“Confessions of a Novel Reader,” by A. (from Southern Literary Messenger, March 1839; pp. 179-193)
Disappointed in my prospects, dissatisfied with myself, and soured with the world, I have resolved, at the age of sixty-five, to record the history, not so much of my adventures, as of my mind, and to trace, in the errors of my education, the causes of those disasters that have embittered my past life. I cannot hope, at this late period, to repair those errors, or to reform the defects of my mind and character; yet I shall not have lived in vain, if, by recalling he accidents of an idle and unprofitable life, I may reclaim one human being from the indulgence of that fatal propensity, which has reduced me to the condition of a miserable drone, unfit for any steady occupation. Philosophy teaches by examples to be shunned, as well as to be imitated. In reviewing my career, I have not to reproach myself with any gross vices; but time misspent, talents misapplied, opportunities neglected, have entailed on me the calamities, if not the guilt, of dissipation. At an early age I acquired a taste for novel reading, and indulged it to such an excess, that my mind was enervated, and its relish destroyed for higher and more solid attainments. I feel that I had a capacity for better things; but, under the ascendancy of this idle habit, it sunk into a fatal lethargy, from which neither shame nor ambition could awaken it. The drunkard, in the intervals of sobriety, feels most keenly the evils of intoxication, and, if self love allowed him to be candid, could a tale unfold of disease, of mental and bodily suffering, that would do more for the cause of temperance than all the societies in the world have ever accomplished. The excitement of novel reading is akin to intoxication. When it subsides, it leaves the mind collapsed and imbecile, without the capacity or the inclination for active exertion. I question, whether the confessions of an opium-eater exhibit more striking evidences of the pernicious influence of that stimulating drug on the physical system, than the experience of an habitual novel reader can furnish of the injurious effects, produced on his mental organization by the constant perusal of works of fiction. By the results of my own experience, I desire to warn my young cotemporaries of the danger of yielding too much to the fascination of these seductive works. In this age, when the press groans under the multitude of these productions, when every department of literature is stuffed and spiced with the effusions of fancy, that it may cater to the prevailing taste, it might be a profitable speculation to inquire, whether we are not feeding the imagination a the expense of the other faculties,—whether this stimulating regimen has not produced a kind of intellectual dyspepsia, whose diseased appetite relishes only the exaggerations of fable, while it rejects and loathes the wholesome nourishment supplied by works of practical usefulness. But let me not be understood as advising entire abstinence from this kind of reading, though that is the favorite panacea in all those gratifications which have a proneness to excess; a proclivity proper to all pleasurable emotions. Religion and philosophy have not disdained to invoke the aid of fiction, and to employ its allurements in the dissemination of truth; and it must be confessed, that many of our contemporary novels evince talents of a high order, taste, imagination, fertility of invention, and a deep knowledge of human nature. Such works, if read with a critical eye, and as a relaxation from severer studies, must conduce to the cultivation of the taste, and to the formation of sober views of life. Yet I question, whether even these are not read by most people, rather for the interest of the narrative, than for the beauty of style, the ingenuity of plot, or the lessons of moral wisdom, which they exhibit. But I have been insensibly led from my purpose by this disquisition. I hate long preambles, and have always thought the introductions, prefixed by Scott to his novels, the greatest blemishes in those delightful fictions. I like a writer or speaker who enters at once in medias res without the formality of an exordium.
To proceed then with my tale; I was born of respectable parentage, in a part of Virginia not necessary to be mentioned. Neither do I think it essential to the purposes of my story to impart my name, more especially as I have some private reasons for withholding that piece of information. This departure from established rules will, doubtless, expose me to the censure of those who are curious in such matters, and who hold it indispensable, i the construction of a tale, to assign the hero a “local habitation and a name.” But, as I acknowledge no allegiance to their canons of criticism, I conceive myself entitled, in revealing the private transactions of my life, to limit the extent of the disclosure. The circumstances of my family, though moderate, were sufficient to supply the means of giving me a liberal education. My father, with very limited opportunities, had qualified himself for the practice of the law, and, by his success in that profession, had amassed an honorable independence. He designed to prepare me for the same calling, and hoped, by affording me every facility of improvement, to remove from my path the impedi-
ments which retarded his own progress in early life. The imperfect education, which he possessed, had been acquired, for the most part, by his own unaided exertions; and those efforts, the fruit of necessity, had imparted to his mind habits of application and self-reliance, the certain passports to distinction in every pursuit. It is this constant struggled with difficulties, this training as it were in an intellectual gymnasium, this confidence in his own powers derived from the sense of obstacles subdued, that give to the self-taught man a vigor and an energy, seldom displayed by those who have enjoyed greater advantages. My father was no exception to this remark; but, conscious how much he had benefitted by his own slight opportunities of education, he resolved that I should want no means of mental cultivation within the reach of his resources. He fondly expected, that with a mind thus stored with information and disciplined by study, I should be fitted for any station to which my ambition might aspire. How far his hopes were verified will be seen in the sequel.
I was naturally imaginative. From my earliest childhood I was addicted to that visionary propensity of the mind called castle-building. Though not averse to the usual pastimes of my age, I delighted to withdraw from my companions, to repose under some tree in a dreamy abstracted state of mind, lulled by the hum of insects and the song of birds, while bright scenes and forms of loveliness, dim and shadowy like the recollections of a by-gone existence, flitted before my imagination. I would sometimes remain for hours, entranced in these fantasies, and peopling the surrounding solitudes with beings of my own creation. Near my father’s house meandered a small rivulet, whose banks were embowered with copsewood. This was my favorite haunt, and there would I linger, listening to the ripple of the water, and watching the small fishes that played under the banks, till the fears of the family recalled me from my seclusion. In that chosen retreat I could ruminate at pleasure, and without interruption, upon the visions with which my fancy was teaming. Seldom could I be seduced from the enjoyment of these fantastic day-dreams even by the amusements so fascinating to the elastic spirit of childhood. I had then no knowledge of books, and shrunk with repugnance from any occupation which might debar me from these delicious reveries. The idea of going to school, of being imprisoned for hours in a noisy school room, compelled to pore over books which offered nothing to engage my imagination, was most distasteful to me. Against a bondage so irksome, my spirit revolted, and with wayward pertinacity, I resisted every effort to instruct my infant mind. Books and pedagogues became my utter aversion. I acquired the character of an idle, perverse boy, and my parents almost despaired of overcoming my obstinacy. Still, with a natural partiality, they clung to the belief, that I did not want capacity, and that, if my love of knowledge were once kindled, I would realize their most sanguine hopes. By dint of perseverance, I was instructed in the art and mystery of reading, and, to confirm me in the practise of it, I was supplied with story books, garnished with cuts, according to the most approved plan of modern education. These works were miserable catchpennies, compiled, rather than composed, by that numerous class of writers, whom benevolence, or the itch of scribbling, or more probably the desire of profit, has prompted to contribute to the instruction of children. These authors displayed no deep knowledge of the metaphysics of education, and proceeded upon the hypothesis, that the only aim was to arrest the attention, without regarding the objects to which it should be directed. For this purpose, they relied upon their pictures, and on fictions, that set all nature and probability at defiance. Crude, however, as these works were, and barren of invention, they vanquished my abhorrence of books, and, falling in with my original turn for romance, furnished new materials for my solitary ruminations. In my holidays, I was often observed with some fo these tales, rambling through the fields, or resorting to my favorite retreat. My parents were charmed with this apparent fondness for reading. Little did they think, that, while my eyes seemingly wandered over the pages before me, I was chewing the cud of my own fancy, and conjuring up shadows far more enchanting to my mind, that the meagre incidents which they recorded.
The natural bias of my mind to these visionary contemplations, scarcely suspended by the discipline of school, now returned with renovated vigor. My father had in his library many of the old-fashioned novels, tales of love-sick damsels, whose fortune or imprudence involved them in situations, from which no female in real life could escape without a cracked reputation, and whose beauty, while it exposed them, on one side, to the violence of unbridled desire, on the other, raised them up protectors in some highborn and accomplished nobleman, ready to sacrifice the dignity of his rank to the ardor of his love. Some, in the style of the Castle of Otranto, harrowed the soul with supernatural appearances, with bravoes, banditti, trap-doors, sliding-pannels, and all the apparatus of horror and crime. My father, though a man of business and with little leisure for such amusements, had a predilection for books of this description; and, like most ladies of her time, my mother was passionately fond of them. On some occasion, I accidentally glanced at one of these novels. My attention was at once arrested. I devoured it with an eagerness and assiduity, which was thought surprising in a child, and a proof of the precocity of my genius. Such was my anxiety to reach the denouement, that I could scarcely be persuaded to eat or sleep. The abstraction of Hogarth’s newsmonger, whose hat is unconsciously consumed by the candle, while he is absorbed in the pages of some public journal, was surpassed by mine. To confirm my new-born taste for reading, my parents made my uncommon fondness for books the constant theme of remark and commendation. Once formed, they vainly imagined it would render the acquisition of knowledge easy and delightful; not reflecting, that the intoxication of the fancy differs from the vigorous exercise of the higher faculties of intellect, as much as the sports of childhood from the labors of regular industry. I read, in succession and with increased avidity, every novel in my father’s library, and all that I could procure elsewhere. When I had exhausted the whole stock, my only resource was to read them again, till my memory became a vast storehouse of fiction. My mind was so replete with these fables, that I could not refrain from recounting them, in my childish dialect, to my school-companions and the servants, who regarded meas a second
Scherazade. I question whether that accomplished story-teller excited greater admiration and astonishment in her imperial consort. My vanity was tickled, and I fancies myself a miracle of knowledge. My faith in these extravagant narratives, was as implicit as that of Don Quixotte in the romances of chivalry. Their most incredible adventures, I supposed to be ordinary occurrences in real life. These false notions of human nature and of the course of human transactions sunk deep in my mid, and became incorporated, as it were, into its very frame and nature. My subsequent intercourse with the world, thought it has weakened, has never completely obliterated the impressions which I then imbibed. But there was another effect, not less durable or pernicious, which these books produced on my mind. I have mentioned my propensity to solitary musing in early childhood. My reveries were then untinged with gloom, and were replete with soft and pleasing illusions. After having “supped full of the horrors” with which these books abounded, a sombre hue was diffused over my meditation. My imagination was haunted with hideous forms, which chilled the blood, and chased sleep from my pillow. In the stillness of the night, the slightest noises are audible, and I have often laid awake for hours, conceiving the stir of a mouse to be the creak of a trap-door or the jar of a sliding-pannel, and awaiting, with trembling apprehension, the approach of some bandit, or bravo, or spectre, which these sounds announced to my startled fancy. I thought each copse and dingle the haunt of robbers and assassins, and, in terror, I abandoned my accustomed rambles, and my favorite brook. Such was the state of my mind, and such my acquirements at the age of ten years.
