Gosse's Gossip - LOVE AND BUSINESS

LOVE AND BUSINESS

LOVE AND BUSINESS: in a Collection of occasionary Verse and epistolary Prose not hitherto published. By Mr. George Farquhar. En Orenge il n'y a point d'oranges. London, printed for B. Lintott, at the Post-House, in the Middle Temple-Gate, Fleet Street. 1702.

            There are some books, like some people, of whom we form an indulgent opinion without finding it easy to justify our liking. The young man who went to the life-insurance office and reported that his father had died of no particular disease, but just of "plain death," would sympathise with the feeling I mention. Sometimes we like a book, not for any special merit, but just because it is what it is. The rare, and yet not celebrated, miscellany of which I am about to write has this character. It is not instructive, or very high-toned, or exceptionally clever, but if it were a man, all people that are not prigs would say that it was a very good sort of fellow. If it be, as it certainly is, a literary advantage for a nondescript collection of trifles, to reproduce minutely the personality of its writer, then Love and Business has one definite merit. Wherever we dip into its pages we may use it as a telephone, and hear a young Englishman, of the year 1700, talking to himself and to his friends in the most unaffected accents.

            Captain George Farquhar, in 1702, was four-and-twenty years of age. He was a smart, soldier-like Irishman, of "a splenetic and amorous complexion," half an actor, a quarter a poet, and altogether a very honest and gallant gentleman. He had taken to the stage kindly enough, and at twenty-one had written Love and a Bottle. Since then, two other plays, The Constant Couple and Sir Harry Wildair, had proved that he had wit and fancy, and knew how to knit them together into a rattling comedy. But he was poor, always in pursuit of that timid wild-fowl, the occasional guinea, and with no sort of disposition to settle down into a heavy citizen. In order to bring down a few brace of golden game, he shovels into Lintott's hands his stray verses of all kinds, a bundle of letters he wrote from Holland, a dignified essay or discourse upon Comedy, and, with questionable taste perhaps, a set of copies of the love-letters he had addressed to the lady who became his wife. All this is not very praiseworthy, and as a contribution to literature it is slight indeed; but, then, how genuine and sincere, how guileless and picturesque is the self-revelation of it! There is no attempt to make things better than they are, nor any pandering to a cynical taste by making them worse. Why should he conceal or falsify? The town knows what sort of a fellow George Farquhar is. Here are some letters and some verses; the beaux at White's may read them if they will, and then throw them away.

            As we turn the desultory pages, the figure of the author rises before us, good-natured, easygoing, high-coloured, not bad-looking, with an air of a gentleman in spite of his misfortunes. We do not know the exact details of his military honours. We may think of him as swaggering in scarlet regimentals, but we have his own word for it that he was often in mufti. His mind is generally dressed, he says, like his body, in black; for though he is so brisk a spark in company, he suffers sadly from the spleen when he is alone. We can follow him pretty closely through his day. He is a queer mixture of profanity and piety, of coarseness and loyalty, of cleverness and density; we do not breed this kind of beau nowadays, and yet we might do worse, for this specimen is, with all his faults, a man. He dresses carefully in the morning, in his uniform or else in his black suit. When he wants to be specially smart, as, for instance, when he designs a conquest at a birthday-party, he has to ferret among the pawnbrokers for scraps of finery, or secure on loan a fair, full-bottom wig. But he is not so impoverished that he cannot on these occasions give his valet and his barber plenty of work to do preparing his face with razors, perfumes and washes. He would like to be Sir Fopling Flutter, if he could afford it, and gazes a little enviously at that noble creature in his French clothes, as he lounges luxuriantly past him in his coach with six before and six behind.

            Poor Captain Farquhar begins to expect that he himself will never be "a first-rate Beau." So, on common mornings, a little splenetic, he wanders down to the coffee-houses and reads the pamphlets, those which find King William glorious, and those that rail at the watery Dutch. He will even be a little Jacobitish for pure foppery, and have a fling at the Church, but in his heart he is with the Ministry. He meets a friend at White's, and they adjourn presently to the Fleece Tavern, where the drawer brings them a bottle of New French and a neat's tongue, over which they discuss the doctrine of predestination so hotly that two mackerel-vendors burst in, mistaking their lifted voices for a cry for fish. His friend has business in the city, and so our poet strolls off to the Park, and takes a turn in the Mall with his hat in his hand, prepared for an adventure or a chat with a friend. Then comes the play, the inevitable early play, still, even in 1700, apt to be so rank-lipped that respectable ladies could only appear at it in masks. It was the transition period, and poor Comedy, who was saying good-bye to literature, was just about to console herself with modesty.

