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the most vacant hours will generally be informed by taste, or enlivened by imagination ; but with men destitute of that sentiment which they inspire, pleasure will commonly degenerate into grossness, conviviality into intemperance, and mirth into riot.
Mr. Melfort is one of my friend Mr. Umphraville's early acquaintance, who continues to reside in this city, and of whom he still retains some resemblance.
That gentleman, in his youth, had applied to the study of the law, and was admitted to the bar; but having soon alter succeeded to a tolerable fortune, he derives no other benefit from his profession than an apology for residing part of the year in town, and such a general acquaintance there, as enables him to spend his time in that society which is suited to his disposition. He is often, indeed, to be seen in court; but he comes there only as he does to the coffee-house, to inquire after the news of the day, or to form a party for some of those dinners which he usually gives. In my friend's last visit to town, he met with this gentleman, and came under an engagement to dine with him. I was asked to be of the party, and attended him accordingly.
The company was a large one. Besides Mrs. Melfort and her two daughters, there were three other young ladies who appeared to be intimate in the family. The male part of the company was still more numerous. It consisted, beside our landlord, Mr. Umphraville, and myself, of two lawyers, a physician, a jolly-looking man, in the uniform of a seaofficer, and a gentleman advanced in life, who had somewhat of the air and manner of a foreigner, and I afterwards learned, had left this country at an early age, and lived chiefly abroad ever since.
Mr. Umphraville, who was seated next Mrs. Mel
fort, seemed not less pleased with the conversation than with the manners of that lady, who is indeed perfectly well-bred and accomplished; and the stranger, whose name was Melville, appeared equally to relish the spirit which distinguished the discourse of Mr. Umphraville. I had early observed him to mark my old friend, as a member of the company not the least worthy of his attention.
The dinner was succeeded by a round of toasts, during which the ladies received scarce any other mark of attention from the company, Mr. Umphraville, Mr. Melville, and myself, excepted, than that of Mr. Melfort's calling for their toasts, which he always distinguished, by desiring us to fill a bumper.
Immediately after this ceremony was ended, they withdrew; a circumstance which seemed nowise disagreeable to the company they left, the greatest part of whom had hitherto sat mute, and plainly felt the presence of the ladies a restraint on the freedom and jollity of conversation.
They had no sooner retired, than Mr. Melfort, raising himself in his chair, announced a bumper to the ladies who had left us; an order which was readily complied with, and seemed to spread an air of satisfaction around the table. The sea-captain said, he was glad the frigates had sheered off; • and, now,' added he, if you please, Mr. Melfort, as the signal is given, we may clear the decks and form the line of battle.'
The Captain's joke was applauded with a loud laugh; during which honest Umphraville, whose face is no hypocrite, cast to my side of the table a look of displeasure and contempt, which I was at no loss to interpret. Meantime the servants removed one half of the table, that we might sit sociably, as Mr. Melfort termed it, round the other, which was immediately furnished with a set of fresh glasses, and cleared of every incumbrance that might retard the circulation of the bottle.
Our friends, who had been so silent during the presence of the ladies, now began to take their revenge, and enlarge their share of the conversation in proportion to the number of bumpers they swallowed; they, vied with each other in the number of their stories and their jokes; all of which seemed to be equally relished: and not the less so, that they now became somewhat loose and licentious.
Mr. Melville had at first endeavoured, though in a very easy and polite manner, to give somewhat of a more refined turn to the conversation; but his.endeavours, though supported by a good deal of wit and vivacity, could not long withstand the general disposition of the company. He now found himself as little able to relish their merriment as Mr. Umphraville, next whom he was seated; and they had begun to enter into conversation of a very different kind, when Umphraville received a slap, on the shoulder from one of the company, who at the same time reminded him that he was hunted.
My friend was at first startled with a familiarity to which he was little accustomed; having recovered his composure, however, he thanked the gentleman, though with an air rather formal and reserved, for his attention, and drank off his bumper. But having, it seems, left a little more than was proper in the bottom of his glass, he was saluted with a call of · No keeltaps” from another corner of the table. This enigmatical advice being explained to him, he complied with it also, saying, however, with his natural firmness of tone and manner, That it was his rule to fill and drink his.glass when and how he pleased ; and that, as he had already gone greater lengths than vusual, Mr. Melfort must excuse him if he did not now depart from it.'
I saw that Mr. Umphraville'was now heartily tired of the company, and was not sorry when, a little after this incident, both he and Mr. Melville withdrew. Having remained long enough to witness some jocular remarks to which this gave occasion, I followed them to the drawing-room, where I found they were much more agreeably employed in drinking coffee with Mrs. Melfort, while one of her daughters obliged my old friend by playing some Scots airs upon the harpsichord, which the other accompanied with a voice equally sweet and expressive.
The conversation which succeeded, was supported » in an easy agreeable manner, by Mr. Melville and the ladies, with that mixture of serious remark which made it not unpleasing to Mr. Umphraville; nor did he suffer in their opinion by the part he occasionally took in 'it. The silent approbation of his countenance, during the performance of the young ladies, and the observations which it gave him an opportunity of making on the character of our native music, had already made the old gentleman a favourite; nor were the rest of the company displeased with the turn of his sentiments, when he complained, that the drawing-rooms, where, in his younger days, the ladies and gentlemen were accustomed to the company of each other, were now almost totally deserted; and that, as far as he could observe, amidst the boasted refinement of modern manners, the gentlemen paid less attention to the ladies, both- in public places and in private society, than they had done fifty years ago.
After some time passed in this manner, the noise of laughter and of vociferation on the stairs announced the approach of Mr. Melfort and his company. The physician, and one of the lawyers, were indeed the only members of it who had chosen to attend him to the drawing-room; both of whom were prodigipusly flustered ; and yet, to my astonishment, they
contrived to put a decent face upon it, and fell into fewer improprieties than could have been expected. A drawing-room, however, was not their element; and, after swallowing a little coffee, they withdrew, leaving honest Melfort fast asleep in a corner of the settee.
Mr. Umphraville and I took our leave. We were scarce out of the house when he exclaimed,
Q.rus! quando ego te aspiciam ?! And, after a little pause, Good God !' said he, • Charles, can such scenes be common at poor Melfort's? To what a degree must he have lost all respect for himself and all taste for true happiness, who, for such society as we have this day witnessed, can forego the agreeable conversation of his own family, or who can allow the elegance of their amusements to be disturbed by the intrusion of his loose and riotous companions ?'
I represented to my friend that he saw, the matter in too strong a light. I observed that the excess on this occasion had probably been greater than usual ; Mr. Melfort was nowise singular in the manner of entertaining his friends ; that, in this country, the general opinion justified the observation of the poet, • Fecundi calices quem non fecere disertum ;' that wine was supposed necessary to remove the natural reserve of our manner, and give a proper degree of ease and spirit to our conversation. As to the appearance of Melfort and his frierds in the drawing-room, I observed, that a little habit made the occasional intrusion of a drunken company be considered as a sort of interlude, which ladies could bear without uneasiness; and, at any rate, as it was an equal chance that their future husbands would give such dinners, and receive such guests, as their father did, it might not be im