My father was too shrewd an observer not to perceive, in some degree, the complexion imparted to my mind and character by the perusal of these books, and supposed, it might be counteracted by diverting my studies into a different channel. For that purpose he engaged me in a course of historical reading, but it appeared to me tame and insipid. The wild creations of fable had so perverted my taste, that I felt no interest in realities. I have seen the story of a lady who applied to David Hume for the loan of a novel. The philosopher furnished her with Plutarch, which interested her greatly as a fiction, till the names of Cæsar and Alexander dispelled the illusion, whereupon she returned the book in disgust. My feelings where akin to those of this learned lady. His credulity and marvellous stories rendered the old Grecian more tolerable to me, than the graver and more authentic historians; yet even his romantic account of the primitive ages of Greece and Rose was tedious, compared to the incredible and unnatural tales, which ahd so captivated my fancy. The perusal of one was a labor of love, while the other was a task, irksome and disagreeable. From compulsion, I waded through the ordinary routine of historical reading, but the events and characters described left no abiding impression on my mind. The memory, I found, is only tenacious of those things which rivet the attention and excite the feelings. My acquirements were estimated by the number of books I had read, and I was supposed to be deeply versed in historical lore when I scarcely retained its most conspicuous features. In after life I have found this no uncommon mistake, having encountered many, who enjoyed the reputation of learning, more from the extent of their reading, than from their capacity to apply it to any practical use.
Though I had been at school for several years, I had always resided beneath the parental roof. The time had now arrived, when it was thought expedient to send me to a boarding-school to be instructed in the ancient classics. Behold me then, at the age of eleven years, placed, for the first time, among strangers; persons devoid of all sympathy with my previous tastes and pursuits, and by no means disposed to tolerate the lofty ideas of my own knowledge and importance, in which I had been nursed. I shall never forget the anguish and sense of utter desolation I experienced for the first three weeks. I felt like a retired student, suddenly transplanted from solitude and meditation, from scenes endeared by long habitude, from tranquil occupations and amusements, to the bustle of a city hotel. The abrupt suspension of old habits and pursuits, the transition from calmness and quiet to clamor and confusion, the rude gaze and intrusive curiosity of the throng, the undisguised derision of many, are whips and scorpions to a sensitive spirit. But, fortunately, the distresses of childhood are evanescent. The tempest of my feelings gradually subsided, and I became partially reconciled to my new situation and associates. The collision with tempers so uncongenial, their unsparing ridicule of every peculiarity of conduct and opinion, their intense selfishness, which compelled me to rely on myself, infused with a new energy into my character, and tended, I doubt not, to correct the original bias of my mind. But the fire was smothered, not extinguished. It smouldered in secret, till at a subsequent period, it kindled into a flame, that blasted my prospects. But I will not anticipate.
My comrades, though rude and selfish, were not unkind. So soon as I adopted their manners and customs, their derision ceased, and they admitted me to their amusements. The master was a stern pedagogue of the old school, who like Dr. Parr, regarded the rod as the only efficient teacher. His compendious system of education consisted only in the judicious application of fear, as an incentive to diligence; but, like the celebrated man I have mentioned, he had not the cruelty to make innate stupidity the subject of his experiments. It was only when he saw, or thought he saw, capacity, united with indolence, that he put on all his terrors. And then, indeed, his port and aspect were alarming. When he scowled beneath the penthouse of his heavy brows upon the unhappy culprit, when he propounded his questions in the voice of a hungry lion, when his extended hand threatened punishment, which was always inevitable, truly the head of Medusa could not have produced more consternation among his pupils. Had he lived in these days, he might, perhaps, have received some valuable hints from the numerous writers on education; but I doubt, whether the progress of his scholars would have been accelerated by their patent recipes. He was an excellent linguist, and, with professional partiality, considered the classics the most important branch of human knowledge.
I am indebted to this inflexible disciplinarian, for four years of diligent application, and for a respectable
proficiency in the ancient languages. Luckily for my improvement, he suspected me of capacity on my first arrival, and was not slow in putting it to the proof. The imaginary terrors, which harrassed me at home, vanished before the real terrors of his brow and voice. He gave me no leisure for reverie or castle-building, nor would he have permitted me to desecrate that abode of classical learning by the presence of a novel. Such frivolous productions and their writers he held in utter contempt; nor did he think any composition of sufficient dignity to attract his notice, which did not contribute to the illustration and advancement of classical knowledge. Those writers only, who lighted their midnight lamps at the shrine of ancient literature, commanded his reverence. “The rest were only leather and prunella.” Under the auspices of this able pedagogue, I advanced with a sure and steady step in the career of improvement, and, at the end of four years, was restored to my family, with the reputation of a diligent boy and a good classical scholar. I am now satisfied, that nothing but this rigid discipline could have produced such a result, or suppressed so long the visionary and romantic propensities so deeply rooted in my character. My disgust with the study of the dead languages was at first so vehement, that but for the fear of punishment, I am sure I should never have been induced to apply myself to them, nor was that disgust ever completely extinguished.
After my return from school, I remained at home a year, before I was sent to college; fatal interval of idleness, in which the fruits of bitterness, that poisoned my future existence, had time to ripen! Having no regular occupation, I resumed, at once, my old habits. The novels, which in the lapse of four years had insensibly faded from my recollection, were again perused with undiminished zest and eagerness, and my romantic propensities, suppressed for a season, not destroyed, received a new and powerful impetus.
I was at an age when the unfledged youth begins to feel the earliest emotions of manhood. The first symptom of that change, so pregnant with good or evil to the future man, is the admiration of the other sex, hitherto viewed with shyness and indifference. I now felt my pulse quickened by the approach of beauty, and began to have some conception of that passion, whose influence on the happiness of mankind formed the chief subject of my favorite romances. With a mind so strongly imbued with the spirit of these extravagant fictions, it was not surprising that I should invest some ordinary girl with the attractions of a heroine, and make her the goddess of my idolatry. I found a subject for my imagination to act upon in the daughter of my father’s overseer, a pretty girl just budding into womanhood, but withal vulgar and illiterate. Heated to enthusiasm by visions of ideal loveliness, beauty was inseparably associated in my mind with every female perfection and accomplishment. The disparity of our situations presented no impediment; for I had always read, that the highborn hero bestowed his affections on a maiden of low degree, but of superlative merit and beauty. “King Cophetua loved a beggar maid,” and, on the authority of this royal precedent, the very circumstance, which, to the eye of common sense, formed an insuperable bar to such a connexion, was the strongest reason for my selecting this girl as the peculiar object of my love. The heroes of fiction are impassive to the dictates of reason and prudence. Having decided that I was desperately enamored, I commenced my operations. In the true novel style, all my proceedings were clandestine; for it sis the fate of true love always to be thwarted by the cruel opposition of parents and friends. I plied the girl with billets and serenades, with sighs and tears, with extravagant compliments and vows of everlasting attachment—in short with all the artillery so successfully employed, on such occasions, by the heroes that I imitated. I hovered round her father’s dwelling like a perturbed spirit, and accosted her at every turn with the most inflated expressions of admiration. The girl saw things in their natural proportions, not magnified and distorted through the medium of fancy, and thought, at first, I was laughing at her. At length the earnestness of my protestations subdued her incredulity. Touched by so many evidences of my sincerity, her tenderness was awakened, and she could not refuse to my importunity a confession of reciprocal sentiments. What rapture! she promised to be mine, as soon as I had completed my education. This she understood; but when I talked of the happiness of congenial souls, the bliss of living alone for each other, and the delight of participating in kindred tastes, of enjoying the beauties of nature and the refinements of intellect, I spoke a jargon she could not comprehend. Our correspondence had advanced to that point, that I was in a fair way of making myself a fool, or seducing an innocent girl, when it was suddenly and unpleasantly interrupted; another proof, that “the course of true love never does run smooth.” The overseer was a respectable man in his calling, and, I believe, had no suspicion of the state of matters between his daughter an myself. My father, however, had, by some means, got an inkling of the affair, and, either for the purpose of separating us, or because he suspected the overseer of countenancing my assiduities, abruptly dismissed him from his employment. To disconcert effectually any scheme of future intercourse, I was soon after dispatched to college. I parted from my mistress with vows of eternal constancy, which, I hope and believe, she did not confide in. I remembered, that in similar situations the lovers of romance displayed a cureless misery that refused consolation, and, imitating their example, I acted all the extravagancies of melancholy and despair. But alas! I was not moulded of the stuff, of which these heroes were made. “In one little month, or ere those shoes were old,” in which I had declared my love to be eternal, the whole delusion vanished, “like the baseless fabric of a vision,” and I awoke to the consciousness of the folly into which my treacherous fancy had betrayed me.
