IT may possibly be apprehended, by such persons as are inclined to peruse the following pages, that a writer, of my age, can scarce have seen variety enough to form an entertaining volume: had it pleased providence to have blessed my earlier days, with quiet and felicity, 'tis probable I should now have as little to set forth as any other young man who had lived the same number of years.
But though nothing I can advance, in relation to my adventures, deviates much from the common road of things, or those occurrences which daily happen, I have too sincere a respect for the illustrious patrons of my labour, to presume to impose fictions on their superior understanding:—Therefore however this undertaking may fall short in wit, elegance, of superiority of fine, I am determined it shall be adorned with native truth; which is allowed to surpass the flourishes of rhetoric, and carries with it, like the Works of Nature, something that Art vainly strives to imitate.
I am the youngest son now alive, which the Reverend Mr. Matthew Pilkington had by his first wife, Mrs. Lætitia Pilkington, the daughter of John Vanlewen, M. D. and niece to Sir John Meade, Baronet.
The writings of my mother, added to the candour and indulgence of her readers, has procured her a place in the temple of fame; and my father's poetical productions, though not received with so much applause, are yet allowed to be pretty enough.
From a poetical father and mother, what inheritance could a second brother hope, but a pen? An implement which, however dangerous, I am compelled to use. As far as I have been capable to gather of my paternal genealogy, my great grand-father was the younger son of a gentleman of fortune in Yorkshire; who went over to Ireland, at time, when King Charles the First had occasion to try the purses and loyalty of his British subjects; and had for his services there, a handsome estate given him in the county of Meath, which remains in that family to this day.
My grandfather Pilkington, being the youngest of twenty-one children, end having a great mechanical genius, applied himself to the business of watch-making; by which, and much honest industry, he became capable in his lifetime of giving my father a liberal education; and at his death bequeathed him a handsome estate.
My elder brother, being the first pledge of reciprocal love, was taken in his infancy into the care of my father's parents; where, though he was not brought up with delicacy, as to person or diet, the old man took care to enrich his mind with the best tuition money could procure; the benefits of which, with a grateful remembrance of that worthy parent, he now enjoys.
A boy whom Dean Swift was to have stood godfather to, having died without public baptism; the Dean, though no admirer of such business, was pleased to promise to honour my christening with his presence, which promise he did not fulfil.—I have been told that Lord C——t, now Earl of G——e, was really one of my god-fathers, and that his Lordship substituted Dean Delany, from whence I have derived the happiness of being called by his name. But I apprehend that I have either been imposed on in that relation, or that his Lordship has utterly forgot it; as I never could, by any solicitations, prevail with him to subscribe to my writings.
[Note: Dean Delany, on reading this passage at Col. Nuburgh's in manuscript, recollected it; and I have, since the death of my mother, very happily experienced the advantages of his Lordship's choice, in a representative on that occasion, as the Dean has more than fulfilled all the promises he made at my baptism, by unlimited instances of his favour and liberality to me.]
The method I took of introducing myself to that Nobleman, was I confess a little too familiar for one of my humble condition, and juvenile years;—but as I am determined herein to submit to the judgment of my superiors as well as to self-conviction, I shall transcribe the lines, which I took the freedom to address to his Lordship, some time after my arrival in London.
To the Right Hon. the Earl of Granville
I HEAR, my Lord, from common fame,
You promised Three Things in my name,
The story most demands my credit,
Because Delany often said it,
And men of most profound sagacity,
Will answer for the Dean's veracity;
But be that matter as it may,
I'm called John Carteret at this day,
This name, my Lord, elates my pride,
More than all gifts I boast beside;
And should illustrious Granville smile
'Twould every recent ill beguile,
Saving: from famine death's grim agent,
Now it may not be improper to observe that when I wrote the above, I was not under the least apprehension of starving, but said so merely to make his Lordship .merry at my expense. The consequence will forever caution me against being humorous: with my superiors, as I am persuaded from the instances of that Nobleman's munificence, still fresh in the memory of many, that no .other stance could have withheld his Lordship's bounty from me.—But, certain it was that I was christened;. and the acting sponsors were Dr. Clayton, now Lord Bishop of Clogher, Dr. Delany, Mrs. Barber, and, Mrs. Grierson: as none were present but poetical people, they determined to make a fairy christening of it, and each to endow me with the gifts they most eminently possessed.. The Dean representing the Viceroy, gave power and eloquence; Mrs. Grierson, learning; Mrs. Barber, poesy; and for my part, said the Bishop, "I'll endow him with good fortune, 'tis the only gift I can boast," as his Lordship modestly expressed himself.
