L O I T E R E R.
"Speak of us as we are."
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BATH; AND Messrs. COWSLADE and SMART, READING.
L O I T E R E R.
SATURDAY, August 22, 1789.
The feast of Reason and the flow of Soul.
AT the last Oxford Commemoration an elderly Gentleman observing me standing near him, moved closer to his neighbour and left room for me on his seat. Whether he saw any thing which prepossessed him in my favour I know not, but on surveying his figure and countenance, I certainly felt a sort of Attachment, which disposed me immediately to accept his courtesy: I took my Seat at his Side, and as there was no Reserve on his part, the Awe with which his Air and Manner at first impressed me insensibly wore off; during the repetition of the Prize Verses, he complained frequently of his deafness, which he informed me had attended him to the last fifteen commemorations; sometimes much to his Mortification; at the Commencement of the Essay, he commended to me in a Whisper, the Judgement with which the Subject was proposed; ‘instead of extending the Survey to the whole circles of ancient and modern Poetry (continued he) it points it to that part which is intersected when they are applied to each other.’ After a short Pause, he informed me that he mounted the Rostrum many years since; ‘If the present Speakers (added he) feel half of what I did, they are very happy in their distinction.’ We conversed on many other topics, and when the Audience dispersed, the Stranger gave me his Name and Address, and shaking my Hand with great Cordiality, repeatedly expressed a wish that we might be better acquainted. I naturally was much flattered by this Invitation, and fully intended to take an early opportunity of accepting it; yet from various causes, Day after Day elapsed without any advance; till at length Accident fortunately renewed a connection, which (though seriously disposed to cultivate it) I might perhaps have suffered to decline.
One Evening, soon after the fall of the well-known Oak in Magdalen Walk, I went among the multitude which flocked thither from all the country round; for on these Occasions, between what is to be looked at and the lookers on, I seldom fail to find Entertainment. As I approached the tree, the first object which caught my Attention, was the venerable Figure of my new friend Dr. Villars, dressed in complete black, and kneeling against the Trunk, and measuring its Circumference by a white Handkerchief, with the devotion of a Bishop consecrating a Spot of holy Ground: Several young Students were ranged round him. — At the Singularity of his Conduct, I perceived a Smile rising into their Countenance, yet restrained by the air of simple Dignity which reigned over all his motions and deportment. My friend having concluded his Observations, made a minute in his Pocket-Book, all the time entirely unconscious of the Attention with which he was observed. I now stepped up to him, and began to account for my Neglect of his Invitation; he suffered me to finish my apologies, and then frankly accepted them; and I was at once convinced of my Trespass, and relieved from any Apprehension of his Resentment. The good old Man insisted that I should accompany him home. As soon as I entered his apartment, I perceived one of my Papers lying on the table; I never felt flattery steal so imperceptibly to my Heart; I before revered him — from this moment I began to love him; some casual approbation with which he mentioned them, threw off all reserve, and I avowed myself the Author. Nothing promotes friendship so much as the possession of a Secret in common. From this period, I have at all times had free Access to this venerable Man, and great as is the Disparity of years between us, he is the Confident of all my Undertakings, and presides in all my Councils with the foresight of Age and the enthusiasm of Youth. He has arrived at the period in which Age remits the Intenseness of learned Application; at which the prospects being narrowly bounded, and the Scene of Life about to close, the motives to great Exertions cease to exist: he rather reads than studies, and Conversation holds the Place of Composition.
Our acquaintance had not continued long, before he introduced me to a Nephew of his, in whom I immediately recognized his companion at the Theatre. — There appeared something so extraordinary in his Sentiments and Manners, that I could not conceal my admiration; — the Doctor remarked it, and at the departure of his Kinsman gave me this Account of him. ‘His Father, Sir Andrew Sensitive, possesses a very large Estate in the North, and having a living in his Gift of 900l. per ann. intended him for the Church; but not entirely comprehending all our Mysteries, Mr. Sensitive could not reconcile it to his Conscience to enjoy our Emoluments; he therefore diverted his Studies to the Law, to which he gave so severe an Application, that his Health had never recovered from the Shock. He had extensive Connections and powerful Talents, so that his friends assured themselves of seeing him reach the Heights of his profession; but being retained in some actions which in the course of trial appeared highly iniquitous, and losing a popular Cause by a Verdict in which he could not acquiesce, he retired from the Bar, and the Sphere of active Life in in disgust. I have heard (continued my Friend) that he was once violently in Love with a very beautiful Woman, who appeared to the World to return his Affection, but that he at length broke off the connection, from a conviction of her want of reciprocal Affection, and has been often heard to say, that it was better he should not be happy, than that both should be miserable.’
With these two Characters I have lately been in the Habit of passing most of my Time, and the more our acquaintance advances, the greater Interest I feel in them, the more sensible I am of the Superiority of their Powers: Indeed they never appear in the Street, but that they excite general Attention. The Doctor’s portly Figure, florid Complexion, and silvery Locks, naturally attract Notice, but his Nephew has no one circumstance in his Person which can be singled out as remarkable, yet I never walk with him, but that half the People we meet, turn back with a Face of Enquiry: In company too, though he is extremely silent, every one seems prepared to attend whenever he opens his Lips: Whenever the conversation turns upon him, as frequently happens, it seldom arrives at any other conclusion than, ‘He certainly is a very extraordinary Man.’ I never meet the Doctor without a Smile on his Countenance, his Nephew has always an Air of placid Gravity and even Melancholy; and when he delivers his Sentiments with Warmth and Earnestness, he taLks with tears standing in his Eyes. In all their view of things, the Doctor is sanguine, the other inclines to Despondence, and while both wish to find things better than perhaps their Nature will admit, the one fancies he sees in the world less Defect, the other less Excellence than really exist.
This different Bias in their temper, produces many amicable Contests on most of the grand topics in Criticism, Politics, and Morals. The Doctor is exquisitely sensible to all the Beauties of Composition: When Mr. Sensitive takes up a Work, all the requisite Parts and Proportions of the Subject rise to his view, and his Mortification when he finds any Part withheld, destroys his satisfaction in what is offered: Dr. Villars allows the Measures of those whom he least affects, to be prompted by a Regard for the public Welfare; his Nephew, even in his favourite Characters, generally apprehends some sinister Design: and while the Doctor’s Heart expands with a thousand Projects for fostering Virtue, nothing enters Mr. Sensitive’s Brain but how more effectually to repress Vice.
In the toil of Study I have often envied the Disciples of those celebrated Philosophers who had only to receive the Illuminations of their Masters, and thus passively became the Lights and Constellations of the World. Comprehension is a much readier Servant than Invention, and to me nothing so much enhances a discovery as the reflection that it cost me little. I account myself, therefore, singularly fortunate, who have fallen upon such valuable Friends; by whose conversation, to be wise I need only to be attentive; from whom I may require Information without the tediousness of Research, and arrive at Truth without the Exertion of Reflection. Though their Opinions be invested with many Singularities, Truth generally shines through; I seldom fail to find, placed in some new and beautiful Light, Subjects which the generality of the World deem incapable of assuming a new Appearance, and on which they cease to think, because their forefathers have furnished them with Ideas on them ready to their Hands: And thus I imbibe more real and efficient Knowledge extended at my Ease on the Doctor’s Sofa, than toiling through the close stowed Learning in the Library of my College, bewildered among Titles and Indexes, and enveloped in Dust.
END of the FIRST VOLUME.
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