To Dr LEWIS.
Once more, dear doctor, I resume the pen for your amusement. It was on the morning after our arrival that, walking out with my friend, Mr Dennison, I could not help breaking forth into the warmest expressions of applause at the beauty of the scene, which is really inchanting; and I signified, in particular, how much I was pleased with the disposition of some detached groves, that afforded at once shelter and ornament to his habitation.
‘When I took possession of these lands, about two and twenty years ago (said he), there was not a tree standing within a mile of the house, except those of an old neglected orchard, which produced nothing but leaves and moss.—It was in the gloomy month of November, when I arrived, and found the house in such a condition, that it might have been justly stiled the tower of desolation.—The court-yard was covered with nettles and docks, and the garden exhibited such a rank plantation of weeds as I had never seen before;—the window-shutters were falling in pieces,—the sashes broken;—and owls and jack-daws had taken possession of the chimnies.—The prospect within was still more dreary—All was dark, and damp, and dirty beyond description;—the rain penetrated in several parts of the roof;—in some apartments the very floors had given way;—the hangings were parted from the walls, and shaking in mouldy remnants; the glasses were dropping out of their frames;—the family-pictures were covered with dust and all the chairs and tables worm-eaten and crazy.—There was not a bed in the house that could be used, except one old-fashioned machine, with a high gilt tester and fringed curtains of yellow mohair, which had been, for aught I know, two centuries in the family.—In short, there was no furniture but the utensils of the kitchen; and the cellar afforded nothing but a few empty butts and barrels, that stunk so abominably, that I would not suffer any body to enter it until I had flashed a considerable quantity of gunpowder to qualify the foul air within.
‘An old cottager and his wife, who were hired to lie in the house, had left it with precipitation, alledging, among other causes of retreat, that they could not sleep for frightful noises, and that my poor brother certainly walked after his death.—In a word, the house appeared uninhabitable; the barn, stable, and outhouses were in ruins; all the fences broken down, and the fields lying waste.
‘The farmer who kept the key never dreamed I had any intention to live upon the spot—He rented a farm of sixty pounds, and his lease was just expiring.—He had formed a scheme of being appointed bailiff to the estate, and of converting the house and the adjacent grounds to his own use.—A hint of his intention I received from the curate at my first arrival; I therefore did not pay much regard to what he said by way of discouraging me from coming to settle in the country; but I was a little startled when he gave me warning that he should quit the farm at the expiration of his lease, unless I could abate considerably in the rent.
‘At this period I accidentally became acquainted with a person, whose friendship laid the foundation of all my prosperity. In the next market-town I chanced to dine at an inn with a Mr Wilson, who was lately come to settle in the neighbourhood.—He had been lieutenant of a man of war, but quitted the sea in some disgust, and married the only daughter of farmer Bland, who lives in this parish, and has acquired a good fortune in the way of husbandry.—Wilson is one of the best natured men I ever knew; brave, frank, obliging, and ingenuous—He liked my conversation, I was charmed with his liberal manner; and acquaintance immediately commenced, and this was soon improved into a friendship without reserve.—There are characters which, like similar particles of matter, strongly attract each other.—He forthwith introduced me to his father-in-law, farmer Bland, who was well acquainted with every acre of my estate, of consequence well qualified to advise me on this occasion.—Finding I was inclined to embrace a country life, and even to amuse myself with the occupation of farming, he approved of my design—He gave me to understand that all my farms were underlett; that the estate was capable of great improvement; that there was plenty of chalk in the neighbourhood; and that my own ground produced excellent marle for manure.—With respect to the farm, which was like to fall into my hands, he said he would willingly take it at the present rent; but at the same time owned, that if I would expend two hundred pounds in enclosure, it would be worth more than double the sum.
