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No. 104. SATURDAY, MAY 6, 1780.
It has been remarked that the country life prevails more in Great Britain than in any civilized nation in Europe. However true this observation may be in the general, there is one set of men among us, to whom, in the present times, it will by no means apply; I mean our great nobles and men of high fortune. It is, indeed, vain to expect, that persons in that rank of life should be able to withstand the attractions of a court, and the seductions of a luxurious capital.
It is, nevertheless, a melancholy circumstance, in travelling through this island, to find so many noble palaces deserted by their illustrious owners, even in that season of the year when, to every man of taste, the country must afford true pleasure. How mortifying is it to hear a great man tell you, that he cannot afford to live at his country seat, and to see him, after passing a winter in London, and losing thousands in a week, reduced to the necessity of murdering the summer, by lounging from wateringplace to watering-place, or retiring with two or three humble friends to a villa in the environs of London, instead of living with a becoming dignity in the mansion of his ancestors! To such men I would beg leave to recommend the advice of King James I., who, as Lord Bacon tells us, was wont to be very earnest with the country gentlemen to from London to their country seats; and sometimes would say to them: “Gentlemen, at London you are like
ships in the sea, which show like nothing; but in your country villages, you are like ships in a river, which look like great things.”
I do not mean, however, to say, that a great man should live always in the country. The duties of his station, and the rank he holds in society, require that he should pass part of the year in the capital ; and, independent of those considerations, I believe it will be allowed, that a man of high rank, who has passed his whole life immured within the walls of his own chateau, and constantly surrounded by a circle who look up to him, is, of all mortals, the most insupportable.
Nay, I will go further; I am disposed to believe, that it is an improper and a hurtful thing, even for a private gentleman of moderate fortune, to retire from the world, and betake himself altogether to a country life.
A remarkable instance of the bad consequences of abandoning society, I lately met with in a visit I had occasion to pay to a gentleman, with whom I had become acquainted at college, and whose real name I shall conceal under that of Acasto. Soon after he quitted the university, where he had been distinguished by an ardent love of literature, Acasto retired to his estate in the country, which, though not great, was fully sufficient for all his wants. There he had resided ever since; and, either from inclination or indolence, had remained a bachelor. I had not seen him for many years. Time had made some alteration on his figure; but that was little, when compared with the change I found in him in all other respects. In his dress and manners he was indeed completely rusticated ; and, by living much alone, he had contracted an indifference to that decorum, and to those little attentions, without
which no man can be agreeable in society. The day I arrived at his house, I found him sauntering in his garden, waiting a call to dinner, dressed in an old coat, which had once been black, a slouched hat of the same complexion, with a long pole in his hand, and with a beard that did not appear to have felt a razor for many days.
After a hearty welcome, he carried me in to dinner. In his conversation, I found as great a change as in his outward appearance and deportment. From living in a narrow circle, he had contracted a peculiarity in his notions, which sometimes amused from its oddity; and, from conversing chiefly with persons rather of an inferior station to himself, he had become as tenacious of his opinions, as if they had been self-evident truths, and as impatient of contradiction, as if, to differ from him, had been a crime.
From the same causes, the veriest trifle, particularly if it concerned himself, had become to him an object of importance. A country gentleman he considered as the most respectable character in nature ; and he talked as if honour, truth, and sincerity, were confined to them alone. Every man who lived in the world, he considered as a villain; and every woman who passed much of her time in town, he made no scruple to say, was no better than she should be. At first, it astonished me to hear a man, of his good sense and benevolent dispositions, talk of some of the most amiable characters of the
age, in the most disrespectful terms. When I endeavoured to put him to rights, he at once cut me short, by saying, he could have no doubt of the truth of what he advanced, as he had been told such and such a thing by his friend and neighbour Mr. Downright, who scorned to flatter any man, or to tell any thing but the truth.
I soon had an opportunity of judging how far the country gentlemen were entitled to the high character my friend had given them for honour and integrity. The morning after I arrived, my host informed me he was obliged to attend a county meeting, where there was to be business of considerable importance, in which he was deeply interested ; and, as he could not stay at home with me, I readily consented to accompany him. He had dressed himself for the occasion; that is, he had shaved his beard, and put on a clean shirt. It remained to determine how we should travel. At first, he proposed to go on horseback; but the appearance of a black cloud made him think of the carriage. It then occurred, that taking the carriage would stop the plough; and it was determined we should ride. But, as we were going to mount, the recollection of a cold, attended with some threatenings of a sore throat he had had the week before, made him again resolve upon the carriage. In short, I found that my poor friend, naturally of an undecisive temper, and having no proper object to fill his mind, had accustomed himself to deliberate on every trifle, as if it had been an affair of the greatest consequence. At length we set out in the carriage ; but not till repeated instructions were given to John to drive only two miles the first hour, and not more than three, or three and a quarter, afterwards.
On the road, we met with some incidents that were amusing enough. In the midst of a serious conversation on the state of the nation, in which Acasto was proposing plans of reformation, and tracing all our present calamities to the prevalence of the mercantile interest in parliament, and the shameful neglect of the country gentlemen, we happened to pass the house of a cottager, who had laid
down a load of coals rather too near the high road; which Acasto no sooner perceived than be stopped the carriage, and, calling out the poor man, began to rate him as if he had been guilty of the grossest offence. Not satisfied with ordering the nuisance to be removed, he thought it necessary to represent, in strong colours, all the possible mischiefs that might have ensued from it. “What might have happened, ” said he, “if my horses had startled, God only knows !– Had we been overturned, my carriage might have been broken, or my horses killed, and even I myself might have been hurt."
This circumstance, trifling as it was, ruffled my friend so much, that it was some time before he could resume the thread of his conversation. Some other incidents of the same kind gave him an opportunity of displaying his attention to the police of the country, and of impressing me with an idea of the obligations he had thereby conferred on his fellow citi
At length we arrived at the county town, and immediately drove to the court-house, where we found a very numerous meeting.
I soon found that the important business which had brought so many gentlemen from their own houses, was to determine, whether a bridge should be built at one end of a village or the other! From the course of the argument, if argument it could be called, I plainly perceived that, to the public, it was a matter of the most perfect indifference. But, if executed in one way, it would accommodate a gentleman who had acquired a large fortune in the course of trade, and had lately purchased an estate in the neighbourhood, on which he had built an elegant house. Acasto, and his nd, Mr. Downright strenuously opposed the plan of accommodating this novus homo, who had presumed to buy one of the