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Isaac Bickerstaff by Richard Steele

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"My husband," said she, "gives his humble service to you;" to which
I only answered, "I hope he is well;" and, without waiting for a
reply, fell into other subjects. She at last was out of all
patience, and said, with a smile and manner that I thought had more
beauty and spirit than I had ever observed before in her, "I did not
think, brother, you had been so ill-natured. You have seen, ever
since I came in, that I had a mind to talk of my husband, and you
will not be so kind as to give me an occasion."--"I did not know,"
said I, "but it might be a disagreeable subject to you. You do not
take me for so old-fashioned a fellow as to think of entertaining a
young lady with the discourse of her husband. I know nothing is
more acceptable than to speak of one who is to be so; but to speak
of one who is so! indeed, Jenny, I am a better bred man than you
think me." She showed a little dislike at my raillery, and by her
bridling up, I perceived she expected to be treated hereafter not as
Jenny Distaff, but Mrs. Tranquillus. I was very well pleased with
this change in her humour; and, upon talking with her on several
subjects, I could not but fancy that I saw a great deal of her
husband's way and manner in her remarks, her phrases, the tone of
her voice, and the very air of her countenance. This gave me an
unspeakable satisfaction, not only because I had found her a husband
from whom she could learn many things that were laudable, but also
because I looked upon her imitation of him as an infallible sign
that she entirely loved him. This is an observation that I never
knew fail, though I do not remember that any other has made it. The
natural shyness of her sex hindered her from telling me the
greatness of her own passion; but I easily collected it from the
representation she gave me of his. "I have everything," says she,
"in Tranquillus that I can wish for; and enjoy in him, what indeed
you have told me were to be met with in a good husband, the fondness
of a lover, the tenderness of a parent, and the intimacy of a
friend." It transported me to see her eyes swimming in tears of
affection when she spoke. "And is there not, dear sister," said I,
"more pleasure in the possession of such a man than in all the
little impertinences of balls, assemblies, and equipage, which it
cost me so much pains to make you contemn?" She answered, smiling,
"Tranquillus has made me a sincere convert in a few weeks, though I
am afraid you could not have done it in your whole life. To tell
you truly, I have only one fear hanging upon me, which is apt to
give me trouble in the midst of all my satisfactions: I am afraid,
you must know, that I shall not always make the same amiable
appearance in his eye that I do at present. You know, brother
Bickerstaff, that you have the reputation of a conjurer; and if you
have any one secret in your art to make your sister always
beautiful, I should be happier than if I were mistress of all the
worlds you have shown me in a starry night." "Jenny," said I,
"without having recourse to magic, I shall give you one plain rule
that will not fail of making you always amiable to a man who has so
great a passion for you, and is of so equal and reasonable a temper,
as Tranquillus. Endeavour to please, and you must please; be always
in the same disposition as you are when you ask for this secret, and
you may take my word you will never want it. An inviolable
fidelity, good-humour, and complacency of temper outlive all the
charms of a fine face, and make the decays of it invisible."

We discoursed very long upon this head, which was equally agreeable
to us both; for I must confess, as I tenderly love her, I take as
much pleasure in giving her instructions for her welfare as she
herself does in receiving them. I proceeded, therefore, to
inculcate these sentiments by relating a very particular passage
that happened within my own knowledge.

There were several of us making merry at a friend's house in a
country village, when the sexton of the parish church entered the
room in a sort of surprise, and told us "that, as he was digging a
grave in the chancel, a little blow of his pick-axe opened a decayed
coffin, in which there were several written papers." Our curiosity
was immediately raised, so that we went to the place where the
sexton had been at work, and found a great concourse of people about
the grave. Among the rest there was an old woman, who told us the
person buried there was a lady whose name I did not think fit to
mention, though there is nothing in the story but what tends very
much to her honour. This lady lived several years an exemplary
pattern of conjugal love, and, dying soon after her husband, who
every way answered her character in virtue and affection, made it
her death-bed request, "that all the letters which she had received
from him both before and after her marriage should be buried in the
coffin with her." These I found, upon examination, were the papers
before us. Several of them had suffered so much by time that I
could only pick out a few words; as my soul! lilies! roses! dearest
angel! and the like. One of them, which was legible throughout, ran
thus:

"MADAM,
"If you would know the greatness of my love, consider that of
your own beauty. That blooming countenance, that snowy bosom, that
graceful person return every moment to my imagination; the
brightness of your eyes hath hindered me from closing mine since I
last saw you. You may still add to your beauties by a smile. A
frown will make me the most wretched of men, as I am the most
passionate of lovers."

