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Among Strangers we recognize a familiar Face.—Tom Briton opens a new Mine of
Amusement,-and I meet with an Accident, which gives rise to a sentimental Disquisition bordering on temporary Insanity.
“ What's the time, Fitzroy?" asked Tom Briton, when the landlord had disappeared.
“ Nearly two." “ Very good. We'll dine at Richmond to-day." “ At Richmond !” exclaimed I; “ what freak is now in your head ?"
“ None whatever, beyond accepting an invitation ;"—here Tom handed me the card that had been placed in his pocket by the old gentleman on the preceding night,-“Mr. Atherley, of Atherley Cottage, near Richmond, has requested us to dine with him this day; when I declined, I did not expect to have got through my business so early : as it is, no doubt he will allow us to change our minds."
“ But Tom,” said I, “ we have no great claim on his hospitality, we have scarcely seen him, and
“You are a modest youth, Fitzroy; but, if you associate with me, you must learn never to miss an opportunity of forming a new acquaintance :—means of prosecuting the study of character are to the philosopher '
“Stop your oration, philosopher; I am well content to study mankind under your professorship.”
“ Very well; then we start at once to Richmond. Our having notice to quit from our landlady is exceedingly convenient, for we need not trouble ourselves to come home at night, but take beds at some hotel in the neighbourhood.-Consolation in trouble, at all events."
Without delay we obtained a conveyance to Richmond, and, before four o'clock, by dint of a little inquiry, had arrived at our destination.
“ Atherley Cottage,” was the name assigned to a little villa of moderate pretensions, situated by the banks of the Thames, from which it was divided by a sloping lawn. There was a little portico, overgrown with honeysuckle and myrtle; roses, trained against the wall, peeped in through the French windows that opened upon the grass ; neat little beds of roses and mignonette, with flowers of every hue, were scattered tastefully about. There was a coach-house on one side, and, on the other, a conservatory ; beside which, was a little green door, with green shrubs peeping over it, that said, as plainly as door could speak,—This is the way to the garden.
As we advanced towards the house, we were met by the host, who, from a window, had detected the fresh arrivals.
“ Glad to see you !” cried he; “ very glad !-couldn't have come on a better day,-exhibition's in full force !-Merry dogs,-like fun,have plenty.-By the bye, what are your names? I can't introduce you as the Devil and the Doctor !"
We gave him the desired information :-"But," said Tom, “ what is this exhibition that we are to see ?"
“ Menagerie :-feeding hour, four o'clock !—I'll tell you :-all the
ödd characters I pick up, I invite to dinner ;-don't be offended, you're odd, but you don't belong to the exhibition ;-you're a visiter come to see :-they're not all ridiculous,-by no means;—some very nice people ;-come along !"
Thus speaking, our eccentric host and collector of human specimens, led us into his drawing-room.
Here all was confusion; around the door, a knot of contrasted characters were quarrelling over some contested point, so eager in their dispute, that we passed through them unnoticed, to where others were seated, of a more quiet nature. There were, in all, about eighteen " heads" assembled, and I will make the reader acquainted with a few of them, so far as may be necessary, until he shall have an opportunity of hearing them speak.
First, then, there was Doctor Stickler, who, having been blessed by grammatical parents with the Christian designation of Lindley Murray,
-Doctor Lindley Murray Stickler was as great a stickler for Lindley Murray, as any man could desire. Only let him catch a luckless author forming his sentences without the due allowance of “ ands” and “buts ;" he would show him up immediately, write a critique in the first style of grammar, and, since no one would publish it,lock it up in his drawer. Goethe he most religiously abominated, because he was so hardy as to have made his hero Werther openly profess a dislike to the carping spirit that cannot dispense with an " and," or give credit to an idea because the utterer did not spend an hour in calculating how it should be expressed. If any one spoke to the doctor, out came a rule of grammar, or a gentle suggestion, that, by a slight modification of language, greater elegance might be acquired. A young poet, glowing with recent inspiration, once showed him his verses. He immediately proceeded, while the tortured youth stood aghast at the havoc made, to “ correct the ordo verborum, previously to investigating the structure of each several sentence,” to the total destruction of every thing in the shape of rhyme, metre, or animated diction. He had a round body, and, to use a simile no less grammatical than extreme, looked something like a transfixed colon, on an enlarged scale: the two round points called head and body, being connected by a long, slender neck, the apparent continuation of legs, which, entering the body from below, coalesced within it and emerged above, in a connected form, in order to support his head. From each side of the lower globe, the arms depended loosely.
