My father was not only indifferent about my education or clothing, but a little too severe; since, if anything disturbed his temper abroad, I was sure of a flogging when he came home; and a rainy day was fatal to me; being ever the fore-runner of chastisement, whether with or without a cause. This might probably be done to humble my spirit, and fit me for the hardships of a world I was entering into; and indeed it has had the desired effect, for though I have fallen under various calamities since, none have been half so dreadful to me as those I sustained at home; nay, I am sure I must have died of a broken heart ere now, had I not so early been inured to afflictions. To seek occasion to quit such treatment was not difficult; and though I had never been in the country of Ireland, I conceived a notion of travelling to Cork, being very sure, if once found the road, I should pursue it till I obtained my wishes.
A gentleman came one afternoon to enquire for my father, for whom I happened to open the street door; he gave me a shilling, which was, I believe, the first I could ever call mine; with this sum I resolved, before daybreak the next morning, to set out on my intended expedition, and so little of this great world did I know, that I thought it quite sufficient.
According to this plan I executed my scheme with all possible silence, secrecy and success; but happened fortunately enough to take a wrong road, that is, one that made my journey about thirty miles about.
Before I had one single reflection on my condition, agitated by the pleasing hope of a better fate, I had measured twenty miles, fatigue and hunger then very closely assailed me. I discovered at some distance behind me, a lusty healthy-looking farmer on horse-back; probably he perceived in my features and appearance, something above the vulgar, that induced him to ask me where I was going to, I told him to Cork,—To Cork child, says the man with astonishment—this is not the road, besides, 'tis a journey you will never be equal to at this season, (it being near Christmas) I told him I mattered no hardships, in contempt of which I would prosecute my journey, though at the expense of my life.—You are then, I suppose, well stocked with cash, said he, to refresh yourself by the way. Yes, returned I, I have thirteen pence, which I think quite enough: the honest fellow laughed heartily at my innocence, and as I walked beside his horse, now took me up before him upon it.—His curiosity to find out who I was, made him ask many questions: these I evaded very carefully, left he should take a fancy to send me home. I told him my father was a shoe-maker, who was gone to Cork, and that having no friends in Dublin, I was going to him. Though he did not seem entirely to credit this relation, he had good manners enough to desist any further interrogations, till we arrived at his house, an homely, but a clean and comfortable habitation, where the whole family came to meet us at the door, and were overjoyed that the farmer had brought a guest with him. As soon as they had furnished me with dry apparel, for it rained very hard, they placed me near a large turf fire, then bathed my feet (which is customary in Ireland) and after spread a table, abounding with milk, butter, eggs, and all the rural delicacies that are the sweet rewards of a virtuous industry.—When I reflect on the serene felicity met with in minds never taught to aspire, I pity, from my soul, many of the rich and great whom I have since fallen amongst: health, competence and contentment they are generally strangers to: luxury destroys the first, extravagance the second, and ambition the last.
That hospitality is the distinguishing characteristic of the people of Ireland, has never yet been disputed; and the little instances of it inserted here, may amount to a further demonstration.
After being liberally refreshed by my kind host, he waited on me to a bed with one of his sons, where I slept, "wrapped up in measureless content," till daybreak. I was then called to know if I chose to rest myself a day or two, or pursue my journey; when I made choice of the latter. The board was again spread, and might justly be termed a Cornu Copiae, accompanied with the most tender and sincere expressions of a hearty welcome.
The farmer then saddled his horse, and after an affectionate embrace from every one of the family, took me before him, and convoyed me about seven miles, and slipping a shilling into my hand, prayed to God to preserve me, and send me more friends.
Encouraged by such unexpected liberality and kindness from perfect strangers, I pushed on in great spirits; about noon I stopped at a little house on the road to procure some food, as I had money to pay for it. The best the cottage afforded was immediately produced, and to my great surprise, the people, though seemingly in the most abject distress, refused to accept the smallest gratification for what they gave me; but on the contrary, loaded my pockets with provision, and attended me to the door with ten thousand blessings.
In the afternoon I was overtaken by a footman, who had a led horse, and who made me a tender of riding: I readily accepted the invitation, and upon his requesting to know my name, and the purport of my journey, ingenuously told the truth. He knew my family very well, and told me he was a servant to Squire A——, who lived a few miles off; and that, though it was out of my road, if I would venture along with him, he would promise me good entertainment, and take care to put me ten miles forward in the morning, if he could render me no other service, which yet he said he hoped to do, as his master and mistress were patterns of good-nature, and consequently would be pleased to help a young gentleman in my circumstances.
About an hour after dark brought us to the Squire's house; the footman brought me into a large hall without a fire, and, gave me into the care of Peter Ludlow the coachman, whole name I gratefully remember, and of whose uncommon kindness I never can say enough.—The footman with whom I came, presently returned from the house, loaded with eatables of different kinds, such as cold beef, ham and fowl; but fatigue had taken away my appetite, which Peter observing with some regret, entreated me to go to his house, and he would endeavour to get something more proper for my refreshment. The footman, who esteemed me his guest, expressed his unwillingness to part with me, till Peter reminded him of his having no fire, and but indifferent bedding, which might occasion my death: at this the poor fellow with a sigh agreed should go with Peter.