It filled the whole company with a deep melancholy to compare the
description of the letter with the person that occasioned it, who
was now reduced to a few crumbling bones and a little mouldering
heap of earth. With much ado I deciphered another letter, which
began with, "My dear, dear wife." This gave me a curiosity to see
how the style of one written in marriage differed from one written
in courtship. To my surprise, I found the fondness rather augmented
than lessened, though the panegyric turned upon a different
accomplishment. The words were as follows:

"Before this short absence from you, I did not know that I
loved you so much as I really do; though, at the same time, I
thought I loved you as much as possible. I am under great
apprehensions lest you should have any uneasiness whilst I am
defrauded of my share in it, and cannot think of tasting any
pleasures that you do not partake with me. Pray, my dear, be
careful of your health, if for no other reason but because you know
I could not outlive you. It is natural in absence to make
professions of an inviolable constancy; but towards so much merit it
is scarce a virtue, especially when it is but a bare return to that
of which you have given me such continued proofs ever since our
first acquaintance. I am," etc.

It happened that the daughter of these two excellent persons was by
when I was reading this letter. At the sight of the coffin, in
which was the body of her mother near that of her father, she melted
into a flood of tears. As I had heard a great character of her
virtue, and observed in her this instance of filial piety, I could
not resist my natural inclination of giving advice to young people,
and therefore addressed myself to her. "Young lady," said I, "you
see how short is the possession of that beauty in which nature has
been so liberal to you. You find the melancholy sight before you is
a contradiction to the first letter that you heard on that subject;
whereas you may observe, the second letter, which celebrates your
mother's constancy, is itself, being found in this place, an
argument of it. But, madam, I ought to caution you not to think the
bodies that lie before you your father and your mother. Know, their
constancy is rewarded by a nobler union than by this mingling of
their ashes, in a state where there is no danger or possibility of a
second separation."

XXVI.--MR. BICKERSTAFF'S NEPHEWS.

From my own Apartment, June 16.

The vigilance, the anxiety, the tenderness, which I have for the
good people of England, I am persuaded, will in time be much
commended; but I doubt whether they will be ever rewarded. However,
I must go on cheerfully in my work of reformation: that being my
great design, I am studious to prevent my labours increasing upon
me; therefore am particularly observant of the temper and
inclinations of childhood and youth, that we may not give vice and
folly supplies from the growing generation. It is hardly to be
imagined how useful this study is, and what great evils or benefits
arise from putting us in our tender years to what we are fit or
unfit; therefore on Tuesday last, with a design to sound their
inclinations, I took three lads, who are under my guardianship,
a-rambling, in a hackney-coach, to show them the town; as the lions,
the tombs, Bedlam, and the other places which are entertainments to
raw minds because they strike forcibly on the fancy. The boys are
brothers, one of sixteen, the other of fourteen, the other of
twelve. The first was his father's darling, the second his
mother's, and the third is mine, who am their uncle. Mr. William is
a lad of true genius; but, being at the upper end of a great school,
and having all the boys below him, his arrogance is insupportable.
If I begin to show a little of my Latin, he immediately interrupts:
"Uncle, under favour, that which you say is not understood in that
manner." "Brother," says my boy Jack, "you do not show your manners
much in contradicting my uncle Isaac!" "You queer cur," says Mr.
William, "do you think my uncle takes any notice of such a dull
rogue as you are?" Mr. William goes on, "He is the most stupid of
all my mother's children; he knows nothing of his book; when he
should mind that, he is hiding or hoarding his taws and marbles, or
laying up farthings. His way of thinking is, four-and-twenty
farthings make sixpence, and two sixpences a shilling; two shillings
and sixpence half a crown, and two half crowns five shillings. So
within these two months the close hunks has scraped up twenty
shillings, and we will make him spend it all before he comes home."
Jack immediately claps his hands into both pockets, and turns as
pale as ashes. There is nothing touches a parent, and such I am to
Jack, so nearly as a provident conduct. This lad has in him the
true temper for a good husband, a kind father, and an honest
executor. All the great people you see make considerable figures on
the exchange, in court, and sometimes in senates, are such as in
reality have no greater faculty than what may be called human
instinct, which is a natural tendency to their own preservation, and
that of their friends, without being capable of striking out of the
road for adventures. There is Sir William Scrip was of this sort of
capacity from his childhood; he has brought the country round him,
and makes a bargain better than Sir Harry Wildfire, with all his wit
and humour. Sir Harry never wants money but he comes to Scrip,
laughs at him half an hour, and then gives bond for the other
thousand. The close men are incapable of placing merit anywhere but
in their pence, and therefore gain it; while others, who have larger
capacities, are diverted from the pursuit by enjoyments which can be
supported only by that cash which they despise; and therefore are in
the end slaves to their inferiors both in fortune and understanding.
I once heard a man of excellent sense observe, that more affairs in
the world failed by being in the hands of men of too large
capacities for their business, than by being in the conduct of such
as wanted abilities to execute them. Jack, therefore, being of a
plodding make, shall be a citizen: and I design him to be the
refuge of the family in their distress, as well as their jest in
prosperity. His brother Will shall go to Oxford with all speed,
where, if he does not arrive at being a man of sense, he will soon
be informed wherein he is a coxcomb. There is in that place such a
true spirit of raillery and humour, that if they cannot make you a
wise man, they will certainly let you know you are a fool; which is
all my cousin wants, to cease to be so. Thus having taken these two
out of the way, I have leisure to look at my third lad. I observe
in the young rogue a natural subtlety of mind, which discovers
itself rather in forbearing to declare his thoughts on any occasion,
than in any visible way of exerting himself in discourse. For which
reason I will place him where, if he commits no faults, he may go
further than those in other stations, though they excel in virtues.
The boy is well fashioned, and will easily fall into a graceful
manner; wherefore I have a design to make him a page to a great lady
of my acquaintance; by which means he will be well skilled in the
common modes of life, and make a greater progress in the world by
that knowledge than with the greatest qualities without it. A good
mien in a court will carry a man greater lengths than a good
understanding in any other place. We see a world of pains taken,
and the best years of life spent in collecting a set of thoughts in
a college for the conduct of life, and, after all the man so
qualified shall hesitate in his speech to a good suit of clothes,
and want common sense before an agreeable woman. Hence it is that
wisdom, valour, justice, and learning cannot keep a man in
countenance that is possessed of these excellences, if he wants that
inferior art of life and behaviour called good breeding. A man
endowed with great perfections, without this, is like one who has
his pockets full of gold but always wants change for his ordinary
occasions.