Although his head was large, the features were small and sharp; he had a piercing eye, that could detect the absence from duty of the smallest comma in the regiment of stops. He spoke in a precise tone, counting one in his mind wherever a comma should occur, two for a semicolon, four for a colon, and eight for a period ; the rapidity of counting depending on the rapidity with which he spoke, the proportion remaining the same,-“ according to Murray.” These calculations were always scrupulously performed, not always inaudibly :-as
“ Dr. Stickler, have you a wife?" “ Yes, sir -- six, seven, eight. Why do you ask ?" He wore a white neckcloth, a blue coat, and a white fancy waist
coat, figured over with stars, (I beg his pardon,-asterisks,) that might have reminded an imaginative person of the milky way.
This individual had given rise to a hot dispute by criticizing the English of a German music-master, whose cause was espoused by the doctor's old enemy, Major Crust. Rudolf Steinberg, the German whose unlucky English had originated the quarrel, had retired at once from the battle-field; he was a noble looking young man, who had left a poverty-stricken home in his native land to earn among foreigners the means of supporting a depressed family. But the pittance of a teacher, who can depend only on his own endeavours, consists of hard-wrung pence; possessed of talent and industry, honest and noble minded, all availed him nothing: fashion was too busy in petting his more fortunate brethren, to bestow a glance upon his toilsome exertion. Old Atherley had taken him by the hand; rescued him from the doom of total neglect, under which he must otherwise have perished; warmly interested himself in his behalf; but he could give him no “introduction," and still the poor man was wasting careworn into the grave, as thousands have wasted away before him, uncared for and unknown.
Major Crust, with whom Dr. Lindley Murray Stickler was now engaged in wordy war, on account of the attack upon foreign-spoken English-Major Crust was a tall, fierce, and muscular man, in full regimentals, with very long red moustachios, twirled up into his eyes, that twinkled from beneath bushy, beetling brows;—Major Crust dealt in the marvellous, and was excessively positive on all occasions, as to his own veracity; Major Crust was quick; Major Crust was quarrelsome; and Major Crust most cordially hated Dr. Lindley Murray Stickler, who returned his “oblique affection” in good earnest, and never missed an opportunity of questioning the major's grammar.
Joined in the assault against Dr. Stickler, was a sallow youth, shirt collar and neckerchief à la Byron, who, having written some verses in an obscure publication, placed himself in the position of a London author. It was not from an impatience of quibbling arguments on matters of not the slightest importance,-it was not from a detestation of the hacking, hewing and modelling process, (by which ideas are put into any other form than that under which they could, by any possibility, first present themselves,)—that he detested the doctor's discussions : far different; had his manuscripts been seen, they would have presented a mass of correction, transposition, modelling, &c., that would delight the eyes of the most precise admirer of careful writing; but his finished productions proved that it was against grammar itself, as a guiding principle, that he warred, a frightful incubus on the imagination-every rule of which, both by precept and example, he endeavoured to annihilate altogether.
These are a few of old Atherley's strangely assorted guests; but there was another, whose face I instantly recognized, whom I knew intimately of old,—there was Mr. Snibs !
Mr. Snibs, my old usher, although some five or six years had passed over his head since last we parted, was not altered in the least. His face, perhaps, exhibited a trifle more fat, and a trifle less good temper; but certain extremes it is not easy to pass, and, therefore, the difference was but a trifle. Immediately recognizing those dear friends whose infant minds he had assisted in training, he looked at us wistfully to note whether we knew him, and whether it would be our pleasure, bearing in our minds certain unpleasant reminiscences, to bonour him with our notice ; for Mr. Snibs was a bashful man, and although in his vocation a most furious lion, among men he roared “ as gently as any sucking dove." Tom Briton soon put him out of doubt, for, running towards him, he grasped him warmly by the hand, setting an example that I was not slow to follow. Mr. Snibs was not aware of Tom's motives. Why should he have known them? If all our actions were judged by motives, many a better man than Tom would be hurled down from the pedestal of Fame ; and each man's little circle of friends, how greatly would he find it lessened !
