In which the gentleman relates the history of his life.
Sir, I am descended of a good family, and was born a gentleman. My education was liberal, and at a public school, in which I proceeded so far as to become master of the Latin, and to be tolerably versed in the Greek language. My father died when I was sixteen, and left me master of myself. He bequeathed me a moderate fortune, which he intended I should not receive till I attained the age of twenty-five: for he constantly asserted that was full early enough to give up any man entirely to the guidance of his own discretion. However, as this intention was so obscurely worded in his will that the lawyers advised me to contest the point with my trustees, I own I paid so little regard to the inclinations of my dead father, which were sufficiently certain to me, that I followed their advice, and soon succeeded, for the trustees did not contest the matter very obstinately on their side. “Sir,” said Adams, “may I crave the favour of your name?” The gentleman answered his name was Wilson, and then proceeded.
I stayed a very little while at school after his death; for, being a forward youth, I was extremely impatient to be in the world, for which I thought my parts, knowledge, and manhood thoroughly qualified me. And to this early introduction into life, without a guide, I impute all my future misfortunes; for, besides the obvious mischiefs which attend this, there is one which hath not been so generally observed: the first impression which mankind receives of you will be very difficult to eradicate. How unhappy, therefore, must it be to fix your character in life, before you can possibly know its value, or weigh the consequences of those actions which are to establish your future reputation!
A little under seventeen I left my school, and went to London with no more than six pounds in my pocket; a great sum, as I then conceived; and which I was afterwards surprized to find so soon consumed.
The character I was ambitious of attaining was that of a fine gentleman; the first requisites to which I apprehended were to be supplied by a taylor, a periwig-maker, and some few more tradesmen, who deal in furnishing out the human body. Notwithstanding the lowness of my purse, I found credit with them more easily than I expected, and was soon equipped to my wish. This I own then agreeably surprized me; but I have since learned that it is a maxim among many tradesmen at the polite end of the town to deal as largely as they can, reckon as high as they can, and arrest as soon as they can.
The next qualifications, namely, dancing, fencing, riding the great horse, and music, came into my head: but, as they required expense and time, I comforted myself, with regard to dancing, that I had learned a little in my youth, and could walk a minuet genteelly enough; as to fencing, I thought my good-humour would preserve me from the danger of a quarrel; as to the horse, I hoped it would not be thought of; and for music, I imagined I could easily acquire the reputation of it; for I had heard some of my schoolfellows pretend to knowledge in operas, without being able to sing or play on the fiddle.
Knowledge of the town seemed another ingredient; this I thought I should arrive at by frequenting public places. Accordingly I paid constant attendance to them all; by which means I was soon master of the fashionable phrases, learned to cry up the fashionable diversions, and knew the names and faces of the most fashionable men and women.
Nothing now seemed to remain but an intrigue, which I was resolved to have immediately; I mean the reputation of it; and indeed I was so successful, that in a very short time I had half-a-dozen with the finest women in town.
At these words Adams fetched a deep groan, and then, blessing himself, cried out, “Good Lord! what wicked times these are!”
Not so wicked as you imagine, continued the gentleman; for I assure you they were all vestal virgins for anything which I knew to the contrary. The reputation of intriguing with them was all I sought, and was what I arrived at: and perhaps I only flattered myself even in that; for very probably the persons to whom I showed their billets knew as well as I that they were counterfeits, and that I had written them to myself. “Write letters to yourself!” said Adams, staring. O sir, answered the gentleman, it is the very error of the times. Half our modern plays have one of these characters in them. It is incredible the pains I have taken, and the absurd methods I employed, to traduce the character of women of distinction. When another had spoken in raptures of any one, I have answered, “D— n her, she! We shall have her at H——d’s very soon.” When he hath replied, “He thought her virtuous,” I have answered, “Ay, thou wilt always think a woman virtuous, till she is in the streets; but you and I, Jack or Tom (turning to another in company), know better.” At which I have drawn a paper out of my pocket, perhaps a taylor’s bill, and kissed it, crying at the same time, “By Gad I was once fond of her.”
“Proceed, if you please, but do not swear any more,” said Adams.
Sir, said the gentleman, I ask your pardon. Well, sir, in this course of life I continued full three years. — “What course of life?” answered Adams; “I do not remember you have mentioned any.” — Your remark is just, said the gentleman, smiling; I should rather have said, in this course of doing nothing. I remember some time afterwards I wrote the journal of one day, which would serve, I believe, as well for any other during the whole time. I will endeavour to repeat it to you.
In the morning I arose, took my great stick, and walked out in my green frock, with my hair in papers (a groan from Adams), and sauntered about till ten. Went to the auction; told lady —— she had a dirty face; laughed heartily at something captain —— said, I can’t remember what, for I did not very well hear it; whispered lord ——; bowed to the duke of ——; and was going to bid for a snuff-box, but did not, for fear I should have had it.
|From||2 to 4, drest myself.||_A groan._|
|4 to 6, dined.||_A groan._|
|6 to 8, coffee-house.|
|8 to 9, Drury-lane playhouse.|
|9 to 10, Lincoln's Inn Fields.|
|10 to 12, Drawing-room.||_A great groan._|
At all which places nothing happened worth remark.
