Изображения страниц
[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]


Ir is a trite observation, that many of the evils of life take their rise from small errors; and we all know that merit is not the only ladder by which men reach distinction. The happiness or misery of many may be traced I believe to causes which not only appeared at the moment to be of little importance, but which, in the eye of reason and philosophy, hardly deserve to be distinguished by epithets either of praise or blame, even after time has unfolded their extraordinary influence. I do not allude to circumstances, often apparently fortuitous, by which a man's future destiny is determined, such as those early associations by which he is decided in the choice of a profession, or those sudden and inexplicable feelings that impel him in the choice of a partner for life, or that "good luck" which preserved the connubial fidelity of Marmontel's Marchioness of Lisban, and has often decided the fate of battles, dynasties, and kingdoms. There is a tide in human affairs which some times bears the feeblest on to fame and fortune, while the labours of power and wisdom are washed away, or whelmed beneath its waves. The source of the good and evil of life, however, must not always be sought for in the stars; much of it certainly depends upon our own.conduct; and not a little on those small matters which even great men cannot disregard with impunity, and by the observance of which little men sometimes bear away the prize.

will be received as higher authorities; and to those I may add two of the most faithful painters of life and manners in the present age, Miss Edgeworth, and the author of Waverley. I am not without fears of recalling the "Mountain and the Mouse" to the recollection of your phlegmatic readers of the north. These names will perhaps protect me from their ridicule, which some of my acquaintance think has been, in some instances, severe in proportion as it has been undeserved.

Every one knows the importance at tached to little things by Chesterfield. He is right in principle, though the follies and vices of polished society misguided his pen in its application. Addison and Chatham

I have been master of an academy in this and a neighbouring county for thirty years, and cannot, therefore, be supposed indifferent to the merits of literary dissertations. Yet it appears to me that a periodical work intended for general readers should not be chiefly occupied with remarks on the style and manner of authors, and with critical estimates of their faults and beauties. If it be true that the learned and the unlearned write, it is certainly not less true that the latter, a much more numerous body, read such miscellanies as yours. Many of these I hope read for information, and, less fastidious about the manner than the matter, wish to carry from the page the knowledge of facts, and the correction of errors that may be useful in their different pursuits. Others, again, delight to survey a state of society and manners differing from their own, and feel a high gratification in contemplating human nature under a new aspect, whether it be found in the narrative of the adventurous traveller into remote and almost unknown regions, or in the often no less faithful pictures of the novelist. The interest which we feel in such a survey must be greatly enhanced if it embrace the manners, opinions, and condition of our own ancestors, and still more so, perhaps, if the period selected for description be so little removed from our own times, that we can recognize in it almost all those sentiments and institutions with which we are still familiar, though softened or embellished in the progress of refinement. This is the great charm of the popular novels that have lately issued from the Edinburgh press; and I will freely confess, that nothing that has yet appeared in your Magazine has given me more pleasure than the view of the manners of the higher

ranks of Scotland in the early part of last century, inserted in the first and second numbers of your new series. I am aware, however, that there is a third class of readers who wish for something to rouse and animate them; the elections will soon be over; and there are no new constitutions fabricating at Paris, nor invasions, nor battles, nor treaties, to gratify the appetite for emotion. If this can be done, by clothing an old thought in a new dress, or by exhibiting a figure of straw loaded with all the tawdry drapery that a wild imagination can supply, there is no great harm done. It will please the little masters and misses for a moment; and when they arrive at the age of twenty-five, if not sooner, they may learn, by some means or other, if not altogether incorrigible, that sense is the foundation of excellence," both in literature and the business of life.-But my old didactic habits have led me from my subject.


