and humility, which we applaud in those records of the dead, we slightly regard in our intercourse with the living. The jealousy of a competitor is an insuperable obstacle to esteem. But of the competition of the dead we have no jealousy: for they arrogate no substantial rewards; their reputation anticipates no promotions which we seek, no emoluments which we covet; and therefore their praise is heard without the pang of envy or the fear of rivalship.

“ This contrast of opinions, of which we have daily experience in our own breasts, is an important object of attention to him who truly desires to attain a knowledge of his own character. It furnishes that species of proof which is attended with direct conviction, and which it is impossible to resist. We are compelled to acknowledge the depravity of our hearts : for where the same objects create opposite perceptions, the error must be in him who perceives them.

“ The effect of this change in our opinions, in substantiating, if I may so say, our defects, is never so perceptible as when, on the death of a person who was well known to us, we compare the idea we formed of his character when alive, with that which we now entertain of him. His excellences and defects are now more impartially estimated. On the former, the memory dwells with peculiar satisfaction, and indulges a melancholy pleasure in bestowing its tribute of approbation. On the latter, we kindly throw the veil of charitable alleviation: we reflect on our own imbecility; we find apologies for another in the weakness of our own nature, and impute the error of the individual to the imperfection of the species.

“ But, above all, should it happen that the person thus removed by death was one who had approved himself our friend, and whose kind affections we had repeatedly experienced, the difference we now per



ceive in our estimcte of such a character, is apt to strike the mind with the most forcible conviction of our own unworthiness. Memory is industrious to torment us with the recollection of numberless instances of merit we have overlooked, of kindness we have not returned, of services repaid with cold neglect. The injury we have done is aggravated by the reflection that it cannot be repaired; for he whose life was perhaps imbittered by our ingratitude, is now insensible to our contrition.

“ Ah, Sir! the man who now writes to you bears witness himself to the misery of that feeling which he describes. He who now addresses you was once blest with the affection of the best, the most amiable of women. When I married my Maria, engaged to her by that esteem which an acquaintance almost from infancy had produced, I knew not half her worth. The situation in which she was now placed, brought to my view many points of excellence which were before undiscovered. Must I own to my shame, that the possession of this treasure dimi. nished its value? Fool that I was ! I knew not my own happiness till I had for ever lost it. Six years were the short period of our union. Would to Heaven that term were yet to live again! I loved Maria :-Severely as I am now disposed to review my past conduct, I cannot reproach myself with a failure in affection. But what human being could have been insensible to loveliness, to worth, to tenderness like hers? Poor was that affection which often preferred the most trivial selfish gratification to her wishes or requests; and of small value was that regard, which a sudden gust of passion could, at times, entirely obliterate.

“ It was my character, Sir, as that of many, to see the path of duty and propriety, but to have the weakness to be for ever deviating from it. Educated in a respectable sphere of life, but possessing a narrow income, which with strict economy was barely sufficient to maintain with decency that station which we occupied, it was the care of my Maria to superintend herself the minutest artitle of our domestic concerns, and thus to retrench a variety of the ordinary expenses of a family, from her own perfect skill in every useful accomplishment of her sex. Though fond of society, and formed to shine in it; though not insensible to admiration, and what woman with her graces of person could have been insensible to it; though possessing the becoming pride of appearing among her equals with equal advantages of dress and ornament; she sparingly indulged in gratifications which ill accorded with our limited fortune. She weighed with admirable discretion the greater against the lesser duties of life, and made no scruple to sacrifice the one, when they interfered ever so little with the performance of the other.

“ Shall I own, that to me, thoughtless, extravagant, and vain, the conduct of this excellent woman appeared oftener to merit blame than approbation ? Regardless of consequences, and careless of the future, while I enjoyed the present, I censured that moderation, which was a continual reproach to my own profuseness. Incapable of imitating her example, I denied that it was meritorious; and what in her was real magnanimity, I, with equal weakness and ingratitude, attributed to poorness of spirit. How shall I describe to you, Sir, her mild and gentle demeanour, the patience with which she bore the most unmerited reproofs, the tender solicitude and endearing efforts which she used, to wean me from those ruinous indulgences to which vanity or appetite was continually prompting me! Too often were these efforts repaid by me with splenetic indifference, or checked at once by sarcasm or by anger.

“ 'Tis but a poor alleviation of the anguish I feel for these reflections, to remember, that, even while my Maria lived, the esteem which I sincerely felt for her virtues, the affection which I really bore her, and the sense I had of her tenderness, wrung my heart at times with the deepest remorse, and prompted me to atone for my injustice by the warmest expressions of kindness and regard. Many a time, Sir, in those tranquil moments, when no wayward inclination or peevish humour overpowered my better feelings, have I firmly resolved, that my future conduct should make ample reparation for the offences of the past. Nor were these resolutions altogether fruitless ; for, while under the influence of this salutary conviction of my errors, I have so far amended them as to feel for a time a genuine relish for calm and domestic happiness. . But

But how short this dawning of amendment! A new temptation presented itself, and my weak resolution yielded to the force of returning passion. With my former errors I resumed the despicable pride of justifying them, and every deviation from duty was aggravated by harshness and ill-humour.

“Ever offending, and ever purposing to atone for my offences, I have now irretrievably lost the opportunity. That best of women is now no more. I have received her latest breath, and heard her last supplication, which was a prayer to Heaven to pour its blessings on the most unworthy of men !

“ Here let me end this letter--no words can express the feelings which these reflections convey to the breast of


No. 8. SATURDAY, MARCH 26, 1785.


I AM greatly pleased, Mr. LOUNGER, with your account of yourself, and your innocent and useful manner of sliding through the bustle of life. I sincerely wish that many of my friends and visitors would follow your example, and learn to be idle without disturbing those who are obliged, from their situation, to be busy. I suffer daily so much from the intrusion of a set of female Loungers, forgive me for using your title, that it has prompted me to address mysslf to you, in hopes that you will, in some of your future essays, teach my unfortunately idle friends how to employ their tedious forenoons, without obliging me to be as idle as themselves. But to make you, Sir, fully sensible how much I suffer from ladies who cannot kill time at home, I must inform you, that I am the wife of a gentleman whose fortune has been made by a steady application to a branch of business that obliges both him and me to be extremely attentive to those who employ him. A family of seven children makes it necessary for him still to continue in business. Our sons are attending such branches of education as will fit them for the

different employments they have chosen. Our three daughters I am attemping to educate under my own eye, as the present boarding-schools and governesses are much too expensive for people of our moderate fortune. I find so much pleasure in superintending every part of my daughters' education,

« VorigeDoorgaan »