Imatges de pÓgina

had made me refraetory to the hand of correction. Man little knows what calamities are beyond his patience to bear, till he tries them : as in ascending the heights of ambition, which look bright from below, every step we rise shews us some new and gloomy prospect of hidden disappointment; so, in our descent from the summits of pleasure, though the vale of misery below may appear at first dark and gloomy, yet the busy mind, still attentive to its own amusement, finds, as we descend, something to flatter and to please. Still as we approach, the darkest objects appear to brighten, and the mental eye becomes adapted to its gloomy situation.

I now proceeded forward, and had walked about two hours, when I perceived what appeared at a distance like a wagon, which I was resolved to overtake ; but when I came up with it, found it to be a strolling company's cart, that was carrying their scenes and other theatrical furniture to the next village, where they were to exhibit. The cart was attended only by the person who drove it, and one of the company, as the rest of the players were to follow the ensuing day. “Good company upon the road,” says the proverb, “is the shortest cut." I therefore entered into conversation with the poor player; and as I once had some theatrical powers myself, I disserted on such topics with my usual freedom : but as I was pretty much unacquainted with the present state of the stage, I demanded who were the present theatrical writers in vogue-who the Drydens and Otways of the day?—“I fancy, sir,” cried the player, “ few of our modern dramatists would think themselves much honoured by being compared to the writers you mention. Dryden's and Rowe's manner, sir, are quite out of fashion : our taste has gone back a whole century ; Fletcher, Ben Jonson, and all the plays of Shakespeare, are the only things that


down."- How," cried I,“ is it possible the present age can be pleased with that antiquated dialect, that obsolete humour, those overcharged characters, which abound in the works you mention ?" “ Sir," returned my companion, “ the public think nothing about dialect or humour, or character, for that is none of their business ; they only go to be amused, and find themselves happy when they can enjoy a pantomime, under the sanction of Jonson's or Shakespeare's name.”. “ So then, I suppose,” cried I, “ that our modern dramatists are rather imitators of Shakespeare than of nature.”—" To say the truth,” returned my companion, “ I don't know that they


imitate any thing at all; nor, indeed, does the public require it of them ; it is not the composition of the piece, but the number of starts and attitudes that may be introduced into it, that elicits applause. I have known a piece, with not one jest in the whole, shrugged into popularity, and another saved by the poet's throwing in a fit of the gripes. No, sir, the works of Congreve and Farquhar 'have too much wit in them for the present taste; our modern dialect is much more natural.”

By this time, the equipage of the strolling company was arrived at the village, which, it seems, had been apprised of our approach, and was come out to gaze at us ; for my companion observed, that strollers always have more spectators without doors than within. I did not consider the impropriety of my being in such company, till I saw a mob gather about me. I therefore took shelter, as fast as possible, in the first alehouse that offered ; and being shewn into the common room, was accosted by a very well dressed gentleman, who demanded whether I was the real chaplain of the company, or whether it was only to be my masquerade character in the play? Upon my informing him of the truth, and that I did not belong, in any sort, to the company, he was condescending enough to desire me and the player to partake in a bowl of punch, over which he discussed modern politics with great earnestness and interest. 1 set him down, in my own mind, for nothing less than a parliament-man at least; but was almost confirmed in my conjectures, when, upon asking what there was in the house for supper, he insisted that the player and I should sup with him at his house ; with which request, after some entreaties, we were prevailed on to comply.



The house where we were to be entertained lying at a small distance from the village, our inviter observed, that as the coach was not ready, he would conduct us on foot; and we soon arrived at one of the most magnificent mansions I

had seen in that part of the country. The apartment into which we were shewn was perfectly elegant and modern: he went to give orders for supper, while the player, with a wink, observed that we were perfectly in luck. Our entertainer soon returned; an elegant supper was brought in; two or three ladies in easy dishabille were introduced, and the conversation began with some sprightliness. Politics, however, was the subject on which our entertainer chiefly expatiated; for he asserted that liberty was at once his boast and his terror. After the cloth was removed, he asked me if I had seen the last Monitor? to which, replying in the negative, "What! nor the Auditor, I suppose? cried he. "Neither, sir," returned I. "That's strange, very strange!" replied my entertainer. "Now, I read all the politics that come out: the Daily, the Public, the Ledger, the Chronicle, the London Evening, the Whitehall Evening, the seventeen Magazines, and the two Reviews; and, though they hate each other, I love them all. Liberty, sir, liberty is the Briton's boast! and, by all my coal mines in Cornwall, I reverence its guardians.". Then, it is to be hoped," cried I, " you reverence the king?". -"Yes," returned my entertainer, "when he does what we would have him; but if he goes on as he has done of late, I'll never trouble myself more with his matters. I say nothing. I think, only, I could have directed some things better. I don't think there has been a sufficient number of advisers : he should advise with every person willing to give him advice, and then we should have things done in another guess manner."


