The Man of Feeling


It was with some difficulty that Harley prevailed on the old man to leave the spot where the remains of his son were laid. At last, with the assistance of the school-mistress, he prevailed; and she accommodated Edwards and him with beds in her house, there being nothing like an inn nearer than the distance of some miles.

In the morning Harley persuaded Edwards to come with the children to his house, which was distant but a short day’s journey. The boy walked in his grandfather’s hand; and the name of Edwards procured him a neighbouring farmer’s horse, on which a servant mounted, with the girl on a pillow before him.

With this train Harley returned to the abode of his fathers: and we cannot but think, that his enjoyment was as great as if he had arrived from the tour of Europe with a Swiss valet for his companion, and half a dozen snuff-boxes, with invisible hinges, in his pocket. But we take our ideas from sounds which folly has invented; Fashion, Boa ton, and Vertù, are the names of certain idols, to which we sacrifice the genuine pleasures of the soul: in this world of semblance, we are contented with personating happiness; to feel it is an art beyond us.

It was otherwise with Harley; he ran upstairs to his aunt with the history of his fellow-travellers glowing on his lips. His aunt was an economist; but she knew the pleasure of doing charitable things, and withal was fond of her nephew, and solicitous to oblige him. She received old Edwards therefore with a look of more complacency than is perhaps natural to maiden ladies of three-score, and was remarkably attentive to his grandchildren: she roasted apples with her own hands for their supper, and made up a little bed beside her own for the girl. Edwards made some attempts towards an acknowledgment for these favours; but his young friend stopped them in their beginnings.

“Whosoever receiveth any of these children,” said his aunt; for her acquaintance with her Bible was habitual.

Early next morning Harley stole into the room where Edwards lay: he expected to have found him a-bed, but in this he was mistaken: the old man had risen, and was leaning over his sleeping grandson, with the tears flowing down his cheeks. At first he did not perceive Harley; when he did, he endeavoured to hide his grief, and crossing his eyes with his hand expressed his surprise at seeing him so early astir.

“I was thinking of you,” said Harley, “and your children: I learned last night that a small farm of mine in the neighbourhood is now vacant: if you will occupy it I shall gain a good neighbour and be able in some measure to repay the notice you took of me when a boy, and as the furniture of the house is mine, it will be so much trouble saved.”

Edwards’s tears gushed afresh, and Harley led him to see the place he intended for him.

The house upon this farm was indeed little better than a hut; its situation, however, was pleasant, and Edwards, assisted by the beneficence of Harley, set about improving its neatness and convenience. He staked out a piece of the green before for a garden, and Peter, who acted in Harley’s family as valet, butler, and gardener, had orders to furnish him with parcels of the different seeds he chose to sow in it. I have seen his master at work in this little spot with his coat off, and his dibble in his hand: it was a scene of tranquil virtue to have stopped an angel on his errands of mercy! Harley had contrived to lead a little bubbling brook through a green walk in the middle of the ground, upon which he had erected a mill in miniature for the diversion of Edwards’s infant grandson, and made shift in its construction to introduce a pliant bit of wood that answered with its fairy clack to the murmuring of the rill that turned it. I have seen him stand, listening to these mingled sounds, with his eye fixed on the boy, and the smile of conscious satisfaction on his cheek, while the old man, with a look half turned to Harley and half to heaven, breathed an ejaculation of gratitude and piety.

Father of mercies! I also would thank thee that not only hast thou assigned eternal rewards to virtue, but that, even in this bad world, the lines of our duty and our happiness are so frequently woven together.