My mother informed me, that when I was about three years old, my godfather the Bishop requested my father, as his Lordship had no children, to resign me entirely to him; who would undoubtedly have made me as happy as a fine education and affluent condition could do; but my father, to my misfortune, rejected this generous offer, to which amongst other causes I may impute my present situation.
The first thing which impressed itself on my infant memory, was the separation of my father and mother; a circumstance, in which my future fortune was much more deeply interested, than I had then abilities to conceive, not being more than six or seven years old.
As I had till this fatal juncture been bred with the utmost delicacy and tenderness, my poor mother, having made it her chief and highest study, to mingle instruction with delight, and by the most engaging methods, to mould our tender minds for fine impressions, insomuch that we loved her as a companion, and respected her as a parent; the sense I felt of our separation, even at that age, is scarcely imaginable. What cause my father had to suspect her virtue, or whether he had any or not, is best known to heaven and his own conscience and far is it from my present purpose to say anything which may draw a reflection on his name, or disturb, a moment of his tranquillity; since I had much rather the world would attribute my misfortunes to my own misconduct, than want of humanity in him, whom as the author of my, being, I esteem with the most dutiful reverence.
The morning after my mother's departure from his house, he called his children before him, and in a most tender and pathetic manner, acquainted us, of what he termed her misfortune; assuring us, that he would nevertheless perform the strictest duty of a father to us, while our behaviour merited his being such; but withal he remonstrated to us, on the necessity we were under, to be particularly circumspect in our conduct, as well to him as the rest of the world, in order to make the matter entirely be forgotten.
We gave a settled attention to his words, but could not remain our tears on so melancholy an occasion, especially as he informed us we were never more to see her.
Sometime after her departure, she earnestly solicited my father, for one last interview with her dear little ones; as she affectionately styled us; but that favour, if I may call it such, was for the present denied to her; upon which occasion she added four lines to her poem called Sorrow, which, though am not fond of quotations, I ask pardon for reciting.
And since no more I boast a mother's name,
Nor in my children, can a portion claim,
The tender babes to thy protection take,
Nor punish for their hapless mother's sake.
Vide 1st vol. Mrs. Pilkington's Memoirs.
After this, either my father's heart relented, or he was by entreaties prevailed on to let us visit her; the mutual joy that took place in our souls at this indulgence, can only be conceived by the fondest of children, and the most endearing of parents.
We continued the whole day with her, during which she would frequently gather us in her arms, and folding us in the most passionate grief, invoke the Almighty to be father and mother to us; and indeed so far her prayers have been received, as the dangers from whence his holy hand alone has delivered even me, have been infinite: nor let the young and gay, into whose hands these writings fall, be offended at these serious reflections; they will sometimes perhaps find me too volatile, but where the praise is due, there let it be ascribed.
When night approached, being the defined moment of departure, my mother would fain have detained me (her peculiar favourite) having intended, as I since learned from her, to have brought me to London; but the servant who attended us would by no means suffer it, so that however severe we esteemed our fate, we were obliged to submit to it, and left my poor mother in a flood of tears.
For some time after she left the kingdom, my father continued moderately kind to us, and probably might still have been so, but that going on a visit into the country, he met with Miss Sands, who is at present his wife. This lady, without sense, beauty, fortune, or one amiable accomplishment, found means so powerfully to engage his affections, that he entirely neglected everything but the pursuit of her. Nay, for so much enamoured was he with her very name, that it was carved on every tree in his garden, and written with a diamond on every window in his house; and very seldom had we a sight of him. I can't help thinking that one motive of his attachment to this lady, was her being so diametrically a contrast to the unfortunate object of his resentment; for if my mother was witty and polite, she was hoggish and livid; if my mother was neat and cleanly, the other was dirty and slovenly; if my mother was liberal and generous, she was mean and mercenary; of which I could give demonstrable proofs, but that it would break in upon the chain of my story; and will do as well in its proper place.
I hope I shall be pardoned for saying, that I believe my father now sincerely wished at any rate to get his encumbrances off his hands; and as the present engrosser of his affections wanted none of her sex's artifices, I am pretty certain that much of his coolness and distance to us, proceeded from the councils and the insinuations of that Hyena.—My father, I am told, has lately got a child by her, God forbid it should partake of her disposition, or be used with so little tenderness, as those which he has already gotten, and left the world to provide for (but to my story.)
I was, while my grandfather lived, first kept at the writing school, where I made but small progress; from whence, I was removed to the study of Latin, under the tuition of the. Reverend Mr. Baldrick. I had not attained to the classics before the good old man died, and with him my farther advancement in literature for that time; as I was shortly after judiciously removed to my father's kitchen, lest too much learning should have made me mad; in which place it seems I was under the benign influence of the footman, and maid servant, to finish my studies; being kept a perpetual prisoner there, and otherwise treated, in a manner I shall never repeat, and which I heartily wish to forget.
