so, on such and such occasions, however unworthy of his feelings.
Such were the lessons of the tutors assigned him by his father—those masters whom his mother gave him did him less mischief; for though they distorted his limbs and made his manners effeminate, they did not interfere beyond the body.
Mr. Norwynne (the family name of his father, and though but a school-boy, he was called Mister) could talk on history, on politics, and on religion; surprisingly to all who never listened to a parrot or magpie—for he merely repeated what had been told to him without one reflection upon the sense or probability of his report. He had been praised for his memory; and to continue that praise, he was so anxious to retain every sentence he had heard, or he had read, that the poor creature had no time for one native idea, but could only re-deliver his tutors' lessons to his father, and his father's to his tutors. But, whatever he said or did, was the admiration of all who came to the house of the dean, and who knew he was an only child. Indeed, considering the labour that was taken to spoil him, he was rather a commendable youth; for, with the pedantic folly of his teachers, the blind affection of his father and mother, the obsequiousness of the servants, and flattery of the visitors, it was some credit to him that he was not an idiot, or a brute—though when he imitated the manners of a man, he had something of the latter in his appearance; for he would grin and bow to a lady, catch her fan in haste when it fell, and hand her to her coach, as thoroughly void of all the sentiment which gives grace to such tricks, as a monkey.
One morning in winter, just as the dean, his wife, and darling child, had finished their breakfast at their house in London, a servant brought in a letter to his master, and said "the man waited for an answer."
"Who is the man?" cried the dean, with all that terrifying dignity with which he never failed to address his inferiors, especially such as waited on his person.
The servant replied with a servility of tone equal to the haughty one of his master, "he did not know; but that the man looked like a sailor, and had a boy with him."
"A begging letter, no doubt," cried Lady Clementina.
"Take it back," said the dean, "and bid him send up word who he is, and what is his errand."
The servant went; and returning said, "He comes from on board a ship; his captain sent him, and his errand is, he believes, to leave a boy he has brought with him."
"A boy!" cried the dean: "what have I to do with a boy? I expect no boy. What boy? What age?"
"He looks about twelve or thirteen," replied the servant.
"He is mistaken in the house," said the dean. "Let me look at the letter again."
He did look at it, and saw plainly it was directed to himself. Upon a second glance, he had so perfect a recollection of the hand, as to open it instantaneously; and, after ordering the servant to withdraw, he read the following:—
"ZOCOTORA ISLAND, April 6.
"My Dear Brother William,—It is a long time since we have seen one another; but I hope not so long, that you have quite forgotten the many happy days we once passed together.
"I did not take my leave of you when I left England, because it would have been too much for me. I had met with a great many sorrows just at that time; one of which was, the misfortune of losing the use of my right hand by a fall from my horse, which accident robbed me of most of my friends; for I could no longer entertain them with my performance as I used to do, and so I was ashamed to see them or you; and that was the reason I came hither to try my fortune with some other adventurers.
"You have, I suppose, heard that the savages of the island put our whole party to death. But it was my chance to escape their cruelty. I was heart-broken for my comrades; yet upon the whole, I do not know that the savages were much to blame—we had no business to invade their territories! and if they had invaded England, we should have done the same by them. My life was spared, because, having gained some little strength in my hand during the voyage, I pleased their king when I arrived there with playing on my violin.
"They spared my child too, in pity to my lamentations, when they were going to put him to death. Now, dear brother, before I say any more to you concerning my child, I will first ask your pardon for any offence I may have ever given you in all the time we lived so long together. I know you have often found fault with me, and I dare say I have been very often to blame; but I here solemnly declare that I never did anything purposely to offend you, but mostly, all I could to oblige you—and I can safely declare that I never bore you above a quarter of an hour's resentment for anything you might say to me which I thought harsh.
"Now, dear William, after being in this island eleven years, the weakness in my hand has unfortunately returned; and yet there being no appearance of complaint, the uninformed islanders think it is all my obstinacy, and that I will not entertain them with my music, which makes me say that I cannot; and they have imprisoned me, and threaten to put my son to death if I persist in my stubbornness any longer.
"The anguish I feel in my mind takes away all hope of the recovery of strength in my hand; and I have no doubt but that they intend in a few days to put their horrid threat into execution.
"Therefore, dear brother William, hearing in my prison of a most uncommon circumstance, which is, that an English vessel is lying at a small distance from the island, I have entrusted a faithful negro to take my child to the ship, and deliver him to the captain, with a request that he may be sent (with this letter) to you on the ship's arrival in England.
"Now my dear, dear brother William, in case the poor boy should live to come to you, I have no doubt but you will receive him; yet excuse a poor, fond father, if I say a word or two which I hope may prove in his favour.
