L O I T E R E R.
"Speak of us as we are."
PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR,
And sold by C. S. RANN, OXFORD;
Mess. EGERTONS, Whitehall, LONDON; Mess. PEARSON
And ROLLASON, BIRMINGHAM; Mr. W. MEYLER, Grove,
BATH; AND Mess. COWSLADE and SMART, READING.
L O I T E R E R.
SATURDAY, November 7, 1789.
—— Riconosco in voi l'usate forme,
Non lasso! in me. Petracha.
To the LOITERER.TO overcome prejudice has long been the boast of reason: but surely, Mr. Loiterer, if the business of reason be to make us happy and respectable, it might be better employed in rendering sacred those attachments of the human heart, which, while they enclose, form a guard around it, and from which our best propensities often originate. Opinions, however weak in themselves, that are by education made the foundation of good principles, can rarely be removed without endangering the whole fabric. I am strongly sensible of this truth while stating it, and look back with a feeling of severe regret to the beginning of a life, which has ceased to be either honourable or happy, in proportion as it has receded from those habits of thought that marked its commencement, when, in the ardour of youth, my soul eagerly imbibed the prejudices of birth and country, local to my nation, hereditary to my family. When I considered the long established dignity of feudal sway as conferring a rank beyond all titles, and the deep devotion with which it was acknowledged as binding me to every being around me by those powerful links in the chain of human feelings, service received or expected, protection given or — owed life itself, if needful, seemed a sacrifice due to such claims, and when I contemplated in a long line of glorious ancestry all that a high spirit of honour, united with a courage fearless of danger in pursuit of duty, could lead men to achieve, often have I thought my birth secured me from error, and enthusiastically vowed that the blood that flowed pure through their veins should not be contaminated in mine.
Such was my situation in the opening of youth, when the bounded scenes of a Highland lairdship comprised in my ideas every charm of pre-eminence d independence, and promised through life to be the consecrated spot to which all its wishes should point. Sacred prejudices! In tearing you from my bosom, what have I substituted? Every sacrifice to reason has been the relinquishment of some virtue. — In the pursuit of a philosophical superiority to the impressions of habit, I first learnt to err; under the influence of it I have resigned the best energies of life, fatally levelled my character, diffused my affections till they are weakened almost to apathy, and poisoned every source of real enjoyment. — But I will pursue my subject more methodically, and laying before you the leading facts of my history, leave you to draw the comparison of the national Highland Chief glowing with distinctions, derived indeed from prejudice, but fostering all the virtues, who beheld a brother’s love in every eye that encountered his own. — With the polished Courtier exchanging hereditary consequence for the fictitious splendour of wealth, and regarding all mankind with indifference, as beings from whom he is to extract as much of the blessings of this world as he can, and sacrifice as little in return as possible.
My entrance into life was marked with the features of my character. — It was as a volunteer in a Highland regiment, raised in the course of the war to serve in North America. Thither I carried all the martial spirit that an enthusiastic ardour for the honour of that name and country which I believed to be a part of my existence, could inspire. — But there it was I first learnt to doubt the propriety of those ideas that had hitherto regulated all my actions. In the Americans I saw a people illustrious without rank, united without subordination; and who in the equal claims of citizens sunk all the pride of distinction, while they exercised the virtues I believed inherent in it. In those of the English with whom I associated, I beheld birth degraded by every depravity of which nature is capable; and if they ever seemed alive to their rank, it was merely to assert it with the most disgusting petulance, and an arrogance offensive to the feelings over the wretched victims whom fortune had humbled to their caprice. In such contemplations my name soon lost its influence: I no longer believed it the talisman which should guard me from dishonour; and breaking that spell of my infancy, congratulated myself on my emancipation from the shackles of prejudice. Shaking off with them the interest which had hitherto bound me to my gallant Clan, and produced those acts which claimed the distinction now offered, I suffered my name to be enrolled in a list of promotions, which, placing me in a regiment in distant quarters, removed them from my sight as well as my heart, and left me only the common interests of life to pursue.