At which Adams said, with some vehemence, “Sir, this is below the life of an animal, hardly above vegetation: and I am surprized what could lead a man of your sense into it.” What leads us into more follies than you imagine, doctor, answered the gentleman — vanity; for as contemptible a creature as I was, and I assure you, yourself cannot have more contempt for such a wretch than I now have, I then admired myself, and should have despised a person of your present appearance (you will pardon me), with all your learning and those excellent qualities which I have remarked in you. Adams bowed, and begged him to proceed. After I had continued two years in this course of life, said the gentleman, an accident happened which obliged me to change the scene. As I was one day at St James’s coffee-house, making very free with the character of a young lady of quality, an officer of the guards, who was present, thought proper to give me the lye. I answered I might possibly be mistaken, but I intended to tell no more than the truth. To which he made no reply but by a scornful sneer. After this I observed a strange coldness in all my acquaintance; none of them spoke to me first, and very few returned me even the civility of a bow. The company I used to dine with left me out, and within a week I found myself in as much solitude at St James’s as if I had been in a desart. An honest elderly man, with a great hat and long sword, at last told me he had a compassion for my youth, and therefore advised me to show the world I was not such a rascal as they thought me to be. I did not at first understand him; but he explained himself, and ended with telling me, if I would write a challenge to the captain, he would, out of pure charity, go to him with it. “A very charitable person, truly!” cried Adams. I desired till the next day, continued the gentleman, to consider on it, and, retiring to my lodgings, I weighed the consequences on both sides as fairly as I could. On the one, I saw the risk of this alternative, either losing my own life, or having on my hands the blood of a man with whom I was not in the least angry. I soon determined that the good which appeared on the other was not worth this hazard. I therefore resolved to quit the scene, and presently retired to the Temple, where I took chambers. Here I soon got a fresh set of acquaintance, who knew nothing of what had happened to me. Indeed, they were not greatly to my approbation; for the beaus of the Temple are only the shadows of the others. They are the affectation of affectation. The vanity of these is still more ridiculous, if possible, than of the others. Here I met with smart fellows who drank with lords they did not know, and intrigued with women they never saw. Covent Garden was now the farthest stretch of my ambition; where I shone forth in the balconies at the playhouses, visited whores, made love to orange-wenches, and damned plays. This career was soon put a stop to by my surgeon, who convinced me of the necessity of confining myself to my room for a month. At the end of which, having had leisure to reflect, I resolved to quit all farther conversation with beaus and smarts of every kind, and to avoid, if possible, any occasion of returning to this place of confinement. “I think,” said Adams, “the advice of a month’s retirement and reflection was very proper; but I should rather have expected it from a divine than a surgeon.” The gentleman smiled at Adams’s simplicity, and, without explaining himself farther on such an odious subject, went on thus: I was no sooner perfectly restored to health than I found my passion for women, which I was afraid to satisfy as I had done, made me very uneasy; I determined, therefore, to keep a mistress. Nor was I long before I fixed my choice on a young woman, who had before been kept by two gentlemen, and to whom I was recommended by a celebrated bawd. I took her home to my chambers, and made her a settlement during cohabitation. This would, perhaps, have been very ill paid: however, she did not suffer me to be perplexed on that account; for, before quarter-day, I found her at my chambers in too familiar conversation with a young fellow who was drest like an officer, but was indeed a city apprentice. Instead of excusing her inconstancy, she rapped out half-a-dozen oaths, and, snapping her fingers at me, swore she scorned to confine herself to the best man in England. Upon this we parted, and the same bawd presently provided her another keeper. I was not so much concerned at our separation as I found, within a day or two, I had reason to be for our meeting; for I was obliged to pay a second visit to my surgeon. I was now forced to do penance for some weeks, during which time I contracted an acquaintance with a beautiful young girl, the daughter of a gentleman who, after having been forty years in the army, and in all the campaigns under the Duke of Marlborough, died a lieutenant on half-pay, and had left a widow, with this only child, in very distrest circumstances: they had only a small pension from the government, with what little the daughter could add to it by her work, for she had great excellence at her needle. This girl was, at my first acquaintance with her, solicited in marriage by a young fellow in good circumstances. He was apprentice to a linendraper, and had a little fortune, sufficient to set up his trade. The mother was greatly pleased with this match, as indeed she had sufficient reason. However, I soon prevented it. I represented him in so low a light to his mistress, and made so good an use of flattery, promises, and presents, that, not to dwell longer on this subject than is necessary, I prevailed with the poor girl, and conveyed her away from her mother! In a word, I debauched her. — (At which words Adams started up, fetched three strides across the room, and then replaced himself in his chair.) You are not more affected with this part of my story than myself; I assure you it will never be sufficiently repented of in my own opinion: but, if you already detest it, how much more will your indignation be raised when you hear the fatal consequences of this barbarous, this villanous action! If you please, therefore, I will here desist. — “By no means,” cries Adams; “go on, I beseech you; and Heaven grant you may sincerely repent of this and many other things you have related!” — I was now, continued the gentleman, as happy as the possession of