‘Thus encouraged, I began the execution of my scheme without further delay, and plunged into a sea of expence, though I had no fund in reserve, and the whole produce of the estate did not exceed three hundred pounds a year—In one week, my house was made weather-tight, and thoroughly cleansed from top to bottom; then it was well ventilated by throwing all the doors and windows open, and making blazing fires of wood in every chimney from the kitchen to the garrets. The floors were repaired, the sashes new glazed, and out of the old furniture of the whole house, I made shift to fit up a parlour and three chambers in a plain yet decent manner.—The court-yard was cleared of weeds and rubbish, and my friend Wilson charged himself with the dressing of the garden; bricklayers were set at work upon the barn and stable; and labourers engaged to restore the fences, and begin the work of hedging and ditching, under the direction of farmer Bland, at whose recommendation I hired a careful hind to lie in the house, and keep constant fires in the apartments.
‘Having taken these measures, I returned to London, where I forthwith sold off my household-furniture, and, in three weeks from my first visit, brought my wife hither to keep her Christmas.—Considering the gloomy season of the year, the dreariness of the place, and the decayed aspect of our habitation, I was afraid that her resolution would sink under the sudden transition from a town life to such a melancholy state of rustication; but I was agreeably disappointed.—She found the reality less uncomfortable than the picture I had drawn.—By this time indeed, things were mended in appearance—The out-houses had risen out of their ruins; the pigeon-house was rebuilt, and replenished by Wilson, who also put my garden in decent order, and provided a good stock of poultry, which made an agreeable figure in my yard; and the house, on the whole, looked like the habitation of human creatures.—Farmer Bland spared me a milch cow for my family, and an ordinary saddle-horse for my servant to go to market at the next town.—I hired a country lad for a footman, the hind’s daughter was my house-maid, and my wife had brought a cook-maid from London.
‘Such was my family when I began house-keeping in this place, with three hundred pounds in my pocket, raised from the sale of my superfluous furniture.—I knew we should find occupation enough through the day to employ our time; but I dreaded the long winter evenings; yet, for those too we found a remedy: The curate, who was a single man, soon became so naturalized to the family, that he generally lay in the house; and his company was equally agreeable and useful. He was a modest man, a good scholar, and perfectly well qualified to instruct me in such country matters as I wanted to know.—Mr Wilson brought his wife to see us, and she became so fond of Mrs Dennison, that she said she was never so happy as when she enjoyed the benefit of her conversation.—She was then a fine buxom country lass, exceedingly docile, and as good-natured as her husband Jack Wilson; so that a friendship ensued among the women, which hath continued to this day.
‘As for Jack, he hath been my constant companion, counsellor, and commissary.—I would not for a hundred pounds you should leave my house without seeing him.—Jack is an universal genius—his talents are really astonishing:—He is an excellent carpenter, joiner, and turner, and a cunning artist in iron and brass.—He not only superintended my oeconomy, but also presided over my pastimes—He taught me to brew beer, to make cyder, perry, mead, usquebaugh, and plague-water; to cook several outlandish delicacies, such as ollas, pepper-pots, pillaws, corys, chabobs, and stufatas.—He understands all manner of games from chess down to chuck-farthing, sings a good song, plays upon the violin, and dances a hornpipe with surprising agility.—He and I walked, and rode, and hunted, and fished together, without minding the vicissitudes of the weather; and I am persuaded, that in a raw, moist climate, like this of England, continual exercise is as necessary as food to the preservation of the individual.—In the course of two and twenty years, there has not been one hour’s interruption or abatement in the friendship subsisting between Wilson’s family and mine; and, what is a rare instance of good fortune, that friendship is continued to our children.—His son and mine are nearly of the same age and the same disposition; they have been bred up together at the same school and college, and love each other with the warmest affection.
‘By Wilson’s means, I likewise formed an acquaintance with a sensible physician, who lives in the next market-town; and his sister, an agreeable old maiden, passed the Christmas holidays at our house. Mean while I began my farming with great eagerness, and that very winter planted these groves that please you so much.—As for the neighbouring gentry, I had no trouble from that quarter during my first campaign; they were all gone to town before I settled in the country; and by the summer I had taken measures to defend myself from their attacks.—When a gay equipage came to my gates, I was never at home; those who visited me in a modest way, I received; and according to the remarks I made on their characters and conversation, either rejected their advances, or returned their civility—I was in general despised among the fashionable company, as a low fellow, both in breeding and circumstances; nevertheless, I found a few individuals of moderate fortune, who gladly adopted my stile of living; and many others would have acceded to our society, had they not been prevented by the pride, envy, and ambition of their wives and daughters.—Those, in times of luxury and dissipation, are the rocks upon which all the small estates in the country are wrecked.