The highest gratification of which at my advanced age I am susceptible, is derived from a correspondence with a few of my early pupils, and the visits of two of them, who, having deservedly acquired a high reputation for talents and integrity, were members of the last two Parliaments, though neither was born to what is held to be an independent fortune. One of them, a gentleman who combines a lively imagination with uncommon patience of research and soundness of judgment, sometimes trys to lighten the burden of old age (and I often feel myself older than I really am, since I retired from active life two years ago) by amusing anecdotes of the great world in which he lives. When he perceives me smile incredulously, for I sometimes suspect the imagination is brought into play, -he instantly undeceives me if my suspicion is unfounded, or laughs at his want of skill to sustain the harmless pleasantry. The other is a more pensive character, who delights to recur to the sports of childhood, and the day-dreams of youth, as a relief from the cares and sorrows of riper years, in which he has had a large share. it is not necessary to describe them further; their names, if I were permitted to name them, would secure belief to far less credible anecdotes than I an about to repeat on their authority,

and with their permission. That I may not inadvertently stumble upon living names, I shall call the former Titus, and the latter Sempronius.

The conversation, as will naturally be expected, often turns on the means of rising in the world, and the circumstances that are unfavourable to it. In my younger days I sometimes ventured to anticipate the future success of my pupils, according to the rank which they held in the form. I could easily conceive that rank and fortune might derange this estimate; but it was not till after many striking instances of success and failure among those who seemed to be unequal in no other respect than in talent and application, that I was compelled to admit some causes that had escaped my observation. My knowledge of the world was too limited to enable me to trace these causes, and my correspondence with the individuals themselves seldom afforded me a safe clue. There was nothing of good or bad fortune in the case of any of them. Those who were successful owed every thing to their own merit, and the disappointed and unhappy were the victims of the envy and malice of others, and of their own independence of character. I am in possession of one hundred and fifty letters to this purpose. My friend Sempronius is willing to admit the truth of above half the number, that is, the letters of the unfortunate, but he is ready to dispute the merits of some of the prosperous. Titus, without rejecting the statements of either party, maintains that they throw no light on the true cause; and that, in nine instances out of ten, it may be found in the outward appearance, the manners, the temper, and the habits of my correspondents.

"I have known," says Titus," a young man's fortune made or lost by the observance or omission of the most trivial matters of form,-the use of wax or wafer in the sealing of a letter,

the want of an envelope, the superscription,-the mode of addressing and concluding it, the hand-writing too stiff and formal, or blotted, or illegible;-a wrong spelt word has been the ruin of thousands. You think," turning to me and seeing me smile, or once thought, that the boy who could best translate Homer's account of the debates in the Councils of the Gods, or of the prudence


and sagacity of Ulysses, ought to make a figure as a statesman or diplomatist. You might as well believe that the blood of Hector and Achilles flows in the veins of Wellington, or that we are indebted to Horace's Art of Poetry for the Lady of the Lake and Lalla Rookh. I admit the influence of merit, though I do not know what the word means in every instance. But, if we could borrow for a day the recollections and cogitations of these correspondents of yours, we should be able to trace the fortunes of many of them to the sources I have just noticed. The web of life is, indeed, an unequal fabric,—a patchwork of many colours, and, as it lengthens, it is the more exposed to external injuries, -yet I affirm, that as much depends upon the skill and attention of the workman in small things as on the quality of the materials. Miss Edgeworth's anecdote of the Duke of Greenwich and Lord Oldborough, in her "Patronage," is perfectly true to nature. You recollect the story of the wafer which gave so much offence to his grace, as to threaten serious injury to the most important affairs of State. "I wonder how any mun can have the impertinence to send me his spittle." My worthy old friend, this is a more serious matter than an error in prosody at school. One of these very gentlemen who writes you in so gloomy a strain, lost three years of his professional life from this cause. He was a lieutenant in a great naval action, during the late war; and, on the promotion which ensued, was some time out of employment. During his residence in the country, he made the acquaintance of a certain noble lord, who was thought to possess some interest at the admiralty, and, modestly preferring his claim to an appointment, solicited his lordship's good offices with the board. There was nothing in the appearance or manners of this personage to command respect; and the professions of service flowed from him with such rapidity and apparent sincerity, that the honest-hearted tar forgot for a moment that he was nevertheless a lord, and himself little better than a poor lieutenant still. His lordship, at the proper time, returned to London, and, at the end of six months, had made no progress in the affair. The lieutenant's patience was

