To Dr LEWIS.
At what time of life may a man think himself exempted from the necessity of sacrificing his repose to the punctilios of a contemptible world? I have been engaged in a ridiculous adventure, which I shall recount at meeting; and this, I hope, will not be much longer delayed, as we have now performed almost all our visits, and seen every thing that I think has any right to retard us in our journey homewards—A few days ago, understanding by accident, that my old friend Baynard was in the country, I would not pass so near his habitation without paying him a visit, though our correspondence had been interrupted for a long course of years.
I felt my self very sensibly affected by the idea of our past intimacy, as we approached the place where we had spent so many happy days together; but when we arrived at the house, I could not recognize any one of those objects, which had been so deeply impressed upon my remembrance—The tall oaks that shaded the avenue, had been cut down, and the iron gates at the end of it removed, together with the high wall that surrounded the court yard. The house itself, which was formerly a convent of Cistercian monks, had a venerable appearance: and along the front that looked into the garden, was a stone gallery, which afforded me many an agreeable walk, when I was disposed to be contemplative. Now the old front is covered with a screen of modern architecture; so that all without is Grecian, and all within Gothic. As for the garden, which was well stocked with the best fruit which England could produce, there is not now the least vestage remaining of trees, walls, or hedges—Nothing appears but a naked circus of loose sand, with a dry bason and a leaden triton in the middle.
You must know, that Baynard, at his father’s death, had a clear estate of fifteen hundred pounds a-year, and was in other respects extremely well qualified to make a respectable figure in the commonwealth; but, what with some excesses of youth, and the expence of a contested election, he in a few years found himself encumbered with a debt of ten thousand pounds, which he resolved to discharge by means of a prudent marriage. He accordingly married a miss Thomson, whose fortune amounted to double the sum that he owed—She was the daughter of a citizen, who had failed in trade; but her fortune came by an uncle, who died in the East-Indies—Her own parents being dead, she lived with a maiden aunt, who had superintended her education; and, in all appearance, was well enough qualified for the usual purposes of the married state—Her virtues, however, stood rather upon a negative, than a positive foundation—She was neither proud, insolent, nor capricious, nor given to scandal, nor addicted to gaming, nor inclined to gallantry. She could read, and write, and dance, and sing, and play upon the harpsichord, and smatter French, and take a hand at whist and ombre; but even these accomplishments she possessed by halves—She excelled in nothing. Her conversation was flat, her stile mean, and her expression embarrassed—In a word, her character was totally insipid. Her person was not disagreeable; but there was nothing graceful in her address, nor engaging in her manners; and she was so ill qualified to do the honours of the house, that when she sat at the head of the table, one was always looking for the mistress of the family in some other place.
Baynard had flattered himself, that it would be no difficult matter to mould such a subject after his own fashion, and that she would chearfully enter into his views, which were wholly turned to domestic happiness. He proposed to reside always in the country, of which he was fond to a degree of enthusiasm; to cultivate his estate, which was very improvable; to enjoy the exercise of rural diversions; to maintain an intimacy of correspondence with some friends that were settled in his neighbourhood; to keep a comfortable house, without suffering his expence to exceed the limits of his income; and to find pleasure and employ merit for his wife in the management and avocations of her own family—This, however, was a visionary scheme, which he never was able to realize. His wife was as ignorant as a new-born babe of everything that related to the conduct of a family; and she had no idea of a country-life. Her understanding did not reach so far as to comprehend the first principles of discretion; and, indeed, if her capacity had been better than it was, her natural indolence would not have permitted her to abandon a certain routine, to which she had been habituated. She had not taste enough to relish any rational enjoyment; but her ruling passion was vanity, not that species which arises from self-conceit of superior accomplishments, but that which is of a bastard and idiot nature, excited by shew and ostentation, which implies not even the least consciousness of any personal merit.
