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, December 12, 1789.
Non sibi, sed toto genitum se credere mundo.
To the LOITERER.
SIR,THE following narration will be of small service to the generality of mankind, as the chief circumstances related in it have arisen from a peculiarity of situation, which few I hope will experience. A small part however it may profit, by warning them of the dangers into which I have fallen; and those whom it may fail to interest, it may serve to amuse,
Animated by an insatiable ambition, my father raised himself to one of the first civil offices in this kingdom. This post he long held with great reputation to himself, and advantage to the public; but meeting with a disappointment in the request of a favour to which he thought himself entitled, he threw up his place in disgust, and retired with the savings of his income to a sequestered part of England. I was too young, when this event took place, to consider the consequences of it, and became sensible of the change of situation Only by the novelty of scene, and the introduction of fresh amusements.
As years advanced, the only society I had (if it could be called Society) was that of my father, and of course the only education I received was from him But alas! how ill qualified was he for such an undertaking! The recollections of former times had never ceased from preying on his mind, and the death of my mother, which happened soon after our retirement, had contributed to encourage these. Thus pride and resentment, the effects of disappointed ambition, had, by degrees, contracted the feelings of his mind; solitude had spread a sudden gloom over his thoughts; and, unacquainted with the soothing precepts of Religion, he had substituted, in their room, the narrow principles of a mistaken Philosophy. Under such an Instructor, prejudice soon overcame nature; and the unsuspecting ardour of youth, which bids us look on all mankind as friends, was early extinguished. In recompense for these irretrievable losses, I was taught to consider my own interest as entirely unconnected with those of mankind; an unfeeling contempt for society was presented to me as Independence: under the specious title of Philosophy, I eagerly embraced the destructive principles of Misanthropy; and became callous to the tender ties of Nature, whilst I fondly thought myself armed only against the frowns of Fortune.
At an early age, my only sister, who was a few years younger than myself, accepted the invitation of a maiden Aunt, and resided entirely with her; and thus was I deprived of the only barrier which might have saved me from the precipice on which I tottered; of the only companion whose society might have counteracted the prejudice of education, and whose friendship might have softened the severity of my system. Wonder not, Mr. Loiterer, at the state at which I arrived; the gradations to vice are quick and imperceptible; and one link broken in that great chain which connects all human kind, can seldom be reunited. Wonder not, therefore, if instructed by the precepts, and encouraged by the example of him, whom every thing conspired to point out as the object of my imitation; if unacquainted with the pleasing delights of society, friendship, and love, and unenlightened by the rays of Religion, wonder not I erred; and that maturing reason, far from dispelling the clouds in which I was enveloped, served only to darken them. I began to distrust those whose interests appeared independent of mine, and suspicion soon introduced more dangerous principles; till at length I arrived at such a pitch of infatuation, as to look on man as my greatest enemy, and believe that every one I met was forming some design to injure or overreach me. Miserable however as such opinions must have rendered me, an inward pride, inspired by self-approbation, strengthened me in them. When I saw the rest of mankind enslaved to servility and weakness (for in that light I considered the ties of Nature and Society) how flattering was the consciousness of my own freedom; and when I fancied that all the world were by nature Villains, with what satisfaction did I contemplate the excellency of my own reason, which, by raising me superior to others, had enabled me to guard against their treacherous designs. Thus I became proud of, and influenced by that pride, continued to persevere in principles, which were destructive of every noble action, and inconsistent with one generous sentiment; which embittered great part of my life, and to which I can never look back without agony and remorse.