‘I reserved in my own hands, some acres of ground adjacent to the house, for making experiments in agriculture, according to the directions of Lyle, Tull, Hart, Duhamel, and others who have written on this subject; and qualified their theory with the practical observations of farmer Bland, who was my great master in the art of husbandry.—In short, I became enamoured of a country life; and my success greatly exceeded my expectation—I drained bogs, burned heath, grubbed up furze and fern; I planted copse and willows where nothing else would grow; I gradually inclosed all my farms, and made such improvements that my estate now yields me clear twelve hundred pounds a year—All this time my wife and I have enjoyed uninterrupted health, and a regular flow of spirits, except on a very few occasions, when our cheerfulness was invaded by such accidents as are inseparable from the condition of life. I lost two children in their infancy, by the small-pox, so that I have one son only, in whom all our hopes are centered.—He went yesterday to visit a friend, with whom he has stayed all night, but he will be here to dinner.—I shall this day have the pleasure of presenting him to you and your family; and I flatter myself you will find him not altogether unworthy of our affection.
‘The truth is, either I am blinded by the partiality of a parent, or he is a boy of very amiable character; and yet his conduct has given us unspeakable disquiet.—You must know, we had projected a match between him and a gentleman’s daughter in the next county, who will in all probability be heiress of a considerable fortune; but, it seems, he had a personal disgust to the alliance. He was then at Cambridge, and tried to gain time on various pretences; but being pressed in letters by his mother and me to give a definitive answer, he fairly gave his tutor the slip, and disappeared about eight months ago.—Before he took this rash step, he wrote me a letter, explaining his objections to the match, and declaring, that he would keep himself concealed until he should understand that his parents would dispense with his contracting an engagement that must make him miserable for life, and he prescribed the form of advertising in a certain newspaper, by which he might be apprized of our sentiments on this subject.
‘You may easily conceive how much we were alarmed and afflicted by this elopement, which he had made without dropping the least hint to his companion Charles Wilson, who belonged to the same college.—We resolved to punish him with the appearance of neglect, in hopes that he would return of his own accord; but he maintained his purpose till the young lady chose a partner for herself; then he produced himself, and made his peace by the mediation of Wilson.—Suppose we should unite our families by joining him with your niece, who is one of the most lovely creatures I ever beheld.—My wife is already as fond of her as if she were her own child, and I have a presentiment that my son will be captivated by her at first sight.’ ‘Nothing could be more agreeable to all our family (said I) than such an alliance; but, my dear friend, candour obliges me to tell you, that I am afraid Liddy’s heart is not wholly disengaged—there is a cursed obstacle’—‘You mean the young stroller at Gloucester (said he)—You are surprised that I should know this circumstance; but you will be more surprised when I tell you that stroller is no other than my son George Dennison—That was the character he assumed in his eclipse.’ ‘I am, indeed, astonished and overjoyed (cried I), and shall be happy beyond expression to see your proposal take effect.’
He then gave me to understand that the young gentleman, at his emerging from concealment, had disclosed his passion for Miss Melford, the niece of Mr Bramble, of Monmouthshire. Though Mr Dennison little dreamed that this was his old friend Matthew Loyd, he nevertheless furnished his son with proper credentials, and he had been at Bath, London, and many other places in quest of us, to make himself and his pretensions known.