At college I was not subjected to very rigid restraint, either in my amusements or in the ordinary exercises of the institution. So that I appeared regularly in the class-room and at chapel, and acquitted myself with tolerable facility in my recitation, no inquiry was made what books employed my hours of recreation. I was not devoid of ambition, and, therefore, made sufficient efforts to maintain a respectable standing in my class. But, incited to these exertions rather by the fear of disgrace, than a just estimate of the value of knowledge, my application was languid and desultory. The
dry abstractions of science had no charms for my imagination, nor was I inspired with that enthusiasm, that divinus afflatus, which sustains the fainting student up the rugged steeps of philosophy. I never felt, and could not conceive, that ardent love for truth, which animated the toils of those “who have travelled nature up to the sharp peak of her sublimest height,” and conducted them to those discoveries, that have shed a light, steady and brilliant, on the path of human reason. I recoiled from labor, and was content to skim the surface of science. I had no devise to touch my mental eye with his magic ointment, revealing to my astonished vision the countless riches, that slumber in its unexplored recesses. To me it was “a toad, ugly and venomous,” and I dreamt not that it carried “a precious jewel in its head.” I preferred to revel among the flowers and fruits of elegant literature, whose sweets could be extracted by an easier process, or to gaze, in indolent repose, on the gorgeous scenery of fiction. I was sensible, that the gratification of these tastes weakened, as it were, the muscular powers of the mind, impaired its vigor and its capacity to wrestle with the abstract investigations of science. Yet such was my craving for this sort of excitement, that I became more enamored than ever of its illusions. I had access to libraries, that abounded in poetry and romance, and I drank deep at those intoxicating fountains. But such was my aversion to the exercise of thought, so effeminate had my mind become from the repetition of these excesses, that even in the realms of fancy, I preferred the region of romance. Poetry, when it did not minister to my prevailing inclination, was tedious to me “as a twice told tale.” The graces of language, the beauties of thought and sentiment, were not sufficiently piquant to provoke my jaded appetite. I must have men and women, and scenes, and adventures to rouse my imagination. Shakspeare I could tolerate; but Milton, and Dryden, and Pope, and Goldsmith, wearied and disgusted me.
This course of reading exercised a baneful influence, not only on the habits of my mind, but threatened, at this time, to produce an effect not less fatally injurious to my moral character. I have never had a taste for the pleasures of dissipation and debauchery. The cold selfishness and brutal sensuality of such pursuits are, usually, offensive and disgusting to ardent and imaginative characters. Persons, of that temperament, have a native delicacy and refinement, which recoil from a participation in those low and degrading scenes, in which the habitual libertine delights to revel. But habit reconciles us to every thing; and evil example, operating on hearts governed by impulse rather than principle, has often perverted the best dispositions. I had now reached a time of life when the passions are peculiarly inflammable, and when the blandishments of vice too often find a responsive chord in the youthful bosom. At this critical period, accident threw in my way the works of Smollet and Fielding. Their inimitable humor, their deep knowledge of human weaknesses, their acute discrimination of character, their consummate art in the development of their stories, their infinite fertility of invention, and their vigorous powers of description, though indications of a high order of genius, afford but a feeble compensation for the immoral tendency of their writings. I was so charmed with their amusing qualities, that I was unconscious of the poison that lurked beneath them. The apologists of these writers allege, that they drew their pictures from real life; but surely the pencil of genius might find more fit employment, than in transferring to the canvass every loathsome object in nature, or in weakening our abhorrence of things intrinsically hideous and detestable. In the works of Smollet and Fielding, virtues and gross vices are so intermingled in the delineation of the best characters, that we are led to believe their association inseparable, and are betrayed into the dangerous error of supposing the possession of brilliant or estimable qualities a sufficient atonement for the most flagrant enormities. Success in intrigue, the seduction of innocence, and habits of debauchery, so far from being blemishes in the character of a young man, are, according to them, conclusive proofs of his spirit and capacity. They enforce this dissolute and pernicious doctrine by the most glowing and meretricious descriptions of vicious delight. An idea so flattering to the depravity of human nature, was readily adopted by a young man like myself, whose passions were just budding with all the vigor and luxuriance of the spring-time of life. The practise and conversation of the dissipated youth, by whom our public schools are always infected, confirmed me in these sentiments. To palliate their own irregularities, they willingly inculcated the belief, that all who had been distinguished by genius, had been equally remarkable for their wild and reckless dissipation. It was, therefore, the height of my ambition to become a gay Lothario, and, to earn that infamous distinction, I selected the daughter of my landlady, as the first victim of my gallantry.
With the permission of the faculty, some of the students were allowed to board in the adjoining village, and this permission was accorded to me. The old lady with whom I boarded, was of a genteel and respectable family, and had once enjoyed an independent fortune. By the imprudence of a profligate and improvident husband, her fortune was squandered, and at his death she was left, with a family of several children, in very indigent circumstances. Her only resource against impending want was to open a small boarding-house, which she was enabled to furnish by the liberality of her friends, and, as she was universally respected, the compassion of the public rewarded her exertions by a generous patronage. She was a most amiable and affectionate creature, and exercised towards her boarders a kindness truly maternal. Her youngest daughter, a giddy, thoughtless, and pretty girl, was the only child that resided with her. Propinquity is said to be a great provocative to love, and I found it no less calculated to awaken viler passions. I had the baseness to meditate the destruction of this girl, and to pursue my purpose with an art and contrivance scarcely to be expected from such a novice in intrigue. But passion has an intuitive perception of the means of securing its object, and requires no teacher. I made my approaches with insidious caution at first, seeking, by respectful and assiduous politeness, to make an impression on her heart, and resolving to push my adventurous gallantry in proportion as I gained on her affections. The girl was flattered, and her mother won so entirely by my civilities to her daughter, that I became her acknowledged favorite. The intimacy and familiarity arising
from the old lady’s partiality for me, favored my views, and availing myself of the unsuspicious confidence with which I was received, my attentions to the girl became more passionate and ardent. She was evidently solicitous to secure such an admirer, and, to ensure her conquest, permitted, in the absence of her mother, a freedom and liberty in my deportment, totally inconsistent with that maidenly and dignified reserve which is the best protection of female virtue. To what consequences this imprudent intercourse might have led, I cannot now conjecture. It has been remarked, that a woman “who deliberates is lost,” and I am sure she has every thing to fear from the treachery of her own passions, when she throws aside the safe-guard of that modesty which shrinks from the touch of rude familiarity.
Fortunately for the peace and reputation of this family, and for my own honor, I was arrested in this selfish and unprincipled scheme, before I had an opportunity of accomplishing my purpose. I was seized with a severe illness, which confided me for three weeks, and brought me to the brink of the grave. I was indebted for my recovery more to the strength of my own constitution and to the care and attention of my landlady and her daughter, than to the skill of the physicians. Those kind creatures had watched by my couch, sympathized with my sufferings, anticipated my wants, and strained their slender means to the utmost for my accommodation. I should have been a monster, had I not felt the warmest gratitude for their disinterested kindness. In the retirement of a sick chamber and the weakness of convalescence, all the passions are hushed, and the mind, insensible to pleasure and unbiased by temptation, readily yields to calm and salutary reflection. It was then that I reviewed my past conduct. Was it possible that I had harbored the purpose of injuring those benevolent beings, who hovered round my bed like ministering angels? who had nursed me with so much tenderness? whose soft hearts had melted at the spectacle of my sufferings? whose unwearied attentions had probably saved my life? It was monstrous and detestable. The base design I had formed became utterly abhorrent to my imagination. The recollection filled me with shame and remorse, and I resolved, if my act had wounded the happiness of the girl, to make her ample reparation. A professed libertine, selfish, ungenerous, and restrained from the indulgence of his passions by no moral obligation, would have reasoned differently. But I was not yet so hackneyed in vice, as to be callous to the claims of gratitude. Had I engaged the girl’s affections, it was my fixed purpose to marry her at every hazard, as the only adequate atonement. But a more thorough knowledge of her character relieved me from this painful alternative. She was kind-hearted and amiable, but essentially a coquette. Her vanity was more concerned than her heart, in her flirtation with me, and though had I made the proposal, I make no doubt she would have married me, such a step, I became satisfied, was not necessary to her happiness. A young man in the village, of respectable condition, made her about this time the most honorable proposals, and as I perceived that his overtures were acceptable, I did every thing in my power to promote so suitable a connection. I had the satisfaction, soon after, of witnessing her marriage, and of believing that no act of mine had injured her feelings or her prospects. The victory which I achieved over my passions in this affair, has, I believe, given stability to my moral principles, and preserved me from the slightest taint of libertinism. Had I given way to the temptation, the whole color and complexion of my character would have been changed. In the rake’s progress, when the first act of vice and folly has been committed, the crimes, the infamy, and the calamities, which darken his subsequent career, are its legitimate and inevitable consequences. I should then have added the still keener stings of remorse to the bigger consciousness of wasting my time and talents in idle and unprofitable pursuits.