As I had now lost a powerful incentive to glory, I remained in the station to which I had been raised by the devoted valour of my Highlanders, till the conclusion of the war restored me to England — not to my country! — for the prejudices of my family remained, though mine were overcome, and however strongly the ties of kindred might press on my heart, as I could not recall the act by which I had forfeited their confidence in my character, or light again the spark of enthusiasm which example had extinguished, I was obliged to submit to the rejection, and turn my thoughts towards forming my fortune on the principles of conduct I had adopted in that world, which I held every man born to make a property of as he could. I began with a regular attendance on the Minister, and the heart which once haughtily refused to rank but with Chieftains of long renown, now sought distinction from smiles which might yesterday have played upon the lips unmarked, and which tomorrow night might rob of all favour. After some time in paying a vain homage to this great man, I began to consider my attendance as fruitless, when my father suddenly dying, I became the inheritor of a patrimony; rich, had it descended to me with all the local attachments which would once have confined me to the enjoyments it offered, but poor for the gratification of those enlarged ideas of expense and happiness I had acquired by a more extended knowledge of life. I sat out for Scotland with a heart faintly vibrating to the emotions I supposed my return might excite in a mother and sister once fondly attached to me, and in whom I hoped resentment might be moderated by feminine softness and recent affliction. As I approached the place of my birth, my increasing emotions were wound to their height by the sight of my vassals assembled to receive me, though a conscious pang rung my soul on beholding among them two or three of the followers of my fortune in America — all that had escaped! — My heart once more opened to the impressions of early habit — I felt my situation almost to tears; and entering the house with a mixture of depression and exultation, experienced in sensations of the moment a pleasure I had long shut out.
But they were only the sensation of a moment! — On enquiring for my family, I learnt that my sister, led perhaps by my example, or following the caprice of her sex, had also revolted against the pride of blood, and tempted by the lavish offers of a Nabob, whose fancy she had suddenly fired in his tour through the Highlands, had abandoned her parents and country to follow an alien scarce known, and seek in the splendour of the East, her palanquin, and slavish crowd of attendants, a compensation for degrading her name by an alliance with hereditary meanness. My mother had been conveyed, immediately on my father’s death, to the house of her sister in a distant part of the country, without waiting to see me. — How were my sensations damped! I looked round in vain for something on which to fix my awakened feelings; but every object which had once so powerfully attracted them, seemed now to possess a repellent quality, which as forcibly drove back the affections it could not gratify. Accustomed to the luxuries of the great world, and placed beyond the power of those local delusions which had endeared it to me as the palladium of honour, I now saw in the dwelling of my fore-fathers nothing but a dark and irregular monument of bad taste; provided indeed with the conveniences of life, but destitute of all its elegancies. Tired with every thing about me, I hastened to settle the business which had devolved upon me, again exulting in the discernment that had fixed me far from such, an abode in the gayer scenes of England.
Yet e’er I bade adieu to Scotland, both duty and inclination called upon me to make a visit to my mother, whose polished and dignified mind had not a shade of error but what arose from that strong predilection for her country, which, nurtured as it had been by a life spent in the frill exercise of the hospitable virtues of feudal magnificence, had in truth formed the character it might occasionally seem to obscure. Worn with grief and illness, but centring all her feelings in her own bosom, she received me with the calmness of stifled disdain, which I mistook for indifference, and attributed to a narrowness of mind I then condemned with a vexation that left little room for tenderness. We parted without explanation; and it was only to indulge a vain regret, that I afterwards became acquainted with the conflicts she suffered at that moment. But this is a picture too sombre for thought to rest on!
In the joy of my return to them, my faithful countrymen had been persuaded to forget my former desertion, and once more shewed their confidence in me by electing me their Representative, only requiring my support to a scheme of monopoly which they deemed a great advantage to that part of the Highlands. I promised every thing they asked, and returning to London with a heart elated by the new scene of life opening before me, soon lost in brilliant dreams of futurity all thought of the past. The Minister no longer answered my bow with the cold bend of superiority — places and pensions seemed already within my grasp; and in the fear of missing them, (as I found he was no friend to the scheme I had engaged to support) I suffered my arguments to be over borne by the Philanthropic zeal of his friends in favour of the natural and equal rights of mankind, and being seized with a conscientious vertigo in my head, retired without being able to give my vote; for which, as it was a hard-run thing, I was shortly after complimented with a place in court. — I will not tire you with a detail of the means by which I have since pursued my way to fortune. In this moment of conviction, I could scorn myself for the least of the sacrifices I have made to attain my present situation; and find too late, that the absence of active virtue is the most despicable state of vice. But Providence has punished my depravity by the success by which it has been crowned!
