Forester, by Maria Edgeworth

Forester

Forester was the son of an English gentleman, who had paid some attention to his education, but who had some singularities of opinion, which probably influenced him in his conduct toward his children.

Young Forester was frank, brave, and generous, but he had been taught to dislike politeness so much, that the common forms of society appeared to him either odious or ridiculous; his sincerity was seldom restrained by any attention to the feelings of others. His love of independence was carried to such an extreme, that he was inclined to prefer the life of Robinson Crusoe in his desert island, to that of any individual in cultivated society. His attention had been early fixed upon the follies and vices of the higher classes of people; and his contempt for selfish indolence was so strongly associated with the name of gentleman, that he was disposed to choose his friends and companions from amongst his inferiors: the inequality between the rich and the poor shocked him; his temper was enthusiastic as well as benevolent; and he ardently wished to be a man, and to be at liberty to act for himself, that he might reform society, or at least his own neighbourhood. When he was about nineteen years old, his father died, and young Forester was sent to Edinburgh, to Dr. Campbell, the gentleman whom his father had appointed his guardian. In the choice of his mode of travelling his disposition appeared. The stage-coach and a carrier set out nearly at the same time from Penrith. Forester, proud of bringing his principles immediately into action, put himself under the protection of the carrier, and congratulated himself upon his freedom from prejudice. He arrived at Edinburgh in all the glory of independence, and he desired the carrier to set him down at Dr. Campbell’s door.

“The doctor is not at home,” said the footman, who opened the door.

“He is at home,” exclaimed Forester with indignation; “I see him at the window.”

“My master is just going to dinner, and can’t see any body now,” said the footman; “but if you will call again at six o’clock, maybe he may see you, my good lad.”

“My name is Forester — let me in,” said Forester, pushing-forwards.

“Forester! — Mr. Forester!” said the footman; “the young gentleman that was expected in the coach to-day?” Without deigning to give the footman any explanation, Forester took his own portmanteau from the carrier; and Dr. Campbell came down-stairs just when the footman was officiously struggling with the young gentleman for his burden. Dr. Campbell received his pupil very kindly; but Forester would not be prevailed upon to rub his shoes sufficiently upon the mat at the bottom of the stairs, or to change his disordered dress before he made his appearance in the drawing-room. He entered with dirty shoes, a threadbare coat, and hair that looked as if it never had been combed; and he was much surprised by the effect which his singular appearance produced upon the risible muscles of some of the company.

“I have done nothing to be ashamed of,” said he to himself; but, notwithstanding all his efforts to be and to appear at ease, he was constrained and abashed. A young laird, Mr. Archibald Mackenzie, seemed to enjoy his confusion with malignant, half-suppressed merriment, in which Dr. Campbell’s son was too good-natured, and too well-bred, to participate. Henry Campbell was three or four years older than Forester, and though he looked like a gentleman, Forester could not help being pleased with the manner in which he drew him into conversation. The secret magic of politeness relieved him insensibly from the torment of false shame.

“It is a pity this lad was bred up a gentleman,” said Forester to himself, “for he seems to have some sense and goodness.”

Dinner was announced, and Forester was provoked at being interrupted in an argument concerning carts and coaches, which he had begun with Henry Campbell. Not that Forester was averse to eating, for he was at this instant ravenously hungry: but eating in company he always found equally repugnant to his habits and his principles. A table covered with a clean table-cloth; dishes in nice order; plates, knives, and forks, laid at regular distances, appeared to our young Diogenes absurd superfluities, and he was ready to exclaim, “How many things I do not want!” Sitting down to dinner, eating, drinking, and behaving like other people, appeared to him difficult and disagreeable ceremonies. He did not perceive that custom had rendered all these things perfectly easy to every one else in company; and as soon as he had devoured his food his own way, he moralized in silence upon the good sense of Sancho Panza, who preferred eating an egg behind the door to feasting in public; and he recollected his favourite traveller Le Vaillant’s1 enthusiastic account of his charming Hottentot dinners, and of the disgust that he afterwards felt, on the comparison of European etiquette and African simplicity.

