We have related, in a former chapter, the little success of his first visit to the great man, for whom he had the introductory letter from Mr. Walton. To people of equal sensibility, the influence of those trifles we mentioned on his deportment will not appear surprising, but to his friends in the country they could not be stated, nor would they have allowed them any place in the account. In some of their letters, therefore, which he received soon after, they expressed their surprise at his not having been more urgent in his application, and again recommended the blushless assiduity of successful merit.
He resolved to make another attempt at the baronet’s; fortified with higher notions of his own dignity, and with less apprehension of repulse. In his way to Grosvenor Square he began to ruminate on the folly of mankind, who affixed those ideas of superiority to riches, which reduced the minds of men, by nature equal with the more fortunate, to that sort of servility which he felt in his own. By the time he had reached the Square, and was walking along the pavement which led to the baronet’s, he had brought his reasoning on the subject to such a point, that the conclusion, by every rule of logic, should have led him to a thorough indifference in his approaches to a fellow-mortal, whether that fellow-mortal was possessed of six or six thousand pounds a year. It is probable, however, that the premises had been improperly formed: for it is certain, that when he approached the great man’s door he felt his heart agitated by an unusual pulsation.
He had almost reached it, when he observed among gentleman coming out, dressed in a white frock and a red laced waistcoat, with a small switch in his hand, which he seemed to manage with a particular good grace. As he passed him on the steps, the stranger very politely made him a bow, which Harley returned, though he could not remember ever having seen him before. He asked Harley, in the same civil manner, if he was going to wait on his friend the baronet. “For I was just calling,” said he, “and am sorry to find that he is gone for some days into the country.”
Harley thanked him for his information, and was turning from the door, when the other observed that it would be proper to leave his name, and very obligingly knocked for that purpose.
“Here is a gentleman, Tom, who meant to have waited on your master.”
“Your name, if you please, sir?”
“You’ll remember, Tom, Harley.”
The door was shut. “Since we are here,” said he, “we shall not lose our walk if we add a little to it by a turn or two in Hyde Park.”
He accompanied this proposal with a second bow, and Harley accepted of it by another in return.
The conversation, as they walked, was brilliant on the side of his companion. The playhouse, the opera, with every occurrence in high life, he seemed perfectly master of; and talked of some reigning beauties of quality in a manner the most feeling in the world. Harley admired the happiness of his vivacity, and, opposite as it was to the reserve of his own nature, began to be much pleased with its effects.
Though I am not of opinion with some wise men, that the existence of objects depends on idea, yet I am convinced that their appearance is not a little influenced by it. The optics of some minds are in so unlucky a perspective as to throw a certain shade on every picture that is presented to them, while those of others (of which number was Harley), like the mirrors of the ladies, have a wonderful effect in bettering their complexions. Through such a medium perhaps he was looking on his present companion.
When they had finished their walk, and were returning by the corner of the Park, they observed a board hung out of a window signifying, “An excellent ORDINARY on Saturdays and Sundays.” It happened to be Saturday, and the table was covered for the purpose.
“What if we should go in and dine here, if you happen not to be engaged, sir?” said the young gentleman. “It is not impossible but we shall meet with some original or other; it is a sort of humour I like hugely.”
Harley made no objection, and the stranger showed him the way into the parlour.
He was placed, by the courtesy of his introductor, in an arm-chair that stood at one side of the fire. Over against him was seated a man of a grave considering aspect, with that look of sober prudence which indicates what is commonly called a warm man. He wore a pretty large wig, which had once been white, but was now of a brownish yellow; his coat was one of those modest-coloured drabs which mock the injuries of dust and dirt; two jack-boots concealed, in part, the well-mended knees of an old pair of buckskin breeches; while the spotted handkerchief round his neck preserved at once its owner from catching cold and his neck-cloth from being dirtied. Next him sat another man, with a tankard in his hand and a quid of tobacco in his cheek, whose eye was rather more vivacious, and whose dress was something smarter.
