The Man of Feeling


The desire of communicating knowledge or intelligence, is an argument with those who hold that man is naturally a social animal. It is indeed one of the earliest propensities we discover; but it may be doubted whether the pleasure (for pleasure there certainly is) arising from it be not often more selfish than social: for we frequently observe the tidings of Ill communicated as eagerly as the annunciation of Good. Is it that we delight in observing the effects of the stronger passions? for we are all philosophers in this respect; and it is perhaps amongst the spectators at Tyburn that the most genuine are to be found.

Was it from this motive that Peter came one morning into his master’s room with a meaning face of recital? His master indeed did not at first observe it; for he was sitting with one shoe buckled, delineating portraits in the fire. “I have brushed those clothes, sir, as you ordered me.” - Harley nodded his head but Peter observed that his hat wanted brushing too: his master nodded again. At last Peter bethought him that the fire needed stirring; and taking up the poker, demolished the turban’d head of a Saracen, while his master was seeking out a body for it. “The morning is main cold, sir,” said Peter. “Is it?” said Harley. “Yes, sir; I have been as far as Tom Dowson’s to fetch some barberries he had picked for Mrs. Margery. There was a rare junketting last night at Thomas’s among Sir Harry Benson’s servants; he lay at Squire Walton’s, but he would not suffer his servants to trouble the family: so, to be sure, they were all at Tom’s, and had a fiddle, and a hot supper in the big room where the justices meet about the destroying of hares and partridges, and them things; and Tom’s eyes looked so red and so bleared when I called him to get the barberries:- And I hear as how Sir Harry is going to be married to Miss Walton.” - “How! Miss Walton married!” said Harley. “Why, it mayn’t be true, sir, for all that; but Tom’s wife told it me, and to be sure the servants told her, and their master told them, as I guess, sir; but it mayn’t be true for all that, as I said before.” - “Have done with your idle information,” said Harley:- “Is my aunt come down into the parlour to breakfast?” - “Yes, sir.” - “Tell her I’ll be with her immediately.”

When Peter was gone, he stood with his eyes fixed on the ground, and the last words of his intelligence vibrating in his ears. “Miss Walton married!” he sighed - and walked down stairs, with his shoe as it was, and the buckle in his hand. His aunt, however, was pretty well accustomed to those appearances of absence; besides, that the natural gravity of her temper, which was commonly called into exertion by the care of her household concerns, was such as not easily to be discomposed by any circumstance of accidental impropriety. She too had been informed of the intended match between Sir Harry Benson and Miss Walton. “I have been thinking,” said she, “that they are distant relations: for the great-grandfather of this Sir Harry Benson, who was knight of the shire in the reign of Charles the First, and one of the cavaliers of those times, was married to a daughter of the Walton family.” Harley answered drily, that it might be so; but that he never troubled himself about those matters. “Indeed,” said she, “you are to blame, nephew, for not knowing a little more of them: before I was near your age I had sewed the pedigree of our family in a set of chair-bottoms, that were made a present of to my grandmother, who was a very notable woman, and had a proper regard for gentility, I’ll assure you; but now-a-days it is money, not birth, that makes people respected; the more shame for the times.”

Harley was in no very good humour for entering into a discussion of this question; but he always entertained so much filial respect for his aunt, as to attend to her discourse.

“We blame the pride of the rich,” said he, “but are not we ashamed of our poverty?”

“Why, one would not choose,” replied his aunt, “to make a much worse figure than one’s neighbours; but, as I was saying before, the times (as my friend, Mrs. Dorothy Walton, observes) are shamefully degenerated in this respect. There was but t’other day at Mr. Walton’s, that fat fellow’s daughter, the London merchant, as he calls himself, though I have heard that he was little better than the keeper of a chandler’s shop. We were leaving the gentlemen to go to tea. She had a hoop, forsooth, as large and as stiff - and it showed a pair of bandy legs, as thick as two - I was nearer the door by an apron’s length, and the pert hussy brushed by me, as who should say, Make way for your betters, and with one of her London bobs - but Mrs. Dorothy did not let her pass with it; for all the time of drinking tea, she spoke of the precedency of family, and the disparity there is between people who are come of something and your mushroom gentry who wear their coats of arms in their purses.”

Her indignation was interrupted by the arrival of her maid with a damask table-cloth, and a set of napkins, from the loom, which had been spun by her mistress’s own hand. There was the family crest in each corner, and in the middle a view of the battle of Worcester, where one of her ancestors had been a captain in the king’s forces; and with a sort of poetical licence in perspective, there was seen the Royal Oak, with more wig than leaves upon it.

On all this the good lady was very copious, and took up the remaining intervals of filling tea, to describe its excellencies to Harley; adding, that she intended this as a present for his wife, when he should get one. He sighed and looked foolish, and commending the serenity of the day, walked out into the garden.

He sat down on a little seat which commanded an extensive prospect round the house. He leaned on his hand, and scored the ground with his stick: ‘Miss Walton married!’ said he; but what is that to me? May she be happy! her virtues deserve it; to me her marriage is otherwise indifferent: I had romantic dreams? they are fled? - it is perfectly indifferent.”

Just at that moment he saw a servant with a knot of ribbons in his hat go into the house. His cheeks grew flushed at the sight! He kept his eye fixed for some time on the door by which he had entered, then starting to his feet, hastily followed him.

