Page images

slander, an elopement, or in general any exposure of character. He is the first to rip up an old story of failure or disgrace, against his equals who have risen in the world; to "remember the time" when my Lord Mayor's note would not discount for twenty pounds; when Sir Somebody Something wore a livery; or to recal the fact that old Mrs. Graveairs made a slip when she was sixteen, and was stopped by her husband at Dartford, on her way to the Continent, with Captain Lovemore.

Very different from these personages is the ill-humoured man. Such a man may be just, generous, and upon great occasions compassionate and friendly; but in his ordinary intercourse with society he overflows with an unceasing stream of bitterness. All his remarks are severe, harsh, and annoying; and in the moments of his relaxation, in the hour of social enjoyment, he is morose, snappish, and insolent.

The ill-humoured man differs from the ill-natured in this, that he does not rejoice in misfortunes, but takes pleasure only in seeing his friends uncomfortable; and he has no delight even in this measure of annoyance, if he himself is not the author of it. Again, he differs from the ill-tempered man, because the latter must have some one to be angry with; whereas the ill-humoured man is at odds with himself: the ill-tempered man must have an external occasion for excitement, the ill-humoured goes out of himself to seek for the food of his humour.

This last modification of disposition is decidedly English; and whether it be attributable to "les brouillards d'Angleterre," to the beef and puddingising; the anxious money-getting, or other causes peculiar to England and Englishmen, it is rarely to be met with on the Continent, in the same intensity in which it prevails at home. Individuals, indeed, of all nations may be subject to occasional fits of spleen and discontent; but it is among Englishmen exclusively that we find ill-humour an état, a manière d'être, which clings to a man at all periods of life; and is neither mitigated by the successes of love, of vanity, or of ambition, nor requires to be awakened by disappointment and vexation. Ill-humour is a strictly constitutional disease; and as its occasional paroxysms are rarely brought on by the more serious evils of existence, but are excited by a perverse accumulation of petty annoyances, so the disposition itself does not appear to depend upon any notable deviation from health, but to arise from some obscure hitch or embarrassment in the more intimate movements of the frame, which, without tending to sickness or dissolution, is destructive of that diffusive animal pleasure, which, in happier constitutions, is derived from the mere sentiment of existence. It should seem as if, in persons thus constituted, the capillary systems were so many fountains of irritation, from which flow in upon the sensorium an accumulated torrent of inappreciable impressions, which do not engender pain, but yet fret the disposition, "like a gummed velvet," and throw the mind upon the external world, in search of those causes of uneasiness which are in reality internal. "The humours of the body," says a moral writer, "imperceptibly influence the will, so that they enter, for a large part, into all our actions, without our being aware of it; and thus it is that the ill-humoured man punishes, in his friends, the outrages of some peccant lymph circulating in his own veins; and revenges himself nobly on society for the offences of his liver or pancreas. Accordingly, it happens that a severe fit of illness

will much abate this congenital disease of the mind, by changing the habitual current of the humours. In the same manner, a fire, the death of a friend, or a heavy pecuniary loss, will render an ill-humoured man, for a short time, much more civilized and amenable in society; and he will not lose this temporary good feeling till time and circumstance shall have restored him to his ordinary good spirits. This peculiarity of disposition is a great defect in the national character, not only as it occasions much unhappiness to the bye-standers, but as it bespeaks much uneasiness in the subject, for it never could exist where life was attended with pleasure. The happy are ever pleased with the happiness of others. Ill-humour vests itself in a thousand ways, which contribute to impress upon foreigners the notion of English morosity, and reconcile them to their native despotisms, by a reflection on the effects of an English climate.

An ill-humoured man in the bosom of his family sits like a spider in the centre of its web, in watchful and unceasing malice against all around him. No sooner does a burst of cheerfulness explode in his presence, than he hastens to repress it by a sarcasm or a rebuke. He studies the weaknesses of his friends in order to play upon them with more effect; and as the hackney coachman "makes a raw" on his horse's shoulder to flog his callous hide to better purpose, so the illnatured man delights to awaken an outraged feeling, to notice an imperfection, to shock a prejudice, and, in one word, to say to every individual the most unpleasant and vexatious things that recur to his recollection. The great pretext for this cantankerous indulgence is, that the party loves to speak his mind. He, forsooth, is a plain downright man, who always utters what he thinks; and he is too good an Englishman to make cringes and congées like a foreigner. For my own part, I hate most cordially these truth-tellers, and would almost as soon live with the father of lies himself, (provided I might choose the venue of the habitation,) as associate with these very candid and very impertinent companions, who, after all, differ from their continental neighbours less, perhaps, in the love of speaking their thoughts, than in not thinking kindly on any subject. The worst of it is that these "cross gentlemen" (to use the designation by which an Irish waiter distinguished certain unpleasable traveller, with whose name he was not acquainted,) have now and then so many compensating good qualities, so much friendship, so much generosity, that you cannot for the world bring yourself to a dead cut. Sir Simon Verjuice is a man of this description, whose highly respectable life of industry and integrity, whose family affection and active friendship conspire to licence to the uttermost his indulgence in the angelical privilege of annoyance. He will tell a woman in a large circle that she is painted--that her wig is awry-or that her jewellery is mock. He will make a fond mother miserable by calling her husband's attention to her mismanagement of her favourite boy; tell a scandalous anecdote of Burdett or Waithman to teaze a radical acquaintance, or abuse sectarianism to a dissenter. He has all sorts of predicted misfortune at the service of his acquaintance; and when he, half jeeringly, half earnestly, tells a neighbour that he will live to be hanged, takes little pains to conceal a private opinion that the party richly deserves it. If there is a spot on your daughter's cheek, he will blurt out that it is the evil; or if your