Will Courtly is a living instance of this truth, and has had the
same education which I am giving my nephew. He never spoke a thing
but what was said before, and yet can converse with the wittiest men
without being ridiculous. Among the learned, he does not appear
ignorant; nor with the wise, indiscreet. Living in conversation
from his infancy makes him nowhere at a loss; and a long familiarity
with the persons of men is, in a manner, of the same service to him
as if he knew their arts. As ceremony is the invention of wise men
to keep fools at a distance, so good breeding is an expedient to
make fools and wise men equals.

My three nephews, whom, in June last twelve-month, I disposed of
according to their several capacities and inclinations; the first to
the university, the second to a merchant, and the third to a woman
of quality as her page, by my invitation dined with me to-day. It
is my custom often, when I have a mind to give myself a more than
ordinary cheerfulness, to invite a certain young gentlewoman of our
neighbourhood to make one of the company. She did me that favour
this day. The presence of a beautiful woman of honour, to minds
which are not trivially disposed, displays an alacrity which is not
to be communicated by any other object. It was not unpleasant to
me, to look into her thoughts of the company she was in. She smiled
at the party of pleasure I had thought of for her, which was
composed of an old man and three boys. My scholar, my citizen, and
myself, were very soon neglected; and the young courtier, by the bow
he made to her at her entrance, engaged her observation without a
rival. I observed the Oxonian not a little discomposed at this
preference, while the trader kept his eye upon his uncle. My nephew
Will had a thousand secret resolutions to break in upon the
discourse of his younger brother, who gave my fair companion a full
account of the fashion, and what was reckoned most becoming to this
complexion, and what sort of habit appeared best upon the other
shape. He proceeded to acquaint her, who of quality was well or
sick within the bills of mortality, and named very familiarly all
his lady's acquaintance, not forgetting her very words when he spoke
of their characters. Besides all this he had a load of flattery;
and upon her inquiring what sort of woman Lady Lovely was in her
person, "Really, madam," says the jackanapes, "she is exactly of
your height and shape; but as you are fair, she is a brown woman."
There was no enduring that this fop should outshine us all at this
unmerciful rate; therefore I thought fit to talk to my young scholar
concerning his studies; and, because I would throw his learning into
present service, I desired him to repeat to me the translation he
had made of some tender verses in Theocritus. He did so, with an
air of elegance peculiar to the college to which I sent him. I made
some exceptions to the turn of the phrases; which he defended with
much modesty, as believing in that place the matter was rather to
consult the softness of a swain's passion than the strength of his
expressions. It soon appeared that Will had outstripped his brother
in the opinion of our young lady. A little poetry, to one who is
bred a scholar, has the same effect that a good carriage of his
person has on one who is to live in courts. The favour of women is
so natural a passion, that I envied both the boys their success in
the approbation of my guest; and I thought the only person
invulnerable was my young trader. During the whole meal, I could
observe in the children a mutual contempt and scorn of each other,
arising from their different way of life and education, and took
that occasion to advertise them of such growing distastes, which
might mislead them in their future life, and disappoint their
friends, as well as themselves, of the advantages which might be
expected from the diversity of their professions and interests.

The prejudices which are growing up between these brothers from the
different ways of education are what create the most fatal
misunderstandings in life. But all distinctions of disparagement,
merely from our circumstances, are such as will not bear the
examination of reason. The courtier, the trader, and the scholar,
should all have an equal pretension to the denomination of a
gentleman. That tradesman who deals with me in a commodity which I
do not understand, with uprightness, has much more right to that
character than the courtier who gives me false hopes, or the scholar
who laughs at my ignorance.

The appellation of gentleman is never to be affixed to a man's
circumstances, but to his behaviour in them. For this reason I
shall ever, as far as I am able, give my nephews such impressions as
shall make them value themselves rather as they are useful to
others, than as they are conscious of merit in themselves. There
are no qualities for which we ought to pretend to the esteem of
others but such as render us serviceable to them: for "free men
have no superiors but benefactors."

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