« PředchozíPokračovat »
LONDON AT MIDNIGHT.
As we despise the affectation of mystery, where none is in reality required, we shall lay before the world the two following private regulations of our Council. The one is, that no earthly engagement must be allowed to interfere with the attendance of its members; that wherever they may be, and in whatever occupation they may be employed, they must still, if within reach, consider it their paramount obligation to obey the summons of the President. The other is, that, when the time is specified, the utmost punctuality is expected; and that a severe reprimand or mulct is to be inflicted upon those who retard the business of the Council by their dilatory appearance. It happened a few nights ago, that the Major, the Traveller, and Urbanus, instead of arriving at twelve, were not visible until a quarter before one. Accordingly, when the deliberations of the Council were concluded, they were called upon to give an account of the causes of their delay, and state what circumstances they had to urge in extenuation of their offence. We present their narration to our readers, as not entirely destitute of entertainment or interest, and even capable of affording some practical instruction.
“Pray,” said the President, “what made you, gentlemen, so late? You are aware, that you have been transgressing one of the first rules of our assembly.” “ Urbanus," said the Major, “we will choose you for our spokesman; describe our adventures as we came along." « As for adventures," answered Urbanus, “I am not aware that we met with any, except such as are sure to happen to every man who walks the streets of London at midnight; but I will state what we saw and heard, and where we have been, if it will be the slightest satisfaction to the Council.” The President, with the rest of the members, bowed assent.
- The fact is, then,"continued Urbanus,“ that our present place of meeting, however convenient in some respects from its central situation, is rather too near the east end of the town. We had been dining very late in Albemarle-street, and were just sitting over a bottle of claret, when the Familiar made his entry, and signified to us that our attendance was required. Almost at the same moment, came a friend of the Major, by appointment, for the purpose of taking him to a party in the neighbourhood of Cavendish Square, where he had promised to shew himself in the course of the night. The Major, therefore, proposed, that we should all proceed together to Harley-street, in his friend's carriage, that we might then wait for him, while he just dropt in for five or ten minutes, and afterwards walk here at our leisure, and arrive in time for the opening of the Council. We agreed to this proposal, conceiving, that we had sufficient time on our hands; and were accordingly carried along the streets as fast as horses could be driven with any shadow of mercy, in weather of such intense sultriness. The Major's minutes proved to be rather long ones ; but the Traveller and myself were so well amused as we sauntered along the streets, that we were hardly aware of it, until we looked, afterwards, at our watches, and found that it was half an hour later than we imagined. The carriages were rolling without intermission to the door, and we were diverted with the tremendous raps which were inflicted upon the knocker, by those most impudent and consequential scoundrels in the world,- the servants in livery of the opulent families in London. Nor were the ladies altogether without attraction, as they descended the steps, and moved quickly and lightly into the hall. Poets may sing as they please of the sickly hues which are engendered by continual dissipation, and make pretty similes upon rural beauty; grave moralists may deliver their censures in well-rounded periods against the waste of time and repose, in a course of frivolous amusements, and descant largely in praise of healthy innocence and artless simplicity; but men, who have lived in the world, must confess, after all, that there is some peculiar fascination in the polished and fashionable women of the metropolis. The consciousness of beauty and gentility--the practised elegance of motion-the complete self-possessionthe tact of adapting their manners to the persons with whom they are conversing, and the society in which they happen to be-the gracious smiles and conventional expressions which flatter even those who are aware that they mean nothing—their power of displaying themselves to the best advantage ; of never throwing a word or a glance completely away-nay, even their taste in dress, and splendour in ornament, combine to give them, in many respects, a vast superiority over their rustic rivals; and while they throw a kind of enchantment over the senses, forbid the heart to remem. ber the vanity and intrinsic worthlessness of such advantages, or the existence of those real deficiencies and faults which too often, although not always, are attendant upon these external graces. At the moment, however, our attention was excited by a strong contrast to these lovely creatures, and the spruce petits-maîtres who waited upon them, and who seemed, indeed, as if they were born, educated, clothed, and equipped for the very task which they were performing. This object was an old, tattered decrepit beggar,“ 'bated and chopp'd by tann'd antiquity," who had managed, in spite of a trembling and palsied frame, to force himself among the few spectators who watched the company, as they stepped from their vehicles, and asked charity in a broken tone of querulous importunity. It was a figure