My passion for fictitious narrative had now gained such an ascendancy, that no consideration of duty or ambition could induce me to forego its indulgence. It was my practise to read in bed, and I have often spent the greater part of the night, thoughtless of every thing but the tale of love or horror, which engrossed my attention. Numberless were the mortifications to which I was subjected by this headlong propensity. Often has it exposed me to public rebuke for my irregular attendance in the class-room and at chapel. Often have I entered the class-room almost wholly unprepared, having devoted the appropriate hours of study to this favorite recreation, and trusting to escape disgrace only by ascertaining, in the progress of the recitation, what portion of the lesson would fall to my lot. But I was frequently deceived in my expectations, and compelled, at the expense of my pride, to expose my idleness and ignorance. But it was destined to inflict upon me a still greater disappointment.
The termination of the course was now approaching. The candidates for honors and degrees were released from attendance on the ordinary exercises of the college for the space of three weeks, that they might prepare, without interruption, for the final examination. I determined to atone for past truancy by redoubled diligence, and to secure, if possible, some of the distinctions. I persisted in that laudable purpose for a fortnight; but, at the end of that time, my ill-fortune threw in my way the temptation of a new batch of novels, fresh from the press. Manfully did I resist my inclination, but I thought I might safely glance at the few first pages. Fatal indiscretion! My curiosity became ungovernable, and I was hurried along by the interest of the story, till the most important week of my preparation was nearly consumed. I awoke to the conviction, that my hopes of distinction had been sacrificed to an idle gratification, and that I could scarcely expect to make a decent appearance at the examination. With the preparation I had already made and with a little contrivance, I managed to pass muster without making my deficiency conspicuous, and returned home, chagrined by my failure, and resolved to exercise greater self-command for the future.
My father had not forgotten, that the want of employment had entangled me in the affair with his overseer’s daughter, and to guard against the recurrence of a similar adventure, insisted that I should immediately commence the study of the law. No study could be more foreign to the habits of my mind, or more uncongenial with my prevailing tastes. The hard, severe style of law- writers, employed in the discussion of dry precedents and technical distinctions, their subtle refine-
ments and endless reference to authorities, running back into the obscure ages of black letter, and their barbarous confusion of tongues, struck me with dismay. To relinquish my favorite pursuits for one so barren and repulsive, was like leaving the soft and luxuriant climate of Madeira for the deserts of Africa. The elegant Commentaries of Blackstone were, indeed, as an oasis in this desert, yet only tolerable, to one of my tastes, from contrast with surrounding desolation. I penetrated, however, into this uninviting waste with the resolution of a second Denham, determined never to look back till I had traversed its arid plains. I had the firmness to adhere to this resolution for more than a year. The novels, my old companions, slumbered untouched upon the shelf, and habit every day rendered the style and reasoning of my new acquaintances less disagreeable. But a fatality I could not resist, or rather my own want of self-control, doomed me to a relapse into my old infatuation.
I was endeavoring one day to recruit my languid attention by a little repose, after being exhausted by a four hours’ perusal of Coke, when the lettered backs of my old tempters obtruded themselves on my eye. My mind required some refreshment, and I felt an irresistible inclination to regale myself by a few moments dalliance with one of these Delilahs. To beguile the tedium of the moment by so innocent an amusement, seemed to me not only a harmless but a necessary recreation. When we once parley with temptation we lose insensibly the power of self-denial. I was soon absorbed in a story, whose thrilling interest had often fascinated me in the days of my childhood. The ice once broken, I was like some drunkards, who, the instant they touch the forbidden liquid, madly rush into intoxication. From this time romances were my constant resource in the intervals of rest made necessary by the abstruseness of my studies, and I found this recreation so delightful, that it gradually encroached on my hours of serious application. But aware how essential an accurate knowledge of my profession was to my success in life, I struggled vigorously with my inclination, and, with laudable forbearance, devoted a portion of the day to my law-books. But I must confess I read them with very little profit. My thoughts were constantly straying in quest of more agreeable objects. My mind, clouded by the delusions of fiction, became incapable of grappling with the subtle reasonings and nice distinctions of legal science. Themis is a jealous goddess, and will not tolerate a divided worship. My father was too much immersed in business to observe my devotion to the dragons of fable. Being constantly in his office and exhibiting every external mark of diligence, he supposed, without further inquiry, that I must be occupied with the ponderous tomes of jurisprudence. But I doubt whether even his authority could have reclaimed me from habits so incorrigible and rivetted by such long indulgence.
After having spent three years in these desultory efforts to qualify myself for my profession, I became a candidate for admission to the bar. The examination of candidates is committed by our laws to the judges, who are required to license such as have sufficient knowledge and acquirements, to engage in the practise of the law. This examination, contrived originally to exclude incompetent persons from a profession of so much consequences to the body politic, had long since degenerated into an empty form. As to myself, I was more indebted to the lenity of the judges, than to my own merits, for the success of my application. I was now, at the age of twenty-two, admitted into an honorable profession, where my fame and emoluments would depend exclusively on public patronage and opinion. It was indispensable, therefore, to my future success at the bar, to make a favorable impression at the outset. The estimate now made by the public, of my capacity as a speaker and man of business, must have a decisive influence on my prospects. Once believed to be deficient in these essential qualities, the young lawyer finds it difficult, by the most strenuous subsequent efforts, to recover the public confidence. In the debates of the literary societies at college, I had acquired considerable fluency of elocution; but I felt myself wanting in the more solid endowments of a public speaker, in information, in power of reasoning, and illustration. My mind, enervated by the luxuries of light and amusing literature, was untrained to those habits of patient thought and laborious inquiry so necessary in legal investigation. From the same temperament, the accuracy, the punctuality, the minute details of business, were, to me, worse than Egyptian bondage. And to crown all, I was totally uninstructed in those hidden springs of human action, which the able advocate touches with so much skill and artifice in the argument and management of causes. It was with no sanguine hopes of success, then, that I entered upon my profession, and this very want of confidence operated as a constant clog upon my exertions. Boldness and impudence often supply the want of capacity, and I am now persuaded, that in every pursuit a strong belief in our ability to surmount difficulties inspires an ardor and a perseverance, which most commonly effect our purpose. Destitute, unhappily, of this powerful incentive, I was prepared to succumb under the first discouragement.
I know no position, in every view more critical, than that of a young lawyer loitering in the courts, without business, without any thing to interest his mind or feelings. If he does not slide into habits of dissipation, a too frequent result, he becomes idle and indolent, and his mind, sinking into a lethargy, moulders away for want of exercise. How many young men of liberal education and promising abilities, before their five years quarantine has expired, have fallen victims to profligacy or sloth, and been lost forever to themselves and society. To pass through such an ordeal, unscathed either in mind or morals, demands a prudence, an energy, and a self- command, rarely manifested at that early period of life. Such a situation was peculiarly perilous to a person of my previous propensities. “Time,” said Rosalind, “stands still with lawyers in vacation, for they sleep from term to term.” I found it equally stationary at all seasons; and, though its leaden pinions did not lull me to bodily repose, they shed a sleepy influence on my mind, which gradually sunk into that dreamy state so admirably described in the Castle of Indolence. Had I plunged at once into the turmoil of business, pressed by the demands of duty, and stimulated by the hope of profit, I might have lashed my lazy faculties into action, and effaced forever the traces of old and inveterate habits. But to remain a danger at
the bar, a listless spectator of scenes in which I took no interest, deprived me of the only motive that could goad me into activity, and left my mind open to the invasion of those propensities, whose dominion, though sometimes weakened, had never been overthrown.
These evil prognostics were too soon fulfilled. In stead of observing the course of practise in the courts, of remarking the skill and dexterity exhibited in the management of a cause, of treasuring in my memory the questions discussed and the arguments advanced, of examining the authorities referred to, in my own office, exercises by which I should have been improved in my profession, my time was occupied either in frivolous conversation with my young companions at the bar, or in the perusal of that innumerable brood of romances which have issued from the modern press. I delighted to catch them at their first transit into the world, before they had lost their freshness and flavor by exposure to the gaze of vulgar curiosity. I became the critic of coteries, the oracle of the shallow throng who flutter round bookstores and public libraries. It was only in these public repositories of books, that my cormorant appetite could be glutted. In the circles which idle curiosity assembled at these places, the characters and incidents of the last novel were discussed with as much earnestness as would have been displayed in analyzing the motives of real persons and the circumstances of actual events. This idle gossip, betraying a total ignorance of the principles of literary criticism, afforded me infinite amusement; on the same principle, that the description of a good dinner is a gratification to the gourmand, second only to the pleasure of eating one. The time and ingenuity I have spent in such disquisitions would have resolved the knottiest point of jurisprudence.
This course of reading exacted no effort from the mind, and the more I indulged in it the more averse I became to the drudgery of business, and the more incapable of that accurate thinking and careful analysis required in the practice of the law. I have said, that when once absorbed in a novel, I was hurried to the conclusion with an eagerness of curiosity that admitted neither pause nor reflection. Severely as I had already smarted under the consequences of this habit, it was destined to work me still more serious mischief. I cannot remember how often it has occasioned my absence from court, the breach of my appointments, and neglect of important business. These are unpardonable faults in a lawyer, and, whatever his talents or acquirements, must ultimately strip him of employment.