The nuptial peal of noise and nonsense being rung out in all the usual changes, Mr Baynard thought it high time to make her acquainted with the particulars of the plan which he had projected—He told her that his fortune, though sufficient to afford all the comforts of life, was not ample enough to command all the superfluities of pomp and pageantry, which, indeed, were equally absurd and intolerable—He therefore hoped she would have no objection to their leaving London in the spring, when he would take the opportunity to dismiss some unnecessary domestics, whom he had hired for the occasion of their marriage—She heard him in silence, and after some pause, ‘So (said she) I am to be buried in the country!’ He was so confounded at this reply, that he could not speak for some minutes: at length he told her, he was much mortified to find he had proposed anything that was disagreeable to her ideas—‘I am sure (added he) I meant nothing more than to lay down a comfortable plan of living within the bounds of our fortune, which is but moderate.’ ‘Sir (said she), you are the best judge of your own affairs—My fortune, I know, does not exceed twenty thousand pounds—Yet, even with that pittance, I might have had a husband who would not have begrudged me a house in London’—‘Good God! my dear (cried poor Baynard, in the utmost agitation), you don’t think me so sordid—I only hinted what I thought—But, I don’t pretend to impose—’ ‘Yes, sir (resumed the lady), it is your prerogative to command, and my duty to obey’ So saying, she burst into tears and retired to her chamber, where she was joined by her aunt—He endeavoured to recollect himself, and act with vigour of mind on this occasion; but was betrayed by the tenderness of his nature, which was the greatest defect of his constitution. He found the aunt in tears, and the niece in a fit, which held her the best part of eight hours, at the expiration of which, she began to talk incoherently about death and her dear husband, who had sat by her all this time, and now pressed her hand to his lips, in a transport of grief and penitence for the offence he had given—From thence forward, he carefully avoided mentioning the country; and they continued to be sucked deeper and deeper into the vortex of extravagance and dissipation, leading what is called a fashionable life in town—About the latter end of July, however, Mrs Baynard, in order to exhibit a proof of conjugal obedience, desired of her own accord, that they might pay a visit to his country house, as there was no company left in London. He would have excused himself from this excursion which was no part of the oeconomical plan he had proposed; but she insisted upon making this sacrifice to his taste and prejudices, and away they went with such an equipage as astonished the whole country. All that remained of the season was engrossed by receiving and returning visits in the neighbourhood; and, in this intercourse it was discovered that sir John Chickwell had a house-steward and one footman in livery more than the complement of Mr Baynard’s household. This remark was made by the aunt at table, and assented to by the husband, who observed that sir John Chickwell might very well afford to keep more servants than were found in the family of a man who had not half his fortune. Mrs Baynard ate no supper that evening; but was seized with a violent fit, which completed her triumph over the spirit of her consort. The two supernumerary servants were added—The family plate was sold for old silver, and a new service procured; fashionable furniture was provided, and the whole house turned topsy turvy.
At their return to London in the beginning of winter, he, with a heavy heart, communicated these particulars to me in confidence. Before his marriage, he had introduced me to the lady as his particular friend; and I now offered in that character, to lay before her the necessity of reforming her oeconomy, if she had any regard to the interest of her own family, or complaisance for the inclinations of her husband—But Baynard declined my offer, on the supposition that his wife’s nerves were too delicate to bear expostulation; and that it would only serve to overwhelm her with such distress as would make himself miserable.
Baynard is a man of spirit, and had she proved a termagant, he would have known how to deal with her; but, either by accident or instinct, she fastened upon the weak side of his soul, and held it so fast, that he has been in subjection ever since—I afterwards advised him to carry her abroad to France or Italy, where he might gratify her vanity for half the expence it cost him in England: and this advice he followed accordingly. She was agreeably flattered with the idea of seeing and knowing foreign parts, and foreign fashions; of being presented to sovereigns, and living familiarly with princes. She forthwith seized the hint which I had thrown out on purpose, and even pressed Mr Baynard to hasten his departure; so that in a few weeks they crossed the sea to France, with a moderate train, still including the aunt; who was her bosom counsellor, and abetted her in all her oppositions to her husband’s will—Since that period, I have had little or no opportunity to renew our former correspondence—All that I knew of his transactions, amounted to no more than that after an absence of two years, they returned so little improved in oeconomy, that they launched out into new oceans of extravagance, which at length obliged him to mortgage his estate—By this time she had bore him three children, of which the last only survives, a puny boy of twelve or thirteen, who will be ruined in his education by the indulgence of his mother.