It was a bitter frosty night, and travelling, to which I had never been inured, with my sitting down at the Squire's, without a fire, made my limbs stiff, and my frame quite chilly. My host, in order to render his cottage more agreeable on sight, than in idea, told me his house was a beggar's but at one side the road,—that he had no food but potatoes, no drink but water, no fire,—nor any bed but straw. Now Sir, said he, if this fare will suit you, come on with me; if not, turn back to the Squire's.—I told him I had observed something so pleasing in his manner of receiving me, that under all those disadvantages I chose to accompany him.—Soon after he knocked at his own door, and indeed his endeavour to prepossess me with an indifferent opinion of his house had the defined effect, in making me imagine it a paradise.—There was a large sprightly turf fire, a clean, neat, handsome wife and daughter, who (when they heard who I was) were as much overjoyed to receive me, as I could possibly be at falling into such hands; they brought every article that was necessary for my refreshment, and then put down a couple of fowls, bacon and greens for supper. After treating me with a tenderness and regard, which I had never experienced since the loss of my mother, they put me into their own bed, where delicacy and softness would have inclined a person to sleep, much less tired than I was.
Peter, who was obliged to attend his master early in the morning, left strict orders that I should be well accommodated in his absence; and by no means be permitted to depart, if I should express an inclination for it,—indeed I was ill qualified so to do, either in purse or person, being scarcely refreshed by my night's sleep, and possessed but of two shillings.
My amiable and friendly hostess waked me early in the morning, to drink some milk hot from the cow, and at ten called me up to breakfast on tea; so that I question, had I been the Squire's guest, if my entertainment had surpassed this. The lower sort of people in Ireland hold the name of a gentleman in high veneration, and would be more subservient to a man of family, without a shilling, than an upstart, possessed of ever so much.—They are great genealogists, and can trace a man three or four generations back; then tell you the different branches and intermarriages, at which they are so extremely expert, that it is next to an impossibility to impose on them.
The lower people here in England differ from them extremely in this, as well as in most other points; there being no greater object of derision amongst them, than a person by any means assuming the character of a gentleman, without a competency to support it in every degree; so that in London, a cobbler's son in a lace coat, will have more deference paid to him than the offspring of a nobleman, whose necessities are once made known; which makes this proverb so frequent amongst them: "don't tell me what I was, but what I am," with many others to the same purpose. I cannot help saying with regret, that an outside has an effect on persons of greater consequence, to whom it is so familiar:—this to me is extremely surprising, because if merit consisted in velvet, lace or embroidery, Monmouth-street, would be a good place to find it. (But to proceed.)
By the time breakfast was over Peter returned, and informed me, that on his having mentioned me to his master and mistress, they had expressed a desire to see me; but, said he, it would be advisable to stay till tomorrow, and in the meanwhile, let my wife make your linen and stockings clean, that you may appear decently before them.
The next morning pretty soon, being quite spruce, Peter and myself set out for the Squire's, whose lady, it seems, my grandfather, Doctor Vanlewen, had attended as physician; this had raised some favourable sentiments of me before I made my appearance; and, if I may judge from the reception I found, the sight of me rather increased than diminished them.
The Squire and his lady met me coming in, and the lady in a very affable manner, declared she was proud to have one of the worthy doctor's family in her house, to whom she owed (under God) her life. They made me stay and dine with them, and afterwards told me, if I chose to reside there a month or two, I was welcome; and they would, in the meantime, write to my uncle in Cork, (to whom they understood I was going) to see if he would receive me. These proposals I respectfully thanked them for, but did not choose to comply with them. The reason was that I had rather stay with my friend Peter, if I was to abide at all, as I could there be less upon the reserve, and seemed to be perfectly deified at his house: at my departure in the evening the lady gave me half a guinea, the gentleman a crown, and what seemed more surprising, every servant in the house followed me, and each gave me something according to their degrees; which, notwithstanding all I could say in opposition to it, they compelled me to accept of.
I now thought myself as rich as Croesus, having never before been the master of such a sum; so that I returned with Peter in great spirits.—Peter, who was, without a compliment, one of the best men I had ever known, was sincerely rejoiced to find that his representations of me were attended with so happy an issue: I told him I could not but look upon him as my benefactor upon the whole; but this he would by no means. suffer to be told, and rather seemed to chide his fate, as not being capable to act in my favour, suitable to the greatness of his sentiments.
In short he detained me a fortnight, during which no circumstance was omitted that could be thought conducive to my health, contentment or recreation; and when Peter found, that no solicitations could prevail on me to continue longer with him, he desired his wife to make me a new shirt, bought a pair of shoes and stockings at his own expense, and under pretence of sewing my money in my fob, lest I should be robbed, conveyed a small piece of gold into it, as I afterwards discovered; yet when my little baggage was packed in a canvas wallet, made by Peter, and everything in readiness for my departure, it was three days before I could get away: Peter accompanied me about fifteen miles, leaving his wife and daughter in tears, for our separation, and set me down at the Royal Oak, ten miles from the city of Kilkenny, from whence there is a fine turnpike road to Cork. Peter returned home with reluctance, after enjoining me by the most solemn promises to write to him when I arrived at my journey's end; and if my uncle should not receive me kindly, he would come himself and bring me back to his house, where I should be welcome while ever he had strength to earn a support for me.