My father died suddenly when I was about three and twenty; but never having regarded him with filial fondness, I lamented his death alone, as leaving me more exposed to the attacks of my enemies; and accordingly I resolved to double my circumspection. At this interval my sister, whom I now had not seen for almost twelve years, came to visit me. Fondly painting to her imagination the renewal of that friendship which we professed in our childish days, and eager to claim from me that fondness and protection which she had vainly expected in a father, she met me with all the warmth of sisterly affection. But my bosom throb’d with no pleasing emotions at her sight; I attributed her fond caresses to artifice, and checked the ardour of her tenderness by my own cool and reserve. Who can tell what at that moment were the sufferings of her mind; a mind susceptible of the most lively and tender feelings! but far from expressing her disappointment by complaints, she endeavoured by all the persuasive endearments peculiar to her sex, to revive a flame which she considered as smothered by absence, rather than extinguished by prejudice. How could I be insensible to such instances of affection! To the charms of a graceful person d the beauties of an accomplished mind, she united a softness of disposition, which could not fail to please, and a goodness, which could not fail to interest any heart but one like mine, obdurate through principle, and hardened by system.
Not equally insensible were all mankind to her merits; and she had already attracted many admirers. Among them was one, who, unexceptionable in his character, and of a rank and fortune much superior to ours, had inspired her with a mutual attachment. As soon after the death of my father as decency would permit, he wrote to me on this subject, and hoped that I would not withhold my consent from their union. In answer to this, I informed him, that he must have been in some degree imposed on; that my sister’s fortune was very inconsiderable, and that such an alliance would be neither advantageous, or desirable to him. A few days, however, brought me a second letter, in which he acquainted me, that fortune was not the subject of his pursuit; that all his prospects of happiness were centred in my sister, and that he accordingly renewed his request with greater earnestness. Judge what was my surprise at reading this! Enslaved to prejudice, as I had always been, and unacquainted with the finer feelings of the mind, I could not form any idea of a real and disinterested affection. The proposal so very unaccountable in itself, and the impatience with which he requested my compliance, caused me to suspect some hidden design of which I was ignorant; and, warned by these apprehensions, I peremptorily, but without assigning any reason, refused my consent. The consequence of this was natural. My sister, stung with my unjust behaviour, listened to the persuasions of Love, and fled from the presence of an unnatural brother to the protection of a fond husband. They wrote to me immediately on their marriage, explaining the reasons of their conduct, and even entreating me to be reconciled to them, But to their solicitations I paid no attention; and, struck with this fresh instance of human perfidy, strengthened myself in the approbation of my system, by those very means which should have taught me to renounce it for ever.
In the mean time a prospect of a different nature presented itself to me. My father had extended his opinions of mankind to ever3r department of life; and the same philosophy which caused him to suspect their intention in the offices of friendship and society, had led him also to distrust their integrity in the transactions of business. He had therefore lived entirely on the principle of his money; and at his death the residue was so inconsiderable, that if I had declined to imitate him in this particular, it would not have been in my power. For some time I continued to pursue my usual course of life, till at length the visible diminution of my fortune opened my eyes; for though I was myself too much of a philosopher to regret the want of money, yet I knew that it was impossible to subsist without it in this age of universal corruption. The only scheme which occurred to me as practicable, was with the small remainder of my fortune, to retire abroad; for I considered that every country was to the wise man equally indifferent; or that any country would be preferable to one in which I had met with such repeated instances of ingratitude and depravity. While I was preparing to put this plan into execution, my sister, by the interest of her husband, procured me the office of a small sinecure in one of the public Offices, the emoluments of which would have enabled me to live in ease and independence. But every principle in my system of philosophy bad me reject such a proposal with disdain; and thus was I permitted to add fresh wounds to the feelings of a tender and affectionate sister.
I therefore soon sat out on my expedition; and left my country without sorrow or regret. I was too well convinced of the moral depravity of mankind to expect to find them better in a foreign kingdom; nor did my pride permit me to indulge the hope. Thus prejudiced, the impositions of the inn keepers, and the depredations of the post boys appeared to me as so many instances of national depravity; and a change of scene of men and manners, which inspire others with Open and generous sentiments, made mine more hardened and contracted. For Some months I roamed from place to place, not allured by hopes of diversion, but 111 search of fresh objects which might excite my indignation, and confirm my principles; till entering a small village late one evening, I found on alighting from my chaise, that my portmanteau had been stolen. This contained every thing on earth which I could call my own; and the loss of this presented me with the most melancholy prospect. In what manner could I act? I scorned to lay myself under obligations to others, and I was above retaliating on man by fraud. In this situation to die alone seemed pleasing. I had a found nothing attaching in life, I saw nothing formidable in death. I hastily seized a pistol, which I carried in my pocket, and directed it at my head. Instantaneous darkness overpowered my senses.