There yet remains one confession more. — My mother had an orphan ward, the daughter of deceased friend, who was bred up with my sister. Almost in infancy my heart has learned to acknowledge her charms, and as we advanced in life, I felt their power more deeply. She was beautiful and lively, simple of heart and gentle in manners, though high-born and of a spirit, when raised, as proud as I should once have boasted my own —— but much more noble. My parents saw with delight the progress of an affection which promised to crown all their wishes, and my fair Ellen already considered herself bound to me, though circumstances of family retarded our union for a few years. In the general disappointment my conduct gave to my family, I had been led to believe her share was not the least; and though neither her pride, nor her attachment to my mother would permit her to partake the disgrace she thought I had justly incurred, she steadily refused every other offer, and seemed to reserve herself for the rich reward of my return to feelings consonant to her own, and which she hoped were obscured rather than obliterated: But on my offering myself to her acceptance in this last fatal visit to my mother, she gave me a polite but determined refusal, and not long after my return to England married a Scots nobleman of high rank and higher character. — I felt not at the time all the regret that contrasted situations have since given me, and soon consoled myself in the possession of a widow, whose immense fortune seemed in the eyes of the world, as well as in mine, to enshrine all her imperfections. Vain, proud, and imperious, though mean-born and vulgar, she endeavours to conceal her want of education and total ignorance of manners by a gaudy display of wealth, an overbearing impertinence and haughty disregard of the attentions due to others. She has two daughters by her first marriage, who were born and bred to the inheritance of all their mother’s failings. — With such an household I could only find peace in apathy, and my heart, daily growing more cold to particular ties, sought to fill the void by expanding itself to the world. Profuse from inclination and dissipated by system, I have entered mechanically rather than eagerly into every passing extravagance of the day, and being too indifferent to combat the follies, and too successful to thwart the interests of those about me, I see myself looked up to, caressed and drnired by them — but unattached and unattaching, in the midst of flattering crowds feel a real solitude of soul, whenever for a moment I turn my eyes inward.
Such has been my situation for years — such I fear it will be through life; and I had made up my mind to an acquiescence in it I should scarcely have been tempted to disturb by this narrative, had I not been led to compare my actual state with what imagination, in the early part of life, figured its enjoyments might be, by hearing a gentleman describe my Ellen (— my Ellen!) and her lord, the reality of that felicity which my fancy had so often anticipated with her, in those days of my youth which are, of all the past, the only ones I can recall with delight.
“In the castle of Lord D” said Mr. ——,“ are to be found almost the only traces of that stately hospitality which so long marked the character of the feudal times. — Every feature but its ferocity remains — that, indeed, is so softened down by the blended politeness of modern manners, as to be no longer visible. Lord D. since the completion of his education has spent his life in the Highlands, preserving, amidst all the refinements of cultivated, that almost sovereign independence of character which ever marked his family; but no longer obliged, like them, to assert it by arms, he has turned his sword into a ploughshare, and passes his time in improving his extensive domain, and watching over the prosperity and morals of his tenantry, by whom he is looked up to with a reverence that gives him an undisputed sway over them — Lady D. is loved by them as an affectionate mother, through whose indulgent medium they seek protection in distress and excuse in error. Cherished, adored, arid happy, they see themselves renewed in a numerous and lovely offspring; and in thus forming the felicity of every being around them, they find the blessing revert to themselves. Their estates, which once comprised only extensive wastes of land, by care and Cultivation, and some peculiar circumstances in which fortune has seconded industry, now yield an almost princely revenue; the increase of which is displayed but by an extension of those principles that have uniformly governed their conduct. —— If virtue ever formed a Paradise on earth, it is in this chosen Spot!”
I listened with an interest that conquered all my apathy, and in the sensations of that moment found, that feelings early imbibed, however counteracted and disavowed through life, like nature will return and claim their empire over the heart. I sighed after all my prejudices, and confest with anguish, that in tearing them away, I had torn away the root of all my happiness, and lost, with the motive, all the energy of virtue.
I know not, Mr. Loiterer, that a narrative like mine can be of much general use; but should it fall into the hands of any man that owns the claims of his Ancestors on his conduct, he may be warned perhaps, not, like me, to question their propriety — he will find in them a motive to excellence, which, once felt, can never be disregarded but through an abasement of character, and will seek to dignify his pride rather than renounce it.
I am, Sir, Yours, &c.
N. B. This Work will be sold by Messrs. Prince and Cooke; to whom our Correspondents are requested to direct their communications.
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