As for Baynard, neither his own good sense, nor the dread of indigence, nor the consideration of his children, has been of force sufficient to stimulate him into the resolution of breaking at once the shameful spell by which he seems enchanted—With a taste capable of the most refined enjoyment, a heart glowing with all the warmth of friendship and humanity, and a disposition strongly turned to the more rational pleasures of a retired and country life, he is hurried about in a perpetual tumult, amidst a mob of beings pleased with rattles, baubles, and gewgaws, so void of sense and distinction, that even the most acute philosopher would find it a very hard task to discover for what wise purpose of providence they were created—Friendship is not to be found; nor can the amusements for which he sighs be enjoyed within the rotation of absurdity, to which he is doomed for life. He has long resigned all views of improving his fortune by management and attention to the exercise of husbandry, in which he delighted; and as to domestic happiness, not the least glimpse of hope remains to amuse his imagination. Thus blasted in all his prospects, he could not fail to be overwhelmed with melancholy and chagrin, which have preyed upon his health and spirits in such a manner, that he is now threatened with a consumption.
I have given you a sketch of the man, whom the other day I went to visit—At the gate we found a great number of powdered lacquies, but no civility—After we had sat a considerable time in the coach, we were told, that Mr Baynard had rode out, and that his lady was dressing; but we were introduced to a parlour, so very fine and delicate, that in all appearance it was designed to be seen only, not inhabited. The chairs and couches were carved, gilt, and covered with rich damask, so smooth and slick, that they looked as if they had never been sat upon. There was no carpet upon the floor, but the boards were rubbed and waxed in such a manner, that we could not walk, but were obliged to slide along them; and as for the stove, it was too bright and polished to be polluted with sea-coal, or stained by the smoke of any gross material fire—When we had remained above half an hour sacrificing to the inhospitable powers in the temple of cold reception, my friend Baynard arrived, and understanding we were in the house, made his appearance, so meagre, yellow, and dejected, that I really should not have known him, had I met with him in any other place. Running up to me, with great eagerness, he strained me in his embrace, and his heart was so full, that for some minutes he could not speak. Having saluted us all round, he perceived our uncomfortable situation, and conducting us into another apartment, which had fire in the chimney, called for chocolate—Then, withdrawing, he returned with a compliment from his wife, and, in the mean time, presented his son Harry, a shambling, blear-eyed boy, in the habit of a hussar; very rude, forward, and impertinent. His father would have sent him to a boarding-school, but his mamma and aunt would not hear of his lying out of the house; so that there was a clergyman engaged as his tutor in the family.
As it was but just turned of twelve, and the whole house was in commotion to prepare a formal entertainment, I foresaw it would be late before we dined, and proposed a walk to Mr Baynard, that we might converse together freely. In the course of this perambulation, when I expressed some surprize that he had returned so soon from Italy, he gave me to understand, that his going abroad had not at all answered the purpose, for which he left England; that although the expence of living was not so great in Italy as at home, respect being had to the same rank of life in both countries, it had been found necessary for him to lift himself above his usual stile, that he might be on some footing with the counts, marquises, and cavaliers, with whom he kept company—He was obliged to hire a great number of servants, to take off a great variety of rich cloaths, and to keep a sumptuous table for the fashionable scorocconi of the country; who, without a consideration of this kind, would not have payed any attention to an untitled foreigner, let his family or fortune be ever so respectable—Besides, Mrs Baynard was continually surrounded by a train of expensive loungers, under the denominations of language-masters, musicians, painters, and ciceroni; and had actually fallen into the disease of buying pictures and antiques upon her own judgment, which was far from being infallible—At length she met with an affront, which gave her disgust to Italy, and drove her back to England with some precipitation. By means of frequenting the dutchess of B[edford]’s conversazione, while her grace was at Rome, Mrs Baynard became acquainted with all the fashionable people of that city, and was admitted to their assemblies without scruple—Thus favoured, she conceived too great an idea of her own importance, and when the dutchess left Rome, resolved to have a conversazione that should leave the Romans no room to regret her grace’s departure. She provided hands for a musical entertainment, and sent biglietti of invitation to every person of distinction; but not one Roman of the female sex appeared at her assembly—She was that night seized with a violent fit, and kept her bed three days, at the expiration of which she declared that the air of Italy would be the ruin of her constitution. In order to prevent this catastrophe, she was speedily removed to Geneva, from whence they returned to England by the way of Lyons and Paris. By the time they arrived at Calais, she had purchased such a quantity of silks, stuffs, and laces, that it was necessary to hire a vessel to smuggle them over, and this vessel was taken by a custom-house cutter; so that they lost the whole cargo, which had cost them above eight hundred pounds.