When he approached the door of the kitchen where he supposed the man had entered, his heart throbbed so violently, that when he would have called Peter, his voice failed in the attempt. He stood a moment listening in this breathless state of palpitation: Peter came out by chance. “Did your honour want any thing?” - “Where is the servant that came just now from Mr. Walton’s?”

“From Mr. Walton’s, sir! there is none of his servants here that I know of.” - “Nor of Sir Harry Benson’s?” - He did not wait for an answer; but having by this time observed the hat with its parti-coloured ornament hanging on a peg near the door, he pressed forwards into the kitchen, and addressing himself to a stranger whom he saw there, asked him, with no small tremor in his voice, “If he had any commands for him?” The man looked silly, and said, “That he had nothing to trouble his honour with.” - “Are not you a servant of Sir Harry Benson’s?” - “No, sir.” - “You’ll pardon me, young man; I judged by the favour in your hat.” - “Sir, I’m his majesty’s servant, God bless him! and these favours we always wear when we are recruiting.” - “Recruiting!” his eyes glistened at the word: he seized the soldier’s hand, and shaking it violently, ordered Peter to fetch a bottle of his aunt’s best dram. The bottle was brought: “You shall drink the king’s health,” said Harley, “in a bumper.” - “The king and your honour.” - “Nay, you shall drink the king’s health by itself; you may drink mine in another.” Peter looked in his master’s face, and filled with some little reluctance. “Now to your mistress,” said Harley; “every soldier has a mistress.” The man excused himself - “To your mistress! you cannot refuse it.” ’Twas Mrs. Margery’s best dram! Peter stood with the bottle a little inclined, but not so as to discharge a drop of its contents: “Fill it, Peter,” said his master, “fill it to the brim.” Peter filled it; and the soldier having named Suky Simpson, dispatched it in a twinkling. “Thou art an honest fellow,” said Harley, “and I love thee;” and shaking his hand again, desired Peter to make him his guest at dinner, and walked up into his room with a pace much quicker and more springy than usual.

This agreeable disappointment, however, he was not long suffered to enjoy. The curate happened that day to dine with him: his visits, indeed, were more properly to the aunt than the nephew; and many of the intelligent ladies in the parish, who, like some very great philosophers, have the happy knack at accounting for everything, gave out that there was a particular attachment between them, which wanted only to be matured by some more years of courtship to end in the tenderest connection. In this conclusion, indeed, supposing the premises to have been true, they were somewhat justified by the known opinion of the lady, who frequently declared herself a friend to the ceremonial of former times, when a lover might have sighed seven years at his mistress’s feet before he was allowed the liberty of kissing her hand. ’Tis true Mrs. Margery was now about her grand climacteric; no matter: that is just the age when we expect to grow younger. But I verily believe there was nothing in the report; the curate’s connection was only that of a genealogist; for in that character he was no way inferior to Mrs. Margery herself. He dealt also in the present times; for he was a politician and a news-monger.

He had hardly said grace after dinner, when he told Mrs. Margery that she might soon expect a pair of white gloves, as Sir Harry Benson, he was very well informed, was just going to be married to Miss Walton. Harley spilt the wine he was carrying to his mouth: he had time, however, to recollect himself before the curate had finished the different particulars of his intelligence, and summing up all the heroism he was master of, filled a bumper, and drank to Miss Walton. “With all my heart,” said the curate, “the bride that is to be.” Harley would have said bride too; but the word bride stuck in his throat. His confusion, indeed, was manifest; but the curate began to enter on some point of descent with Mrs. Margery, and Harley had very soon after an opportunity of leaving them, while they were deeply engaged in a question, whether the name of some great man in the time of Henry the Seventh was Richard or Humphrey.

He did not see his aunt again till supper; the time between he spent in walking, like some troubled ghost, round the place where his treasure lay. He went as far as a little gate, that led into a copse near Mr. Walton’s house, to which that gentleman had been so obliging as to let him have a key. He had just begun to open it when he saw, on a terrace below, Miss Walton walking with a gentleman in a riding-dress, whom he immediately guessed to be Sir Harry Benson. He stopped of a sudden; his hand shook so much that he could hardly turn the key; he opened the gate, however, and advanced a few paces. The lady’s lap-dog pricked up its ears, and barked; he stopped again -

- “The little dogs and all,

Tray, Blanch, and Sweetheart, see they bark at me!”

His resolution failed; he slunk back, and, locking the gate as softly as he could, stood on tiptoe looking over the wall till they were gone. At that instant a shepherd blew his horn: the romantic melancholy of the sound quite overcame him! - it was the very note that wanted to be touched - he sighed! he dropped a tear! - and returned.

At supper his aunt observed that he was graver than usual; but she did not suspect the cause: indeed, it may seem odd that she was the only person in the family who had no suspicion of his attachment to Miss Walton. It was frequently matter of discourse amongst the servants: perhaps her maiden coldness - but for those things we need not account.

In a day or two he was so much master of himself as to be able to rhyme upon the subject. The following pastoral he left, some time after, on the handle of a tea-kettle, at a neighbouring house where we were visiting; and as I filled the tea-pot after him, I happened to put it in my pocket by a similar act of forgetfulness. It is such as might be expected from a man who makes verses for amusement. I am pleased with somewhat of good nature that runs through it, because I have commonly observed the writers of those complaints to bestow epithets on their lost mistresses rather too harsh for the mere liberty of choice, which led them to prefer another to the poet himself: I do not doubt the vehemence of their passion; but, alas! the sensations of love are something more than the returns of gratitude.