For my own part, I had at that time reflections much above my years, having read every book which chance or providence threw in my way, and digested them, in a manner not customary with children: I had naturally great sprightliness and vivacity, an easy obliging disposition, a good voice, and a tolerable person; with these endowments, it was no matter of wonder, if I looked on my present situation with horror, being utterly abstracted from what my mind most thirsted after, books, company and improvement; an ambition to be amongst my superiors, seemed inherent to me, and I might truly have said with. Horace.—Spernere vulgus.
I now grew solicitous to know what family and relations I had living; judging I might have a greater probability of being welcome to some of them, than desirable to my father.
An old coachman of my grand uncle, Brigadier Meade, came one evening to visit my father's servants, and was as communicative on this head, as I could possibly have wished; he told me the affinity I had with all the Meade family, and several of the nobility and gentry, not material here to name but what most engaged my attention in the course of his narrative, was the account he gave me of my grand-uncle Doctor George Vanlewen of Cork; who he said had no legitimate children, and was one of the best-natured gentlemen existing; but his peculiar oddity makes strangers frequently mistake him for morose and ill-natured, which indeed, as much as his good-nature will permit him, he endeavours to affect. He gave us some entertaining accounts of my uncle's disposition, that may here serve as an illustration to the future character I shall have occasion to give of him.
A very spruce dancing-master, and excellent swordsman, happened accidentally to be at a gentleman's house, where the Doctor was sent for to attend the lady in labour. The Doctor, who is homely in his person, and plain in his apparel, when he entered a room where the gentleman of the house and this person were, cried, "Zounds, Sir, what d'ye want with these butterflies about you at such a time as this? Turn him out of doors." The dancing-master, just arrived from Paris, imagined this rencounter a little malapropos; and he neither knowing my uncle, nor the occasion of his coming, told the gentleman of the house he understood no such treatment, and would demand satisfaction from that sorry fellow, whoever he was. My uncle, who had but passed into another room, overheard him; and came out with a very serene countenance, to acquaint him, that if he would wait but fifteen minutes, he would make any concession so great a personage thought proper to require; returning immediately into the room, he dispatched his business in half the time, and after having brought the lady a son, came to fulfil his engagement. The whole thing was so sudden and whimsical, that the gentleman of the house had not presence of mind to interpose his good offices; or, perhaps, the situation his wife was in might have engrossed all his attention: However it was, the disputants went out together. The dancing master told my uncle, he desired to meet him on the Mall the next morning at five o'clock;—no, no, says the Doctor; I shan't then be out of bed, but, if you please, I'll wait on you now. The antagonist finding him true blood, offered many weighty reasons for postponing the combat, particularly his being obliged to teach some ladies to dance. By G——d, says the Doctor, I'll teach you to dance, and sing too, before we part, as sorry a fellow as I appear. Upon this he drew his sword, and defied his enemy to do the same; the second pass he wounded the dancing-master in the sword arm, which possibly saved his guts; he dropped his weapon and asked for mercy, which the doctor generously showed him; and drawing his sword very carefully from the wound, he immediately pulled out a case of surgical instruments, dressed his arm, and sent him home in a chair, recommending it strenuously to him, not to be so hasty in his conclusions for the future. After these proofs of his skill in surgery and the sword, he paid a visit to the lying-in lady, and found her as well as he could wish; but pray Doctor, said the gentleman of the house, why did you leave us so abruptly? Only to skewer a woodcock, replied the Doctor, very gravely, which was all the information that could be obtained from him; it excited the gentleman's curiosity to send to the dancing-master's lodgings, where he was found very ill in bed; the Doctor, however, carefully attended him, supplied him with all necessaries, and was so firm a friend to him from that time, that his recommendations were the means of making the dancing-master's fortune.
He went one morning. into a coffee-house in Cork, and it being cold, stood with his back to the fire; a young officer came in, extremely fine in his dress, and says to my uncle, stand farther off fellow;—yes, please your honour, replied the Doctor, and moved considerably back;—farther yet fellow, says the other; the Doctor kept retreating till he got to a window; he opened it, and taking the young spark suddenly in his arms, called to the company to know if he should throw the impertinent coxcomb into the street;—the gentlemen knowing my uncle, and having heard what passed, owned he deserved no better, but on account of his youth, besought mercy for him.
My dear child, said the Doctor, never affront a man who is every way your superior, because his inclination does not lead him to be so great a jack-daw as yourself. After reciting these, and many instances of my uncle's temper, he departed, leaving me fully resolved to embrace the first favourable occasion to fly there for refuge.