a fine young creature, who had a good education, and was endued with many agreeable qualities, could make me. We lived some months with vast fondness together, without any company or conversation, more than we found in one another: but this could not continue always; and, though I still preserved great affection for her, I began more and more to want the relief of other company, and consequently to leave her by degrees — at last whole days to herself. She failed not to testify some uneasiness on these occasions, and complained of the melancholy life she led; to remedy which, I introduced her into the acquaintance of some other kept mistresses, with whom she used to play at cards, and frequent plays and other diversions. She had not lived long in this intimacy before I perceived a visible alteration in her behaviour; all her modesty and innocence vanished by degrees, till her mind became thoroughly tainted. She affected the company of rakes, gave herself all manner of airs, was never easy but abroad, or when she had a party at my chambers. She was rapacious of money, extravagant to excess, loose in her conversation; and, if ever I demurred to any of her demands, oaths, tears, and fits were the immediate consequences. As the first raptures of fondness were long since over, this behaviour soon estranged my affections from her; I began to reflect with pleasure that she was not my wife, and to conceive an intention of parting with her; of which, having given her a hint, she took care to prevent me the pains of turning her out of doors, and accordingly departed herself, having first broken open my escrutore, and taken with her all she could find, to the amount of about £200. In the first heat of my resentment I resolved to pursue her with all the vengeance of the law: but, as she had the good luck to escape me during that ferment, my passion afterwards cooled; and, having reflected that I had been the first aggressor, and had done her an injury for which I could make her no reparation, by robbing her of the innocence of her mind; and hearing at the same time that the poor old woman her mother had broke her heart on her daughter’s elopement from her, I, concluding myself her murderer (“As you very well might,” cries Adams, with a groan), was pleased that God Almighty had taken this method of punishing me, and resolved quietly to submit to the loss. Indeed, I could wish I had never heard more of the poor creature, who became in the end an abandoned profligate; and, after being some years a common prostitute, at last ended her miserable life in Newgate. — Here the gentleman fetched a deep sigh, which Mr Adams echoed very loudly; and both continued silent, looking on each other for some minutes. At last the gentleman proceeded thus: I had been perfectly constant to this girl during the whole time I kept her: but she had scarce departed before I discovered more marks of her infidelity to me than the loss of my money. In short, I was forced to make a third visit to my surgeon, out of whose hands I did not get a hasty discharge.
I now forswore all future dealings with the sex, complained loudly that the pleasure did not compensate the pain, and railed at the beautiful creatures in as gross language as Juvenal himself formerly reviled them in. I looked on all the town harlots with a detestation not easy to be conceived, their persons appeared to me as painted palaces, inhabited by Disease and Death: nor could their beauty make them more desirable objects in my eyes than gilding could make me covet a pill, or golden plates a coffin. But though I was no longer the absolute slave, I found some reasons to own myself still the subject, of love. My hatred for women decreased daily; and I am not positive but time might have betrayed me again to some common harlot, had I not been secured by a passion for the charming Sapphira, which, having once entered upon, made a violent progress in my heart. Sapphira was wife to a man of fashion and gallantry, and one who seemed, I own, every way worthy of her affections; which, however, he had not the reputation of having. She was indeed a coquette achevée. “Pray, sir,” says Adams, “what is a coquette? I have met with the word in French authors, but never could assign any idea to it. I believe it is the same with une sotte, Anglicè, a fool.” Sir, answered the gentleman, perhaps you are not much mistaken; but, as it is a particular kind of folly, I will endeavour to describe it. Were all creatures to be ranked in the order of creation according to their usefulness, I know few animals that would not take place of a coquette; nor indeed hath this creature much pretence to anything beyond instinct; for, though sometimes we might imagine it was animated by the passion of vanity, yet far the greater part of its actions fall beneath even that low motive; for instance, several absurd gestures and tricks, infinitely more foolish than what can be observed in the most ridiculous birds and beasts, and which would persuade the beholder that the silly wretch was aiming at our contempt. Indeed its characteristic is affectation, and this led and governed by whim only: for as beauty, wisdom, wit, good-nature, politeness, and health are sometimes affected by this creature, so are ugliness, folly, nonsense, ill-nature, ill-breeding, and sickness likewise put on by it in their turn. Its life is one constant lie; and the only rule by which you can form any judgment of them is, that they are never what they seem. If it was possible for a coquette to love (as it is not, for if ever it attains this passion the coquette ceases instantly), it would wear the face of indifference, if not of hatred, to the beloved object; you may therefore be assured, when they endeavour to persuade you of their liking, that they are indifferent to you at least. And indeed this was the case of my Sapphira, who no sooner saw me in the number of her admirers than she gave me what is commonly called encouragement: she would often look at me, and, when she perceived me meet her eyes, would instantly take them off, discovering at the same time as much surprize and emotion as possible. These arts failed not of the success she intended; and, as I grew more particular to her than the rest of her admirers, she advanced, in proportion, more directly to me than to the others. She affected the low voice, whisper, lisp, sigh, start, laugh, and many other indications of passion