at last exhausted; and he set out for London, a distance of 200 miles, by the cheapest route, with more in prospect than possession. Before he paid his respects at his Lordship's house, not half a mile from Grosvenor Place, it occurred to him that his patron might be at his seat in Surrey, and that it would save time to leave a letter, in case he could not then have the honour of a personal interview. The noble lord was at home, but so much engaged that he had only time to ask half a dozen of questions, with his usual rapidity, and then, with a formal apology, moved towards the door of the apartment. The lieutenant pulled out his letter, and requested his early attention to it. It was hastily opened, and a piece of the wafer adhered to his Lordship's thumb. 'John!' said he, calling to his servant, fetch me a bason of water instantly, Captain M. I wish you a good morning,' and take notice, John,' as the lieutenant was descending the stairs, I am never at home again to Captain M.'"


"I have the honour to be known to this noble lord," said Sempronius, "and I have had occasion to know him better than he is aware of himself. I was once present when he denied a promise he had made in the hearing of hundreds, and was told so. He would have gained thirty-five shillings by the falsehood, if it had not been detected. In the county where his estates lie he is despised by all those who do not fear him, and at once dreaded and detested by every one who has the misfortune to depend upon him. If his tenantry had the choice between a strong gale or a week s rain in the middle of harvest, and a visit from his lordship, they would prefer the former; yet, in his absence, his place is well supplied by a kindred spirit, who has the additional merit of being regardless of the forms of civilized society,-a brute in his manners, as well as a tyrant in his heart,-a solitary vindictive monk, -a slave to the grossest appetites,-a wretch with whom no one who regards his character would choose to



Stop, stop, my friend!" cried I; "there is more in this vehemence than it may be proper for you to tell, or for us to hear. The nobleman you allude to is almost as obscure and insig

nificant beyond the bounds of his own county as his counterpart; let them remain so; it has been their misfortune to come into the world too late by 500 years; they would have made a figure if they had appeared on the debateable lands between the two British kingdoms, about the middle of the fourteenth century."


"But to return to the wax and wafer," said Titus, or rather let us break the seal, and get at the contents. 'I received yours is vulgar,' on the authority of no less a person than Lord Chatham, in his letters to his nephew, the late Lord Camelford. 'Inclose your letters in a cover,' he adds, it is more polite.' I mention this merely as an instance of this great man's attention to small matters, for I do not at this moment recollect any fatal results from the conduct disapproved of. It is a pity that his lordship did not subject letter-writing to a closer scrutiny. Nothing, for instance, in the whole range of politics and morality is more unsettled than the mode in which a letter should begin, unless it be its peroratien, if I may use such a word. The only point that may be held as established on this important subject, in so far as I know, is, that the junior partner in a writer to the signet's office' must not address a Scots baronet by the title of Dear Sir.' He dears me too, you see,' says Sir Arthur Wardour to his daughter, in the Antiquary, this impudent drudge of a writer's office, who, a twelvemonth ago, was not fit company for my second table;-I suppose I shall be dear knight with him by and by.' But this throws but little light on the obscurity, for, besides Sir,' and Reverend Sir,' and 'Honoured Sir,' and 'Dear Sir,' there are My Dear Sir,' and Dear B.' and 'My Dear B.,' and I know not how many other forms. The same difficult questions occur at the conclusion, where the writer has the honour to be,' or 'is, with great esteem and respect,' or is only truly, sincerely, faithfully, cordially, &c. your very obedient and humble servant,' or perhaps only your friend,' or neither your servant nor your friend, but simply yours.' I have made this subject very much my study, and will show you, on some future occas on, twenty-nine folio pages of annotations on it, and yet I








must confess I have my doubts on some points, the practice is so irregular, and the authorities on opposite sides so nearly balanced. Reasoning from analogy, however, I would say, that the possessive my ought to be very cautiously employed in writing to our superiors. It might not be safe even for a barrister to use it in writing to a Scots baronet. I happen to know an instance where a young poet lost the good graces of a gentleman, of established reputation in the same line, by this irregularity, though he had in three letters addressed his junior in the same terms himself. This was a hard case, and I hope there are not many such. One of the greatest orators and statesmen of the last century used to write for periodical works in his younger days, and, it is said, with difficulty escaped the penalty of loss of employment and bread, for a similar fault committed against the dignity of a great London bibliopolist.

