A long chapter of characters.
THE post-chaise stopped in a genteel street in London, and Pompey was introduced into decent lodgings, where every thing had an air of politeness, yet nothing was expensive. The rooms were hung with Indian paper; the beds were Chinese; and the whole furniture seemed to show how elegant simplicity can be under direction of taste. tea was immediately ordered, and the two ladies sat down to refresh themselves after the fatigue of their journey, and began to talk over the adventures they had met with at Bath. They remembered many agreeable incidents, which had happened in that great rendezvous of pleasure, and ventured to laugh at some follies of their acquaintance, without severity or ill-nature.
These two ladies were born of a good family, and had received a genteel education. Their father indeed left them no more than six thousand pounds each; but as they united their fortunes, and managed their affairs with frugality, they made a creditable figure in the world, and lived in intimacy with people of the greatest fashion. It will be necessary, for the sake of distinction, to give them names, and the reader, if he pleases, may call them Theodosia and Aurora.
Theodosia, the eldest, was advancing towards forty, an age when personal charms begin to fade, and women grow indifferent at least, who have nothing better to supply the place of them. But Theodosia was largely possessed of all those good qualities, which render women agreeable without beauty: She was affable and easy in her behaviour; well-bred without falsehood; cheerful without levity; polite and obliging to her friends, civil and generous to her domestics. Nature had given her a good temper, and education had made it an agreeable one. She had lived much in the world, without growing vain or insolent; improved her understanding by books, without any affectation of wit or science, and loved public places, without being a slave to pleasure. Her conversation was always engaging, and often entertaining. Her long commerce with the world had supplied her with a fund of diverting remarks on life, and her good sense enabled her to deliver them with grace and propriety.
Aurora, the youngest sister, was in her four and twentieth year, and imagination cannot possibly form a finer figure than she was, in every respect. Her beauty, now in its highest lustre, gave that full satisfaction to the eye, which younger charms rarely inspire. She was tall and full-formed, but with the utmost elegance and symmetry in all her limbs; and a certain majesty, which resulted from her shape, was accompanied with a most peculiar sweetness of face: For though she had all the charms, she had none of the insolence of beauty. As if these uncommon perfections of nature, were not sufficient to procure her admirers enough, she had added to them the most winning accomplishments of art: She danced and sung, and played like an angel; her voice naturally clear, full, and melodious, had been improved under the best Italian masters; and she was ready to oblige people with her music, on the slightest intimation, that it would be agreeable, without any airs of shyness and unseasonable modesty. Indeed, affectation never entered into any one of her gestures, and whatsoever she did, was with that generous freedom of manner, which denotes a good understanding, as well as an honest heart. Her temper was cheerful in the highest degree, and she had a most uncommon flow of spirits and good-humour, which seldom deserted her in any place, or company. At a ball she was extremely joyous and spirited, and the pleasure she gave to her beholders, could only be exceeded by that unbounded happiness with which she inspired her partner. Yet though her genius led her to be lively, and a little romantic, whoever conversed with her in private, admitted her good sense, and heard reflections from her, which plainly showed she had often exercised her understanding on the most serious subjects.
A woman so beautiful in her person, and excellent in her accomplishments, could not fail of attracting lovers in great abundance; and accordingly she had refused a variety of offers from people of all characters, who could scarcely believe she was in earnest in rejecting them, because she accompanied her refusals with unusual politeness and good humour. She did not grow vain, or insolent, from the triumphs of her beauty, nor long to spit in a man's face, because she could not approve his addresses (which I believe is the case with many young ladies) but sweetened her denials with great civility, and always asked the advice of her sister, of whom she was passionately fond. Such was Aurora, the present mistress of our hero; and as the characters of some of her admirers may perhaps not be unentertaining, we will give the reader a little sketch of two or three out of many them, from among a great variety.