"Pray, my dear brother, do not think it the child's fault, but mine, that you will find him so ignorant—he has always shown a quickness and a willingness to learn, and would, I dare say, if he had been brought up under your care, have been by this time a good scholar, but you know I am no scholar myself. Besides, not having any books here, I have only been able to teach my child by talking to him, and in all my conversations with him I have never taken much pains to instruct him in the manners of my own country; thinking, that if ever he went over, he would learn them soon enough; and if he never did go over, that it would be as well he knew nothing about them.
"I have kept him also from the knowledge of everything which I have thought pernicious in the conduct of the savages, except that I have now and then pointed out a few of their faults, in order to give him a true conception and a proper horror of them. At the same time I have taught him to love, and to do good to his neighbour, whoever that neighbour may be, and whatever may be his failings. Falsehood of every kind I included in this precept as forbidden, for no one can love his neighbour and deceive him.
"I have instructed him too, to hold in contempt all frivolous vanity, and all those indulgences which he was never likely to obtain. He has learnt all that I have undertaken to teach him; but I am afraid you will yet think he has learned too little.
"Your wife, I fear, will be offended at his want of politeness, and perhaps proper respect for a person of her rank: but indeed he is very tractable, and can, without severity, be amended of all his faults; and though you will find he has many, yet, pray, my dear brother William, call to mind he has been a dutiful and an affectionate child to me; and that had it pleased Heaven we had lived together for many years to come, I verily believe I should never have experienced one mark of his disobedience.
"Farewell for ever, my dear, dear brother William—and if my poor, kind, affectionate child should live to bring you this letter, sometimes speak to him of me and let him know, that for twelve years he was my sole comfort; and that, when I sent him from me, in order to save his life, I laid down my head upon the floor of the cell in which I was confined, and prayed that Heaven might end my days before the morning."
This was the conclusion of the letter, except four or five lines which (with his name) were so much blotted, apparently with tears, that they were illegible.
While the dean was reading to himself this letter, his countenance frequently changed, and once or twice the tears streamed from his eyes. When it was finished, he exclaimed,
"My brother has sent his child to me, and I will be a parent to him." He was rushing towards the door, when Lady Clementina stopped him.
"Is it proper, do you think, Mr. Dean, that all the servants in the house should be witnesses to your meeting with your brother and your nephew in the state in which they must be at present? Send for them into a private apartment."
"My brother!" cried the dean; "oh! that it were my brother! The man is merely a person from the ship, who has conducted his child hither."
The bell was rung, money was sent to the man, and orders given that the boy should be shown up immediately.
While young Henry was walking up the stairs, the dean's wife was weighing in her mind in what manner it would most redound to her honour to receive him; for her vanity taught her to believe that the whole inquisitive world pried into her conduct, even upon every family occurrence.
Young William was wondering to himself what kind of an unpolished monster his beggarly cousin would appear; and was contemplating how much the poor youth would be surprised, and awed by his superiority.
The dean felt no other sensation than an impatient desire of beholding the child.
The door opened—and the son of his brother Henry, of his benefactor, entered.
The habit he had on when he left his father, having been of slight texture, was worn out by the length of the voyage, and he was in the dress of a sailor-boy. Though about the same age with his cousin, he was something taller: and though a strong family resemblance appeared between the two youths, he was handsomer than William; and from a simplicity spread over his countenance, a quick impatience in his eye—which denoted anxious curiosity, and childish surprise at every new object which presented itself—he appeared younger than his well-informed and well- bred cousin.
He walked into the room, not with a dictated obeisance, but with a hurrying step, a half pleased, yet a half frightened look, an instantaneous survey of every person present; not as demanding "what they thought of him," but expressing almost as plainly as in direct words, "what he thought of them." For all alarm in respect to his safety and reception seemed now wholly forgotten, in the curiosity which the sudden sight of strangers such as he had never seen in his life before, excited: and as to himself, he did not appear to know there was such a person existing: his whole faculties were absorbed in others.
The dean's reception of him did honour to his sensibility and his gratitude to his brother. After the first affectionate gaze, he ran to him, took him in his arms, sat down, drew him to him, held him between his knees, and repeatedly exclaimed, "I will repay to you all I owe to your father."
The boy, in return, hugged the dean round the neck, kissed him, and exclaimed,
"Oh! you are my father—you have just such eyes, and such a forehead—indeed you would be almost the same as he, if it were not for that great white thing which grows upon your head!"
Let the reader understand, that the dean, fondly attached to every ornament of his dignified function, was never seen (unless caught in bed) without an enormous wig. With this young Henry was enormously struck; having never seen so unbecoming a decoration, either in the savage island from whence he came, or on board the vessel in which he sailed.
"Do you imagine," cried his uncle, laying his hand gently on the reverend habiliment, "that this grows?"
"What is on my head grows," said young Henry, "and so does that which is upon my father's."
"But now you are come to Europe, Henry, you will see many persons with such things as these, which they put on and take off."
"Why do you wear such things?"
"As a distinction between us and inferior people: they are worn to give an importance to the wearer."
"That's just as the savages do; they hang brass nails, wire, buttons, and entrails of beasts all over them, to give them importance."