It now appears, that her travels had produced no effect upon her, but that of making her more expensive and fantastic than ever: She affected to lead the fashion, not only in point of female dress, but in every article of taste and connoisseurship. She made a drawing of the new facade to the house in the country; she pulled up the trees, and pulled down the walls of the garden, so as to let in the easterly wind, which Mr Baynard’s ancestors had been at great pains to exclude. To shew her taste in laying out ground, she seized into her own hand a farm of two hundred acres, about a mile from the house, which she parcelled out into walks and shrubberies, having a great bason in the middle, into which she poured a whole stream that turned two mills, and afforded the best trout in the country. The bottom of the bason, however, was so ill secured, that it would not hold the water which strained through the earth, and made a bog of the whole plantation: in a word, the ground which formerly payed him one hundred and fifty pounds a year, now cost him two hundred pounds a year to keep it in tolerable order, over and above the first expence of trees, shrubs, flowers, turf, and gravel. There was not an inch of garden ground left about the house, nor a tree that produced fruit of any kind; nor did he raise a truss of hay, or a bushel of oats for his horses, nor had he a single cow to afford milk for his tea; far less did he ever dream of feeding his own mutton, pigs, and poultry: every article of housekeeping, even the most inconsiderable, was brought from the next market town, at the distance of five miles, and thither they sent a courier every morning to fetch hot rolls for breakfast. In short, Baynard fairly owned that he spent double his income, and that in a few years he should be obliged to sell his estate for the payment of his creditors. He said that his wife had such delicate nerves, and such imbecility of spirit, that she could neither bear remonstrance, be it ever so gentle, nor practise any scheme of retrenchment, even if she perceived the necessity of such a measure. He had therefore ceased struggling against the stream, and endeavoured to reconcile himself to ruin, by reflecting that his child at least would inherit his mother’s fortune, which was secured to him by the contract of marriage.
The detail which he gave me of his affairs, filled me at once with grief and indignation. I inveighed bitterly against the indiscretion of his wife, and reproached him with his unmanly acquiescence under the absurd tyranny which she exerted. I exhorted him to recollect his resolution, and make one effectual effort to disengage himself from a thraldom, equally shameful and pernicious. I offered him all the assistance in my power. I undertook to regulate his affairs, and even to bring about a reformation in his family, if he would only authorise me to execute the plan I should form for his advantage. I was so affected by the subject, that I could not help mingling tears with my remonstrances, and Baynard was so penetrated with these marks of my affection, that he lost all power of utterance. He pressed me to his breast with great emotion, and wept in silence. At length he exclaimed, ‘Friendship is undoubtedly the most precious balm of life! Your words, dear Bramble, have in a great measure recalled me from an abyss of despondence, in which I have been long overwhelmed. I will, upon honour, make you acquainted with a distinct state of my affairs, and, as far as I am able to go, will follow the course you prescribe. But there are certain lengths which my nature—The truth is, there are tender connexions, of which a batchelor has no idea—Shall I own my weakness? I cannot bear the thoughts of making that woman uneasy’—‘And yet (cried I), she has seen you unhappy for a series of years—unhappy from her misconduct, without ever shewing the least inclination to alleviate your distress’—‘Nevertheless (said he) I am persuaded she loves me with the most warm affection; but these are incongruities in the composition of the human mind which I hold to be inexplicable.’