which daily deceive thousands. When I played at whist with her, she would look earnestly at me, and at the same time lose deal or revoke; then burst into a ridiculous laugh and cry, “La! I can’t imagine what I was thinking of.” To detain you no longer, after I had gone through a sufficient course of gallantry, as I thought, and was thoroughly convinced I had raised a violent passion in my mistress, I sought an opportunity of coming to an eclaircissement with her. She avoided this as much as possible; however, great assiduity at length presented me one. I will not describe all the particulars of this interview; let it suffice that, when she could no longer pretend not to see my drift, she first affected a violent surprize, and immediately after as violent a passion: she wondered what I had seen in her conduct which could induce me to affront her in this manner; and, breaking from me the first moment she could, told me I had no other way to escape the consequence of her resentment than by never seeing, or at least speaking to her more. I was not contented with this answer; I still pursued her, but to no purpose; and was at length convinced that her husband had the sole possession of her person, and that neither he nor any other had made any impression on her heart. I was taken off from following this ignis fatuus by some advances which were made me by the wife of a citizen, who, though neither very young nor handsome, was yet too agreeable to be rejected by my amorous constitution. I accordingly soon satisfied her that she had not cast away her hints on a barren or cold soil: on the contrary, they instantly produced her an eager and desiring lover. Nor did she give me any reason to complain; she met the warmth she had raised with equal ardour. I had no longer a coquette to deal with, but one who was wiser than to prostitute the noble passion of love to the ridiculous lust of vanity. We presently understood one another; and, as the pleasures we sought lay in a mutual gratification, we soon found and enjoyed them. I thought myself at first greatly happy in the possession of this new mistress, whose fondness would have quickly surfeited a more sickly appetite; but it had a different effect on mine: she carried my passion higher by it than youth or beauty had been able. But my happiness could not long continue uninterrupted. The apprehensions we lay under from the jealousy of her husband gave us great uneasiness. “Poor wretch! I pity him,” cried Adams. He did indeed deserve it, said the gentleman; for he loved his wife with great tenderness; and, I assure you, it is a great satisfaction to me that I was not the man who first seduced her affections from him. These apprehensions appeared also too well grounded, for in the end he discovered us, and procured witnesses of our caresses. He then prosecuted me at law, and recovered £3000 damages, which much distressed my fortune to pay; and, what was worse, his wife, being divorced, came upon my hands. I led a very uneasy life with her; for, besides that my passion was now much abated, her excessive jealousy was very troublesome. At length death rid me of an inconvenience which the consideration of my having been the author of her misfortunes would never suffer me to take any other method of discarding.
I now bad adieu to love, and resolved to pursue other less dangerous and expensive pleasures. I fell into the acquaintance of a set of jolly companions, who slept all day and drank all night; fellows who might rather be said to consume time than to live. Their best conversation was nothing but noise: singing, hollowing, wrangling, drinking, toasting, sp — wing, smoaking were the chief ingredients of our entertainment. And yet, bad as these were, they were more tolerable than our graver scenes, which were either excessive tedious narratives of dull common matters of fact, or hot disputes about trifling matters, which commonly ended in a wager. This way of life the first serious reflection put a period to; and I became member of a club frequented by young men of great abilities. The bottle was now only called in to the assistance of our conversation, which rolled on the deepest points of philosophy. These gentlemen were engaged in a search after truth, in the pursuit of which they threw aside all the prejudices of education, and governed themselves only by the infallible guide of human reason. This great guide, after having shown them the falsehood of that very ancient but simple tenet, that there is such a being as a Deity in the universe, helped them to establish in his stead a certain rule of right, by adhering to which they all arrived at the utmost purity of morals. Reflection made me as much delighted with this society as it had taught me to despise and detest the former. I began now to esteem myself a being of a higher order than I had ever before conceived; and was the more charmed with this rule of right, as I really found in my own nature nothing repugnant to it. I held in utter contempt all persons who wanted any other inducement to virtue besides her intrinsic beauty and excellence; and had so high an opinion of my present companions, with regard to their morality, that I would have trusted them with whatever was nearest and dearest to me. Whilst I was engaged in this delightful dream, two or three accidents happened successively, which at first much surprized me; — for one of our greatest philosophers, or rule-of-right men, withdrew himself from us, taking with him the wife of one of his most intimate friends. Secondly, another of the same society left the club without remembering to take leave of his bail. A third, having borrowed a sum of money of me, for which I received no security, when I asked him to repay it, absolutely denied the loan. These several practices, so inconsistent with our golden rule, made me begin to suspect its infallibility; but when I communicated my thoughts to one of the club, he said, “There was nothing absolutely good or evil in itself; that actions were denominated good or bad by the circumstances of the agent. That possibly the man who ran away with his neighbour’s wife might be one of very good inclinations, but over-prevailed on by the violence of an unruly passion; and, in other particulars, might be a very worthy member of society; that if the beauty of any woman created in him an uneasiness, he had a right from nature to relieve himself;" — with