"I wish," cried I," that such intruding advisers were fixed in the pillory. It should be the duty of honest men to assist the weaker side of our constitution, that sacred power which has for some years been every day declining, and losing its due share of influence in the state. But these ignorants still continue the same cry of liberty, and, if they have any weight, basely throw it into the subsiding scale."

"How!" cried one of the ladies, " do I live to see one so base, so sordid, as to be an enemy to liberty, and a defender of tyrants? Liberty, that sacred gift of Heaven, that glorious privilege of Britons!"

"Can it be possible," cried our entertainer, "that there should be any found at present advocates for slavery? Any

[ocr errors]

who are for meanly giving up the privileges of Britons ? Can any, sir, be so abject ?”

No, sir," replied I, “ I am for liberty, that attribute of gods! Glorious liberty ! that theme of modern declamation. I would have all men kings. I would be a king myself. We have all naturally an equal right to the throne : we are all originally equal. This is my opinion, and was once the opinion of a set of honest men who were called Levellers. They tried to erect themselves into a community, where all should be equally free. But, alas ! it would never answer : for there were some among them stronger, and some more cunning, than others, and these became masters of the rest ; for, as sure as your groom rides your horses, because he is a cunninger animal than they, so surely will the animal that is cunninger or stronger than he, sit upon his shoulders in turn. Since, then, it 'is entailed upon humanity to submit, and some are born to command and others to obey, the question is, as there must be tyrants, whether it is better to have them in the same house with us, or in the same village, or, still farther off, in the metropolis. Now, sir, for my own part, as I naturally hate the face of a tyrant, the farther off he is removed from me, the better pleased am I. The generality of mankind also are of my way of thinking, and have unanimously created one king, whose election at once diminishes the number of tyrants, and puts tyranny at the greatest distance from the greatest number of people. Now, the great, who were tyrants themselves before the election of one tyrant, are naturally averse to a power raised over them, and whose weight must ever lean heaviest on the subordinate orders. It is the interest of the great, therefore, to diminish kingly power as much as possible ; because, whatever they take from that, is naturally restored to themselves ; and all they have to do in the state, is to undermine the single tyrant, by which they resume their primeval authority. Now, the state may be so circumstanced, or its laws may be so disposed, or its men of opulence so minded, as all to conspire in carrying on this business of undermining monarchy. For, in the first place, if the circumstances of our state be such as to favour the accumulation of wealth, and make the opulent still' more rich, this will increase their ambition. An accumulation of wealth, however, must necessarily be the

but one.

consequence, when, as at present, more riches flow in from external commerce than arise from internal industry; for external commerce can only be managed to advantage by the rich, and they have also at the same time all the emoluments arising from internal industry ; so that the rich, with us, have two sources of wealth, whereas the poor have

For this reason, wealth, in all commercial states, is found to accumulate; and all such have hitherto in time become aristocratical. Again, the very laws also of this country may contribute to the accumulation of wealth ; as when, by their means, the natural ties that bind the rich and poor together are broken, and it is ordained that the rich shall only marry with the rich ; or when the learned are held unqualified to serve their country as counsellors, merely from a defect of opulence, and wealth is thus made the object of a wise man's ambition : by these means, I say, and such means as these, riches will accumulate. Now, the possessor of accumulated wealth, when furnished with the necessaries and pleasures of life, has no other method to employ the superfluity of his fortune but in purchasing power. That is, differently speaking, in making dependents, by purchasing the liberty of the needy or the venal, of men who are willing to bear the mortification of contiguous tyranny for bread.

Thus each very opulent man generally gathers round him a circle of the poorest of the people ; and the polity abounding in accumulated wealth may be compared to a Cartesian system, each orb with a vortex of its

Those, however, who are willing to move in a great man's vortex, are only such as must be slaves, the rabble of mankind, whose souls and whose education are adapted to servitude, and who know nothing of liberty except the name, But there must still be a large number of the people without the sphere of the opulent man's influence ; namely, that order of men which subsists between the very rich and the very rabble ; those men who are possessed of too large fortunes to submit to the neighbouring inan in power, and yet are too. poor to set up for tyranny themselves. In this middle order of mankind are generally to be found all the arts, wisdom, and virtues of society. This order alone is known to be the true presérver of freedom, and may be called THE PEOPLE, Now, it may happen that this middle order of mankind may lose all its influence in a state, and its voice be in a manner drowned in that of the rabble : for, if the fortune sufficient


« AnteriorContinua »