My first cause, I remember, was in chancery, and as it was to be argued the next day, I promised my client to devote the night to the examination of the papers. But my evil genius deposited a new novel on my table, and thinking I had ample time for the task I had undertaken, I could not forbear the gratification of glancing over the introductory chapters. I forgot my client and his papers, until the flickering of my candle in the socket compelled me to relinquish the book; and the next morning I endeavored, by a hasty and superficial examination, to prepare for the argument before the session of the court. When it was my turn to speak, I discovered such an imperfect knowledge of the facts and of the questions involved in the case, and was so far eclipsed by a plodding industrious young fellow on the other side, in accuracy and acquaintance with the legal authorities, that I sat down overwhelmed with shame and mortification. Men, however ignorant, are quicksighted where their interests are concerned, in discerning to whom they can be safely entrusted. This failure lost me the confidence of my client, and I believe made an impression on the bystanders very much to my disadvantage.
My fondness for romance, now become my ruling passion, not only impaired my powers of reasoning and investigation, but destroyed the balance of my mind by giving an undue preponderance to the imagination. The unnatural activity of that faculty, by presenting false and exaggerated views of persons and events, was frequently a serious disadvantage to me in my profession. Often when I was wrought into a fever of excitement by an ideal state of facts, the reality has so differed from my preconceived hypothesis, as to produce a sudden syncope of all my faculties. I remember being engaged in a case of breach of marriage promise, on which I had built the most extravagant expectations. The vagaries of my own imagination and the representation of my client’s friends, had misled me as to the true character of the evidence, and when these illusions were dissipated at the trial, the revulsion of my feelings left me incapable of sustaining my part in the argument. Relying on my instructions, I had figured to myself a case of great aggravation. A young female, of considerable beauty, of unimpeachable purity, of the most delicate sentiments, and of the most respectable connexions, had engaged herself to a man of suitable condition, and from the intimacy warranted by such an engagement and the confidence she reposed in his honor, had been involved in indiscretions fatal to her reputation. I supposed that this man, after thus betraying the confidence and tainting the innocence of his betrothed wife, had basely trifled with her affections by refusing to fulfil his engagement, and had abandoned her to misery and shame. A story, so similar to tales of seduction, with which my memory was stored, at once inflamed my imagination. I pictured to myself in the most glowing colors the whole train of artifice and treachery by which this arch-seducer had succeeded in the ruin of innocence, the misery of the parents, the disgrace of the connexion, and the shame of the poor girl, consigned to infamy and wretchedness. Here was a tale of real life, marked by darker shades of villainy and deeper wounds of anguish, than my own imaginings or the wildest fiction had ever depicted. I entered into the case with a zeal and ardor proportioned to my sense of the magnitude of the injury. My indignation was at the highest pitch, and I was prepared to overwhelm the wicked defendant with a tempest of invective. But at the trial many circumstances conspired to damp my enthusiasm. I had the most exalted conceptions of the delicate sensibility, the keen sense of disgrace belonging to the female character, and it was the belief that he had wounded these admirable qualities in the person of my client, which inspired me with such deep abhorrence of the conduct of the defendant. When I saw her, adorned with the most tawdry finery, exhibiting, with an unblushing front, her person, day after day, to the rude gaze of the crowd that thronged the court-house, instead of shrinking from public observation, I felt the most inef-
fable disgust. I discovered too, in the conferences I held with her, that she was not much concerned at the public exposure of her disgrace, and was chiefly solicitous to increase the amount of damages. Such a greedy desire of money, in an affair that touched her reputation so deeply, was most repugnant to my feelings, and I could well believe that a woman of such coarse and grovelling sentiments would barter her fame and her innocence for a pecuniary equivalent. In the investigation that followed, proof was offered that her character was suspicious before she was acquainted with the defendant, and that during her engagement with him she had courted familiarities which no modest woman would have permitted. What I had myself witnessed, prepared me to place implicit faith in this evidence. I was so much disconcerted by the discovery, that my feelings had been enlisted by an ideal picture of guilt and injury, that, though the evidence on the part of the defendant was liable to be assailed, and there was clear proof of the promise, of the breach, and the seduction, I could not utter a word on these topics. My associate counsel argued the case with ability, and obtained a verdict for considerable damages.
My reputation at the bar, such as it was, had long been on the wane, and this failure gave the coup de grace to my prospects. It was said that I loved pleasure more than business, that I neglected the most important affairs, that I made no preparation for my causes, and that when my adversary surprised me with unexpected evidence or argument, I was unable to rally. Such assertions, publicly circulated, soon left me utterly caseless, and I began to think of seeking a livelihood in some other calling.
I became acquainted, about this time, with a young lady of amiable disposition and engaging manners, whose beauty and accomplishments made a deep impression on my heart. She possessed all those showy and brilliant endowments so captivating to the fancy, and my imagination readily invested her with every perfection that enters into the composition of a consummate female character. Smitten with this ideal phantom, which I mistook for her, I became her professed admirer; and it was only when a more intimate acquaintance unfolded those hidden graces, which shrink from the glare of notoriety, that I was sensible of her real worth and excellent qualities. I found her encompassed with suitors, and the object of general admiration; but these obstacles to my success only augmented my eagerness and assiduity. In romantic tempers, when the prospect is smiling and propitious, the tender passion languishes and expires, but burns with the more intensity when it encounters rivalry or opposition. I was unremitting in my attentions, and my reception emboldened me to cherish the most sanguine hopes. My parents were anxious that I should marry, and as the family and circumstances of the lady made the connexion desirable, they encouraged me to prosecute my addresses. I pressed my suit with ardor, and having at length obtained a favorable opportunity to declare my attachment, was rewarded by the confession that my overtures were not unacceptable. That charming confusion, the offspring of innate delicacy, with which this precious acknowledgement was uttered, heightened my admiration. Superior to disguise or coquetry, she no longer kept me in suspense, but with the native frankness of her character, at once consented to be mine. Whether it is that they are unwilling to relinquish the last remnant of their power, or that maiden modesty shrinks from the idea of matrimony, ladies are, generally, reluctant to appoint the day of their marriage. I found it so on the present occasion, and could not, by any importunity, prevail on my mistress to ascertain the epoch of my happiness.
Being now an accepted lover, I was received by her on the most intimate and confidential footing, and spent much of my time in her society. She displayed in her conversation a strong vein of good sense and a native purity of taste, cultivated by reading and extensive intercourse with the best society. She had no pleasure in that censorious gossiping, which delights in the dissection of characters, that it may detect the minute faults and weaknesses that dim the surface of the finest disposition. She put a liberal construction on the conduct of her acquaintance, and was content to balance their virtues against their defects. She had none of that mawkish fantastic sentimentality, which weeps only over the recital of fictitious distresses, and is deaf as an adder to the groans of real misery. Her benevolence was practical and unostentatious, springing from a heart open to every impression of pity, to every impulse of generosity. Without a spark of that romance, which is the fruit of a diseased imagination, she was capable of the noblest self-sacrifice, of the most ardent and enduring attachment. But her innocent and unaffected tenderness endeared her to me still more than the new charms and virtues which her character revealed upon a closer acquaintance. There was one foible, however, in her disposition which I did not detect, and which, co-operating with my own egregious folly, produced all the mischief that followed. She was punctiliously tenacious of respect, and could not brook the idea of indifference in those to whom she was attached.
Hitherto, while the event was doubtful, and with the fear of rivalship before my eyes, I had been a most assiduous and attentive lover. Relinquishing every occupation, whether of business or amusement, I bent my undivided energies to the prosecution of an affair in which my heart was so deeply interested. But when the prize was gained, when her affections were secured, my anxiety subsided, and my usual propensities, which had sunk under the ascendancy of a master passion, revived. The lady resided in a town where there were several bookstores. My morbid appetite for new romances made me a frequent visitor at these establishments. When I got possession of a novel, I would remain, like Doctor Ockbourne, for hours in the same spot, wrapt in the interest of the tale, heeding neither the lapse of time nor the want of sustenance. My mistress, not having the same taste, could not comprehend the nature of this inordinate passion, and thought it very remarkable that I should prefer such frivolous amusements to her society. she was offended at my frequent absences and the unsatisfactory reasons I gave for them. Though she did not reproach me, she conceived that the ardor of my affection was subsiding into indifference. When this idea had once taken possession of her mind, “trifles, light as air, were confirmations strong” of her pre-existing suspicions. I cannot
enumerate the various instances in which my infatuation betrayed me into conduct that a jealous temper might construe into slight. I never dreamt of the mis-construction to which I was exposing myself, and thoughtlessly repeated the offence so often, that at length her displeasure was manifested in her deportment. Alarmed at these appearances, I eagerly inquired wherein I had offended. She replied, that my conduct discovered such entire coldness and indifference, as to impress her with a belief that I was weary of our engagement, and that if I wished it, it might be cancelled. I protested that I never designed to exhibit coldness and indifference, that my attachment to her was as ardent as ever, and that, so far from desiring a dissolution of our engagement, there was nothing I so earnestly coveted as its speedy fulfilment. I reiterated, again and again, the sentiments of respect and love which I had never ceased to feel towards her, until appeased by my apparent contrition and sincerity, she dropped the subject, and resumed her former frank and affectionate demeanor.