The dean now led his nephew to Lady Clementina, and told him, "She was his aunt, to whom he must behave with the utmost respect."
"I will, I will," he replied, "for she, I see, is a person of importance too; she has, very nearly, such a white thing upon her head as you have!"
His aunt had not yet fixed in what manner it would be advisable to behave; whether with intimidating grandeur, or with amiable tenderness. While she was hesitating between both, she felt a kind of jealous apprehension that her son was not so engaging either in his person or address as his cousin; and therefore she said,
"I hope, Dean, the arrival of this child will give you a still higher sense of the happiness we enjoy in our own. What an instructive contrast between the manners of the one and of the other!"
"It is not the child's fault," returned the dean, "that he is not so elegant in his manners as his cousin. Had William been bred in the same place, he would have been as unpolished as this boy."
"I beg your pardon, sir," said young William with a formal bow and a sarcastic smile, "I assure you several of my tutors have told me, that I appear to know many things as it were by instinct."
Young Henry fixed his eyes upon his cousin, while, with steady self-complacency, he delivered this speech, and no sooner was it concluded than Henry cried out in a kind of wonder,
"A little man! as I am alive, a little man! I did not know there were such little men in this country! I never saw one in my life before!"
"This is a boy," said the dean; "a boy not older than yourself."
He put their hands together, and William gravely shook hands with his cousin.
"It is a man," continued young Henry; then stroked his cousin's chin. "No, no, I do not know whether it is or not."
"I tell you again," said the dean, "he is a boy of your own age; you and he are cousins, for I am his father."
"How can that be?" said young Henry. "He called you Sir."
"In this country," said the dean, "polite children do not call their parents father and mother."
"Then don't they sometimes forget to love them as such?" asked Henry.
His uncle became now impatient to interrogate him in every particular concerning his father's state. Lady Clementina felt equal impatience to know where the father was, whether he were coming to live with them, wanted anything of them, and every circumstance in which her vanity was interested. Explanations followed all these questions; but which, exactly agreeing with what the elder Henry's letter has related, require no recital here.
That vanity which presided over every thought and deed of Lady Clementina was the protector of young Henry within her house. It represented to her how amiable her conduct would appear in the eye of the world should she condescend to treat this destitute nephew as her own son; what envy such heroic virtue would excite in the hearts of her particular friends, and what grief in the bosoms of all those who did not like her.
The dean was a man of no inconsiderable penetration. He understood the thoughts which, upon this occasion, passed in the mind of his wife, and in order to ensure her kind treatment of the boy, instead of reproaching her for the cold manner in which she had at first received him, he praised her tender and sympathetic heart for having shown him so much kindness, and thus stimulated her vanity to be praised still more.
William, the mother's own son, far from apprehending a rival in this savage boy, was convinced of his own pre-eminence, and felt an affection for him—though rather as a foil than as a cousin. He sported with his ignorance upon all occasions, and even lay in wait for circumstances that might expose it; while young Henry, strongly impressed with everything which appeared new to him, expressed, without reserve, the sensations which those novelties excited, wholly careless of the construction put on his observations.
He never appeared either offended or abashed when laughed at; but still pursued his questions, and still discovered his wonder at many replies made to him, though "simpleton," "poor silly boy," and "idiot," were vociferated around him from his cousin, his aunt, and their constant visitor the bishop.
His uncle would frequently undertake to instruct him; so indeed would the bishop; but Lady Clementina, her son, and the greatest part of her companions, found something so irresistibly ridiculous in his remarks, that nothing but immoderate laughter followed; they thought such folly had even merit in the way of entertainment, and they wished him no wiser.
Having been told that every morning, on first seeing his uncle, he was to make a respectful bow; and coming into the dean's dressing-room just as he was out of bed, his wig lying on the table, Henry appeared at a loss which of the two he should bow to. At last he gave the preference to his uncle, but afterwards bowed reverently to the wig. In this he did what he conceived was proper, from the introduction which the dean, on his first arrival, had given him to this venerable stranger; for, in reality, Henry had a contempt for all finery, and had called even his aunt's jewels, when they were first shown to him, "trumpery," asking "what they were good for?" But being corrected in this disrespect, and informed of their high value, he, like a good convert, gave up his reason to his faith; and becoming, like all converts, over-zealous, he now believed there was great worth in all gaudy appearances, and even respected the earrings of Lady Clementina almost as much as he respected herself.
It was to be lamented that when young Henry had been several months in England, had been taught to read, and had, of course, in the society in which he lived, seen much of the enlightened world, yet the natural expectation of his improvement was by no means answered.
Notwithstanding the sensibility, which upon various occasions he manifested in the most captivating degree, notwithstanding the seeming gentleness of his nature upon all occasions, there now appeared, in most of his inquiries and remarks, a something which demonstrated either a stupid or troublesome disposition; either dulness of conception, or an obstinacy of perseverance in comments and in arguments which were glaringly false.