many other things, which I then detested so much, that I took leave of the society that very evening and never returned to it again. Being now reduced to a state of solitude which I did not like, I became a great frequenter of the playhouses, which indeed was always my favourite diversion; and most evenings passed away two or three hours behind the scenes, where I met with several poets, with whom I made engagements at the taverns. Some of the players were likewise of our parties. At these meetings we were generally entertained by the poets with reading their performances, and by the players with repeating their parts: upon which occasions, I observed the gentleman who furnished our entertainment was commonly the best pleased of the company; who, though they were pretty civil to him to his face, seldom failed to take the first opportunity of his absence to ridicule him. Now I made some remarks which probably are too obvious to be worth relating. “Sir,” says Adams, “your remarks if you please.” First then, says he, I concluded that the general observation, that wits are most inclined to vanity, is not true. Men are equally vain of riches, strength, beauty, honours, &c. But these appear of themselves to the eyes of the beholders, whereas the poor wit is obliged to produce his performance to show you his perfection; and on his readiness to do this that vulgar opinion I have before mentioned is grounded; but doth not the person who expends vast sums in the furniture of his house or the ornaments of his person, who consumes much time and employs great pains in dressing himself, or who thinks himself paid for self-denial, labour, or even villany, by a title or a ribbon, sacrifice as much to vanity as the poor wit who is desirous to read you his poem or his play? My second remark was, that vanity is the worst of passions, and more apt to contaminate the mind than any other: for, as selfishness is much more general than we please to allow it, so it is natural to hate and envy those who stand between us and the good we desire. Now, in lust and ambition these are few; and even in avarice we find many who are no obstacles to our pursuits; but the vain man seeks preeminence; and everything which is excellent or praiseworthy in another renders him the mark of his antipathy. Adams now began to fumble in his pockets, and soon cried out, “O la! I have it not about me.” Upon this, the gentleman asking him what he was searching for, he said he searched after a sermon, which he thought his masterpiece, against vanity. “Fie upon it, fie upon it!” cries he, “why do I ever leave that sermon out of my pocket? I wish it was within five miles; I would willingly fetch it, to read it you.” The gentleman answered that there was no need, for he was cured of the passion. “And for that very reason,” quoth Adams, “I would read it, for I am confident you would admire it: indeed, I have never been a greater enemy to any passion than that silly one of vanity.” The gentleman smiled, and proceeded — From this society I easily passed to that of the gamesters, where nothing remarkable happened but the finishing my fortune, which those gentlemen soon helped me to the end of. This opened scenes of life hitherto unknown; poverty and distress, with their horrid train of duns, attorneys, bailiffs, haunted me day and night. My clothes grew shabby, my credit bad, my friends and acquaintance of all kinds cold. In this situation the strangest thought imaginable came into my head; and what was this but to write a play? for I had sufficient leisure: fear of bailiffs confined me every day to my room: and, having always had a little inclination and something of a genius that way, I set myself to work, and within a few months produced a piece of five acts, which was accepted of at the theatre. I remembered to have formerly taken tickets of other poets for their benefits, long before the appearance of their performances; and, resolving to follow a precedent which was so well suited to my present circumstances, I immediately provided myself with a large number of little papers. Happy indeed would be the state of poetry, would these tickets pass current at the bakehouse, the ale-house, and the chandler’s shop: but alas! far otherwise; no taylor will take them in payment for buckram, canvas, stay-tape; nor no bailiff for civility money. They are, indeed, no more than a passport to beg with; a certificate that the owner wants five shillings, which induces well-disposed Christians to charity. I now experienced what is worse than poverty, or rather what is the worst consequence of poverty — I mean attendance and dependance on the great. Many a morning have I waited hours in the cold parlours of men of quality; where, after seeing the lowest rascals in lace and embroidery, the pimps and buffoons in fashion, admitted, I have been sometimes told, on sending in my name, that my lord could not possibly see me this morning; a sufficient assurance that I should never more get entrance into that house. Sometimes I have been at last admitted; and the great man hath thought proper to excuse himself, by telling me he was tied up. “Tied up,” says Adams, “pray what’s that?” Sir, says the gentleman, the profit which booksellers allowed authors for the best works was so very small, that certain men of birth and fortune some years ago, who were the patrons of wit and learning, thought fit to encourage them farther by entering into voluntary subscriptions for their encouragement. Thus Prior, Rowe, Pope, and some other men of genius, received large sums for their labours from the public. This seemed so easy a method of getting money, that many of the lowest scribblers of the times ventured to publish their works in the same way; and many had the assurance to take in subscriptions for what was not writ, nor ever intended. Subscriptions in this manner growing infinite, and a kind of tax on the publick, some persons, finding it not so easy a task to discern good from bad authors, or to know what genius was worthy encouragement and what was not, to prevent the expense of subscribing to so many, invented a method to excuse themselves from all subscriptions whatever; and this was to receive a small sum of money in consideration of giving a large one if ever they subscribed; which many have done, and many more have pretended to have done, in order to silence all solicitation. The same method was likewise taken with