Leaving Mr. Snibs, our host, who had been greatly delighted by the recognition, led us to another corner of the room, where two ladies were seated. One, a pretty little woman, on whose face the traces of intense depression were masked by ill-affected gaiety-gaiety that evidently had once been natural : this was the poor music-master's wife. The other, who, by every attention, was endeavouring, with kind sympathy, to remove from her companion the restraint misfortune flings around her victims-the other was old Atherley's daughter. To her, in turn, Tom Briton paid a graceful obeisance; and I, attempting to do the like, failed most dismally. The moment I looked into her face, my heart began to beat with unusual vehemence; I felt peculiarly awkward.
I was not in love. No; love is not a passion to be excited by the mere form of outward beauty, it requires a kindred soul of sympathy, whose treasures must be known ere love buds forth. Call by what name you please, the emotions that a pretty face or form evokes, but do not call them love! Do not so degrade the purest trace of heavenly being that yet lingers around fallen man, by applying its name to a feeling of mere sensual enjoyment: as the body withers and decays, so falls that earth-born passion, while pure love ascends to heaven, the proud trophy of that bright and immortal soul that called it into an eternal existence. « Love at first sight,” is a cruel libel upon man, and by those who know not what love is; for debasing, both to him that offers, and to her who is content to receive it, is that blind adoration which is bestowed upon well-shapen flesh.
And yet, there are some faces, untrained by art, which bear upon them the stamp of truth, and through which we dimly trace the soul's fair outline: on these a man may gaze; and the sweet tale they tell, may move his heart to the first emotion of increasing love.
By the discourse wbich I have just taken occasion to deliver, it will be very evident that if I was not now in love myself, I was, at all events, not very distant from it: indeed, I confessed to myself that the face of old Atherley's daughter came under the denomination to which, as a saving clause, I have just alluded.
If I have underrated physical beauty, I crave forgiveness,—I spoke comparatively,-for, as an adjunct to the more important essential, its influence is not to be disregarded. Why should I underrate ber
when Ann Atherley possessed it? In her, it was admired by every one; by no one more truly than by me. She was not“ exquisite,” she was not “a fine girl," she was not everf “a splendid creature," but she was pretty: shall I speak of ripe cherry lips, that made one think of kisses; and dark brown hair; and dark, bright eyes, most dangerous to look upon ? these were hers, -and hers, for me, they might have remained: but there was something more,-the eyes beained with the lustre of a cheerful soul; the lips parted naturally into a happy smile; and there was a pleasant dimple that would play upon her cheek; and the forehead was so clear, the whole face so amiable, and so good, that
“ You are the greatest strangers,” said old Atherley, as he took the music master's wife to lead her into the dining room; “I'll honour one of you with permission to escort the remaining lady."
O, what a moment of delight was that !-A moment just long enough to allow Tom Briton to spring forward and forestall me in the anticipated pleasure. I never was angry with Tom until then, and then my anger endured but another moment; for did not the fault rest with my own stupidity ? Disappointed, I followed my envied friend; content, from necessity, to walk beside—Dr. Stickler!
CHAPTER VIII. Gives an Account of what took place at the Exhibition,-and, although undoubt
edly short, is long enough to make Mr. Snibs supremely miserable.-An Old Friend appears.
Having proceeded thus far in the task of communicating to an expectant world, the history of a life, which to me has been replete with enjoyment, and having duly arrived at a very critical period thereof, I think it necessary to pause awhile, in order to disabuse the reader of a belief, which he, no doubt, at present entertains ;-I am not forestalling my story, since I allude to a subject in which the story does not consist. Although, at the close of the last chapter, I related how I fell in love, and, as was most natural, grew forth with exceedingly sentimental;— I know too well the duty I owe to my maiden aunts, I know too well, how much they will engross the tender offices of my pen,-to allow it to be for a moment supposed that, in my case also, there is a love tale pending. No, I am happy to say that, with me, smoothly, for once, the course of true love ran; I did not experience a single trouble, nor fall into one romantic situation; Ann Atherley abhorred all exaggerated sentiment, so that, dull lovers as we were, we really talked nothing but common sense; and, in fact, the only change that will be found to result from the “tender passion," consists in the introduction of an amiable and merry girl, as another actor in the little drama that was performing around me.
Whether for better, or whether for worse, I hate to be misunderstood; now, therefore, firmly believing that I have made everything perfectly clear, I will go on with my story.
Doctor Lindley Murray Stickler, having duly accompanied me into the dining room, there seated himself by my side; on the other side, was Ann Atherley, to whom I devoted my attention whenever I could get free for an instant from the arguments of the grammarian. But Dr. Stickler had taken an unfortunate fancy to me; I was young, he