The English Malady.

wife coughs, will abruptly warn you that she is far gone in a consump-
All proffered civilities he rejects disgraciously, flinging the
good-natured and the polite back upon themselves, by the coldness or
the rudeness of his refusal. If you offer him a place in your carriage,
he tells you he can walk. If you propose to him some delicacy of the
table,- -"he is no epicure." If you yield him the arm chair, or a place
next the fire," he is not so old." Thus he gives you ground for be-
lieving that your motive is suspected, when he is only annoyed at being
ousted for awhile of his right to be surly. So, on the other hand, his
first word to every request is "No!" and though he seldom fails to
oblige when it is in his power, he as seldom grants a favour, till he has
quoted every reason he is aware of, why he should refuse you.
strate with him on his rudeness of speech, and tell him that he has hurt
such a man's feelings, his constant answer is, "What do I care?-
Why is he such a fool as to mind it?—Is it not the truth ?—and, If he
is ashamed to hear the truth, why does he not change his conduct?"


After all, however, Verjuice is a much more tolerable companion than his sister; first, because she is a woman, and dare be more savage; and next, because she is an old maid, and adds some grains of ill-nature to her inborn ill-humour; but most of all, because she has seen less of the world, is more full of herself, and is less essentially indulgent to the infirmities of others. He taunts you with a weakness or an absurdity, because it suits his humour to do so; she, for the same reason, and because she thinks unnecessarily ill of you on With as much bile, she has more genuine account of that weakness. malignity. Miss Verjuice entertains a thousand little jealousies of the neglect of friends. Herself the centre of her own circle, she can ill brook the eccentric movements of those who are occasionally influenced by other attractions, and dare to omit her in a dinner-party, or to withhold the customary visit. These feelings are but too common among those who have not l'usage du monde, but pride leads most people to Miss V., on the contrary, never keep such weaknesses to themselves. lets slip an opportunity of " telling her friends a piece of her mind ;" she is constantly asserting herself, and reproaching her visitors with their arrears of civility. To her servants, or of them, she never speaks but to find fault, and her servants are her favourite topic for the amusements of her guests. She is the scourge of her poor neighbours, abusing the men for idleness, the wives for sluttishness, and the children for their dirty faces. Her own nephews and nieces she keeps in incessant "How d'ye do, hot-water, by reminding them, apropos to nothing, of their old offences; and reading them improviso lessons before company. Mrs. Fizackerly? That's my niece, ma'am, Miss Clementina Verjuice, a good girl, if she would but hold up her head. I take pretty good care that little girls shall be good where I am; I don't think they will break my windows with their ball a second time: and that young gentleman is her brother Harry. Come here, sir: why don't you comb He chose to spoil his best trowsers, by falling in the mud, your hair? Mrs. and tearing the knees; so he must be content to go on in his old ones; All the while poor that's the way to make children attentive." Fizackerly sits bored to death; either by no means interested in the qualities of Miss Clementina and Master Harry, or if she be a foolish mother herself, applying to her own conduct all the inuendoes against

the torment of rude children, and the folly of "sparing the birch and spoiling the child." Nor are such pettish snarling attacks confined to the children; all her acquaintance come in for their share. She is the censor-general of fashions and of morals, of caps and carriages, of bonnets and behaviour: not that she always ventures to be directly personal; a diatribe on an abstract proposition will equally serve her turn. If a lady's stays happen to be cut low, she wonders how modest women can bring themselves to the fashion of showing their bosoms to every jackanapes. If the vicar rides a good horse, she falls upon the category of sporting parsons; or if he preaches morality, she hints that a little dogma in the pulpit will sometimes do no harm.