playhouse tickets, which were no less a public grievance; and this is what they call being tied up from subscribing. “I can’t say but the term is apt enough, and somewhat typical,” said Adams; “for a man of large fortune, who ties himself up, as you call it, from the encouragement of men of merit, ought to be tied up in reality.” Well, sir, says the gentleman, to return to my story. Sometimes I have received a guinea from a man of quality, given with as ill a grace as alms are generally to the meanest beggar; and purchased too with as much time spent in attendance as, if it had been spent in honest industry, might have brought me more profit with infinitely more satisfaction. After about two months spent in this disagreeable way, with the utmost mortification, when I was pluming my hopes on the prospect of a plentiful harvest from my play, upon applying to the prompter to know when it came into rehearsal, he informed me he had received orders from the managers to return me the play again, for that they could not possibly act it that season; but, if I would take it and revise it against the next, they would be glad to see it again. I snatched it from him with great indignation, and retired to my room, where I threw myself on the bed in a fit of despair. “You should rather have thrown yourself on your knees,” says Adams, “for despair is sinful.” As soon, continued the gentleman, as I had indulged the first tumult of my passion, I began to consider coolly what course I should take, in a situation without friends, money, credit, or reputation of any kind. After revolving many things in my mind, I could see no other possibility of furnishing myself with the miserable necessaries of life than to retire to a garret near the Temple, and commence hackney-writer to the lawyers, for which I was well qualified, being an excellent penman. This purpose I resolved on, and immediately put it in execution. I had an acquaintance with an attorney who had formerly transacted affairs for me, and to him I applied; but, instead of furnishing me with any business, he laughed at my undertaking, and told me, “He was afraid I should turn his deeds into plays, and he should expect to see them on the stage.” Not to tire you with instances of this kind from others, I found that Plato himself did not hold poets in greater abhorrence than these men of business do. Whenever I durst venture to a coffeehouse, which was on Sundays only, a whisper ran round the room, which was constantly attended with a sneer — That’s poet Wilson; for I know not whether you have observed it, but there is a malignity in the nature of man, which, when not weeded out, or at least covered by a good education and politeness, delights in making another uneasy or dissatisfied with himself. This abundantly appears in all assemblies, except those which are filled by people of fashion, and especially among the younger people of both sexes whose birth and fortunes place them just without the polite circles; I mean the lower class of the gentry, and the higher of the mercantile world, who are, in reality, the worst-bred part of mankind. Well, sir, whilst I continued in this miserable state, with scarce sufficient business to keep me from starving, the reputation of a poet being my bane, I accidentally became acquainted with a bookseller, who told me, “It was a pity a man of my learning and genius should be obliged to such a method of getting his livelihood; that he had a compassion for me, and, if I would engage with him, he would undertake to provide handsomely for me.” A man in my circumstances, as he very well knew, had no choice. I accordingly accepted his proposal with his conditions, which were none of the most favourable, and fell to translating with all my might. I had no longer reason to lament the want of business; for he furnished me with so much, that in half a year I almost writ myself blind. I likewise contracted a distemper by my sedentary life, in which no part of my body was exercised but my right arm, which rendered me incapable of writing for a long time. This unluckily happening to delay the publication of a work, and my last performance not having sold well, the bookseller declined any further engagement, and aspersed me to his brethren as a careless idle fellow. I had, however, by having half worked and half starved myself to death during the time I was in his service, saved a few guineas, with which I bought a lottery-ticket, resolving to throw myself into Fortune’s lap, and try if she would make me amends for the injuries she had done me at the gaming-table. This purchase, being made, left me almost pennyless; when, as if I had not been sufficiently miserable, a bailiff in woman’s clothes got admittance to my chamber, whither he was directed by the bookseller. He arrested me at my taylor’s suit for thirty-five pounds; a sum for which I could not procure bail; and was therefore conveyed to his house, where I was locked up in an upper chamber. I had now neither health (for I was scarce recovered from my indisposition), liberty, money, or friends; and had abandoned all hopes, and even the desire, of life. “But this could not last long,” said Adams; “for doubtless the taylor released you the moment he was truly acquainted with your affairs, and knew that your circumstances would not permit you to pay him.” “Oh, sir,” answered the gentleman, “he knew that before he arrested me; nay, he knew that nothing but incapacity could prevent me paying my debts; for I had been his customer many years, had spent vast sums of money with him, and had always paid most punctually in my prosperous days; but when I reminded him of this, with assurances that, if he would not molest my endeavours, I would pay him all the money I could by my utmost labour and industry procure, reserving only what was sufficient to preserve me alive, he answered, his patience was worn out; that I had put him off from time to time; that he wanted the money; that he had put it into a lawyer’s hands; and if I did not pay him immediately, or find security, I must die in gaol and expect no mercy.” “He may expect mercy,” cries Adams, starting from his chair, “where he will find none! How can such a wretch repeat the Lord’s Prayer; where the word, which is translated, I know not for what reason, trespasses, is in the original, debts? And as surely as we do not forgive others their debts, when they are unable to pay them, so