"In the present century," said Sempronius, "I hope there is less folly stirring. Ceremony is not now the sin that most casily besets us. I think, indeed, there is too little attention paid to the just claims of rank, whether it has been conferred as the reward of eminent services, or descended from one's ancestors. I am told they manage these things better in Scotland, and I once had a proof of it. In that half civilized country, where they now stab one another with the pen instead of the sword, it is not to be expected that their forms of politeness should be always uniform or very discriminating. But the feelings from which they flow deserve our applause. In the summer of 1801, I accompanied a friend on a tour through the Highlands, and spent a few days at the house of a distant relative in one of the border counties on my return. My cousin was the owner of a small estate, which he farmed himself. To make the time pass pleasantly, he invited several of his neighbours to dinner, most of them great sheep farmers; and we returned their visits. The manners of these men, though they seemed to have few ideas beyond their own profession, gave me rather a favourable opinion of them. But there was a venerable clergyman among the number one day, who engaged my


particular attention and respect. He was of an age to remember the forms of genteel society more than half a century before, and appeared to feel that the times had altered for the worse. But he might be taken for a model of good breeding himself, according to the notions of good breeding in that country. The wits of Queen Anne's reign have ridiculed the appropriate forms of salutation,

from My Lord, your most humble ANECDOTES OF ALEXANDER SELKIRK,



servant,' down to How d'ye do Jack; my reverend friend preserved them all. I was particularly struck with his nice discrimination in drink

ing the healths of the company in his own house, where we were most hospitably received by his family, consisting of his wife and two daughters grown up to women, and still unmarried. He had two scales, the services and the healths, each properly graduated, by which he marked his respect for his guests. The principal person had his humble service,' in the superlative degree, and then proceeding downwards he came to my service simply, omitting both the degree and the term denoting its quality. The scale of healths began where the services ended, and at three steps terminated in the anticlimax of the Scottish, Here's t'ye,' with 'Sir,' or 'Friend,' or the name or surname appended to it. He did me the honour to proffer me his humble service on two occasions, and I never descended into the scale of healths, till I met him at the table of a man of fortune, who had a younger brother and a nephew, both bachelors. These engrossed all the services' of the old gentleman and his family."



"You are not serious, Sempronius. You would not recommend such a starched whalebone group as your clergyman and family as well-bred people."-" I recommend nothing but the principle, Sir. But the scene to which I have rather inadvertently alluded, calls up the images of joys long since past, and that never can return. I shall grow too serious. Let us part."


Our Correspondent has given the name of this worthy clergyman, who is now no more. Upon inquiry, we understand that Sempronius has scrupulously adhered to truth.-Editor.

This, Mr Editor, is the substance
of a conversation that passed at my
house about three weeks ago. Per-
haps the illiberal expressions regard-
ing your countrymen may give of-
fence. If it suits your Miscellany,
you will probably hear again from

C. G.
Middlesex, 16th June, 1818.

[IN the Scots Magazine for the years 1805 and 1806, a pretty full account has been given of what may be called the public life of this singularly-fated person, who, four months on the then uninhabited island as every one knows, passed four years and of Juan Fernandez in the South Sea, and whose adventures form the ground-work of De Foe's admirable tale of Robinson Cru

soe. Selkirk must have been a man of un

common strength of mind to have endured a situation so helpless, and that for so long a period, that it might well be supposed the last ray of hope would have ceased to play upon his forlorn heart. Yet it appears solitude had not rendered him proof against from the account we have referred to, that the common frailties of his profession; and the following notices of his early life, extracted from the parish records of Largo in Fife, where he was born, exhibit an irritability and violence of temper but ill adapted to sustain his future destiny, though not unlikely to lead to it. Nothing, however, is more curious in these notices than the light they throw on the state of manthe beginning of the eighteenth century, ners in the country parishes of Scotland at when religion seems to have supplied the place of law, and its ministers that of civil magistrates, when the terror of public penitence probably operated with as much effect in checking the progress of vice, as the fear of Bridewell or Botany Bay in our own times. Even the turbulent spirit of Selkirk yielded to the influence of his early associations, though, it would appear, not without a struggle.]

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »