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النشر الإلكتروني

The Old Ledger.

EDITED AND ILLUSTRATED BY ALFRED CROWQUILL.

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HE INTRODUCTION.

My acquaintance with Mr. Thorley was purely accidental, and arose out of a commercial transaction which I had with the well-known firm of Holdfast, Steady and Co. of - Yard, in the City of London. Having postponed from various causes the commission with which I had been intrusted, and hearing that the packet was to sail on the following day, I hastily threw aside my books, my slippers, and my indolence, and hurried off to execute

my correspondent's commands, not without experiencing some apprehension that my procrastination might have already rendered my intentions abortive.

Through lane and alley I made my tedious way, jostling in my expedition smart clerks and greasy porters, all as busy as so many ants, and, to my great relief, at last entered the quiet precincts of

- Yard, with no other damage than a slight contusion, occasioned by my coming in contact with an empty milk-pail, which the milkmaid (a stout Irishwoinan of fifty summers) swung carelessly against my right leg.

After buffeting the motley throng, the place really appeared haven of rest, into which I had run from a 'sea of troubles.

A ticket-porter, with his short white apron and his pewter badge, was walking up and down with the calmness of a peripatetic philosopher-I am quite sure he was not a Cynic; for upon inquiring for the office I sought, he politely pointed it out. At the same time I thought I detected a look of wonder at my ignorance of the locality of the greatest house in the world—that is, his world—which was probably limited to this solitary yard, wherein he moved and got his daily bread.

I pushed open the green baize doors, with their orbicular groundglass panes, which appeared like a pair of huge eyes deprived of vision, and entered a spacious office.

There was a gloom-an oldness—a certain wear-and-tear about the place, that looked both cozy and respectable.

Many grey heads, and bald heads, and spectacles both of silver and tortoiseshell, did I behold, and only one smart hat, and that was stuck jauntingly on the head of a gentleman about two-and-twenty, with a handsome florid complexion, dressed in a cut-away Newmarket coat, top-boots, and white corduroys.

He was swinging to and fro on an office-stool, with a penknife poised 'twixt his fore.finger and thumb, and darting it javelin-wise at the desk.

“Now, really, Mr. William,' said a soft voice, in a tone of remon. strance, ' really, Mr. William, that is so childish of you! And the speaker, picking up the knife, removed it beyond his reach.

Observing me, the young man coloured with confusion, and wheeling round upon the stool, walked off, whistling as he went for want of thought,' and vanished behind the intervening partition. I afterwards learned that Mr. William' was the eldest son of the senior partner of the firm.

A little, pleasant, gentlemanly.looking man, dressed in the fashion of the last century, with his silver-rimmed spectacles thrown up above his eyebrows, whom I recognised as the speaker, now came forward, and politely demanded my business.

Having shortly communicated the purport of my visit and handed him the packet with which I had been intrusted, he begged me to step into the adjoining room, and he would furnish me with the ne. cessary receipt, &c.

I entered a spacious office, covered with a well.worn 'Turkey-car. pet. On one side hung a map of the world, as yellow as if the fogs of forty Novembers had been sublimated on its dingy surface; a portrait was suspended over the fire-place, almost as obscure as the map; mahogany chairs, with horse hair bottoms : a library table littered with papers, and an easy

chair covered with black leather, completed the appointments. Everything around, indeed, appeared coeval with the old-established firm.

The old gentleman sat himself down to his desk, after inviting me to be seated, and having deliberately adjusted his spectacles, commenced writing, when a broad-shouldered porter entered with a cop. per scuttle in his hand to feed the flame. 'Well, Smith,' said he, without turning his head, “how's the wife ?? Better-werry much better, I'm obleeged to you, sir,' replied the man, and he proceeded to supply the grate. That doctor as you were so kind as to send ha' done her a world o' good.'

'Glad to hear it,' said the old gentleman. 'He's a good ’un, he is,' continued the man. • But the old 'ooman was rayther flustered a bit when he drew up in his carriage.'

'But he made hisself at home in no time,' said the porter. «Why, sir, I actilly found him a-taking of a dish o' tea with the old oomanI did indeed--and talking so pleasant like, it done one's heart good.?

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'I dare say

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• Take care, Smith !' said the old gentleman, with a mock gravity. "These medical gentlemen are very insinuating.'

Oh, lauk, sir! I'm not afeard of his insinivations-not I. She ain't no lamb to be run away vith,' replied the porter; and chuckling at the conceit of the old gentleman, he quitted the room, no doubt to retail the joke to the gentlemen of the outer office.

* Excuse this interruption, sir,' said the old gentleman. 'But Smith is an old and valued servant; man and boy he has served the house above forty years, and is a sort of privileged person in the establishment. I'll be bound he would not be tempted to quit the firm for an alderman's gown.'

I expressed my pleasure, and quoted some common-places about fidelity and long service, concluding with my real conviction, that good masters make good servants, meaning to pay him a compliment.

I agree with you, sir, on that point,' replied he, and thank you for the intended compliment; but I am not one of the firm.

I am merely their confidential clerk. My name is Josiah Thorley at your service.'

We bowed.

“Yes, sir,' continued he, 'for five-and-twenty years I have occupied this room in that capacity.'

' And a very comfortable room it is,' said I; but the prospect, I think, is rather melancholy,' pointing at the small churchyard which was visible through and came close up to the broad window.

• Melancholy ! replied he. Why, my dear sir, that little patch of green is as pleasant in my sight as a turf to a lark! As Milton says, “the mind is its own place ;” and you cannot imagine the infinite delight I take in that confined view, or the pleasant materials for meditation which it supplies. And then to hear the pealing of the church-organ breaking through the quiet of this place is so soothing, and breathes such a calm and holy spirit, that it is truly enviable.'