And first, let us pay our compliments to Count Tag, who had merited a title by his exploits; which perhaps is not the most usual step to honour, but always most respectable whenever it happens. 'Tis true he had no patent to show for his nobility, which depended entirely on the arbitrium popularis aurę, the fickleness of popular applause; but he seems likely to enjoy it as long as he lives, there being no probability of any alteration in his behaviour. His father raised a fortune by a profession, and from him he inherited a competent estate of about three hundred pounds per annum. His education began at Westminster School, and was finished at Oxford; from whence he transported himself to London, resolving to make a bold push, as it is called, to introduce himself into life. He had a strong ambition of becoming a fine gentleman, and cultivating an acquaintance with people of fashion, which he esteemed the most consummate character attainable by man, and to that he resolved to dedicate his days. As his first essay therefore, he presented himself every evening in a side-box at one of the play-houses, where he was ready to enter into conversation with anybody that would afford him an audience; and was particularly assiduous in applying himself to young noblemen and men of fortune, whom he had formerly known at school, or at the university. By degrees he got footing in two or three families of quality, where he was sometimes invited to dinner; and having learnt the fashionable topics of discourse, he studied to make himself agreeable, by entertaining them with the current news of the town. He had the first intelligence of a marriage or an intrigue, knew to a moment when the breath went out of a nobleman's body, and published the scandal of a masquerade, or a ridotta, sooner by half an hour at least, than any other public talker in London. He had a conspicuous fluency of language, which made him embellish every subject he undertook, and a certain art of talking as minutely and circumstantially on the most trivial subjects, as on those of the highest importance. He would describe a straw, or a pimple on a lady's face, with all the figures of rhetoric; by which he persuaded many people to believe him a man of great parts; and surely no man's impertinence ever turned to better account. As he constantly attended Bath and Tunbridge, and all the public places, he got easier access to the tables of the great, and by degrees insinuated himself into all the parties of the ladies; among whom he began to be received as a considerable genius, and quickly became necessary in all their drums and assemblies.
Finding his schemes thus succeed almost beyond his hopes, he now assumed a higher behaviour, and began to fancy himself a man of quality from the company he kept. With this view he thought proper to forget all his old acquaintance, whose low geniuses left them grovelling in obscurity, while his superior talents had raised him to a familiarity with lords and ladies. If therefore any old friend, presuming on their former intimacy, ventured to accost him in the park, he made a formal bow, and begged pardon for leaving him; 'but really, lady Betty, or lady Mary was just entering the Mall.' In short, he always proportioned his respect to the rank and fortunes of his company; he would desert a commoner for a lord, a lord for an earl, an earl for a marquis, and a marquis for a duke. Having thus enrolled himself in his own imagination among the nobility, it was not without reason that people gave him the style and title of Count Tag, thinking it a pity that such a genius should be called by the ordinary name of his family.
The second cavalier, who made his addresses in the same place, was an old gentleman turned of seventy, whose cheerfulness and vivacity might have tempted people to forget his age, if he had not recalled it to their remembrance, by unseasonable attempts of gallantry. The passions of youth are always ridiculous in old age; and though many fine women have sacrificed their charms to superannuated husbands, the union is so unnatural, that we must suppose their affections were fixed on title or estate, or something else besides the persons of their lovers. This old gentleman had led a life of constant gallantry almost from his cradle, and now could not divert himself of the passion of love, though he was deserted by the abilities of it. He had already buried three wives, and was ambitious of a fourth; though his constitution was extremely shattered by debauchery and high-living, and it seemed as if a fit of coughing would at any time have shook him to pieces. Besides this, he kept several mistresses, and all the villages round his country-seat were in a manner peopled with the fruits of his stolen embraces.
At his first entrance into life, he was a younger brother, and married an ugly old woman of fortune for the sake of her money, who quickly departed to his wishes, and lest him possessed of the only desirable thing belonging to her. Soon afterwards, his elder brother also went the same road to mortality, and left him an heir of three thousand pounds a year; which enabled his genius to display itself, and supplied him with all the essentials of pleasure. From this moment he began his career, and being a gay young fellow, handsome in his person, and genteel in his address, he resolved to indulge himself in every gratification that money could purchase, or luxury invent. He set up all nights in taverns, where he was the wit and genius of the company, travelled and intrigued with women of all nations and languages; made a figure at the gaming-tables, and was not silent in parliament. In short, whatever character he undertook to appear in, he supported it always with a spirit and vivacity peculiar to himself. His health of course received many shocks from his dissolute course of life, but he trusted to the vigour of a good constitution, and despised all the distant consequences of pleasure, as the dull apprehensions of cowards in luxury. As to marriage, he resolved never more to wear the fetters of that slavery, while his passions had so free a range in a way more agreeable to his inclinations: but having a long while solicited a fine woman of but slender fortune to comply with his desires, and finding her deaf to any but honourable offers, he was drawn in before he was aware, and married a second time with no other view than to have the present possession of a mistress. Yet he discharged the matrimonial duties for a time with tolerable decency, and contrived to keep his amours as secret from his wife as possible. But the eyes of jealousy could not long be deceived; and the moment she began to expostulate with him on his behaviour, he grew more bare-faced in his pleasures, and less careful to conceal them from her observation. The lady, disappointed in her views of happiness, had recourse to the common consolation of female sorrows, and tried to drown them in citron-waters; which pernicious custom grew upon her so much by habit and indulgence, that she often came down exceedingly disordered to dinner, and sometimes was disqualified from performing the offices of her table. This extremely piqued the pride of her husband, who could not, bear to see the mistress of his family in such disgraceful circumstances, and began to wish her fairly in the other world. Enquiring how she came supplied with these cordial draughts of sorrow, he found they were secretly conveyed to her by a mantua-maker, who attended her three or four times a week, pretending to bring caps and gowns. This again piqued his pride to think she should expose her foible to the knowledge of her inferiors, and resolving to supply her wishes at an easier rate, he ordered his butler to carry up a certain number of bottles every week into her dressing- room. The stratagem took effect; and the good lady having frequent recourse to the fatal opiate, in a short time bade adieu to the world and all its cares.