surely shall we ourselves be unforgiven when we are in no condition of paying.” He ceased, and the gentleman proceeded. While I was in this deplorable situation, a former acquaintance, to whom I had communicated my lottery-ticket, found me out, and, making me a visit, with great delight in his countenance, shook me heartily by the hand, and wished me joy of my good fortune: for, says he, your ticket is come up a prize of £3000. Adams snapped his fingers at these words in an ecstasy of joy; which, however, did not continue long; for the gentleman thus proceeded:— Alas! sir, this was only a trick of Fortune to sink me the deeper; for I had disposed of this lottery-ticket two days before to a relation, who refused lending me a shilling without it, in order to procure myself bread. As soon as my friend was acquainted with my unfortunate sale he began to revile me and remind me of all the ill-conduct and miscarriages of my life. He said I was one whom Fortune could not save if she would; that I was now ruined without any hopes of retrieval, nor must expect any pity from my friends; that it would be extreme weakness to compassionate the misfortunes of a man who ran headlong to his own destruction. He then painted to me, in as lively colours as he was able, the happiness I should have now enjoyed, had I not foolishly disposed of my ticket. I urged the plea of necessity; but he made no answer to that, and began again to revile me, till I could bear it no longer, and desired him to finish his visit. I soon exchanged the bailiff’s house for a prison; where, as I had not money sufficient to procure me a separate apartment, I was crouded in with a great number of miserable wretches, in common with whom I was destitute of every convenience of life, even that which all the brutes enjoy, wholesome air. In these dreadful circumstances I applied by letter to several of my old acquaintance, and such to whom I had formerly lent money without any great prospect of its being returned, for their assistance; but in vain. An excuse, instead of a denial, was the gentlest answer I received. Whilst I languished in a condition too horrible to be described, and which, in a land of humanity, and, what is much more, Christianity, seems a strange punishment for a little inadvertency and indiscretion; whilst I was in this condition, a fellow came into the prison, and, enquiring me out, delivered me the following letter:—
“SIR, — My father, to whom you sold your ticket in the last lottery, died the same day in which it came up a prize, as you have possibly heard, and left me sole heiress of all his fortune. I am so much touched with your present circumstances, and the uneasiness you must feel at having been driven to dispose of what might have made you happy, that I must desire your acceptance of the enclosed, and am your humble servant,
And what do you think was enclosed? “I don’t know,” cried Adams; “not less than a guinea, I hope.” Sir, it was a bank-note for £200. — "£200?” says Adams, in a rapture. No less, I assure you, answered the gentleman; a sum I was not half so delighted with as with the dear name of the generous girl that sent it me; and who was not only the best but the handsomest creature in the universe, and for whom I had long had a passion which I never durst disclose to her. I kissed her name a thousand times, my eyes overflowing with tenderness and gratitude; I repeated — But not to detain you with these raptures, I immediately acquired my liberty; and, having paid all my debts, departed, with upwards of fifty pounds in my pocket, to thank my kind deliverer. She happened to be then out of town, a circumstance which, upon reflection, pleased me; for by that means I had an opportunity to appear before her in a more decent dress. At her return to town, within a day or two, I threw myself at her feet with the most ardent acknowledgments, which she rejected with an unfeigned greatness of mind, and told me I could not oblige her more than by never mentioning, or if possible thinking on, a circumstance which must bring to my mind an accident that might be grievous to me to think on. She proceeded thus: “What I have done is in my own eyes a trifle, and perhaps infinitely less than would have become me to do. And if you think of engaging in any business where a larger sum may be serviceable to you, I shall not be over-rigid either as to the security or interest.” I endeavoured to express all the gratitude in my power to this profusion of goodness, though perhaps it was my enemy, and began to afflict my mind with more agonies than all the miseries I had underwent; it affected me with severer reflections than poverty, distress, and prisons united had been able to make me feel; for, sir, these acts and professions of kindness, which were sufficient to have raised in a good heart the most violent passion of friendship to one of the same, or to age and ugliness in a different sex, came to me from a woman, a young and beautiful woman; one whose perfections I had long known, and for whom I had long conceived a violent passion, though with a despair which made me endeavour rather to curb and conceal, than to nourish or acquaint her with it. In short, they came upon me united with beauty, softness, and tenderness: such bewitching smiles! — O Mr Adams, in that moment I lost myself, and, forgetting our different situations, nor considering what return I was making to her goodness by desiring her, who had given me so much, to bestow her all, I laid gently hold on her hand, and, conveying it to my lips, I prest it with inconceivable ardour; then, lifting up my swimming eyes, I saw her face and neck overspread with one blush; she offered to withdraw her hand, yet not so as to deliver it from mine, though I held it with the gentlest force. We both stood trembling; her eyes cast on the ground, and mine stedfastly fixed on her. Good G— d, what was then the condition of my soul! burning with love, desire, admiration, gratitude, and every tender passion, all bent on one charming object. Passion at last got the better of both reason and respect, and, softly letting go her hand, I offered madly to clasp her in my arms; when, a little recovering herself, she started from me, asking me, with some show of anger, “If she had any reason to expect this treatment from me.” I then fell prostrate before her, and told her, if I had offended, my life was absolutely in her power, which I