I need not animadvert on the benevolence of soul Peter must have possessed; as it must be obvious to every reader, that what he did for me, was without the hope of any recompense, but such as he might obtain from the hand of heaven; and though there passages may seem almost too trivial to engross the reader's attention, yet I am satisfied there are many who will be pleased to find such a character in such a sphere of life; and that a man without the helps of education, may from pure nature practice every Christian virtue in its most amiable perfection. The modesty and delicacy with which poor Peter conferred his favours, may be a just admonition to the rich, and the proud, who when they are prevailed on to help their fellow creatures, do it in so cruelly contemptuous a manner, as makes the receipt of it more painful, than the wretchedness it is bestowed to relieve.—But to go on:—A gentleman in a coach and six picked me up at the "Royal Oak," and in about two hours set me down in the ancient city of Kilkenny, rendered venerable by the beautiful ruins of the Duke of Ormond's palace, and several edifices and monuments of great antiquity, that gave me infinite pleasure to survey, though I confess I am not able to describe them.
The next day being Sunday, I rested from my labour; and as I had no acquaintances here, employed myself in contemplating the devastations made by time, war, and its revolutions on the perfection of sculpture and architecture, in several old abbeys and monasteries I visited here: this gave rise to a train of reflections, while the gloom of the weather and stillness of the day inspired an aweful, yet pleasing melancholy; a condition of mind I am much addicted to, and which none can truly value who has not at some time tasted the sweets of it.
That Milton was peculiarly charmed with its effects, may be seen in many passages of his writings, as well as his pathetically elegant Il Penseroso.
Come pensive nun, devout and pure,
Sober, silent, and demure,
All in a robe of darkest grain,
Flowing with majestic train,
Come, but keep thy wonted state,
Musing step, and awful gait,
And looks commercing with the skies,
Thy rapt soul sitting in thy eyes:
There held in holy passion still,
Forget thy self to marble—till
With a sad leaden downward cast,
You fix them on the earth as fast.
Here's painting of the most masterly hand, every attitude described, immediately salutes the view, so that one can never read this, without beholding in his imagination a cloistered virgin. I don't know if I have done the author justice in the quotation, as I do not possess his writings, nor any other, book whatsoever—for which I hope some allowance will be made by the literati. The sentiments that occurred to me in this place, I have since endeavoured to express, and present them to those who will take the trouble to read them, by the title of
Scattered Reflections, inscribed to the Right Honourable the Earl of Shaftesbury.
THOSE aweful isles where sculptured marbles tell,
What storied chiefs within their precinct dwell;
Oft by a pensive contemplation drawn;
My footsteps visit at the evenings dawn,
Where sleeps perchance now senseless, of my moan,
One who in life had made my care his own;
Had raised my soul from this dejected state,
And softened all the rigour of my fate.
Short is the date of our existence here,
As the light rainbow in the lucid sphere;
Though sacred science all her stores expand,
Though wealth, and honour, flow from fortune's hand;
Though all the virtues in progression rise,
That form the learned, benevolent and wise;
Though great in title, though renowned in birth,
Our last retreat's to the oblivious earth.
Where's now the pomp, the Majesty that shone
A former century around the throne;
The shifted scene produces to our view,
Lords, statesmen, courtiers, and domestics new;
The florid Tongue, the Machiavellian head,
And soldier's arm, are mingled with the dead;
Gone to the dark recesses of the grave,
The potent monarch, and the abject slave.
When sordid reptiles 'midst these relics place,
The chisel's shame, and Poetry's disgrace,
Ascribe that language<*see note> to a grovelling mind,
To picture sun-bright excellence, designed,
My soul detests the mercenary tale,
And thus the lying statue, I assail:
'Twas thine, oh! man, in one important hour,
To live the steward of eternal power;
Comfort, and joy, and blessings to dispense,
And bid a sea of sorrows wait you hence.
Behold your foes in luxury and pride,
Lavish that dross, to anguish you denied;
Thy life reproach, thy every action blame,
Forget thy merits, and detest thy name.
'Tis his sublime felicity to find,
Whose fortunes suit the greatness of his mind,
Whose friendly heart with conscious rapture glows,
When sued for succour—succour it bestows;
Who stoops like heaven, to hear the plaintive prayer,
And makes affliction his peculiar care;
Amidst the toils with greatness that consist,
Who finds an hour to pity and assist;
Abstracts his ear from a tumultuous train,
To hear unmerited distress complain;
Whose every grace and virtue to define,
Illustrious Shaftesbury I'd picture thine.
This when thy soul from worldly business flown,
Shall blend with beings, spotless as its own;
When arts regret, and sciences deplore,
Their patron, judge, and lover is no more;
On fame's record, shall keep thy name alive,
Whilst virtue, truth, or equity survive.