Observing his uncle one day offended with his coachman, and hearing him say to him in a very angry tone,
"You shall never drive me again"—
The moment the man quitted the room, Henry (with his eyes fixed in the deepest contemplation) repeated five or six times, in a half whisper to himself,
"You shall never drive me again."
"You shall never drive me again."
The dean at last called to him. "What do you mean by thus repeating my words?"
"I am trying to find out what you meant," said Henry.
"What don't you know?" cried his enlightened cousin. "Richard is turned away; he is never to get upon our coach-box again, never to drive any of us more."
"And was it pleasure to drive us, cousin? I am sure I have often pitied him. It rained sometimes very hard when he was on the box; and sometimes Lady Clementina has kept him a whole hour at the door all in the cold and snow. Was that pleasure?"
"No," replied young William.
"Was it honour, cousin?"
"No," exclaimed his cousin with a contemptuous smile.
"Then why did my uncle say to him, as a punishment, 'he should never'"—
"Come hither, child," said the dean, "and let me instruct you; your father's negligence has been inexcusable. There are in society," continued the dean, "rich and poor; the poor are born to serve the rich."
"And what are the rich born for?"
"To be served by the poor."
"But suppose the poor would not serve them?"
"Then they must starve."
"And so poor people are permitted to live only upon condition that they wait upon the rich?"
"Is that a hard condition; or if it were, they will be rewarded in a better world than this?"
"Is there a better world than this?"
"Is it possible you do not know there is?"
"I heard my father once say something about a world to come; but he stopped short, and said I was too young to understand what he meant."
"The world to come," returned the dean, "is where we shall go after death; and there no distinction will be made between rich and poor—all persons there will be equal."
"Aye, now I see what makes it a better world than this. But cannot this world try to be as good as that?"
"In respect to placing all persons on a level, it is utterly impossible. God has ordained it otherwise."
"How! has God ordained a distinction to be made, and will not make any Himself?"
The dean did not proceed in his instructions. He now began to think his brother in the right, and that the boy was too young, or too weak, to comprehend the subject.
In addition to his ignorant conversation upon many topics, young Henry had an incorrigible misconception and misapplication of many words. His father having had but few opportunities of discoursing with him, upon account of his attendance at the court of the savages, and not having books in the island, he had consequently many words to learn of this country's language when he arrived in England. This task his retentive memory made easy to him; but his childish inattention to their proper signification still made his want of education conspicuous.
He would call compliments, lies; reserve, he would call pride; stateliness, affectation; and for the words war and battle, he constantly substituted the word massacre.
"Sir," said William to his father one morning, as he entered the room, "do you hear how the cannons are firing, and the bells ringing?"
"Then I dare say," cried Henry, "there has been another massacre."
The dean called to him in anger, "Will you never learn the right use of words? You mean to say a battle."
"Then what is a massacre?" cried the frightened, but still curious Henry.
"A massacre," replied his uncle, "is when a number of people are slain—"
"I thought," returned Henry, "soldiers had been people!"
"You interrupted me," said the dean, "before I finished my sentence. Certainly, both soldiers and sailors are people, but they engage to die by their own free will and consent."
"What! all of them?"
"Most of them."
"But the rest are massacred?"
The dean answered, "The number who go to battle unwillingly, and by force, are few; and for the others, they have previously sold their lives to the state."
"For soldiers' and sailors' pay."
"My father used to tell me, we must not take away our own lives; but he forgot to tell me we might sell them for others to take away."
"William," said the dean to his son, his patience tired with his nephew's persevering nonsense, "explain to your cousin the difference between a battle and a massacre."
"A massacre," said William, rising from his seat, and fixing his eyes alternately upon his father, his mother, and the bishop (all of whom were present) for their approbation, rather than the person's to whom his instructions were to be addressed—"a massacre," said William, "is when human beings are slain, who have it not in their power to defend themselves."
"Dear cousin William," said Henry, "that must ever be the case with every one who is killed."
After a short hesitation, William replied: "In massacres people are put to death for no crime, but merely because they are objects of suspicion."
"But in battle," said Henry, "the persons put to death are not even suspected."
The bishop now condescended to end this disputation by saying emphatically,
"Consider, young savage, that in battle neither the infant, the aged, the sick, nor infirm are involved, but only those in the full prime of health and vigour."
As this argument came from so great and reverend a man as the bishop, Henry was obliged, by a frown from his uncle, to submit, as one refuted; although he had an answer at the veriest tip of his tongue, which it was torture to him not to utter. What he wished to say must ever remain a secret. The church has its terrors as well as the law; and Henry was awed by the dean's tremendous wig as much as Paternoster Row is awed by the Attorney-General.
