« AnteriorContinuar »
while the inability to attend the monthly ball fills the minds of his wife and daughter with the keenest anguish. Circumftances which fcarcely make any impreffion on thofe who refide in the metropolis, plunge every description of refidents in a country village into all the extravagances of joy, or the dejections of forrow: from the peer to the peafant, from the duchess to the dairy maid, all is rapture and convulfion. Competition is carried on for the humble honours and petty interefts of a fequeftered town, or miserable hamlet, with as much heat and rancour, as it is for the highest dignities and greatest emoluments of the state. Upon many occafions, indeed, ambition, envy, revenge, and all the disorderly and malignant paffions, are felt and exercised with a greater degree of violence and obftinacy amidst the little contentions of clay-built cottages, than ever prevailed amidst the highest commotions of courts. PLUTARCH relates, that when CÆSAR, after his appointment to the government of Spain, came to a little town as he was paffing the Alps, his friends, by way of mirth, took occafion to fay, "Can there here be any disputes for offices, any contentions for precedency, or fuch envy and ambition as we behold among the great in all the tranfactions of Imperial ROME ?" The idea betrayed their ignorance of human nature; while the celebrated reply of their great commander, that He
He would rather be the first man in this little town, than the Second even in the imperial city, spoke the language not of an individual, but of the species; and instructed them that there is no place, however infignificant, in which the fame paffions do not proportionately prevail. The humble competitors for village honours, however low and fubordinate they may be, feel as great anxiety for pre-eminence, as much jealousy of rivals, and as violent envy against fuperiors, as agitate the bosoms of the most ambitious ftatesmen, in contending for the highest prize of glory, of riches, or of power. The manner, perhaps, in which thefe inferior candidates exert their paffions may be lefs artful, and the objects of them lefs noble, but they are certainly not less virulent. "Having," fays EUPHELIA, who had quitted London to enjoy the quietude and happiness of a rural village, "been driven by the mere neceffity of efcaping from abfolute inactivity, to make myself more acquainted with the affairs and happiness of this place, I am now no longer an absolute stranger to rural converfafation and employments; but am far from difcerning in them more innocence or wifdom than in the fentiments or conduct of those with whom I have paffed more chearful and more fashionable hours. It is common to reproach the tea-table and the park with giving opportunities and encouragement
couragement to scandal. I cannot wholly clear them from the charge; but muft, however, obferve, in favour of the modifh prattlers, that if not by principle, we are at least by accident, less guilty of defamation than the country ladies. For having greater numbers to observe and cenfure, we are commonly content to charge them only with their own faults or follies, and feldom give way to malevolence, but fuch as arises from injury or affront, real or imaginary, offered to ourselves. But in those diftant provinces, where the fame families inhabit the fame houses from age to age, they transmit and recount the faults of a whole fucceffion. I have been informed how every estate in the neighbourhood was originally got, and find, if I may credit the accounts given me, that there is not a fingle acre in the hands of the right owner. I have been told of intrigues
between beaus and toafts that have been now three centuries in their quiet graves; and am often entertained with traditional fcandal on perfons of whofe names there would have been no remembrance, had they not committed somewhat that might difgrace their descendants. If once there happens a quarrel between the principal perfons of two families, the malignity is continued without end; and it is common for old maids to fall out about fome election in which their grandfathers were competitors.
malice and hatred defcend here with an inheritance; and it is neceffary to be well versed in history, that the various factions of the county may be understood. You cannot expect to be on good terms with families who are refolved to love nothing in common: and, in selecting your intimates, you are, perhaps, to confider which party you moft favour in the Barons' Wars."
Refentments and enmities burn with a much more furious flame amongst the thinly scattered inhabitants of a petty village, than amidst the ever varying concourse of a great metropolis. The objects by which the paffions are set on fire are hidden from our view by the tumults which prevail in a crowded city, and the bosom willingly lofes the pains which fuch emotions excite when the causes which occafioned them are forgot but in country villages, the thorns by which the feelings have been hurt are continually before our eyes, and preserve, on every approach towards them, a remembrance of the injuries sustained. An extremely devout and highly religious lady, who refided in a retired hamlet in Swifferland, once told me, in a conversation on this subject, that she had completely fuppreffed all indignation against the envy, the hatred, and the malice of her surrounding neighbours; for that fhe found they were fo deeply dyed
dyed in fin, that a rational remonstrance was loft upon them; and that the only vexations fhe felt from a sense of their wretchednefs, arofe from the idea that her foul would at the last day be obliged to keep company with fuch incorrigible wretches.
The inhabitants of the country, indeed, both of the lower and middling claffes, cannot be expected to poffefs characters of a very refpectable kind, when we look at the conduct of those who fet them the example. A country magiftrate, who has certainly great opportunities of forming the manners and morals of the district over which he prefides, is in general puffed up with high and extravagant conceptions of the fuperiority of his wisdom, and the extent of his power; and raifing his idea of the greatness of his character in an inverse proportion to his notions of the infignificance and littleness of those around him, he fits enthroned with fancied pre-eminence, the disdainful tyrant rather than the kind protector of his neighbours. Deprived of all liberal and inftructive fociety, confined in their knowledge both of men and things, the flaves of prejudice, and the pupils of folly, with contracted hearts and degraded faculties, the inhabitants of a country village feel all the base and ignoble paffions, fordid rapacity, mean envy, and infulting oftentation,