where age and disease had not been idle ; and there was much both in the sight and odour of this wretched being to shock the sensitive nerves of fashionable delicacy. What a diversified picture of life! What strange and mingled feelings rushed across the mind at finding, at one moment, and on one spot, music, and lights, and sumptuous equipages, and numerous lacqueys, and youthful forms, and every symptom of unchecked gaiety and superfluous wealth, by the side of want, pain and hunger,-debility, anguish, and approaching dissolution! There the old man stood, unmoved by the taunts and threatenings of the unfeeling servants, and entreated for a miserable pittance to supply the urgent calls of nature, in the name of heaven. Poor wretch ! he was in his dotage, or he might have known that the scene of festive splendour was no place for a beggar. The gentlemen were in attendance upon the ladies ; in the midst of their laborious duties, they could not think of charity or compassion; and the ladies, tender amiable beings, shud. dered, as they beheld that tottering and repulsive form, with a kind of sentimental loathing,--alas! how different from commiseration and sympathy; or dropped, perchance, as they tripped into the abode of dancing and revelry, some hurried expression of mingled pity and disgust. They would not appear hard-hearted and merciless; they would rather be deemed all softness,—all gentleness, too kind to endure without mental anguish the appearance of distress ; and they thought to prove their possession of these feelings, by shrinking from the aged petitioner, as from a serpent ora spider, or any other noxious thing, of which the touch was contamination. Surely, surely, such softness, such gentleness, and such kindness, are very cheap and very unprofit, able emotions.
“When the Major came down, and we inquired how he had been entertained, he gave us the usual description of such assemblies :-a few dancing, a few playing at cards, and the rest doing nothing-an immense well-drest crowd, without sociality-a far greater number than the rooms would comfortably hold, without much care about their accommodation-hosts hardly knowing their guests, and guests altogether unacquainted with each other. In all these parties, he continued by whatever name they may be called, there is far more ostentation than hospitality. Where all are welcome, on whom fashion has set her seal, or who have been brought into notice by some accidental circumstance, or the caprice of the day, there is nothing flattering in the invitation, as it is no mark of friendship and regard. Nor is there much pleasure in seeing, on all sides of you, congregated faces of yawning listlessness, and vacant self-complacency. It is delightfully refreshing to me, after having been oppressed by heat, glare, and perfumes, to breathe once more the free air of heaven; and look, although I am no longer a romantic boy, upon the clear moon-light. Yet amidst all the follies and anomalies which such a state of society presents, it has at least one advantage of some moment. There is a total absence of restraint. We are at perfect liberty to follow our own inclinations; we may stop in it minutes or hours, at our choice; we may enter without observation, and retire without remonstrance; we are not annoyed with the tiresome profusion of kindness, or obtrusive superfluities of civility. From what party in the country could I have slipped off as I have done this evening ? and yet I fancy that I have stayed rather longer than my ten minutes.” When we asked what had induced him to remain, or indeed to go at all, the Major only smiled, and told us of Captain of the Lancers, who detained him in talking about the purchase of a horse. We could pump nothing more out of him, but a fresh dissertation upon the merits and defects of that species of assemblies, where you are neither noticed when you arrive, nor missed when you depart. Am I correct so far in my narration, Major ?" “ Pretty nearly," replied the Soldier.
“ Well," proceeded Urbanus, “ we still imagined that we had time enough before us to go through Bond-street and Piccadilly, and consequently walked with a lounging pace in that direction. There may appear something ludicrous in the idea of passing through Bond-street with moral reflections on one's lips; and yet, perhaps, there is no spot under the sun which affords more ample food for observant practical philosophy. But between eleven and twelve at night, Bond-street is only a common street, conspicuous neither in width nor elegance nor beauty ; silent, in comparison with the noise which fills it throughout the day; deserted by its adventitious gaiety and brilliancy. We demand of ourselves in vain, why has the omnipotent fiat of of a duchess, or the fantastic humour of an idle age, passed its benediction upon the pavement on which we stand, and the houses which we see? Why has it said, Let this be the only street where articles of the first elegance shall be bought, and the top spirits in the generation shall walk at a certain hour during the finest months of the year? Other streets around it are more regular and more spacious; have more to attract the eye; are in every respect more worthy of the distinction. But thus it is in human life. The most deserving man remains neglected and unknown, while another is raised to grandeur and notoriety by the fortuitous circumstances of birth, or station, or wealth ; or by some wild, irrational, unaccountable whim of his contemporaries; by no exertion of his own intellect or valour; without any intrinsic merit, or any remarkable qualities of the