The people of the house alarmed, as I afterwards heard, at the report of the pistol, ran into the chamber, whither I had retired; and, on opening the door, found me on the floor senseless, and covered with blood. A surgeon was immediately sent for, who having examined my wounds, expressed some hopes of my recovery, and ordered me put to bed. On coming to myself, the first thing I discovered, was, the form of a venerable priest, who sat at the side of my bed. He earnestly enquired how I felt; but, through weakness, and a disturbed imagination, I could make him no answer; and he left me. In a short time he returned with the surgeon, who began to dress my wound. During the operation, an imperfect recollection of my situation occurred, and I endeavoured in a fit of despair to tear off the bandages from my head; but the struggle and exertion overcame me, and I once more sunk into a state of insensibility. On my recovering, I again discovered the same venerable figure by my side; but though I was now exhausted to the greatest degree, my senses were perfect and collected. He availed himself of this opportunity to enquire the motives of my attempt; “if poverty,” continued he, after a pause, “had reduced you to this necessity, you shall not want a friend to relieve it. But my presence fatigues you; to-morrow you shall again see me; till then be calm.”
As soon as he had left me, I began to reflect with surprise on the scene that had just passed. — What advantage, thought I, can he expect to obtain from one who is destitute of every thing? What design can he have formed on me, whose life is at present uncertain? His conduct appeared unaccountable; and I waited for his return with an impatience which I had never before experienced. He was punctual to his time, and I felt an inward satisfaction at the sight of him; there was something in his countenance which could interest even my heart. He sat down by me, and affectionately taking my hand, began to shew me how inconsistent my action had been with every manly sentiment; how repugnant to every precept of Religion! But, alas! I was ignorant of every precept of Religion! He saw the defect of my situation; but fearful of fatiguing me, he promised to renew his visit on the ensuing day.
Not to trespass too long on your patience, Mr. Loiterer, let me inform you, that not a day passed but I saw my amiable friend; for such I must call him. He gradually instilled into my mind the principles of Religion, and discovered to me a source of consolation, a rule of action, of which I had before no notion. He pointed out to me the impropriety of my past life, the injustice of my prejudices, and the inhumanity of my conduct towards my sister; for I concealed nothing from him. This last recollection filled me with the utmost remorse, and threw my mind into such agitation, that they were once more apprehensive of my life. But the continual presence, and the friendly consolations of Duval (for that was his name) preserved me; and I daily recovered my former strength, though with sentiments very different from those which I before entertained. As soon as my health would permit, Duval acquainted me, that my sister, who had been informed of my situation, was just arrived; and he accordingly introduced her into my apartment. The tenderness of our meeting may be more easily conceived by you, Mr. Loiterer, than described by me. She forgave me all my injuries, and loaded me with instances of affection; and, soon after, having taken an affectionate leave of Duval, I returned with her to England.
Since this time I have lived on a small place which my brother in law procured for me. Blessed with the Society of my sister, and the friendship of Duval, who often visits me, I have experienced more happiness than I could have dared to hope from the impiety of my former conduct; the recollection of which sometimes intrudes itself on my memory. But in the constant exercise of Religion and Virtue, I have found pleasure; and by an unmerited attention to the claims of mankind, and the service of Heaven, I have earnestly endeavoured to make atonement for my past offences; and I trust my endeavours have not been unsuccessful. Of this, however, I am convinced, that a state of unsocial and sullen independence, is neither conducive to the interests, or congenial to the Nature of Man: and that the only path to Happiness is a life of active Virtue.
I am, Sir, your's,
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