'Really, Mr. Thorley,' said I, surprised to find so much poetical enthusiasm in the narrow confines of an office, you are to be envied the possession of such pleasant thoughts and feelings.”

· And yet am I rather diffident of expressing them,' replied he ; ' for I have met with more ridicule than sympathy. But I am like a bird in a cage, upon whom these rays of poetry fall like the glimpses of the sun, and cheer me in the prison to which my occu. pation dooms me. At the same time I must confess that time and habit have at last so moulded my mind to this limited sphere of action, that liberty would now be irksome to me, and, as the poet sings, “I would not, if I could, be free.”. "And that there is wisdom in that resolve experience teaches us,’I remarked. Among a thou. sand instances that could be cited there is none more conclusive than the example of the amiable Charles Lamb, who was all his life pining to be free from the thraldom of business; and, when at last he at. tained his object he discovered that he had only been pursuing a delusive phantom of the imagination, and candidly confessed his error.'

'Good, kind-hearted Elia !' exclaimed Thorley ; 'with what delight I used to devour his contributions in the London Magazine. Sir,' continued he emphatically, 'I once had the honour of being

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in the company of that extraordinary man. I shall never forget it. Esteeming his writings as I did, you may readily conceive the gratification I felt. It was at a dinner-party given by my friend Mat Clapham. There was an unassuming quietness in his manner, and a quaintness of expression, accompanied with a hesitation in his speech that at first precluded him from taking that prominent position which is generally usurped by the lion' of a party. In fact, our lamb was one of those lions whose roar is more like that of a 'sucking dove' than the king of the forest. When the conversation warmed into life he became very facetious, and the puns he perpetrated, although of an order peculiar to himself, created infi. nite amusement among the guests. For example, handing up his plate for gravy, he asked the hostess to 'liquidate him ;' and again, on the cover being taken from a dish of early peas, a gentleman asking him if they were not quite a treat ? he answered, Yes, sir, quite a treat.y of pease !'as a German would say. A lady inquiring what were the articles of war ? he seriously answered, Guns, swords, trumpets, and drums ! Helping one of the guests to a woodcock, 'I've given you a better half, sir, said he.-You've favoured me,' replied the gentleman.-Don't mention it,' said Lamb; and then added in his hesitating manner, 'I–I charge you, sir; for, you see, I've sent you the bill with it ! A stout gentleman, just arrived from India was discoursing very volubly upon a tiger hunt, in which, of course, he had been personally engaged, when Lamb whispered his host, 'Your fat Indian friend is really Indy-fat-igable.' When we joined the ladies in the drawing-room my friend's daughter was exhibiting some beautiful drawings, and discoursing with all the fervour of a horticulturist upon anemones, grandifloras, china asters, &c. Very pretty,' said Lamb, peeping over her shoulder.– Now, pray do tell us, Mr. Lamb, which among the flowers is your favourite ?' said she. * The rose, the lily, or the modest violet, or perhaps Apollo's devoted worshipper, the sunflower, as you are a poet ?'— My dear young lady,' said he, 'I have no doubt your choice is the result of fancy, while mine may be said be a mere matter of taste; for of all the flowers that are grown I prefer—'-Which ??— A cauliflower, my dear,' replied he, with a gravity which set all the expectant auditors in a roar. But both my memory and my language fail to do justice to his humour; the cold repetition of his words is like collecting spent-shot after they have been flattened against a stone wall."

After a world of discourse upon literary matters, I expressed my pleasure in having made his acquaintance, and, with a flattering invitation to repeat my visit, I shook hands with the old man, and departed.

Subsequently, upon a more intimate knowledge of each other, Mr. Thorley confessed to me, sub rosâ, that he had committed author. ship, although he had never appeared in print; and one evening, when all the gentlemen of the establishment had departed, and no one but Smith, the porter, remained to close the office, he cautiously unlocked a drawer in his writing-table, and drew forth an Old Ledger, bound in russia, and carefully locked.

* This is my album,' said he, smiling. Don't be startled by its external appearance ; for, such is the force of habit, I don't think I could collect my ideas, and register them in a volume of any other form; besides, it bears the semblance of business; and, being interleaved with blotting-paper, should I be interrupted in the entry of my lucubrations, I have only to close the book, and there it lies on my desk in its hypocritical garb, without creating any suspicion of its contents—for I am sensibly alive to ridicule ; and, should any of the gentlemen of the firm suspect me of being an author, I should probably not only lose my authority, but these worthy matter-offact men of business would infallibly “write me down an ass,”—so incompatible are the pursuits of literature and commerce generally considered by the world. That this is a vulgar error I am convinced, for the composition of these trifles has merely been the innocent recreation of my leisure hours. Like Æsop I may truly say, these are my“ game of marbles," which I have played after the sterner duties of the day have been sulfilled.'

Having committed the Old Ledger to my custody, with strict injunctions not to breathe a syllable to a living soul of its contents, or the author, I perused the strange volume, marking those pieces which appeared fit for publication, and upon returning it expressed a wish that he would give it to the public, offering at the same time to illustrate it; but the old clerk instinctively shuddered at the idea of submitting his labours to such an ordeal.

No,' said he ; 'I wrote them solely for my own recreation ; but when I am gone, should you still entertain a favourable opinion of them, you are at liberty to publish them. I will bequeath the volume to you as a legacy.'

The worthy old man now sleeps quietly in that same churchyard, wherein while living he found so much matter for meditation, and I now present to the public those papers, the composition of which gave so much harmless pleasure to the author, and with the sincere wish that my readers may at least derive some portion of that pleasure in the perusal, I humbly submit my editorial labours to their favourable notice.

ALFRED CROWQUILL.

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