She had promised to spend the day with a lady who resided about a mile from town, and with whom I was unacquainted. She designed to accompany this lady, who was then in town, on her return home; and to show me that she cherished no resentment she proposed that I should walk with her back in the evening, to which I joyfully assented. Having nothing to engage me after I left her, I strolled to the bookstore, my usual resort, to while away the time, and there, unluckily, met with a new novel by a celebrated name, which extended to several volumes. Having no engagement until the evening, I thought I might innocently appropriate the interval to the perusal of a work of such reputation. But I became so much entranced with the interest of the tale that I totally forgot my appointment, until I was admonished by the approach of darkness that the time had passed. I hastened to make my apologies, and found my mistress in an agony of distress and agitation. It seemed that she set out alone in the hope of meeting me, and was assailed by a drunken man, who would have insulted her grossly but for the interference of a chance passenger. As soon as she became composed, and had heard my explanation, she told me, with a countenance “more in sorrow than in anger,” that it was useless to disguise it; that my indifference to her safety that evening, evinced by my wanton breach of promise, revealed, more strongly than words, the extinction of my love, and that a regard for her own dignity constrained her to annul our engagement and to dismiss me at once and forever. Saying this, she retired from the room, leaving me overwhelmed with a complication of feelings, astonishment, dismay, grief, and despair. From this time she refused to see me, and, though I frequently wrote to solicit an interview, returned me my letters unopened. Satisfied that she was inflexible, I fled from the village in unspeakable anguish, and never saw her more. Such was the inconsiderate folly by which I lost the possession of an amiable and beautiful woman, and made shipwreck of my own happiness.
I was now thirty years of age, and my father, finding that I had utterly failed in the profession of the law, put me in possession of a farm, hoping that in the honorable pursuit of agriculture, I might at last earn an independence. I became passionately devoted to my new calling, and read with indefatigable diligence all the books and publications I could find on the subject of tillage. I aspired to the character of an improver. My honest neighbors, who belonged to the family of the good-enoughs, called me, in derision, a book farmer. They warned me of the ruin that must ensue from my innovations on the old modes of farming in that neighborhood, which had been transmitted from father to son, without addition or diminution, from the first settlement of the colony. I was deaf to their prophecies. With my usual proclivity to castle building, I imagined that my system of tillage would in a few years convert my farm into a garden. I had counted and appropriated the great profits which the completion of my plans must certainly produce. I would become a great land proprietor, and when I had purchased all the land I chose to cultivate, I would vest my surplus resources in works of public improvement. But while I was so busy with my projected reforms in agriculture, I did not forget to provide a fund of entertainment for my idle hours by the purchase of an abundant stock of novels. These companions were not calculated to increase my attention to the operations of my farm. I was seen more frequently seated by the fireside, poring over one of my favorite romances, than in the fields, superintending the cultivation of my land. While I was thus dissipating my time in unprofitable amusements, or indulging in extravagant expectations, my overseer and negroes were consuming my substance. My stock dwindled and disappeared, my crops mouldered and wasted away, until, by midsummer, I found myself in want of all the necessaries of life. To put the copestone to my disasters, I had one night been reading a novel in bed, according to my frequent custom, and fell asleep without extinguishing the candle. I was awakened by a suffocating smoke, and found the whole room wrapt in flames. I saved my life with difficulty by jumping from the window in my shirt, while my house and all its contents became the prey of the devouring element. Thus, in one night, was I bereft of clothes, house, and furniture, and left to the charity of my neighbors, who generously afforded me all the assistance in their power. By their friendly exertions, a temporary hut was erected for my accommodation, and having now a shelter for my head, I had leisure to inquire into the origin of the fire. I was soon satisfied that I had left the candle burning, and that that act of negligence was the cause of the whole mischief.
By a series of disasters, for which I could only reproach my own folly and infatuation, I was reduced to very narrow circumstances. I could trace the principal calamities of my life to that overweening fondness for novel-reading which had destroyed the vigor and activity of my mind, and disabled it alike for the pursuits of business and the toils of study. To the same fruitful source of misfortune were attributable my severest disappointments both in love and ambition. In the despondency produced by reflections such as these, the idea suddenly occurred to me that the very cause of all my difficulties might be made subservient to the restoration of my shattered fortunes. Archimedes, when he shouted eureka, felt no greater rapture, though from a worthier cause, than I did when I hit upon this
brilliant expedient. I resolved forthwith to write a novel, and embody all the dreams and fantasies of my past life. The habits of my mind, and my intimate acquaintance with the whole region of romance, I conceived, qualified me in a peculiar manner for such a task. I could now give the visions of my distempered fancy “a local habitation and a name.” The stories of fiction which I had been amassing for so many years would no longer be useless lumber, but would furnish inexhaustible materials for the execution of my work. I set about the undertaking with an ardor and application which promised its speedy accomplishment.
My scheme of romance consisted in unexpected incidents and sudden surprises, in grouping together circumstances of terror and distress, and in the history of tender and constant lovers sundered by the pride or avarice of their families. “To catch the manners living as they rise,” to describe national peculiarities, to distinguish the moral features of the different classes of society, to paint the natural evolutions of passion and the effect of circumstances on the characters of men, to inculcate the great principles of ethics by examples of human depravity or virtue, belonged to a different province. I had always disliked those novels that terminated in a tragic catastrophe, and I determined, therefore, to bring mine to a fortunate conclusion. My own country furnished neither castles nor ruins, nor robbers, nor monks, nor nobility—things essential, in my estimation, to the constitution of a romance. I laid my scene, therefore, in Italy, the land of monks, inquisitions, ruined castles, bravoes, and banditti. I will not exhaust my reader’s patience by sketching the outline of a story that extended to seven mortal volumes. Let it suffice that there was a combination of all that is pathetic and horrible, and that the heroine was conducted through a succession of the most surprising and incredible adventures—from obscurity to the possession of rank, wealth, and unalloyed happiness.
I finished my novel in eighteen months, and the next inquiry was how I could make it profitable. The art of printing was at so low an ebb in my own state, and there was so little disposition to patronise native literature, that I could not hope to dispose of the copy-right, and to publish by subscription, was, with my slender finances, too hazardous an experiment. I resolved, therefore, to repair to the northern cities, those great marts of commerce and genius. I procured letters of introduction to several persons in Philadelphia and New York, and with my precious manuscript set out on my journey filled with the most buoyant hopes of fame and fortune.
As I am writing a history of my mind, not a journal of my travels, I shall not pause to record my observations on men and things during the journey. Suffice it that I reached Philadelphia without any remarkable adventure, and was installed in a comfortable apartment at one of the principal hotels. The impressions of a stranger for the first few hours after his arrival in a large city, are always melancholy. His mind has not yet been diverted from its solitary musings, by the various objects of curiosity which offer themselves to his researches. He is incapable of analyzing the confused assemblage of things that press upon his observation, and the vastness of the prospect oppresses him with a sense of his own insignificance. In the busy multitudes that throng the streets, he sees no familiar face, recognises no friend, and is truck with a feeling of loneliness the more painful because the scenes around him perpetually excite his natural yearnings for society. It was in a mood like this that I first entered the city of William Penn—and to shake off these disagreeable sensations, I set out as soon as I could obtain the necessary directions, in quest of a gentleman to whom I bore a letter of introduction. This gentleman belonged to the society of Friends. He was a merchant of extensive connexions, and a shrewd and intelligent man of business. Though the pressure of his affairs did not leave him much leisure for the exercise of hospitality, he received me with the plain unpretending civility peculiar to his sect, promised me all the assistance he could render in an affair so foreign to his pursuits, and assured me, that while my engagements detained me in Philadelphia, he should always take pleasure in entertaining me at his house. This was no empty profession. I availed myself frequently of his friendly invitation, and was uniformly received by him and his family with an engaging simplicity and unaffected kindness far more congenial to my taste than the most magnificent hospitality. On my return to Virginia I was indebted to this excellent man for a most essential service—a service which I shall never forget. Through his intervention I had an opportunity of submitting my work to the inspection of all the leading publishers in the city. It was not then the fashion to patronise the efforts of native genius. Books were prized in proportion to the distance they had travelled, and were supposed, like wine, to be improved by a voyage across the Atlantic. We imported our literature as well as our woollens from Great Britain, and never dreamed of fostering the domestic manufacture. It is now the American system to build up a native literature by praise and puffing. Criticism is divested of its terrors, and “roars you as gently as any sucking dove.” It is the very paradise of mediocrity, and many an insect author is now brought into a transient existence by the warm breath of applause, who, but for that genial influence, would have slept forever in his shell. Had I offered my work for publication thirty years later, its destiny would have been far more fortunate than that which was now prepared for it. I could prevail on no publisher to bid for the copy-right. Some objected to its length, some to the style, some to the story, and all agreed that it would not suit the prevailing state. Indignant at their frivolous criticisms, I thrust the manuscript into my trunk, and posted off to New York, with the hope of finding greater discernment in the publishers of that city. But the same fate awaited me there. I could never persuade any one of the merits of my book, or of the immense gains which its publication must produce. After being tantalized with some faint prospect of success for several weeks, I at length abandoned my project in despair, convinced that the stupidity of the publishers had robbed me of immortality. I had a strong disposition to try my fortune in England, but the slenderness of my resources compelled me to relinquish that idea.
While I was thus dancing attendance upon the printers of New York and Philadelphia, I did not fail to find abundant entertainment for my predominant taste in the bookstores and public libraries. At those places I met with some aspirants to literary distinction,
who, like me, had been paying court to the despots of the press. Similar pursuits soon cemented an intimacy between us, and we became constant companions in our pleasures and amusements. These gentlemen introduced me to the theatres, which boasted at this period of some celebrated actors. This was the first time I had witnessed a theatrical representation, and I beheld it with the deepest and most engrossing interest. the scenery, the dresses, the artifices of exhibition, the action and emphasis of the performers, gave me such a vivid impression of reality, that I felt as if the dreams and fantasies, which had haunted my imagination for so many years, had received actual life and being. My companions were diverted at the rapt attention with which I listened, and ridiculed my rawness and inexperience. But in the excited state of my mind, their pleasantry was entirely lost upon me, and did not for a moment damp the fervor of my enthusiasm. I became passionately devoted to spectacles so congenial to the temper of my mind, and even when they had lost the gloss of novelty still continued to frequent them with undiminished avidity.