would in any manner lose for her sake. Nay, madam, said I, you shall not be so ready to punish me as I to suffer. I own my guilt. I detest the reflection that I would have sacrificed your happiness to mine. Believe me, I sincerely repent my ingratitude; yet, believe me too, it was my passion, my unbounded passion for you, which hurried me so far: I have loved you long and tenderly, and the goodness you have shown me hath innocently weighed down a wretch undone before. Acquit me of all mean, mercenary views; and, before I take my leave of you for ever, which I am resolved instantly to do, believe me that Fortune could have raised me to no height to which I could not have gladly lifted you. O, curst be Fortune! — “Do not,” says she, interrupting me with the sweetest voice, “do not curse Fortune, since she hath made me happy; and, if she hath put your happiness in my power, I have told you you shall ask nothing in reason which I will refuse.” Madam, said I, you mistake me if you imagine, as you seem, my happiness is in the power of Fortune now. You have obliged me too much already; if I have any wish, it is for some blest accident, by which I may contribute with my life to the least augmentation of your felicity. As for myself, the only happiness I can ever have will be hearing of yours; and if Fortune will make that complete, I will forgive her all her wrongs to me. “You may, indeed,” answered she, smiling, “for your own happiness must be included in mine. I have long known your worth; nay, I must confess,” said she, blushing, “I have long discovered that passion for me you profess, notwithstanding those endeavours, which I am convinced were unaffected, to conceal it; and if all I can give with reason will not suffice, take reason away; and now I believe you cannot ask me what I will deny.” — She uttered these words with a sweetness not to be imagined. I immediately started; my blood, which lay freezing at my heart, rushed tumultuously through every vein. I stood for a moment silent; then, flying to her, I caught her in my arms, no longer resisting, and softly told her she must give me then herself. O, sir! can I describe her look? She remained silent, and almost motionless, several minutes. At last, recovering herself a little, she insisted on my leaving her, and in such a manner that I instantly obeyed: you may imagine, however, I soon saw her again. — But I ask pardon: I fear I have detained you too long in relating the particulars of the former interview. “So far otherwise,” said Adams, licking his lips, “that I could willingly hear it over again.” Well, sir, continued the gentleman, to be as concise as possible, within a week she consented to make me the happiest of mankind. We were married shortly after; and when I came to examine the circumstances of my wife’s fortune (which, I do assure you, I was not presently at leisure enough to do), I found it amounted to about six thousand pounds, most part of which lay in effects; for her father had been a wine-merchant, and she seemed willing, if I liked it, that I should carry on the same trade. I readily, and too inconsiderately, undertook it; for, not having been bred up to the secrets of the business, and endeavouring to deal with the utmost honesty and uprightness, I soon found our fortune in a declining way, and my trade decreasing by little and little; for my wines, which I never adulterated after their importation, and were sold as neat as they came over, were universally decried by the vintners, to whom I could not allow them quite as cheap as those who gained double the profit by a less price. I soon began to despair of improving our fortune by these means; nor was I at all easy at the visits and familiarity of many who had been my acquaintance in my prosperity, but had denied and shunned me in my adversity, and now very forwardly renewed their acquaintance with me. In short, I had sufficiently seen that the pleasures of the world are chiefly folly, and the business of it mostly knavery, and both nothing better than vanity; the men of pleasure tearing one another to pieces from the emulation of spending money, and the men of business from envy in getting it. My happiness consisted entirely in my wife, whom I loved with an inexpressible fondness, which was perfectly returned; and my prospects were no other than to provide for our growing family; for she was now big of her second child: I therefore took an opportunity to ask her opinion of entering into a retired life, which, after hearing my reasons and perceiving my affection for it, she readily embraced. We soon put our small fortune, now reduced under three thousand pounds, into money, with part of which we purchased this little place, whither we retired soon after her delivery, from a world full of bustle, noise, hatred, envy, and ingratitude, to ease, quiet, and love. We have here lived almost twenty years, with little other conversation than our own, most of the neighbourhood taking us for very strange people; the squire of the parish representing me as a madman, and the parson as a presbyterian, because I will not hunt with the one nor drink with the other. “Sir,” says Adams, “Fortune hath, I think, paid you all her debts in this sweet retirement.” Sir, replied the gentleman, I am thankful to the great Author of all things for the blessings I here enjoy. I have the best of wives, and three pretty children, for whom I have the true tenderness of a parent. But no blessings are pure in this world: within three years of my arrival here I lost my eldest son. (Here he sighed bitterly.) “Sir,” says Adams, “we must submit to Providence, and consider death as common to all.” We must submit, indeed, answered the gentleman; and if he had died I could have borne the loss with patience; but alas! sir, he was stolen away from my door by some wicked travelling people whom they call gipsies; nor could I ever, with the most diligent search, recover him. Poor child! he had the sweetest look — the exact picture of his mother; at which some tears unwittingly dropt from his eyes, as did likewise from those of Adams, who always sympathized with his friends on those occasions. Thus, sir, said the gentleman, I have finished my story, in which if I have been too particular, I ask your pardon; and now, if you please, I will fetch you another bottle: which proposal the parson thankfully accepted.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50