The first-mentioned gentleman took notice that the room had been so lately washed, as not to have had time to dry, and remarked that wet lodging was unwholesome for man or beast. He looked round at the same time for a poker to stir the fire with, which, he at last observed to the company, the people of the house had removed in order to save their coals. This difficulty, however, he overcame by the help of Harley’s stick, saying, “that as they should, no doubt, pay for their fire in some shape or other, he saw no reason why they should not have the use of it while they sat.”
The door was now opened for the admission of dinner. “I don’t know how it is with you, gentlemen,” said Harley’s new acquaintance, “but I am afraid I shall not be able to get down a morsel at this horrid mechanical hour of dining.” He sat down, however, and did not show any want of appetite by his eating. He took upon him the carving of the meat, and criticised on the goodness of the pudding.
When the table-cloth was removed, he proposed calling for some punch, which was readily agreed to; he seemed at first inclined to make it himself, but afterwards changed his mind, and left that province to the waiter, telling him to have it pure West Indian, or he could not taste a drop of it.
When the punch was brought he undertook to fill the glasses and call the toasts. “The King.” - The toast naturally produced politics. It is the privilege of Englishmen to drink the king’s health, and to talk of his conduct. The man who sat opposite to Harley (and who by this time, partly from himself, and partly from his acquaintance on his left hand, was discovered to be a grazier) observed, “That it was a shame for so many pensioners to be allowed to take the bread out of the mouth of the poor.”
“Ay, and provisions,” said his friend, “were never so dear in the memory of man; I wish the king and his counsellors would look to that.”
“As for the matter of provisions, neighbour Wrightson,” he replied, “I am sure the prices of cattle - ”
A dispute would have probably ensued, but it was prevented by the spruce toastmaster, who gave a sentiment, and turning to the two politicians, “Pray, gentlemen,” said he, “let us have done with these musty politics: I would always leave them to the beer-suckers in Butcher Row. Come, let us have something of the fine arts. That was a damn’d hard match between Joe the Nailor and Tim Bucket. The knowing ones were cursedly taken in there! I lost a cool hundred myself, faith.”
At mention of the cool hundred, the grazier threw his eyes aslant, with a mingled look of doubt and surprise; while the man at his elbow looked arch, and gave a short emphatical sort of cough.
Both seemed to be silenced, however, by this intelligence; and while the remainder of the punch lasted the conversation was wholly engrossed by the gentleman with the fine waistcoat, who told a great many “immense comical stories” and “confounded smart things,” as he termed them, acted and spoken by lords, ladies, and young bucks of quality, of his acquaintance. At last, the grazier, pulling out a watch, of a very unusual size, and telling the hour, said that he had an appointment.
“Is it so late?” said the young gentleman; “then I am afraid I have missed an appointment already; but the truth is, I am cursedly given to missing of appointments.”
When the grazier and he were gone, Harley turned to the remaining personage, and asked him if he knew that young gentleman. “A gentleman!” said he; “ay, he is one of your gentlemen at the top of an affidavit. I knew him, some years ago, in the quality of a footman; and I believe he had some times the honour to be a pimp. At last, some of the great folks, to whom he had been serviceable in both capacities, had him made a gauger; in which station he remains, and has the assurance to pretend an acquaintance with men of quality. The impudent dog! with a few shillings in his pocket, he will talk you three times as much as my friend Mundy there, who is worth nine thousand if he’s worth a farthing. But I know the rascal, and despise him, as he deserves.”
Harley began to despise him too, and to conceive some indignation at having sat with patience to hear such a fellow speak nonsense. But he corrected himself by reflecting that he was perhaps as well entertained, and instructed too, by this same modest gauger, as he should have been by such a man as he had thought proper to personate. And surely the fault may more properly be imputed to that rank where the futility is real than where it is feigned: to that rank whose opportunities for nobler accomplishments have only served to rear a fabric of folly which the untutored hand of affectation, even among the meanest of mankind, can imitate with success.