I was shocked at his infatuation, and changed the subject, after we had agreed to maintain a close correspondence for the future. He then gave me to understand, that he had two neighbours, who, like himself, were driven by their wives at full speed, in the high road to bankruptcy and ruin. All the three husbands were of dispositions very different from each other, and, according to this variation, their consorts were admirably suited to the purpose of keeping them all three in subjection. The views of the ladies were exactly the same. They vied in grandeur, that is, in ostentation, with the wife of Sir Charles Chickwell, who had four times their fortune; and she again piqued herself upon making an equal figure with a neighbouring peeress, whose revenue trebled her own. Here then was the fable of the frog and the ox, realized in four different instances within the same county: one large fortune, and three moderate estates, in a fair way of being burst by the inflation of female vanity; and in three of these instances, three different forms of female tyranny were exercised. Mr Baynard was subjugated by practising upon the tenderness of his nature. Mr Milksan, being of a timorous disposition, truckled to the insolence of a termagant. Mr Sowerby, who was of a temper neither to be moved by fits, nor driven by menaces, had the fortune to be fitted with a helpmate, who assailed him with the weapons of irony and satire; sometimes sneering in the way of compliment; sometimes throwing out sarcastic comparisons, implying reproaches upon his want of taste, spirit, and generosity: by which means she stimulated his passions from one act of extravagance to another, just as the circumstances of her vanity required.
All these three ladies have at this time the same number of horses, carriages, and servants in and out of livery; the same variety of dress; the same quantity of plate and china; the like ornaments in furniture: and in their entertainments they endeavour to exceed one another in the variety, delicacy, and expence of their dishes. I believe it will be found upon enquiry, that nineteen out of twenty, who are ruined by extravagance, fall a sacrifice to the ridiculous pride and vanity of silly women, whose parts are held in contempt by the very men whom they pillage and enslave. Thank heaven, Dick, that among all the follies and weaknesses of human nature, I have not yet fallen into that of matrimony.
After Baynard and I had discussed all these matters at leisure, we returned towards the house, and met Jery with our two women, who had come forth to take the air, as the lady of the mansion had not yet made her appearance. In short, Mrs Baynard did not produce herself, till about a quarter of an hour before dinner was upon the table. Then her husband brought her into the parlour, accompanied by her aunt and son, and she received us with a coldness of reserve sufficient to freeze the very soul of hospitality. Though she knew I had been the intimate friend of her husband, and had often seen me with him in London, she shewed no marks of recognition or regard, when I addressed myself to her in the most friendly terms of salutation. She did not even express the common compliment of, I am glad to see you; or, I hope you have enjoyed your health since we had the pleasure of seeing you; or some such words of course: nor did she once open her mouth in the way of welcome to my sister and my niece: but sat in silence like a statue, with an aspect of insensibility. Her aunt, the model upon which she had been formed, was indeed the very essence of insipid formality but the boy was very pert and impudent, and prated without ceasing.
At dinner, the lady maintained the same ungracious indifference, never speaking but in whispers to her aunt; and as to the repast, it was made up of a parcel of kickshaws, contrived by a French cook, without one substantial article adapted to the satisfaction of an English appetite. The pottage was little better than bread soaked in dishwashings, lukewarm. The ragouts looked as if they had been once eaten and half digested: the fricassees were involved in a nasty yellow poultice: and the rotis were scorched and stinking, for the honour of the fumet. The desert consisted of faded fruit and iced froth, a good emblem of our landlady’s character; the table-beer was sour, the water foul, and the wine vapid; but there was a parade of plate and china, and a powdered lacquey stood behind every chair, except those of the master and mistress of the house, who were served by two valets dressed like gentlemen. We dined in a large old Gothic parlour, which was formerly the hall. It was now paved with marble, and, notwithstanding the fire which had been kindled about an hour, struck me with such a chill sensation, that when I entered it the teeth chattered in my jaws—In short, every thing was cold, comfortless, and disgusting, except the looks of my friend Baynard, which declared the warmth of his affection and humanity.
