If you tell a good jest,
And please all the rest,
Comes Dingley, and asks you, “What was it?”
And before she can know,
Away she will go
To seek an old rag in the closet.
While I was inditing the goodly matter which my readers have just perused, I might be said to go through a course of breaking-in to stand criticism, like a shooting-pony to stand fire. By some of those venial breaches of confidence, which always take place on the like occasions, my private flirtations with the Muse of Fiction became a matter whispered in Miss Fairscribe’s circle, some ornaments of which were, I suppose, highly interested in the progress of the affair, while others “really thought Mr. Chrystal Croftangry might have had more wit at his time of day.” Then came the sly intimation, the oblique remark, all that sugar-lipped raillery which is fitted for the situation of a man about to do a foolish thing, whether it be to publish or to marry, and that accompanied with the discreet nods and winks of such friends as are in the secret, and the obliging eagerness of others to know all about it.
At length the affair became so far public, that I was induced to face a tea-party with my manuscript in my pocket, looking as simple and modest as any gentleman of a certain age need to do upon such an occasion. When tea had been carried round, handkerchiefs and smelling bottles prepared, I had the honour of reading the Surgeon’s Daughter for the entertainment of the evening. It went off excellently; my friend Mr. Fairscribe, who had been seduced from his desk to join the literary circle, only fell asleep twice, and readily recovered his attention by help of his snuff-box. The ladies were politely attentive, and when the cat, or the dog, or a next neighbour, tempted an individual to relax, Katie Fairscribe was on the alert, like an active whipper-in, with look, touch, or whisper, to recall them to a sense of what was going on. Whether Miss Katie was thus active merely to enforce the literary discipline of her coterie, or whether she was really interested by the beauties of the piece, and desirous to enforce them on others, I will not venture to ask, in case I should end in liking the girl — and she is really a pretty one. Better than wisdom would warrant, either for my sake or hers.
I must own, my story here and there flagged a good deal; perhaps there were faults in my reading, for while I should have been attending to nothing but how to give the words effect as they existed, I was feeling the chilling consciousness, that they might have been, and ought to have been, a great deal better. However, we kindled up at last when we got to the East Indies, although on the mention of tigers, an old lady, whose tongue had been impatient for an hour, broke in with, “I wonder if Mr. Croftangry ever heard the story of Tiger Tullideph?” and had nearly inserted the whole narrative as an episode in my tale. She was, however, brought to reason, and the subsequent mention of shawls, diamonds, turbans, and cummerbands, had their usual effect in awakening the imaginations of the fair auditors. At the extinction of the faithless lover in a way so horribly new, I had, as indeed I expected, the good fortune to excite that expression of painful interest which is produced by drawing in the breath through the compressed lips; nay, one Miss of fourteen actually screamed.
At length my task was ended, and the fair circle rained odours upon me, as they pelt beaux at the Carnival with sugar-plums, and drench them with scented spices. There was “Beautiful,” and “Sweetly interesting,” and “O Mr. Croftangry,” and “How much obliged,” and “What a delightful evening,” and “O Miss Katie, how could you keep such a secret so long?” While the dear souls were thus smothering me with rose leaves, the merciless old lady carried them all off by a disquisition upon shawls, which she had the impudence to say, arose entirely out of my story. Miss Katie endeavoured to stop the flow of her eloquence in vain; she threw all other topics out of the field, and from the genuine Indian, she made a digression to the imitation shawls now made at Paisley, out of real Thibet wool, not to be known from the actual Country shawl, except by some inimitable cross-stitch in the border. “It is well,” said the old lady, wrapping herself up in a rich Kashmire, “that there is some way of knowing a thing that cost fifty guineas from an article that is sold for five; but I venture to say there are not one out of ten thousand that would understand the difference.”
The politeness of some of the fair ladies would now have brought back the conversation to the forgotten subject of our meeting. “How could you, Mr. Croftangry, collect all these hard words about India? — you were never there?”—“No, madam, I have not had that advantage; but, like the imitative operatives of Paisley, I have composed my shawl by incorporating into the woof a little Thibet wool, which my excellent friend and neighbour, Colonel Mackerris, one of the best fellows who ever trode a Highland moor, or dived into an Indian jungle, had the goodness to supply me with.”
My rehearsal, however, though not absolutely and altogether to my taste, has prepared me in some measure for the less tempered and guarded sentence of the world. So a man must learn to encounter a foil before he confronts a sword; and to take up my original simile, a horse must be accustomed to a feu de joie, before you can ride him against a volley of balls. Well, Corporal Nym’s philosophy is not the worst that has been preached, “Things must be as they may.” If my lucubrations give pleasure, I may again require the attention of the courteous reader; if not, here end the
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