One memorable evening I saw on the theatre at New York the most beautiful woman I have ever known. This lovely creature, whom I shall call Rosalie, united with the most perfect face and figure, a gracefulness of action and a melody of voice which would have secured the plaudits of an audience to the most indifferent acting. But she required not the support of these adventitious endowments. Her performance displayed the most consummate art and the profoundest knowledge of the passions. The emotions, proper to the character she was representing, flitted across her varying and expansive countenance like ripples over the surface of a lake, while her impassioned gesture and melting tones carried them to the bosom of the spectator. Never have I been so enchanted, so transported with admiration. Feelings so deep disdained the ordinary expressions of applause, and I hung in breathless silence on her accents.
I was accompanied on that occasion by a man with whom, from the unguarded impulse of an ardent temper, I had formed a great intimacy. The fascination of his address and the apparent similarity of our tastes, had won my entire confidence. When Rosalie appeared on the stage, he observed my agitation. With his penetration he had not failed to discover my ignorance of the world, and how much my opinions of men and things depended upon the basis which they presented to my imagination. He was aware that the nicety of my notions with regard to female delicacy, amounted almost to squeamishness, and that I deemed all public exhibition repugnant to the modesty of the sex. Apprehensive that these sentiments might abate my admiration of Rosalie, he undertook to relate her history. He described her as the most talented and amiable creature in the world, of irreproachable character, and of the most delicate sentiments. Her father was once a wealthy merchant, and in his prosperity had bestowed on this, his only child, all the advantages of education. Her progress amply repaid his parental care. Before her sixteenth year, she had, with an aptitude almost intuitive, acquired a fund of knowledge and a variety of accomplishments most uncommon in females of any age. The development of her personal charms kept pace with the precocity of her mind, and at the age of sixteen she appeared a prodigy of beauty and talent. An English merchant of great wealth, with whom her father had long had commercial transactions, happened to visit New York about this time, and saw her in the full maturity of loveliness. Smitten with her charms, he made her proposals of marrige, and was rejected. The accidents of commerce had given this man unlimited control over the fortunes of her father. Enraged at his disappointment, he had the vindictive baseness to use that power for the accomplishment of the parent’s ruin, that he might avenge the disdain of the child. After this wanton destruction of her prospects, he had the impudence to insult her with the promise of re- establishing her father in business, if she would yield to overtures no longer honorable. She indignantly spurned the proposition. Urged by her friends, and still more by the cruel distresses of her parents, whose age and indigence appealed to her for aid, she had reluctantly made a theatrical engagement, with the pious hope of acquiring by that means a competence for her family. She avowed the utmost repugnance to this public exposure of her person, and was resolved to abandon her profession as soon as the demands of filial duty were fulfilled.
A story like this was calculated to take a strong hold on my imagination, already inflamed by the view of her uncommon beauty and accomplishments. Her conduct and adventures bore so strong a resemblance to the incidents of romance, that they enlisted my warmest sympathies. Fiction frequently described females of the purest character and most finished education, stifling their delicate sensibilities from a sense of duty, and publicly exercising their accomplishments to gain an honest subsistence. A woman, who could so act, was a heroine, and I honored her character. I desired to become acquainted with Rosalie, and my companion promised to introduce me. We visited her lodgings the next day, and I had no reason to distrust his account of her from any thing I observed in her conversation or demeanor. She was evidently a woman of brilliant talents, and there was no trace of indelicate boldness in her manners. I was so much delighted with her society that I became a frequent visitor at the house where she boarded. Southern gentlemen were then well received every where at the north, and were generally supposed to be opulent. I discovered that my visits were acceptable, and my daily observations confirmed my original impressions of the purity and tenderness of her manners and character. She spoke often of her parents in the most affectionate language, and expressed her anxiety to quit her disreputable occupation, that she might enjoy their society in the humble cottage where they resided. The deep tenderness of her accents convinced me of her sincerity. The dignity, the most reserve of her deportment, the brilliancy of her conversation, the splendor of her beauty, her filial piety, and, above all, the flattering attention which she paid me, gradually so won upon my affections, that I felt an irresistible inclination to rescue this gifted being from so hateful a lot, and to restore her to the society she was formed to adorn. In a delirium of admiration, I one day avowed my attachment and made a direct proposal of marriage. She expressed the greatest surprise, acknowledged her sense of my generosity in
contemning the prejudices of the world by tendering my hand to an actress, and declared, that this connexion would be every way agreeable but for her unwillingness to be separated from her parents. This token of filial affection endeared her to me the more, and to remove that impediment to my wishes, I proposed that her parents should reside with us, not reflecting on the total inadequacy of my means. This was a burthen, she said, which she said, which she could not think of imposing on me, but that after such a distinguished mark of my regard, she could no longer withhold the confession, that she had conceived an attachment for me at our first interview, and would joyfully dedicate the remainder of her life to the promotion of my happiness. My finances were now at a very low ebb, and we agreed to be married as soon as I could make the necessary pecuniary arrangements.
I had frequently met the gentleman (I call him so by courtesy,) who had introduced me to Rosalie, at her lodgings, and had sometimes seen them walking together in the streets. This did not exceed the ordinary civilities exchanged between the sexes in polite society, nor had I ever detected any symptoms of peculiar intimacy between them. Being wholly unsuspicious and relying implicitly on the account already given me, I had never inquired of any other person into the particulars of her previous history. I was returning to my lodgings one day, in the dusk of the evening, when I saw this man and Rosalie enter together one of those infamous houses resorted to in large cities by the dissolute of both sexes for the indulgence of their vicious passions. I well know the character of the house, and could scarcely believe the evidence of my senses. To ascertain beyond doubt the truth of my suspicions I resolved to watch their exit from the opposite side of the street. Was it possible? could this fair form enshrine an unclean spirit? was she a whited sepulchre, shining without, and full within of rottenness and corruption? could a common wanton counterfeit so successfully the modesty of virtue? While these reflections were passing through my mind, they reappeared at the door, and I could no longer doubt her identity. I rushed towards them in a phrenzy of passion, but they fled at my approach, and disappeared in the obscurity of the adjoining alleys. I returned to my lodgings in a state bordering on insanity. A gentleman of my acquaintance happened to call, while I wa in this paroxysm of rage and anguish. In the fulness of my heart I told him what had passed, and he assured me I had escaped most fortunately from the meshes of an artful courtesan. The story which I had heard was almost entirely false. It was true that Rosalie was of respectable parentage and had been well educated, but she had been seduced about a year since, while at a boarding-school in the city, by the very man who had given me this false information, and had fled from the protection of her friends upon the discovery of her disgrace. My eyes were now opened to the infamous plot by which they had nearly entrapped me. A thousand circumstances recurred to my recollection, that should have put me on my guard; but dupe, dolt, idiot that I was, I could not see through the thin veil of deception with which they covered their designs.
I vowed the direst revenge against my treacherous friend and his frail mistress. I spent several days in their pursuit, but they eluded my search. Before I could discover their retreat, a letter from my mother, announcing the severe illness of my father, summoned me to receive his last breath. My father had been always kind and generous to me, and I had the strongest affection for him. The tidings of his illness afflicted me with the deepest distress, and I determined to return home with the utmost despatch. My finances were so nearly exhausted, that I had scarcely the means of reaching Philadelphia, and I should have been totally unable to return to Virginia, but for the liberality of my old friend the Quaker, who generously advanced a sum sufficient to defray my expenses. I parted from him with the warmest acknowledgements, and with the promise to remit the sum he had loaned, on my arrival in Virginia; a promise which I faithfully fulfilled.
Though I travelled with the utmost expedition, my father had expired before I reached his house. I had yet the melancholy satisfaction of performing the last sad offices to his remains, and of mingling my tears with my mother’s. My affliction was redoubled when I understood, that during his whole illness his greatest concern was to see me. Parental affection, strong in death, still yearned to pour its last admonitions into the ear of the prodigal son, who had wasted his substance, not in riotous living, but in idle dreams and worthless pursuits. When he felt the approach of dissolution, and found that I had not arrived, he sent me his blessing, and calmly gave his parting injunctions to his weeping family. With tranquil fortitude and pious hope, he took his departure to a better world, and closed his useful and well-spent life, displaying, in its last scene, the same benevolent regard for others, which had always distinguished his character. What keen remorse did I feel at the remembrance, that while he was languishing on a sick bed, I was lavishing my time and affections on a worthless woman, unmindful of filial duty, and thoughtless of every thing but my own selfish enjoyment. Would that I could have received his last breath! could have listened to his last words! could have seen his last looks, expressing his undiminished tenderness for the living! would that I had profited more by his precepts and example! but it has been my fate through life
To see the right, and to approve it too,
Abhor the wrong, and yet the wrong pursue.
