L O I T E R E R.
"Speak of us as we are."
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Mess. EGERTONS, Whitehall, LONDON; Mess. PEARSON
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BATH; AND Mess. COWSLADE and SMART, READING.
L O I T E R E R.
SATURDAY, January 9, 1790.
0 Cives, Cives, quærenda pecunia primum est. — HOR.
IT has usually been deemed a fortunate circumstance for the cause of Virtue, that there are some good qualities in which even the opinion of the World will not excuse our deficiency. Of these general passports to the favour of mankind, each age has its particular favourites; but however the fashionable morality of the day may vary with times and circumstances, all agree in requiring some leading traits of character which may palliate, if not excuse, our particular defects. In the last century nothing so effectually secured our Reputation against the attacks of Slander, as a strict regard to propriety in our conversation, our behaviour, and even our dress: Provided these external appearances were preserved few concerned themselves about our good temper, liberality, or candour. And in consideration of our passing one day of the week in a rigid abstinence from every species of enjoyment, we were good-naturedly permitted to spend the remaining six as we pleased. At present we seem to profess a very different system of Ethics; certainly not too observant of the Form, we flatter ourselves that we are more attentive to the substance of Virtue; and while we modestly give up all claim to a nice propriety of conduct and behaviour, we pride ourselves on our superior proficiency in those qualities which conduce most to the happiness of Society. Amongst these Generosity has long and justly occupied the highest rank, not only because it is an indication of an open and enlarged understanding, but because it is a quality often found extremely convenient to our Friends.
To deny the prevalence or depreciate the merit of a Virtue, on which the present Age so universally piques itself, and on whose exertion many individuals found their sole pretensions to a good Character, may appear, perhaps, neither a candid nor a prudent undertaking; yet a regard to Truth obliges me to declare, that in my opinion, we a little over-rate our merit in this particular, and that, in Spite of our boasting, the present Age is neither more generous or more charitable than the last. It is true indeed, that they whose unfortunate situation renders them in want of immediate and temporary relief, rarely fail to obtain it; on the Contrary, a Tale of Woe always finds an attentive and a pitying audience even amongst the mixt circle of the dissipated and the thoughtless — the laugh of pleasure is for a moment stopt, every purse is drawn out, and every hand is extended to contribute to the comfort of a fellow creature. Yet let it be remembered, that of those who thus give, some are generous through ostentation, others profuse from levity, and that as neither take the smallest pains to examine whether the object be deserving, or the story true, they can have little claim to pride themselves on their Generosity, since the former merely lay down a certain sum, to receive in return a certain portion of applause; and the latter only fling away that for which they have no value. Even on the most favourable construction, it rather proves Feeling than Generosity; since after the momentary impression was over, it would, I believe, be equally difficult to obtain from either, any serious and permanent assistance, or to draw off, for the purposes of useful liberality, any material part of those sums which are devoted to the demands of Pride or Pleasure. But that I may not appear to my Readers deficient in Candour, let me relate to them a few circumstances, which have induced me to form so unfavourable an opinion of modern Generosity.
It was my fate (not long before the commencement of this Work) to be Curate of a large Village at no great distance from the Metropolis, in which some few of the inhabitants were very anxious for the establishment of a Sunday School; but as they were themselves neither numerous or wealthy, it was found necessary to ask the assistance and contributions of their richer neighbours, in order to forward the execution of a plan which would have been equally beneficial to the whole Parish. This office, from my situation, I was judged the most proper person to undertake. And as the demand on each individual was trifling, and the neighbourhood was at once populace and opulent, I made no doubt of success. — For the first time therefore in my life, (and I sincerely hope it may be the last) I made the tour of my acquaintance, in order to beg for money.
My first visit was to the Villa of Sir Charles Courtley. — He received me with his usual politeness, and after having heard my request with the most condescending smile of complacence, — “My dear Sir,” (said he) “Your Zeal for the instruction of these poor children does you the highest honour; the cultivation of the human mind is indeed peculiarly becoming your office. I am sure the whole parish think themselves extremely happy in having so good and so learned a Clergyman. — But my good Friend you do yourself great injustice by confining your abilities to a place like this. Genius, such as yours, is absolutely buried here. What a pity you are not known to the Chancellor! — What little assistance I can be of in recommending so much merit to the notice of the world, I am sure I shall be happy.” — He was proceeding in his harangue with great fluency, when I interrupted him, by saying, that I felt the sincerest gratitude for his good intentions with regard to myself but that at present, I should be still more obliged by the exertion of his Benevolence in the cause, for which I was so much interested. — “My assistance! Most undoubtedly I shall be happy to contribute my mite towards so useful an establishment! — but do not you think application should be made to the Bishop? I dare say his Lordship would stand forward, and (looking at his watch) bless me, I had no idea how late it was! I beg pardon; but my carriage is coming round in a few minutes, will you give me leave to set you down anywhere?”