            However, a domino may slip aside, and Mr. George Farquhar notices a little lady in a deep mourning mantua, whose eyes are not to be forgotten. She goes, however; it is useless to pursue her; but the music raises his soul to such a pitch of passion that he is almost melancholy. He strolls out into Spring Garden, but there, "with envious eyes, I saw every Man pick up his Mate, whilst I alone walked like solitary Adam before the Creation of his Eve; but the place was no Paradise to me; nothing I found entertaining but the Nightingale." So that in those sweet summer evenings of 1700, over the laced and brocaded couples promenading in Spring Garden, as over good Sir Roger twelve years later, the indulgent nightingale still poured her notes. To-day you cannot hear the very bells of St. Martin's for the roar of the traffic. So lonely, and too easily enamoured, George has to betake himself to the tavern, and a passable Burgundy. There is no idealism about him. He is very fit for repentance next morning. "The searching Wine has sprung the Rheumatism in my Right Hand, my Head aches, my Stomach pukes." Our poor, good-humoured beau has no constitution for this mode of life, and we know, though happily he dreams not of it, that he is to die before he reaches thirty.

            This picture of Farquhar's life is nowhere given in the form just related, but not one touch in the portrait but is to be found somewhere in the frank and easy pages of Love and Business. The poems are of their age and kind. There is a "Pindarick," of course; it was so easy to write one, and so reputable. There are compliments in verse to one of the female wits who were writing then for the stage, Mrs. Trotter, author of the Fatal Friendship; there are amatory explanations of all kinds. When he fails to keep an appointment with a lady on account of the rain–for there were no umbrellas in those days–he likens himself to Leander, wistful on the Sestian shore. He is not always very discreet; Damon's thoughts when "Night's black Curtain o'er the World was spread" were very innocent, but such as we have decided nowadays to say nothing about. It was the fashion of the time to be outspoken. There is no value, however, in the verse, except that it is graphic now and then. The letters are much more interesting. Those sent from Holland in the autumn of 1700 are very good reading. I make bold to quote one passage from the first, describing the storm he encountered in crossing. It depicts our hero to the life, with all his inconsistencies. He says: "By a kind of Poetical Philosophy I bore up pretty well under my Apprehensions; though never worse prepared for Death, I must confess, for I think I never had so much Money about me at a time. We had some Ladies aboard, that were so extremely sick, that they often wished for Death, but were damnably afraid of being drown'd. But, as the Scripture says, 'Sorrow may last for a Night, but Joy cometh in the Morning,'" and so on. The poor fellow means no harm by all this, as Hodgson once said of certain remarks of Byron's.

            The love-letters are very curious. It is believed that the sequel of them was a very unhappy marriage. Captain Farquhar was of a loving disposition, and as inflammable as a hay-rick. He cannot have been much more than twenty-one when he described what he desired in a wife. "O could I find," he said–

 

O could I find (Grant, Heaven, that once I may!)
Nymph fair, kind, poetical and gay
Whose Love should blaze, unsullied and divine.
Lighted at first by the bright Lamp of mine.
Free as a Mistress, faithful as a wife.
And one that lov'd a Fiddle as her Life,
Free from all sordid Ends, from Interest free,
For my own Sake affecting only me,
What a blest Union should our Souls combine!
I hers alone, and she be only mine!

            It does not seem a very exacting ideal, but the poor poet missed it. Whether Mrs. Farquhar loved a fiddle as her life is not recorded, but she certainly was not free from all sordid ends and unworthy tricks. The little lady in the mourning mantua soon fell in love with our gallant spark, and when he made court to her, she represented herself as very wealthy. The deed accomplished, Mrs. Farquhar turned out to be penniless; and the poet, like a gentleman as he was, never reproached her, but sat down cheerfully to a double poverty. In Love and Business the story does not proceed so far. He receives Miss Penelope V––'s timid advances, describes himself to her, is soon as much in love with his little lady as she with him, and is making broad demands and rich-blooded confidences in fine style, no offence taken where no harm is meant. In one of the letters to Penelope we get a very interesting glance at a famous, and, as it happens, rather obscure, event–the funeral of the great Dryden, in May 1700. Farquhar says:

 

"I come now from Mr. Dryden's Funeral, where we had an Ode in Horace sung, instead of David's Psalms; whence you may find that we don't think a Poet worth Christian Burial; the Pomp of the Ceremony was a kind of Rhapsody, and fitter, I think, for Hudibras than him; because the Cavalcade was mostly Burlesque; but he was an extraordinary Man, and bury'd after an extraordinary Fashion; for I believe there was never such another Burial seen; the Oration indeed was great and ingenious, worthy the Subject, and like the Author [Dr. Garth], whose Prescriptions can restore the Living, and his Pen embalm the Dead. And so much for Mr. Dryden, whose Burial was the same with his Life,–Variety, and not of a Piece. The Quality and Mob, Farce and Heroicks, the Sublime and Ridicule mixt in a Piece, great Cleopatra in a Hackney Coach."

 

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