The small accession of fortune which I inherited at the death of my father, enabled me to re-stock my farm and improve its appearance and condition. During my absence it had been reduced to a most miserable state, and I found it destitute of almost every necessary supply. I had not yet relinquished my projects of improvement; but, profiting by experience, I did not attempt to execute them with such imprudent haste. I determined to accomplish them gradually, as time and opportunity permitted, without interfering with the regular cultivation of the farm; and as my profits increased, I thought I should be better able to support the expense of such a system. Sensible of the injury I had sustained by the negligence of my managers and the carelessness and dishonesty of my slaves, I resolved to appropriate a larger portion of my time to the personal superintendence of my estate. For the first year I bestowed the most diligent attention upon the operations
of my farm; but I did not perceive that I derived much advantage from my care. Though very learned in the theory of agriculture, I was ignorant of its details, and I found that my best digested plans uniformly deceived my expectations in practise. I had no talent for the management of men, and was kept in a constant state of irritation by the disobedience and inattention of my slaves and overseer. I became disgusted with an occupation so repugnant to all my previous habits and feelings, and gradually relapsed into my old pursuits. At length I left the whole management to my overseer and negroes, and devoted my time more agreeably to my favorite amusements. Under their administration the profits of my farm constantly diminished, and I was constrained, to relieve myself from debt, to encroach upon the principal of my estate. By the annual sale of a portion of my property, I was enabled to support for some years my accustomed style of living, but it was plain that such a system must ultimately strip me of the small remnant of my fortune. I was acting like the sloth, who gorges his voracious appetite until he has consumed the last leaf upon the tree, and then drops to the earth, bloated, helpless, and incapable of exertion.
I was popular with my honest neighbors, and though they thought me a visionary farmer, they conceived from my fluency of speech that I might succeed as a politician. After several years solicitation, I consented to become a candidate for the county, more to gratify them, than from the promptings of my own ambition. In this country, where public affairs are the topic of discussion in all circles, every man conceives himself a statesman and a legislator. A knowledge of newspaper slang, a facility in public speaking, and a blind devotion to party, are the only qualifications deemed necessary in the management of public affairs. I had very little acquaintance with the general principles of politics; but having known some of the little great men who had thrust themselves into favor and distinction by party subserviency, and a noisy repetition of the second-hand arguments of their leaders, I had the presumption to think that I might play a respectable if not a conspicuous part on the public theatre. It did not occur to me that craft, impudence, insensibility to censure, and an unscrupulous conscience, were qualities essential to success in such a career. In these I was deficient, and found too late, that ignorant as I was of the theory, I had still less genius for the practise of politics. A distinguished man has said, that the skin of a politician should be as thick as that of a rhinoceros, that he may be callous to the small shot of defamation. I found mine as tender and sensitive as a new-born infant’s. The morbid excitability of my imagination, nourished and increased by those romantic visions on which it delighted to dwell, exaggerated every petty misrepresentation into a serious wound to my character. “I was whipp’d and scourg’d with rods, nettled and stung with pismires,” at each repetition of these assaults on my reputation. I was kept in torture during the whole canvass by the host of falsehoods launched against me by my political enemies. On such occasions the people are prone to credit imputations on the candidate, when the same charges against the man would have been scouted and disbelieved. My vindications were generally unheeded, or if I succeeded in the refutation of one lie, it only served to make room for the circulation of a thousand. I was like the fox in the fable, and every swarm of these insect enemies that I drove off was succeeded by another more numerous and envenomed. My every word and action was watched and noted; the whole tenor of my life exposed to the severest scrutiny. The slightest ambiguity of expression, the most venial errors, were fastened upon, magnified, and distorted into the most serious offences. Unconscious of having ever injured one man in the county by word or deed, I had thought myself secure from the assaults of personal enmity, and I felt the injustice under which I suffered the more keenly because it was unprovoked. My adversary was a practised electioneer, skilful in touching the springs of popular prejudice. Shrewd and artful, he was versed in all the stratagems and manoeuvres of this kind of warfare, and knew how to spring the mine of misrepresentation upon his opponent by the agency of others, while he stood by an indifferent spectator. He was equally expert in courting the favor of the people by an imperturbable smoothness and suavity of manner, and by a coarse and familiar jocularity peculiarly acceptable to the bulk of the voters. He was made of the willow and not of the oak, and could accommodate himself with ready suppleness to the tastes and opinions of every circle with which he came into contact. My habits and pursuits had not instructed me in the knowledge of mankind, and though I had been trained to treat all men with politeness, my feelings revolted at the coarseness and familiarity which, with an ill grace, I was compelled to practise. Those rude liberties which many people think themselves authorised to take with a candidate, were equally offensive to me, and it was with difficulty, on some occasions, that I could restrain the resentment which they kindled. My friends had warned me not to be moved by such things, and I had heretofore borne numberless scoffs and insults with the fortitude of an Indian at the stake. One day when I had been striving in vain to stem the torrent of defamation, and was wrought to a high pitch of nervous excitement by the sense of injustice, my patience was suddenly exhausted by the offensive rudeness of a double-fisted ruffian, and in the first impulse of passion I struck him. The consequence was that I was beaten black and blue, and had to appear, on the day of the election, with a face which exhibited all the colors of the rainbow. The result was what might have been expected. I was defeated, and cured forever of all political aspirations.
Under the mismanagement of my overseers and from my own inattention, my property continued to dwindle, till, at the age of forty-five, I found myself on the brink of ruin. How could I ward off the approach of poverty? I had tried every thing and succeeded in nothing. My situation was desperate, and required desperate measures.
Nothing is more certain, than that those who acquire a taste for pleasures beyond the reach of their income, whatever their original character, must ultimately become calculating and mercenary. He who lives within his means is as independent as the nabob, and much less avaricious. Improvidence and cupidity have been invariable companions since the time of Catiline; and the lust of gain, engendered by profusion, is infinitely more rapacious and perhaps more debasing than the
nigard parsimony of the miser, whose whole happiness consists in counting his hoards. Want, too, has a marvellous tendency to dispel the illusions of romance. It brings forcibly to our view the animal necessities of our nature, and “feelingly reminds us” how much more bitter are the squalid distresses of poverty, than the fantastic woes of the child of opulence and indulgence. It divests the world and its concerns of the delusive drapery of the imagination, and exposes them in the cold nakedness of reality. “When poverty (says the old adage) enters the door, love flies out at the window.” I repeat again then, that those who have been nursed in habits unauthorised by their means, and who, therefore, are unfit to struggle with the privations of indigence, must look sharply to the main chance, especially in matrimony. It is because the present generation are nourished in such extravagance, that sordid views and calculations of interest enter, even in the ardent season of youth, into the formation of a connection whose happiness depends on the cultivation of our best and tenderest affections. How many beautiful young girls do we daily see, in defiance of nature and their own better feelings, wedding age, ugliness and vice, for the sake of wealth! How many promising young men are willing to barter their affections for money, and shamelessly avow that they are fortune-hunters! Marriage is no longer an affair of the heart, but of money! and the chances of such an event may be computed by the plainest rules of arithmetic. How much time and trouble, I have often thought, might be saved in these negotiations, by the intervention of the auctioneer. If such things are thought venial in the young and beautiful, surely those whose age naturally betokens the reign of avarice, may be excused for yielding to such considerations.
Such reflections as these began to effect a change in my character. I saw ruin staring me in the face, and remembering past disappointments, despaired of earning a subsistence by my own exertions. In the extremity of my distress I bethought myself of matrimony, as a means of repairing my broken fortunes. I had no time to lose, and cast my eyes on an old maid in the neighborhood, of a considerable estate, and whose love of celibacy was not supposed to be inflexible. Had I searched the world I could not have pitched on one more unlike the beau ideal of female perfection with which my youthful fancy was enamored. She was ugly, ungainly, ignorant, cross-tempered, and parsimonious—but she had the one thing needful for me, and that reflection reconciled me to all her infirmities of body and mind. I made my proposals, and was accepted; but though she was prodigal of her person, which I did not value, she was unwilling to surrender the control of her property, the real object of my pursuit. The idea of the dissipation of her wealth by an improvident husband, was gall and wormwood, and she insisted upon a marriage contract, reserving to herself the management and disposition of her property. I was obliged to consent, and, to do it with the best grace possible, expressed the utmost indifference to her fortune, protesting that it was her person only that I coveted. Upon this flattering assurance she became extremely gracious, and very much to my discomfiture, was so fond and tender that I could scarcely suppress my disgust at these unwelcome tokens of her love. After obtaining her consent to a speedy celebration of our nuptials, I withdrew. The contract was duly executed—the marriage duly solemnized—and I became the unenvied spouse of the homeliest woman in the county. Like the valiant captain Lismahago, under similar circumstances, I wore my bonds with a gallantry befitting the occasion.
Having exhausted my own estate, I now lived a pensioner on her bounty, and as she doled out her liberalities with a sparing hand, interest compelled me to play the tender and complaisant husband. I now comprehend what constitutes the philosophy of a stoic and the spirit of a martyr, having endured so long the acerbity of her temper and her cutting reproaches of my extravagance. It was the fear of her displeasure that induced me to suppress my name in this narrative. As she never reads, and I am not known as the author to any body, I hope to escape detection. If she were to know of my description of her person and character, I would sooner go on a forlorn hope than face the artillery of her wrath. I still live in constant fear and trembling, lest her own suspicions or the suggestions of others might lead to a discovery.
It might be supposed that the caustic of twenty years conversation with a woman of this character, would have extirpated every root and fibre of romance from my nature. But though my old propensities are sobered, they have never been vanquished. I still amuse myself with the best romances of the day, and find that they sweeten, in some degree, the unpleasant circumstances of my lot. The rational and moderate enjoyment of the best works in that walk of literature, no one I think can condemn. I have presented the results of my own bitter experience in this slight sketch, as a warning against an intemperate and indiscriminate indulgence in this sort of reading, especially in early life. Had I power, like the curate in Don Quixotte, to sentence all the productions of romance to the flames, I should exercise, like him, a just discrimination, and rescue many from the conflagration. I exhort my young readers to peruse only the best works of this kind, and to abstain altogether from them while their education is in progress. Whether any will be influenced by this advice, I know not, but I pray that all
“May better reck the rede,
Than e’er did the adviser.”