Among better-bred persons, ill-humour of course does not wear this extreme shape of impertinent selfishness; it is softened down and subdued by an acquaintance with good company. But where it exists, it finds a no less effective vent in that morgue, which is equally annoying, whether it arise from an affectation of unbending dignity, or of threepiled sanctity. The assumption of state-airs in the bosom of the domestic circle is a remain of feudal barbarity. In no country was it more rigid, or more durable than in England. Formerly children were not suffered to eat at the same table, or to sit in the presence of their parents; and much of the spirit of such institutions is preserved in our modern habits, through the incurable ill-humour of the heads of families. The father sits in the midst of his little ones, wrapped up in a silent abstraction, and represses by a frown or a rebuke every approach to affectionate familiarity; while the mother incessantly reminds her daughters that "when she was a girl, she was not permitted to do" this and the other. This carriage towards the objects of affection is utterly incompatible with cheerfulness; and where the feeling exists, cannot be maintained. But by far the most frequent refuge of genuine ill-temper is found in a pretence to a sanctimonious rigour of exterior, in a scrupulosity of piety, which looks down on music, abhors dancing, and holds every idle word or unquestioned thought as a sin of the blackest die. A watchful look-out after the soul's health of others, is the most plausible pretext imaginable for tormenting and harassing; and a zeal for religion affords a decent excuse for every peevish inroad upon the cheerfulness of society. "Que ferons-nous de nos domestiques ce carême ?" said a French female pietest to her friend; and the answer was, "Nous les ferons jeuner.' Too much of this spirit, it is to be feared, lurks at the bottom, not only of the domestic dullness of the over-righteous, but of our public invasions of the Sunday cheerfulness of the lower orders: and if we are indeed, as we pretend, the most religious people of Europe, it will be well if our piety does not in some degree proceed from our being the most ill-humoured. Certain it is, that whether we look into the parlour, the nursery, or the saloon, whether we examine the dinner-party or the family-circle, whether we follow the people into their domestic interior, or accompany them in their public amusements, there is in England infinitely less cheerfulness, good humour, and ease in the social intercourse of the people, than are to be found in the society of any other of the European M.


Lady Morgan's "


ABOUT this time I was invited by Lord Barrymore to partake of merry meetings at his house at Weybridge, where was a great assemblage of title, fashion, and beauty; but my unfortunate pair of eyes, even at that period, made me so awkward with strangers, both to them and myself, particularly since I had lost my brother Daniel,-(he died in 1787 of a consumption)—that, with thanks to Lord Barrymore, I declined going, and left them to their private theatricals, in which I heard afterwards they succeeded admirably. Indeed, many years before, when I was young, and my sight perfect, I did not accept a similar invitation to Shane's Castle, county Antrim, about one hundred miles from Dublin, given me by John O'Neil (afterwards Lord O'Neil, killed in 1798, in the national ferment); for I ever thought that playing before a private audience is more terrific than starting out on the public stage.

The world was now full of the political changes in France, of which, before they rose to such horrors, persons of good sense, humane intentions, and perfect friends to monarchy, did not think much amiss; and I was induced to compose a drama which I worked up on the subject of the Man in the Iron Mask, and a regular story with correspondent incidents, local customs, characters, dialogue, and song. I was enabled to do this well from original materials, and genuine anecdotes, supplied me by my son and his French tutor, L'Abbé Halma, who had at this time (1789), by my desire, brought him over from Paris; my daughter having the year before been fetched over to me from France, and its horrors, by her governess. My son Tottenham had seen the cannon go by to batter the Bastile, and heard the terrific explosions, and the appalling shouts of the people. He and the Abbé were ear and eye-witnesses of many of the circumstances, which I brought into this piece of mine, and called "The Grenadier." I gave it this name from a grenadier of the National Guard having been the first to mount the wall and enter the Bastille; but when the flame of liberty in Paris seemed to be converted into hell-fire, and patriotic men into demons, Mr. Harris very prudently thought it advisable not to touch upon the subject; and though the scenes were painted, the music composed by Shield, and the piece rehearsed several times, we went no further with it. I printed it, however, in my four volumes, as a curiosity replete with authenticated information.

Among other English friends who called on my son when at the college du Plessis, Paris, was Mr. Palmer, of Bath, who gave him a guinea, with sterling gold advice. When he had recovered his English, and exchanged his high-fashion Paris costume for sober dress, I placed him at Westminster School, under Dr. Vincent, who the same day put him into the upper fifth form. When the boys at Westminster School played "King John," he performed Constance. He afterwards took his degree of A. B. at Exeter College, Oxford, was ordained deacon by Dr. Pretyman, Bishop of Lincoln, priest by Dr. Buckner, Bishop of Chichester, appointed chaplain to His Royal Highness the Duke of Clarence, went to Jamaica to obtain a very excellent living, and died

* Continued from vol. xvi. page 572.



« PreviousContinue »