“Thank God, the ceremony of dinner is over,” said Forester to Henry Campbell, as soon as they rose from table.

All these things, which seemed mere matter of course in society, appeared to Forester strange ceremonies. In the evening there were cards for those who liked cards, and there was conversation for those who liked conversation. Forester liked neither; he preferred playing with a cat; and he sat all night apart from the company in a corner of a sofa. He took it for granted that the conversation could not be worth his attention, because he heard Lady Catherine Mackenzie’s voice amongst others; he had conceived a dislike, or rather a contempt for this lady, because she showed much of the pride of birth and rank in her manners. Henry Campbell did not think it necessary to punish himself for her ladyship’s faults, by withdrawing from entertaining conversation; he knew that his father had the art of managing the frivolous subjects started in general company, so as to make them lead to amusement and instruction; and this Forester would probably have discovered this evening, had he not followed his own thoughts, instead of listening to the observations of others. Lady Catherine, it is true, began with a silly history of her hereditary antipathy for pickled cucumbers; and she was rather tiresome in tracing the genealogy of this antipathy through several generations of her ancestry; but Dr. Campbell said “that he had heard, from an ingenious gentleman of her ladyship’s family, that her ladyship’s grandfather, and several of his friends, nearly lost their lives by pickled cucumbers;” and thence the doctor took occasion to relate several curious circumstances concerning the effects of different poisons.

Dr. Campbell, who plainly saw both the defects and the excellent qualities of his young ward, hoped that, by playful raillery, and by well-timed reasoning, he might mix a sufficient portion of good sense with Forester’s enthusiasm, might induce him gradually to sympathize in the pleasures of cultivated society, and might convince him that virtue is not confined to any particular class of men; that education, in the enlarged sense of the word, creates the difference between individuals more than riches or poverty. He foresaw that Forester would form a friendship with his son, and that this attachment would cure him of his prejudices against gentlemen, and would prevent him from indulging his taste for vulgar company. Henry Campbell had more useful energy, though less apparent enthusiasm, than his new companion: he was always employed; he was really independent, because he had learned how to support himself either by the labours of his head or of his hands; but his independence did not render him unsociable; he was always ready to sympathize with the pleasures of his friends, and therefore he was beloved: following his father’s example, he did all the good in his power to those who were in distress; but he did not imagine that he could reform every abuse in society, or that he could instantly new-model the universe. Forester became, in a few days, fond of conversing, or rather of holding long arguments, with Henry; but his dislike to the young laird, Archibald Mackenzie, hourly increased. Archibald and his mother, Lady Catherine Mackenzie, were relations to Mrs. Campbell, and they were now upon a visit at her house. Lady Catherine, a shrewd woman, fond of precedence, and fully sensible of the importance that wealth can bestow, had sedulously inculcated into the mind of her son all the maxims of worldly wisdom which she had collected in her intercourse with society; she had inspired him with family pride, but at the same time had taught him to pay obsequious court to his superiors in rank or fortune: the art of rising in the world, she knew, did not entirely depend upon virtue or ability; she was consequently more solicitous about her son’s manners than his morals, and was more anxious that he should form high connexions, than that he should apply to the severe studies of a profession. Archibald was nearly what might be expected from his education, alternately supple to his superiors, and insolent to his inferiors: to insinuate himself into the favour of young men of rank and fortune, he affected to admire extravagance; but his secret maxims of parsimony operated even in the midst of dissipation. Meanness and pride usually go together. It is not to be supposed that young Forester had such quick penetration, that he could discover the whole of the artful Archibald’s character in the course of a few days’ acquaintance; but he disliked him for good reasons, because he was a laird, because he had laughed at his first entrée, and because he was learning to dance.

1 Le Vaillant’s Travels in Africa, vol. i. p. 114.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/e/edgeworth/maria/forester/chapter1.html

Last updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 14:44