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YOUTH AND MANHOOD
Challenge for Beauty.
The stock of which I have the honour to be a scion, is one of ancient descent and spotless blazon. Though untitled, its dignity had always been baronial; and the frequency with which the names of my ancestors occur in the county records, as filling offices of provincial trust and dignity, shows their influence to have been considerable. While it is due to truth and my progenitors to state thus much, I am quite ready to confess that our family tree has produced no very distinguished fruit. Its branches have never been pendent with the weight of poets, heroes, statesmen, or philosophers. "If they have
writ our annals right,” births, marriages, and deaths, the sale or purchase of land, the building of a house, or a donation to the parish church or county hospital, were generally the only events sufficiently salient, to afford footing even for the partial eloquence of a family historian. But if I have little reason to boast, I have certainly none to blush, for my ancestors. They were English gentlemen, fulfilling with propriety the duties of their situation, generally respectable in their relations to society, and leaving, when dead, nothing either " to point a moral, or adorn a tale."
My grandfather was a courtier and a man of expense. He married an earl's daughter, whose babits and tastes were even more expensive than his own, and engaged in several rainous contests for the representation of the county. The natural consequences followed. Part of the family estate was sold, heavy mortgages incurred on the remainder, and when, in the course of nature, the succession devolved on my father, he found himself in possession of little more than the wreck of a magnificent estate. Of my grandmother, who survived her husband many years, I have a distinct and vivid recollection. I remember a stately old lady, in an oreille. d'ours-coloured silk gown, with a pyramidal head dress, an enamelled snuff-box in her hand, and a ponderous gold equipage at her girdle. I remember, too, the insidious delight takep both by my brother and myself in getting behind her chair, and tugging at the lace lappets, which depended from the apex of her coiffure. She died, and I was allowed to join in paying the last daties to her remains. The pomp and splendour with whieb the earthly tabernacle of my grandmother war restored
to its kindred elements, made a prodigious impression on my young imagination. The hearse, in all its plumed and melancholy grandeur; the crimson velvet coffin, with its gilt escutcheons; the sable mutes, and the long and sombre procession, contributed to people my mind with ideas to which till then it had been a stranger. There is something wild and shadowy in death to the imagination of a child. It is surrounded by a certain dim grandeur and awful solemnity, which perhaps his very ignorance of its nature, tends rather to increase than diminish. He reads in the countenances around him, that something of dread and terror has befallen them. He learns that a being, from infancy familiar to his eyes, and at whose approach, perhaps, they ever brightened, shall meet them no more-that he is gone to a far distant land, from which he never will return. He knows this, and he knows, likewise, this is not all. There is something still beyond, with which his understanding vainly strives to grapple. Death is an abstraction too pure for the comprehension of a child; and when, in the gradual dawning of his intellect, it becomes intelligible, he finds that the dispersion of the mist which obscured the summit of the mountain has added nothing to its splendour and sublimity. For myself, while the funeral pageant of my grandmother impressed me with feelings of respect for her when dead, of which when living I had been far from betraying any symptoms, I likewise drew from it my first lesson of the tran sient nature of human glory, by observing how speedily she was forgotten.
My father was a man of retired habits. and reserved manners. I have already stated, that, on the death of my grandfather, it had been found necessary
to sell a large portion of the family estates. This was a severe blow to my father's pride, and one, I think, from which he never afterwards recovered. At no period of his life had his taste led him into expensive pursuits, nor had he launched into any expenditure unsuited to the liberal establishment, which the world considered it fitting for a person of his station and expectations to maintain. The portion of his fortune which still remained to him, was amply sufficient for the supply of all the comforts, and eren elegancies of life; yet the dismemberment of his hereditary property was not the less severely felt by a person of his temperament, because it involved no curtailment of his own personal enjoyments. The wound rankled in his mind, and a change in his character was thenceforward visible to all. Before this event, my father had been accustomed to move among the magnates of the land, with that due feeling of consequence and equality which belonged to his birth and fortune. He bad entered life with the feelings of a high-born English gentleman, 'knowing his proper station in society, and neither betraying petty jealousy of his equals, por kibing the heels of his superiors. It was now different. From the loss of property the loss of influence was inseparable. He was no longer selected as the foreman of grand juries, or the chairman of quarter sessions. His hall, at Michaelmas and Lady-day, was no longer crowded with the throng of tenants, who came to pay their rents, or solicit forbearance. “Like angel visits, few and far between,' they now came singly in ; and though the steward still received them throned as formerly in his elbow-chair, and with all his former solemn courtesy, the life and bustle of the scene was gone;