« AnteriorContinuar »
N° 55. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 1786.
To the Author of the LOUNGER.
But indeed I have generally remarked, that people did so only because they could not do better. So says Colonel Caustic of the manners of certain individuals in his own days, who sometimes, as well as we, transgressed the bounds of strict decorum, and tried to make rudeness pass for raillery, or indecency for wit. I admit the fairness of his judgment in the cases there spoken of; and I heartily wish they were the only instances where we indulge our foibles under false pretences, and absurdly attempt to make a merit of our defects. But I am afraid there are few kinds of imposition which we are more given to practise on the world, and even on ourselves; and that soo in particulars far more important than those so offensive to the Colonel, though in this I should regret to be understood as meaning that the latter are of little moment.
I find, Sir, I am personally too much interested in this subject to speak long of it in general terms. At the same time I have no intention, like some of your correspondents, to give you a history of myself. Suffice it to know, that though by birth a gen. tlewoman, and educated to prospects which I well remember were the envy of my young companions, I was long ago reduced, by the misfortunes of my family, to accept, and even to be thankful for a very humble station ; and have lived these many years as the attendant of a lady, who is indeed of the same blood with myself, but whom I now must needs call my superior. It is with her, as a striking example of the self deception mentioned. that I mean to bring you and your readers acquainted; in hope no doubt, at the same time to meet with some spmpathy in my sufferings under her dominion.
Not that I would represent my patroness as without her share of merit neither ; for good qualities she certainly has. But what has marred the whole fruit and harvest of them, this lady was born—with too strong feelings, to use her phrase for it,-or, to speak my own sense of the matter with pretty violent passions. By proper means, employed at an early period of life, this vivacity of disposition might, at least to a certain degree, have been corrected. But while she was a child, her parents were too fond of her to chastise her faults, or perhaps to discern that she had any; and she lost these tutors before reach. ing the age when her behaviour to themselves might possibly have taught them the propriety of showing less indulgence. She had besides the misfortune, for such I must account it, of being reckoned, when she
grew up, among the finest women of her time ; a circumstance which did not much contribute to restrain the sallies of caprice, nor to engage her in the profitable but ungrateful labour of discovering her defects. Add to this, she was introduced to the world while yet a mere girl, and precisely at that æra of fashion, when owing I believe to certain novels then recently published, and in the very height of their popularity, the style of conversation was wholly sentimental ; and the women universally vied one with another in which they were imitated by some of the men) in making proof of the strength and the delicacy of their feeling.
Miss Nettletop was of the very frame and constitution to be caught with the prevailing malady. Fond of admiration to excess, and delighted with the generous system that raised mere speculative sensibility, of which she had enough, to the very top of the list of virtues, she quickly distinguished herself among its declared votaries. The Gospels of Sentiment (if so I may call the books in question) were never out of her hands; she had their texts and phraseology at all times in her mouth; and thus by perpetual indulgence in one melting strain, having in time persuaded
herself that she was in truth one of the tenderest and most refined of human beings, she gave herself
up at last entirely to the direction of her feelings as instinctive guides, far surer and more infallible than observation or reflection.
Had her delusion stopped here it would have been comparatively innocent, and more properly the subject of ridicule than of serious complaint. But alas, Sir! what was a most unlucky oversight in learning to think thus favourably of her own heart, and to entertain this so profound respect for her emotions, she omitted to take the necessary pains for distinguishing the different kinds of emotion one from another, nor separated with perfect justice the amiable from the disagreeable ; but inadvertently, among the multitude of those that had the sufferings of her neighbour for their object, contracted a leaning also toward some few others, hidden under the former, I suppose, which tended purely to her own gratification.
The truth is, that Miss Nettletop, perhaps without being conscious of it, had not been the less ready to inlist among the proselytes of Sentiment, that she found, or thought she found, in their creed, the appearance of an apology for certain vivacities, which, as already hinted, it would have cost her some trouble to get the better of; and even saw a specious pretence, in various instances, for holding them out as so many perfections. . No wonder she
turned fond of a system in which she learned that the quickness of her temper was not a vice, as some would have her to believe, but at worst a pardonable, or rather amiable weakness, naturally attendant (as some mote of weakness will ever attend all human excellence) on a heart so much more alive than that of other people ; and which often disguised her an. ger, or her spite, under the more pleasing form of excessive delicacy-a delicacy more unfortunate for herself than for others, since it rendered this or t'other small foible in her acquaintance insufferable, and distressed her with circumstances of minute of. fence, beyond the conception of vulgar and ordinary souls.
It was thus, Sir, that her eyes were early shut upon a part of her composition, which it much behoved her to guard against, and which is now the cause why, with several good qualities, and in spite of many good actions, she is the plague of all who live with her, and has hardly one real friend in the world. So long indeed as she was young and beautiful, and the world prospered with her, these were circumstances to keep her in good humour with herself, and to hinder the little feverish fits which she was subject to from changing into a settled habit. But Miss Nettletop has met with crosses in life, as who is there that passes through life without them? She was married to a Mr. Tempest, a man of large fortune, but dissolute manners. They lived but uncomfortably together, if the world may be believed, and he has now for some time resided apart from her, and abroad. She never had a child, and she was some years ago afflicted with a severe and tedious illness, which neither her health nor her looks are ever likely to recover. She is now, at any rate, of that time of life, when the love of admiration becomes rather a troublesome companion to one's self, and ridiculous to others. In these circumstances, it is obvious how fast her irritable habit of mind must gain strength, and how fatal it must prove, both to her own peace, and to that of all within her walls. One half her time is spent in bemoaning her misfortunes. They are literally her business and her entertainment; She ruminates all day her dreadful fate; nor is there any thing that would more mortally of. fend her than an attempt to depreciate her miseries. Hence, Sir, she is quite over-run with melancholy, as she calls it; or rather (to call things by their right names) with discontent and chagrin : for her affliction, whatever she may think, is by no means of Viola's kind, that preys and consumes in silence; on the contrary, from her original cast of temper, her melancholy exerts itself full as much on those who are about her as on herself. She seems indeed convinced, that her unparalleled distresses should render her the object of universal interest (an expectation in which she is by no means always gratified), and that between these and her strength of feeling, which renders every thing a torture to her that is not pleasant, she has gained an unquestionable right to have her own way in all things and in all companies. The result of which is, that sore to the annoyance of all her dependents, and I am afraid not much to her own comfort, every whim and humour, and every suggestion of passion, are implicitly obeyed, under the name of sensibility. You will easily understand that it is among
her domestics this forwardness of temper is most severely felt: I am sorry to add, I am myself the person that chiefly does penance under it. For though I sit at table with the mistress of the house, and am not called by my Christian name like the other servants, nor indeed receive like them any recompense for my services, I am, in truth, no other than a ser