If the dean had loved his wife but moderately, seeing all her faults clearly as he did, he must frequently have quarrelled with her: if he had loved her with tenderness, he must have treated her with a degree of violence in the hope of amending her failings. But having neither personal nor mental affection towards her sufficiently interesting to give himself the trouble to contradict her will in anything, he passed for one of the best husbands in the world. Lady Clementina went out when she liked, stayed at home when she liked, dressed as she liked, and talked as she liked without a word of disapprobation from her husband, and all—because he cared nothing about her.
Her vanity attributed this indulgence to inordinate affection; and observers in general thought her happier in her marriage than the beloved wife who bathes her pillow with tears by the side of an angry husband, whose affection is so excessive that he unkindly upbraids her because she is—less than perfection.
The dean's wife was not so dispassionately considered by some of his acquaintance as by himself; for they would now and then hint at her foibles: but this great liberty she also conceived to be the effect of most violent love, or most violent admiration: and such would have been her construction had they commended her follies—had they totally slighted, or had they beaten her.
Amongst those acquaintances, the aforesaid bishop, by far the most frequent visitor, did not come merely to lounge an idle hour, but he had a more powerful motive; the desire of fame, and dread of being thought a man receiving large emolument for unimportant service.
The dean, if he did not procure him the renown he wished, still preserved him from the apprehended censure.
The elder William was to his negligent or ignorant superiors in the church such as an apt boy at school is to the rich dunces—William performed the prelates' tasks for them, and they rewarded him—not indeed with toys or money, but with their countenance, their company, their praise. And scarcely was there a sermon preached from the patrician part of the bench, in which the dean did not fashion some periods, blot out some uncouth phrases, render some obscure sentiments intelligible, and was the certain person, when the work was printed, to correct the press.
This honourable and right reverend bishop delighted in printing and publishing his works; or rather the entire works of the dean, which passed for his: and so degradingly did William, the shopkeeper's son, think of his own homiest extraction, that he was blinded, even to the loss of honour, by the lustre of this noble acquaintance; for, though in other respects he was a man of integrity, yet, when the gratification of his friend was in question, he was a liar; he not only disowned his giving him aid in any of his publications, but he never published anything in his own name without declaring to the world "that he had been obliged for several hints on the subject, for many of the most judicious corrections, and for those passages in page so and so (naming the most eloquent parts of the work) to his noble and learned friend the bishop."
The dean's wife being a fine lady—while her husband and his friend pored over books or their own manuscripts at home, she ran from house to house, from public amusement to public amusement; but much less for the pleasure of seeing than for that of being seen. Nor was it material to her enjoyment whether she were observed, or welcomed, where she went, as she never entertained the smallest doubt of either; but rested assured that her presence roused curiosity and dispensed gladness all around.
One morning she went forth to pay her visits, all smiles, such as she thought captivating: she returned, all tears, such as she thought no less endearing.
Three ladies accompanied her home, entreating her to be patient under a misfortune to which even kings are liable: namely, defamation.
Young Henry, struck with compassion at grief of which he knew not the cause, begged to know "what was the matter?"
"Inhuman monsters, to treat a woman thus!" cried his aunt in a fury, casting the corner of her eye into a looking-glass, to see how rage became her.
"But, comfort yourself," said one of her companions: "few people will believe you merit the charge."
"But few! if only one believe it, I shall call my reputation lost, and I will shut myself up in some lonely hut, and for ever renounce all that is dear to me!"
"What! all your fine clothes?" said Henry, in amazement.
"Of what importance will my best dresses be, when nobody would see them?"
"You would see them yourself, dear aunt; and I am sure nobody admires them more."
"Now you speak of that," said she, "I do not think this gown I have on becoming—I am sure I look—"
The dean, with the bishop (to whom he had been reading a treatise just going to the press, which was to be published in the name of the latter, though written by the former), now entered, to inquire why they had been sent for in such haste.
"Oh, Dean! oh, my Lord Bishop!" she cried, resuming that grief which the thoughts of her dress had for a time dispelled—"My reputation is destroyed—a public print has accused me of playing deep at my own house, and winning all the money."
"The world will never reform," said the bishop: "all our labour, my friend, is thrown away."
"But is it possible," cried the dean, "that any one has dared to say this of you?"
"Here it is in print," said she, holding out a newspaper.
The dean read the paragraph, and then exclaimed, "I can forgive a falsehood spoken—the warmth of conversation may excuse it—but to write and print an untruth is unpardonable, and I will prosecute this publisher."
"Still the falsehood will go down to posterity," said Lady Clementina; "and after ages will think I was a gambler."
"Comfort yourself, dear madam," said young Henry, wishing to console her: "perhaps after ages may not hear of you; nor even the present age think much about you."
The bishop now exclaimed, after having taken the paper from the dean, and read the paragraph, "It is a libel, a rank libel, and the author must be punished."
"Not only the author, but the publisher," said the dean.
"Not only the publisher, but the printer," continued the bishop.
"And must my name be bandied about by lawyers in a common court of justice?" cried Lady Clementina. "How shocking to my delicacy!"
"My lord, it is a pity we cannot try them by the ecclesiastical court," said the dean, with a sigh.
"Or by the India delinquent bill," said the bishop, with vexation.
"So totally innocent as I am!" she vociferated with sobs. "Every one knows I never touch a card at home, and this libel charges me with playing at my own house; and though, whenever I do play, I own I am apt to win, yet it is merely for my amusement."
"Win or not win, play or not play," exclaimed both the churchmen, "this is a libel—no doubt, no doubt, a libel."
Poor Henry's confined knowledge of his native language tormented him so much with curiosity upon this occasion, that he went softly up to his uncle, and asked him in a whisper, "What is the meaning of the word libel?"
"A libel," replied the dean, in a raised voice, "is that which one person publishes to the injury of another."
"And what can the injured person do," asked Henry, "if the accusation should chance to be true?"
"Prosecute," replied the dean.
"But, then, what does he do if the accusation be false?"
"Prosecute likewise," answered the dean.
"How, uncle! is it possible that the innocent behave just like the guilty?"
"There is no other way to act."
"Why, then, if I were the innocent, I would do nothing at all sooner than I would act like the guilty. I would not persecute—"
"I said prosecute," cried the dean in anger. "Leave the room; you have no comprehension."
"Oh, yes, now I understand the difference of the two words; but they sound so much alike, I did not at first observe the distinction. You said, 'the innocent prosecute, but the guilty persecute.'" He bowed (convinced as he thought) and left the room.
After this modern star-chamber, which was left sitting, had agreed on its mode of vengeance, and the writer of the libel was made acquainted with his danger, he waited, in all humility, upon Lady Clementina, and assured her, with every appearance of sincerity,
"That she was not the person alluded to by the paragraph in question, but that the initials which she had conceived to mark out her name, were, in fact, meant to point out Lady Catherine Newland."
"But, sir," cried Lady Clementina, "what could induce you to write such a paragraph upon Lady Catherine? She never plays."
"We know that, madam, or we dared not to have attacked her. Though we must circulate libels, madam, to gratify our numerous readers, yet no people are more in fear of prosecutions than authors and editors; therefore, unless we are deceived in our information, we always take care to libel the innocent—we apprehend nothing from them—their own characters support them—but the guilty are very tenacious; and what they cannot secure by fair means, they will employ force to accomplish. Dear madam, be assured I have too much regard for a wife and seven small children, who are maintained by my industry alone, to have written anything in the nature of a libel upon your ladyship."
About this period the dean had just published a pamphlet in his own name, and in which that of his friend the bishop was only mentioned with thanks for hints, observations, and condescending encouragement to the author.
This pamphlet glowed with the dean's love for his country; and such a country as he described, it was impossible not to love. "Salubrious air, fertile fields, wood, water, corn, grass, sheep, oxen, fish, fowl, fruit, and vegetables," were dispersed with the most prodigal hand; "valiant men, virtuous women; statesmen wise and just; tradesmen abounding in merchandise and money; husbandmen possessing peace, ease, plenty; and all ranks liberty." This brilliant description, while the dean read the work to his family, so charmed poor Henry, that he repeatedly cried out,
"I am glad I came to this country."
But it so happened that a few days after, Lady Clementina, in order to render the delicacy of her taste admired, could eat of no one dish upon the table, but found fault with them all. The dean at length said to her,
"Indeed, you are too nice; reflect upon the hundreds of poor creatures who have not a morsel or a drop of anything to subsist upon, except bread and water; and even of the first a scanty allowance, but for which they are obliged to toil six days in the week, from sun to sun."
"Pray, uncle," cried Henry, "in what country do these poor people live?"
"In this country," replied the dean.
Henry rose from his chair, ran to the chimney-piece, took up his uncle's pamphlet, and said, "I don't remember your mentioning them here."
"Perhaps I have not," answered the dean, coolly.
Still Henry turned over each leaf of the book, but he could meet only with luxurious details of "the fruits of the earth, the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fishes of the sea."
"Why, here is provision enough for all the people," said Henry; "why should they want? why do not they go and take some of these things?"
"They must not," said the dean, "unless they were their own."
"What, uncle! does no part of the earth, nor anything which the earth produces, belong to the poor?"
"Why did not you say so, then, in your pamphlet?"
"Because it is what everybody knows."
"Oh, then, what you have said in your pamphlet is only what—nobody knows."
There appeared to the dean, in the delivery of this sentence, a satirical acrimony, which his irritability as an author could but ill forgive.
An author, it is said, has more acute feelings in respect to his works than any artist in the world besides.
Henry had some cause, on the present occasion, to think this observation just; for no sooner had he spoken the foregoing words, than his uncle took him by the hand out of the room, and, leading him to his study, there he enumerated his various faults; and having told him "it was for all those, too long permitted with impunity, and not merely for the present impertinence, that he meant to punish him," ordered him to close confinement in his chamber for a week.
In the meantime, the dean's pamphlet (less hurt by Henry's critique than he had been) was proceeding to the tenth edition, and the author acquiring literary reputation beyond what he had ever conferred on his friend the bishop.
The style, the energy, the eloquence of the work was echoed by every reader who could afford to buy it—some few enlightened ones excepted, who chiefly admired the author's invention.
The dean, in the good humour which the rapid sale of his book produced, once more took his nephew to his bosom; and although the ignorance of young Henry upon the late occasions had offended him very highly, yet that self-same ignorance, evinced a short time after upon a different subject, struck his uncle as productive of a most rare and exalted virtue.
Henry had frequently, in his conversation, betrayed the total want of all knowledge in respect to religion or futurity, and the dean for this reason delayed taking him to church, till he had previously given him instructions wherefore he went.
A leisure morning arrived, on which he took his nephew to his study, and implanted in his youthful mind the first unconfused idea of the Creator of the universe!
The dean was eloquent, Henry was all attention; his understanding, expanded by time to the conception of a God—and not warped by custom from the sensations which a just notion of that God inspires—dwelt with delight and wonder on the information given him—lessons which, instilled into the head of a senseless infant, too often produce, throughout his remaining life, an impious indifference to the truths revealed.
Yet, with all that astonished, that respectful sensibility which Henry showed on this great occasion, he still expressed his opinion, and put questions to the dean, with his usual simplicity, till he felt himself convinced.
"What!" cried he—after being informed of the attributes inseparable from the Supreme Being, and having received the injunction to offer prayers to Him night and morning—"What! am I permitted to speak to Power Divine?"
"At all times," replied the dean.
"How! whenever I like?"
"Whenever you like," returned the dean.
"I durst not," cried Henry, "make so free with the bishop, nor dare any of his attendants."
"The bishop," said the dean, "is the servant of God, and therefore must be treated with respect."
"With more respect than his Master?" asked Henry.
The dean not replying immediately to this question, Henry, in the rapidity of inquiry, ran on to another:—
"But what am I to say when I speak to the Almighty?"
"First, thank Him for the favours He has bestowed on you."
"You amaze me," cried the dean, "by your question. Do not you live in ease, in plenty, and happiness?"
"And do the poor and the unhappy thank Him too, uncle?"
"No doubt; every human being glorifies Him, for having been made a rational creature."
"And does my aunt and all her card-parties glorify Him for that?"
The dean again made no reply, and Henry went on to other questions, till his uncle had fully instructed him as to the nature and the form of prayer; and now, putting into his hands a book, he pointed out to him a few short prayers, which he wished him to address to Heaven in his presence.
Whilst Henry bent his knees, as his uncle had directed, he trembled, turned pale, and held, for a slight support, on the chair placed before him.
His uncle went to him, and asked him "What was the matter."
"Oh!" cried Henry, "when I first came to your door with my poor father's letter, I shook for fear you would not look upon me; and I cannot help feeling even more now than I did then."
The dean embraced him with warmth—gave him confidence—and retired to the other side of the study, to observe his whole demeanour on this new occasion.
As he beheld his features varying between the passions of humble fear and fervent hope, his face sometimes glowing with the rapture of thanksgiving, and sometimes with the blushes of contrition, he thus exclaimed apart:—
"This is the true education on which to found the principles of religion. The favour conferred by Heaven in granting the freedom of petitions to its throne, can never be conceived with proper force but by those whose most tedious moments during their infancy were not passed in prayer. Unthinking governors of childhood! to insult the Deity with a form of worship in which the mind has no share; nay, worse, has repugnance, and by the thoughtless habits of youth, prevent, even in age, devotion."
Henry's attention was so firmly fixed that he forgot there was a spectator of his fervour; nor did he hear young William enter the chamber and even speak to his father.
At length closing his book and rising from his knees, he approached his uncle and cousin, with a sedateness in his air, which gave the latter a very false opinion of the state of his youthful companion's mind.
"So, Mr. Henry," cried William, "you have been obliged, at last, to say your prayers."
The dean informed his son "that to Henry it was no punishment to pray."
"He is the strangest boy I ever knew!" said William, inadvertently.
"To be sure," said Henry, "I was frightened when I first knelt; but when I came to the words, Father, which art in Heaven, they gave me courage; for I know how merciful and kind a father is, beyond any one else."
The dean again embraced his nephew, let fall a tear to his poor brother Henry's misfortunes; and admonished the youth to show himself equally submissive to other instructions, as he had done to those which inculcate piety.
The interim between youth and manhood was passed by young William and young Henry in studious application to literature; some casual mistakes in our customs and manners on the part of Henry; some too close adherences to them on the side of William.
Their different characters, when boys, were preserved when they became men: Henry still retained that natural simplicity which his early destiny had given him; he wondered still at many things he saw and heard, and at times would venture to give his opinion, contradict, and even act in opposition to persons whom long experience and the approbation of the world had placed in situations which claimed his implicit reverence and submission.
Unchanged in all his boyish graces, young William, now a man, was never known to infringe upon the statutes of good-breeding; even though sincerity, his own free will, duty to his neighbour, with many other plebeian virtues and privileges, were the sacrifice.
William inherited all the pride and ambition of the dean—Henry, all his father's humility. And yet, so various and extensive is the acceptation of the word pride, that, on some occasions, Henry was proud even beyond his cousin. He thought it far beneath his dignity ever to honour, or contemplate with awe, any human being in whom he saw numerous failings. Nor would he, to ingratiate himself into the favour of a man above him, stoop to one servility, such as the haughty William daily practised.
"I know I am called proud," one day said William to Henry.
"Dear cousin," replied Henry, "it must be only, then, by those who do not know you; for to me you appear the humblest creature in the world."
"Do you really think so?"
"I am certain of it; or would you always give up your opinion to that of persons in a superior state, however inferior in their understanding? Would else their weak judgment immediately change yours, though, before, you had been decided on the opposite side? Now, indeed, cousin, I have more pride than you; for I never will stoop to act or to speak contrary to my feelings."
"Then you will never be a great man."
"Nor ever desire it, if I must first be a mean one."
There was in the reputation of these two young men another mistake, which the common retailers of character committed. Henry was said to be wholly negligent, while William was reputed to be extremely attentive to the other sex. William, indeed, was gallant, was amorous, and indulged his inclination to the libertine society of women; but Henry it was who loved them. He admired them at a reverential distance, and felt so tender an affection for the virtuous female, that it shocked him to behold, much more to associate with, the depraved and vicious.
In the advantages of person Henry was still superior to William; and yet the latter had no common share of those attractions which captivate weak, thoughtless, or unskilful minds.
About the time that Henry and William quitted college, and had arrived at their twentieth year, the dean purchased a small estate in a village near to the country residence of Lord and Lady Bendham; and, in the total want of society, the dean's family were frequently honoured with invitations from the great house.
Lord Bendham, besides a good estate, possessed the office of a lord of the bed-chamber to his Majesty. Historians do not ascribe much importance to the situation, or to the talents of nobles in this department, nor shall this little history. A lord of the bed-chamber is a personage well known in courts, and in all capitals where courts reside; with this advantage to the inquirer, that in becoming acquainted with one of those noble characters, he becomes acquainted with all the remainder; not only with those of the same kingdom, but those of foreign nations; for, in whatever land, in whatever climate, a lord of the bed- chamber must necessarily be the self-same creature: one wholly made up of observance, of obedience, of dependence, and of imitation—a borrowed character—a character formed by reflection.
The wife of this illustrious peer, as well as himself, took her hue, like the chameleon, from surrounding objects: her manners were not governed by her mind but were solely directed by external circumstances. At court, humble, resigned, patient, attentive: at balls, masquerades, gaming-tables, and routs, gay, sprightly, and flippant; at her country seat, reserved, austere, arrogant, and gloomy.
Though in town her timid eye in presence of certain personages would scarcely uplift its trembling lid, so much she felt her own insignificance, yet, in the country, till Lady Clementina arrived, there was not one being of consequence enough to share in her acquaintance; and she paid back to her inferiors there all the humiliating slights, all the mortifications, which in London she received from those to whom she was inferior.
Whether in town or country, it is but justice to acknowledge that in her own person she was strictly chaste; but in the country she extended that chastity even to the persons of others; and the young woman who lost her virtue in the village of Anfield had better have lost her life. Some few were now and then found hanging or drowned, while no other cause could be assigned for their despair than an imputation on the discretion of their character, and dread of the harsh purity of Lady Bendham. She would remind the parish priest of the punishment allotted for female dishonour, and by her influence had caused many an unhappy girl to do public penance in their own or the neighbouring churches.
But this country rigour in town she could dispense withal; and, like other ladies of virtue, she there visited and received into her house the acknowledged mistresses of any man in elevated life. It was not, therefore, the crime, but the rank which the criminal held in society, that drew down Lady Bendham's vengeance. She even carried her distinction of classes in female error to such a very nice point that the adulterous concubine of an elder brother was her most intimate acquaintance, whilst the less guilty unmarried mistress of the younger she would not sully her lips to exchange a word with.
Lord and Lady Bendham's birth, education, talents, and propensities, being much on the same scale of eminence, they would have been a very happy pair, had not one great misfortune intervened—the lady never bore her lord a child, while every cottage of the village was crammed with half-starved children, whose father from week to week, from year to year, exerted his manly youth, and wasted his strength in vain, to protect them from hunger; whose mother mourned over her new-born infant as a little wretch, sent into the world to deprive the rest of what already was too scanty for them; in the castle, which owned every cottage and all the surrounding land, and where one single day of feasting would have nourished for a mouth all the poor inhabitants of the parish, not one child was given to partake of the plenty. The curse of barrenness was on the family of the lord of the manor, the curse of fruitfulness upon the famished poor.