The bad success of his enquiry had such an effect upon his spirits, that immediately at his return he was seized with a dangerous fever, which overwhelmed his parents with terror and affliction; but he was now happily recovered, though still weak and disconsolate. My nephew joining us in our walk, I informed him of these circumstances, with which he was wonderfully pleased. He declared he would promote the match to the utmost of his power, and that he longed to embrace young Mr Dennison as his friend and brother.—Mean while, the father went to desire his wife to communicate this discovery gradually to Liddy, that her delicate nerves might not suffer too sudden a shock; and I imparted the particulars to my sister Tabby, who expressed some surprize, not altogether unmixed, I believe, with an emotion of envy; for, though she could have no objection to an alliance at once so honourable and advantageous, she hesitated in giving her consent on pretence of the youth and inexperience of the parties: at length, however, she acquiesced, in consequence of having consulted with captain Lismahago.
Mr Dennison took care to be in the way when his son arrived at the gate, and, without giving him time or opportunity to make any enquiry about the strangers, brought him up stairs to be presented to Mr Loyd and his family—The first person he saw when he entered the room, was Liddy, who, notwithstanding all her preparation, stood trembling in the utmost confusion—At sight of this object he was fixed motionless to the floor, and, gazing at her with the utmost eagerness of astonishment, exclaimed, ‘Sacred heaven! what is this!—ha! wherefore—’ Here his speech failing, he stood straining his eyes, in the most emphatic silence ‘George (said his father), this is my friend Mr Loyd.’ Roused at this intimation, he turned and received my salute, when I said, ‘Young gentleman, if you had trusted me with your secret at our last meeting, we should have parted upon better terms.’ Before he could make any answer, Jery came round and stood before him with open arms.—At first, he started and changed colour; but after a short pause, he rushed into his embrace, and they hugged one another as if they had been intimate friends from their infancy: then he payed his respects to Mrs Tabitha, and advancing to Liddy, ‘Is it possible, (cried he), that my senses do not play me false! that I see Miss Melford under my father’s roof—that I am permitted to speak to her without giving offence—and that her relations have honoured me with their countenance and protection.’ Liddy blushed, and trembled, and faltered—‘To be sure, sir (said she), it is a very surprising circumstance—a great—a providential—I really know not what I say—but I beg you will think I have said what’s agreeable.’
Mrs Dennison interposing said, ‘Compose yourselves, my dear children.—Your mutual happiness shall be our peculiar care.’ The son going up to his mother, kissed one hand; my niece bathed the other with her tears; and the good old lady pressed them both in their turns to her breast.—The lovers were too much affected to get rid of their embarrassment for one day; but the scene was much enlivened by the arrival of Jack Wilson, who brought, as usual, some game of his own killing—His honest countenance was a good letter of recommendation. I received him like a dear friend after a long separation; and I could not help wondering to see him shake Jery by the hand as an old acquaintance—They had, indeed, been acquainted some days, in consequence of a diverting incident, which I shall explain at meeting. That same night a consultation was held upon the concerns of the lovers, when the match was formally agreed to, and all the marriage articles were settled without the least dispute.—My nephew and I promised to make Liddy’s fortune five thousand pounds. Mr Dennison declared, he would make over one half of his estate immediately to his son, and that his daughter-in-law should be secured in a jointure of four hundred—Tabby proposed, that, considering their youth, they should undergo one year at least, of probation before the indissoluble knot should be tied; but the young gentleman being very impatient and importunate, and the scheme implying that the young couple should live in the house, under the wings of his parents, we resolved to make them happy without further delay.
As the law requires that the parties should be some weeks resident in the parish, we shall stay here till the ceremony is performed.—Mr Lismahago requests that he may take the benefit of the same occasion; so that next Sunday the banns will be published for all four together.—I doubt I shall not be able to pass my Christmas with you at Brambleton-hall.—Indeed, I am so agreeably situated in this place, that I have no desire to shift my quarters; and I foresee, that when the day of separation comes, there will be abundance of sorrow on all sides.—In the mean time, we must make the most of those blessings which Heaven bestows.—Considering how you are tethered by your profession, I cannot hope to see you so far from home; yet the distance does not exceed a summer-day’s journey, and Charles Dennison, who desires to be remembered to you, would be rejoiced to see his old compotator; but as I am now stationary, I expect regular answers to the epistles of
Yours invariably, MATT. BRAMBLE Oct. 11.