As I was already sufficiently set down I declined his offer, and hastened away to the house of a family with whom I had for some time lived in the greatest intimacy, and who were exactly in that middle state of life which, equally removed from the extremes of luxury and distress, is usually supposed most favourable to the improvement of the generous and softer affections. — Unluckily, neither the Father or Mother were at home, and I was shewn into the dressing room at the instant when their two daughters (who were by the way very pretty girls) were in a most interesting dispute on some ornament of female dress: The moment I entered the room, and before the door was shut, they both exclaimed, oh! dear Mr. ——, you are come just in the moment when we were Wishing for you, you shall determine the dispute between my Sister and myself; the matter was of course laid open, and though it was a dangerous attempt, I contrived to give such a verdict as was agreeable to both parties. The moment this discussion was finished, I endeavoured to introduce the subject of my embassy; but before I could get through the first sentence, the youngest suddenly cried out, oh Louisa! what do you think? They say that Captain M — is really to be married to Miss L —. Do you believe it Mr. ——? This of course gave us a fresh subject for conversation, and it was not till after we had thoroughly examined this important point, that I could even attempt to mention my projected scheme. At last, however, out it came, — they heard me with an attention that was distracted by nothing but feeding the Canary Bird, patting the Lap Dog, and occasionally running to the Window to see some one who was going by. But let me do them justice, they both grew serious towards the conclusion of my harangue, and the youngest had actually put her hand into her pocket, when the door flew open, and in rushed a large and young troop of each Sex, who were come to intreat them to join their party in a walk. As I saw my little chance of success was now entirely gone, I took my leave, and repaired to the house of the grave and learned Sophronia, a maiden Lady of good fortune, whose good graces I had gained by a most submissive and flattering attention to her long and grave disquisitions on the most difficult points of Philosophy, History, Theology, and Mathematics, to which, notwithstanding her readiness to oblige her friends, she seldom found her friends disposed to listen. As Sophronia was not quite so flippant as my last neighbours, I found no interruption during the explanation I was giving of the plan we proposed to follow in the formation and government of this seminary. After drawing up her features into a look of the deepest penetration, she replied, “And do you really suppose, Mr. ——, that a plan of this kind would be of service to the community?” Most certainly, (I answered) if an increase of knowledge and reformation of manners in the lower order of society is allowed to be beneficial, this scheme has a fair claim to the assistance of every well-wisher to their Country. To give the entire answer of the grave Sophronia would much exceed the limits of my paper. Suffice it to say, that she entered so deeply into the nature of human society, so clearly displayed the necessity of preserving the different ranks from encroaching on each other, and made so many pertinent remarks on the ill consequences of encouraging learning among the common people, that she well-nigh convinced me that by endeavouring to instruct few harmless and innocent children, I was doing an action which would be highly detrimental to the rising generation.
Tired with listening to arguments which I could not comprehend, and words without meaning, I left her to feast her mind with the contemplation of her superior powers of Eloquence, and resolved to make my next attempt in the family of Mrs. Notable, whose disposition, if it was not very favourable to the success of my enterprise, would, I thought at least save me from the torment of needless altercation. — I was right in my conjecture, she neither examined nor wished to examine the merits of the cause, but satisfied herself by saying “She paid a great deal every year for poors rates, and she did not know any right they had to expect any thing more from her.”
Various, in short, were the modes as well as the motives of refusal which I experienced in the course of my tour. According to the temper, the manners, or the situation of those whom I addressed, — Sometimes the rising compassion of the Wife was checked by the surly ejaculation of the Husband, and at others the intended generosity of the Husband damped by a prudent nod from his Wife. In one resolution, however, they all finally agreed — not to part with a single penny.
Wearied, at length, with fruitless expostulation, and disgusted by repeated disappointment, I was quietly walking home, meditating on the Generosity of the Age, when I saw my neighbour, Mr. Humphrey Discount, sitting at the door of his country house, smoking his pipe, and enjoying the dust, which then rose in a glorious cloud from the western road, and marked the track of one of the Mail Coaches.
Whether it was from Caprice or Curiosity, I know not, but I could not resist making one effort more; and, after common forms of salutation, opened my business to him as clearly and as concisely as I could. — He heard me, apparently, with the most earnest attention, not unmixed with a share of surprise; and as soon as he found I had concluded, with great deliberation took his pipe out of his mouth, and after shaking out the Ashes, replied, “And pray, Sir, what am I to gain by this?” “You will gain, Sir, (answered I) “the satisfaction of knowing that you have laid out your money well; you will gain the pleasing reflection of having increased the knowledge, and consequently the happiness of your fellow creatures; and you will gain the comfort of preserving your garden and premises unmolested by the idle and mischievous youth of the lower ranks, of whose depredations I have sometimes heard you complain.” — To this Speech, which, like all great Orators, I had endeavoured to wind up, by an artful appeal to his passions, he made the following answer, with which I shall conclude this number.
“Why, Sir, as to laying out money well, I believe I know where to place my money as safe as any man in the Alley; aye, and make as much of it, too: With regard to what you was saying about knowledge and happiness and all that, it is all very well in its proper place; but I make it a rule never to think of those sort of things out of Church, — and as for preserving my garden, I have just bought a couple of steel-traps, and I warrant the young rascals will keep clear of my premises by the time I have broke two or three of their legs. — So, Sir, you see there is no necessity for laying out my money in this here Scheme. — And if I might be so bold as to offer you a bit of advice in return, I should recommend it to you to mind your own business, and endeavour to get a little cash of your own, instead of running about the country begging other people’s; or else (take my word for it) you will never be worth sixpence as long as you live.
N.B. This work will in future be sold by Messrs. Prince and Cooke; to whom our Correspondents are requested to direct their communications.
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