There are certain interests which the world supposes every man to have, and which therefore are properly enough termed worldly; but the world is apt to make an erroneous estimate: ignorant of the dispositions which constitute our happiness or misery, they bring to an undistinguished scale the means of the one, as connected with power, wealth, or grandeur, and of the other with their contraries. Philosophers and poets have often protested against this decision; but their arguments have been despised as declamatory, or ridiculed as romantic.
There are never wanting to a young man some grave and prudent friends to set him right in this particular, if he need it; to watch his ideas as they arise, and point them to those objects which a wise man should never forget.
Harley did not want for some monitors of this sort. He was frequently told of men whose fortunes enabled them to command all the luxuries of life, whose fortunes were of their own acquirement: his envy was invited by a description of their happiness, and his emulation by a recital of the means which had procured it.
Harley was apt to hear those lectures with indifference; nay, sometimes they got the better of his temper; and as the instances were not always amiable, provoked, on his part, some reflections, which I am persuaded his good-nature would else have avoided.
Indeed, I have observed one ingredient, somewhat necessary in a man’s composition towards happiness, which people of feeling would do well to acquire; a certain respect for the follies of mankind: for there are so many fools whom the opinion of the world entitles to regard, whom accident has placed in heights of which they are unworthy, that he who cannot restrain his contempt or indignation at the sight will be too often quarrelling with the disposal of things to relish that share which is allotted to himself. I do not mean, however, to insinuate this to have been the case with Harley; on the contrary, if we might rely on his own testimony, the conceptions he had of pomp and grandeur served to endear the state which Providence had assigned him.
He lost his father, the last surviving of his parents, as I have already related, when he was a boy. The good man, from a fear of offending, as well as a regard to his son, had named him a variety of guardians; one consequence of which was, that they seldom met at all to consider the affairs of their ward; and when they did meet, their opinions were so opposite, that the only possible method of conciliation was the mediatory power of a dinner and a bottle, which commonly interrupted, not ended, the dispute; and after that interruption ceased, left the consulting parties in a condition not very proper for adjusting it. His education therefore had been but indifferently attended to; and after being taken from a country school, at which he had been boarded, the young gentleman was suffered to be his own master in the subsequent branches of literature, with some assistance from the parson of the parish in languages and philosophy, and from the exciseman in arithmetic and book-keeping. One of his guardians, indeed, who, in his youth, had been an inhabitant of the Temple, set him to read Coke upon Lyttelton: a book which is very properly put into the hands of beginners in that science, as its simplicity is accommodated to their understandings, and its size to their inclination. He profited but little by the perusal; but it was not without its use in the family: for his maiden aunt applied it commonly to the laudable purpose of pressing her rebellious linens to the folds she had allotted them.
There were particularly two ways of increasing his fortune, which might have occurred to people of less foresight than the counsellors we have mentioned. One of these was, the prospect of his succeeding to an old lady, a distant relation, who was known to be possessed of a very large sum in the stocks: but in this their hopes were disappointed; for the young man was so untoward in his disposition, that, notwithstanding the instructions he daily received, his visits rather tended to alienate than gain the good-will of his kinswoman. He sometimes looked grave when the old lady told the jokes of her youth; he often refused to eat when she pressed him, and was seldom or never provided with sugar-candy or liquorice when she was seized with a fit of coughing: nay, he had once the rudeness to fall asleep while she was describing the composition and virtues of her favourite cholic-water. In short, be accommodated himself so ill to her humour, that she died, and did not leave him a farthing.
The other method pointed out to him was an endeavour to get a lease of some crown-lands, which lay contiguous to his little paternal estate. This, it was imagined, might be easily procured, as the crown did not draw so much rent as Harley could afford to give, with very considerable profit to himself; and the then lessee had rendered himself so obnoxious to the ministry, by the disposal of his vote at an election, that he could not expect a renewal. This, however, needed some interest with the great, which Harley or his father never possessed.
His neighbour, Mr. Walton, having heard of this affair, generously offered his assistance to accomplish it. He told him, that though he had long been a stranger to courtiers, yet he believed there were some of them who might pay regard to his recommendation; and that, if he thought it worth the while to take a London journey upon the business, he would furnish him with a letter of introduction to a baronet of his acquaintance, who had a great deal to say with the first lord of the treasury.
When his friends heard of this offer, they pressed him with the utmost earnestness to accept of it.
They did not fail to enumerate the many advantages which a certain degree of spirit and assurance gives a man who would make a figure in the world: they repeated their instances of good fortune in others, ascribed them all to a happy forwardness of disposition; and made so copious a recital of the disadvantages which attend the opposite weakness, that a stranger, who had heard them, would have been led to imagine, that in the British code there was some disqualifying statute against any citizen who should be convicted of - modesty.
Harley, though he had no great relish for the attempt, yet could not resist the torrent of motives that assaulted him; and as he needed but little preparation for his journey, a day, not very distant, was fixed for his departure.