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N'8i. TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 15,1780.
To the Author of the Mirror.
Some time ago you inserted in your paper a letter from a lady who subscribed herself S. M. giving an account of the hardships she has suffered as the daughter of a man of fortune, educated in the midst of affluence, and then left to the support of a very slender provision. I own the situation to be a hard one; but it may, perhaps, afford her some consolation to be told, that there are others, seemingly enviable, which are yet as distressful, that derive their distresses from circumstances exactly the reverse of those in which Miss S. M. is placed.
I lost my father, a gentleman of considerable fortune, at an age so early, that his death has scarce left any traces on my mind. I can only recollect that there was something of bustle, as well as of sorrow, all over the house; that my coloured sash was changed for a black one; and that I was not allowed to drink papa's health after dinner, which, before, I had been taught regularly to do. Soon after, I can remember my mamma being sick, and that there was a little brother born who was much more attended to than I. As we grew up, I can remember his getting finer play-things, and being oftener the subject of discourse among our visitors; and that sometimes, when there were little quarrels in the qitrsery, Billy's maid would tell mine, that Miss must wait till her betters were served.
A superiority to which I was so early accustomed, it gave me little uneasiness to bear. The vivacity natural to children, which in me was supported by uninterrupted good health, left me no leisure to complain of a preference, by which, though my brother was distinguished, he was seldom or never made happier. The notice, indeed, to which his birthright entitled him, was often more a hardship than a privilege. He was frequently kept in the drawing-room with mamma, when he would have much rather been with me in the garden; he was made to repeat his lesson to the company, that they might admire his parts and his progress, while I was suffered to be playing blindman's-buff below stairs; he was set at dinner with the old folks, helped to light things that would not hurt him, obliged to drink toast and water, and to behave himself like a gentleman, while I was allowed to devour apple-dumplin, gulp down small-beer, and play monkey-tricks at the side-table.
That care, however, which watched his health, was not repaid with success; he was always more delicate, and more subject to little disorders, than I; and at last, after completing his seventh year, was seized with a fever, which,, in a few days, put an end to his life, and transferred to me the inheritance of my ancestors.
After the first transports of my mother's grief were subsided, she began to apply herself to the care of her surviving child. I was now become inheritress of her anxiety, as well as of my father's fortune; a remarkable change was made in every department of my education, my company, and my amusements. Instead of going along with a set of other girls of my own age to a class for learning French, and a public writing-school, teachers were brought into the house to instruct me privately; and though 1 still went to a dancing-school three days in the week to practise the lessons which I received from an eminent master at home, yet I was always attended by my mother, my governess, or somebody, by whose side I was stuck up before and after the dance, to the great vexation of myself and the ridicule of my former companions. Of companions, indeed, I was now altogether deprived. I was too considerable a person to associate with those in whose sports and amusemenis 1 had formerly been so happy to share; if at any time I ventured to mention a wish for their society, I was immediately checked by an observation of my mamma, that she believed they were very good girls, but not fit company for me.
To prevent the solitude in which my superiority would have thus placed me, a little girl, an orphan niece of my mother's maid, was taken into the house, whose office it was to attend me during all my hours of study or amusement, to hold the pincushion while my maid was dressing me, to get lessons along with me, and be chid if I neglected them; to play games at Draughts, which she was never to win, and to lift the Shuttlecock, which I commonly let fall; in short, she was to serve me for the practice of all that insolence which the precepts of others had taught me I had a right to assume. I feel, at this moment, Mr. Mirror, the most sincere compunction for the hardships which this poor girl suffered while she was with me; hardships, from which, at last, she freed herself, by running off with a recruiting serjeant; yet I was taught, at the time, to call her subsistence a bounty, and to account myself generous when I bestowed any trifle beyond it.
While my mind was thus encouraged in perversion, the culture of my body was little less preposterous. The freedom and exercise which formerly bestowed health and vigour, I now exchanged for the constraints of fashion, and the laziness of pride. Every shackle of dress which the daughters of any great man were understood to wear, I was immediately provided with, because I could afford it as well as they. I was never allowed the use of my limbs, because I could afford a coach; and, when attacked by the slightest disorder, immediate recourse was had to the physician, because I could afford a fee. The consequence was natural; I lost all my former spirits, as well as my former bloom; and, when I first put on the womanly garb, I was a fine lady complete, with cheeks as pale, and nerves as weak, as the finest.
I was now arrived at a period when attention and anxiety were to be pointed almost solely to one object, the disposal of my person in marriage. With regard to this event, 1 was equally the slave of my mother's hopes and fears. I was dressed and redressed, squeezed and pinched, that I might catch a fine gentleman who had lately returned from his travels. I was often hurried several miles in the dark to a ball at our country town, to display myself to a Lord, who was to be of the party there; I was walked over hedge and ditch, in order to captivate a country 'squire of a very large estate in our neighbourhood; and I was once obliged to hazard my neck, that I might go out a- hunting with a Duke. On the other hand, I was in perfect durance when any improper man had been seen to look at me. I was forced to leave the parish-church, upon information received of a young gentleman having bribed the beadle with a shilling, to admit him into the next pew; my dancing-master was changed, because his wife died while he was attending me; and my drawing-master, an old batchelor of threescore, was dismissed because he happened to put his hand on mine in shewing me how to manage my Crayons. The only poor man with whom I was allowed to associate was the clergyman of our parish, a very old gentleman of the most irreproachable character. To this indulgence, however, I was more indebted than my mother was aware, or I had any reason to hope. Possessed of excellent sense and great learning, the good man was at pains to teach me the use of the first, and the value of the latter. By his assistance, my mind, which before had always been either uncultivated or misled, was informed with knowledge more useful than the extent of my fortune, or the privileges of my birth. He shewed me the folly of pride, and the meanness of insolence; he taught me the respect due to merit, the tenderness to poverty, the reverence to misfortune; from him I first learnt the dignity of condescension, the pleasures of civility, the luxury of beneficence. He died, alas! before I could receive the full benefit of his instructions, before he was able to eradicate the effects of early perversion and habitual indulgence; and left me rather in a condition to feel the weakness of my mind, than to recover its strength.
VOL. XXXVIi. ¥
My mother did not long survive him. I had been forced to see the errors of her judgment, though I could never doubt the warmth of her affection. I was unfortunate enough to lose her assistance, when her assistance would have been more useful and her indulgence less prejudicial. In the management of my fortune, which has now devolved on me, I am perplexed with business which I do not understand, and harassed by applications which I know not how to answer. I am sometimes puzzled with schemes for improving my estate, sometimes frightened with dangers that threaten to