He was now again lest to the unrestrained indulgence of his pleasures, and had mistresses of all characters, from the woman of quality down to the farmer's daughter and milk-maid. But as he advanced in years, a fit of dotage insensibly stole upon him; and in an unlucky moment he married a vain spirited young girl of twenty, who seemed. born to punish him for his sins. Full of herself and family, she took possession of his house with a certain conscious authority, and began to show the pleasure she found in government and sway. She regarded her husband only as an object that was to give her command of servants, equipage, and the like; and her head was giddy with notions of domineering and power. Her insolence soon became intolerable to a young lady in the family, daughter of his former wife, who could not endure to be governed by a mother of her own age, and therefore with great spirit left her father's house. In short, the old gentleman himself began to curse the choice he had made, finding himself in a manner quite disregarded by his accomplished spouse, whose thoughts ran wholly after drums, assemblies, operas, masquerades, ridottas, and the like; all which she pursued with the most ardent assiduity, and seldom could find one quarter of an hour's leisure to converse with her husband. He found her besides, more cold in her constitution, and less sensible of his embraces, than he had imagined; for indeed, she was a thing purely made up of vanity, and provided she made a figure in life, she cared not who enjoyed its pleasure. The old gentleman groaned severely under this scourge of his iniquities, and I question whether he would not have died himself of pure spite, had not his obliging wife saved him that necessity by kindly dying in his stead. She caught cold one night in Vauxhall gardens, and after a short illness of a week or ten days, retired to the peaceable mansions of her predecessors.
One would think he should now have been tired of matrimonial blessings; yet notwithstanding the ill-luck he had hitherto met with, notwithstanding the natural decay arising from his age, and the acquired infirmities of intemperance, he was once more engaged in courtship, and made one of the most gallant admirers of Aurora.
She had many other lovers, but I shall forbear the mention of them at present, to give a description of one, who was every way worthy of her affections, and to whom, in reality, she had devoted her heart. Neither Count Tag, nor the aged gallant last described, had any share in her regard; for though she received them with civility, she gave them little encouragement to hope for success.
The fortunate lover was a young nobleman about her own age, who conducted himself by rules so very different from the generality of the Nobility, that it will be a kind of justice to his memory to preserve his character. He had an excellent understanding, improved by competent reading; and the most uncommon uprightness of heart, joined with the greatest candour and benevolence of temper. His soul was passionately devoted to the love of truth, and he never spoke or acted but with the clearest sincerity and ingenuity of mind. Falsehood of any kind, even in the common forms of intercourse and civility, wherein custom licenses some degrees of dissimulation, he held to be a crime and if ever he made a promise, there was not the least room to doubt of his performing it. Though he frequently mixed in parties of diversion, made by other young noblemen of his acquaintance, yet he never joined in the riots, that falsely challenge to themselves the name of pleasure, and superior enjoyment of life. He did not spend his mornings in levity, or his nights at a gaming-table. Nor was he ashamed of the religion of his country, or deterred from the worship of his maker, by the idle sneers of infidelity, and the ridiculous laughter of profane wits; but, on the contrary, gloried in the profession of Christianity, and always reprimanded the wanton sallies of those, who tried to be witty at the expense of their conscience. Added to these excellent endowments, he had the greatest filial obedience to his father, the sincerest loyalty to his Prince, the truest respect for his relations, and the most charitable liberality to all those, whom poverty, or distress of any kind, recommended as objects of compassion. In short, whoever has read Lord Clarendon's celebrated character of Lord Viscount Falkland, cannot be at a loss to form an idea of this amiable young nobleman; who resembled him exactly in the private social duties of life; and we may conclude, he would have acted the same part in public, had he been engaged in similar circumstances.
Being inspired with a passion for an agreeable woman, he was neither ashamed to own it, nor yet did he use the ridiculous eulogiums, with which coxcombs talk of their mistresses, when their imaginations are heated with wine. He did not compare her to the Venus of Medicis, or run into any of those artificial raptures, which are almost always counterfeited: but whenever he mentioned her name, he spoke the language of his heart, and spoke of her always with a manliness, that testified the reality and sincerity of his passion. It was impossible for a woman not to return the affections of so deserving a lover: Aurora was happy to be the object of his addresses, and met them with becoming zeal.