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N° 112. SATURDAY, DECEM, 1, 1753.
Has pænas garrula lingua dedit. OVID
Such was the fate of vain loquacity,
TO THE ADVENTURER.
To be courteous to all, but familiar with few, is a maxim which I once despised, as originally proceeding from a mean and contracted mind, the frigid caution of weakness and timidity. A tame and indiscriminate servility I imputed to a dread of the contempt or the petulance of others, to fears from which the wit and the gentleman are exempted by a consciousness of their own dignity, by their power to repress insolence and silence ridicule; and a general shyness and reserve I considered as the reproach of our country, as the effect of an illiberal education, by which neither a polite address, an easy confidence, or a general acquaintance with public life, is to be acquired. This opinion, which continued to flatter the levity and pride that produced it, was strengthened by the example of those whose manner in the diffidence of youth I wished to imitate, who entered a mixed company with an air of serene familiarity, accosted every man like an old acquaintance, and thought only of making sport for the rest of any with whom their caprice should happen to be offended, without regard to their age, character, or condition.
But I now wish, that I had regulated my conduct by the maxim which I despised, for I should then have escaped a misfortune which I can never retrieve; and the sense of which I am now endeavouring to suspend, by relating it to you as a lesson to others, and considering my loss of happiness as an acquisition of wisdom.
While I was in France with a travelling tutor, I received a letter which acquainted me, that my father who had been long declining, was dead; and that it was necessary I should immediately return to England to take possession of his estate, which was not inconsiderable, though there were mortgages upon it to near half its value.
When I arrived, I found a letter which the old gentleman had written and directed to me with his own hand. It contained some general rules for my conduct, and some animadversions upon his own: he took notice of the incumbrance under which he left me the paternal inheritance, which had descended through many generations, and expressed the most earnest desire, that it might yet be transmitted intire to posterity: with this view, he said, he had negociated a marriage between me and the only daughter of his old friend, Sir George Homestead, of the North, an amiable young lady, whose alliance would be an honour to my family, and whose fortune would much more than redeem my estate.
He had given the knight a faithful account of his affairs, who, after having taken some time to consider the proposal and consult his friends, had consented to the match, upon condition that his daughter and I should be agreeable to each other, and my behaviour should confirm the character which had been given of me. My father added, that he hoped to have lived till this alliance had taken place; but as Providence had otherwise determined, he intreated, as his last
request, that as soon as my affairs should be settled, and decency would permit, I would make Sir George a visit, and neglect nothing to accomplish his purpose.
I was touched with the zeal and tenderness of parental affection, which was then directing me to happiness, after the heart that felt it had ceased to beat, and the hand that expressed it was mouldering in the dust. I had also seen the lady, not indeed since we were children; but I remember that her person was agreeable, and her temper sweet: I did not, therefore, hesitate a moment, whether my father's injunction should be obeyed. I proceeded to settle his affairs; I took an account of his debts and credits, visited the tenants, recovered my usual gaiety, and at the end of about nine months set out for Sir George's seat in the North; having before opened an epistolary correspondence, and expressed my impatience to possess the happiness which my father had so kindly secured.
I was better pleased to be well mounted, than to loll in a chariot, or be jumbled in a post chaise; and I knew that Sir George was an old sportsman, a plain hearty blade, who would like me better in a pair of buckskin breeches on the back of a good hunter, than in a trimmed suit and a gaudy equipage; I therefore, set out on horseback with only one servant, and reached Stilton the first night.
In the morning, as I was mounting, a gentleman, who had just got on horseback before me, ordered his servant to make some inquiry about the road, which I happened to overhear, and told him with great familiarity, that I was going the same way, and if he pleased we would travel together: to this he consented with as much frankness, and as little ceremony; and I set forward, greatly delighted that chance had afforded me a companion.
We immediately entered into conversation, and I soon found that he had been abroad: we extolled the
roads and the policy of France, the cities, the palaces, and the villas; entered into a critical examination of the most celebrated seats in England, the peculiarities of the building and situation, cross ways, market towns, the imposition of innkeepers, and the sports of the field; topics by which we mutually recommended ourselves to each other, as we had both opportunities to discover equal knowledge, and to display truth with such evidence as prevented diversity of opinion.
After we had rode about two hours, we overtook another gentleman, whom we accosted with the same familiarity that we had used to each other; we asked him how far he was going and which way, at what rate he travelled, where he put up, and many other questions of the same kind. The gentleman, who appeared to be near fifty, received our address with great coolness, returned short and indirect answers to our inquiries, and, often looking with great attention on us both, sometimes put forward that he might get before us, and sometimes checked his horse that he might remain behind. But we were resolved to disappoint him; and finding that his reserve increased, and he was visibly displeased, we winked at each other and determined the old put should afford us some sport. After we had rode together upon very ill terms more than half an hour, my companion with an air of ceremonious gravity asked him, if he knew any house upon the road where he might be accommodated with a wench. The gentleman, who was, I believe, afraid of giving us a pretence to quarrel, did not resent this insult any otherwise than by making no reply. I then began to talk to my companion as if we had been old acquaintance, reminding him that the gentleman extremely resembled a person, from whom we had taken a girl that he was carrying to the bagnio, and, indeed, that his present re
serve made me suspect him to be the same; but that as we were willing to ask his pardon, we hoped it would be forgot, and that we should still have the pleasure of dining together at the next inn. The gentleman was still silent; but as his perplexity and resentment visibly increased, he proportionably increased our entertainment, which did not, however, last long, for he suddenly turned down a lane; upon which we set up a horse laugh, that continued till he was out of hearing, and then pursuing our journey, we talked of the adventure, which afforded us conversation and merriment for the rest of the day.
The next morning we parted, and in the evening I arrived at Homestead Hall. The old knight received me with great affection, and immediately introduced me to his daughter, whom I now thought the finest woman I had ever seen. I could easily discover that I was not welcome to her merely upon her father's recommendation, and I enjoyed by anticipation the felicity which I considered as within my grasp. But the pleasing scene, in which I had suffered my imagination to wander, suddenly disappeared as by the power of enchantment; without any visible motive, the behaviour of the whole family was changed, my assiduities to the lady were repressed, she was never to be found alone, the knight treated me with a cold civility, I was no longer a party in their visits, nor was I willingly attended even by the servants. I made many attempts to discover the cause of this misfortune, but without success, and one morning, when I had drawn Sir George into the garden by himself, and was about to urge him upon the subject, he prevented me by saying, that his promise to my father, for whom he had the highest regard, as I well knew, was conditional; that he had always resolved to leave his daughter a free choice, and that she had requested him to acquaint