After dinner we withdrew into another apartment, where the boy began to be impertinently troublesome to my niece Liddy. He wanted a playfellow, forsooth; and would have romped with her, had she encouraged his advances—He was even so impudent as to snatch a kiss, at which she changed countenance, and seemed uneasy; and though his father checked him for the rudeness of his behaviour, he became so outrageous as to thrust his hand in her bosom: an insult to which she did not tamely submit, though one of the mildest creatures upon earth. Her eyes sparkling with resentment, she started up, and lent him such a box in the ear, as sent him staggering to the other side of the room.
‘Miss Melford (cried his father), you have treated him with the utmost propriety—I am only sorry that the impertinence of any child of mine should have occasioned this exertion of your spirit, which I cannot but applaud and admire.’ His wife was so far from assenting to the candour of his apology, that she rose from the table, and, taking her son by the hand, ‘Come, child (said she), your father cannot abide you.’ So saying, she retired with this hopeful youth, and was followed by her gouvernante: but neither the one nor the other deigned to take the least notice of the company.
Baynard was exceedingly disconcerted; but I perceived his uneasiness was tinctured with resentment, and derived a good omen from this discovery. I ordered the horses to be put to the carriage, and, though he made some efforts to detain us all night, I insisted upon leaving the house immediately; but, before I went away, I took an opportunity of speaking to him again in private. I said every thing I could recollect, to animate his endeavours in shaking off those shameful trammels. I made no scruple to declare, that his wife was unworthy of that tender complaisance which he had shewn for her foibles: that she was dead to all the genuine sentiments of conjugal affection; insensible of her own honour and interest, and seemingly destitute of common sense and reflection. I conjured him to remember what he owed to his father’s house, to his own reputation, and to his family, including even this unreasonable woman herself, who was driving on blindly to her own destruction. I advised him to form a plan for retrenching superfluous expence, and try to convince the aunt of the necessity for such a reformation, that she might gradually prepare her niece for its execution; and I exhorted him to turn that disagreeable piece of formality out of the house, if he should find her averse to his proposal.
Here he interrupted me with a sigh, observing that such a step would undoubtedly be fatal to Mrs Baynard—‘I shall lose all patience (cried I), to hear you talk so weakly—Mrs Baynard’s fits will never hurt her constitution. I believe in my conscience they are all affected: I am sure she has no feeling for your distresses; and, when you are ruined, she will appear to have no feeling for her own.’ Finally, I took his word and honour that he would make an effort, such as I had advised; that he would form a plan of oeconomy, and, if he found it impracticable without my assistance, he would come to Bath in the winter, where I promised to give him the meeting, and contribute all in my power to the retrieval of his affairs—With this mutual engagement we parted; and I shall think myself supremely happy, if, by my means, a worthy man, whom I love and esteem, can be saved from misery, disgrace, and despair.
I have only one friend more to visit in this part of the country, but he is of a complexion very different from that of Baynard. You have heard me mention Sir Thomas Bullford, whom I knew in Italy. He is now become a country gentleman; but, being disabled by the gout from enjoying any amusement abroad, he entertains himself within doors, by keeping open house for all corners, and playing upon the oddities and humours of his company: but he himself is generally the greatest original at his table. He is very good-humoured, talks much, and laughs without ceasing. I am told that all the use he makes of his understanding at present, is to excite mirth, by exhibiting his guests in ludicrous attitudes. I know not how far we may furnish him with entertainment of this kind, but I am resolved to beat up his quarters, partly with a view to laugh with the knight himself, and partly to pay my respects to his lady, a good-natured sensible woman, with whom he lives upon very easy terms, although she has not had the good fortune to bring him an heir to his estate.
And now, dear Dick, I must tell you for your comfort, that you are the only man upon earth to whom I would presume to send such a longwinded epistle, which I could not find in my heart to curtail, because the subject interested the warmest passions of my heart; neither will I make any other apology to a correspondent who has been so long accustomed to the impertinence of
MATT. BRAMBLE Sept. 30.