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ALICE PAULET:

A SEQUED TO

“SYDENHAM.”

CHAPTER I.

The society of the fox-hunters, whom I found to be, for the most part, country gentlemen, the principal business of whose lives was field sports, would have offered me few attractions, even had I no other resource; and that of the Priory would have been delightful to me, even had I not been drawn thither by the one all-powerful allurement which it presented. My red coat, therefore, was but rarely assumed, and when I did appear in the field, I was urged thither more by a consciousness, that it was necessary to keep up the pretext, under which I had taken up my abode in the neighbourhood, than by a love of the noble exercise. In fact, scarcely a day elapsed that I did not see some of the party, and two or three evenings in every week were passed at the Priory. At many of these domestic soirées, certainly, I met Captain Axford, but my hostility toward that personage gradually diminished, as my persuasion grew more certain, that he was not preferred to myself in Miss Paulet's regards. The mysterious and alarming embarrassment observable in her manner toward young Axford in the first days of their intercourse, after his unwelcome apparition in the country, had now entirely disappeared, and she behaved to him with the frankness and cordiality of a sister, indeed, but there was no longer anything in her conduct, from which an experienced eye could have suspected that he was the object of a tenderer

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feeling. In her bearing with respect to me, on the contrary, there was more restraint, and generally more gravity; but from this very distinction of demeanour, slight as it was, I derived the greatest consolation and happiness.

But in proportion as I grew more complacent toward young Axford for the cause stated, his manner became more stiff to me, perhaps for an opposite reason. Occasionally, indeed, he was almost rude and insolent: this treatment, however, I tolerated with indulgence, having myself so lately experienced the same painful sentiments, under which he was then suffering. I should observe, however, that in the presence of any of the Paulet family, I was not exposed to anything like coldness or incivility from Captain Axford. În truth, I heartily pitied him, for, to a susceptible character like this young man, hopeless love must have been the devil.

For my own part, my attachment to Alice Paulet daily acquired new strength, although I carefully abstained from exhibiting externally any decided symptoms of it until I had satisfactorily ascertained whether my exertions to inspire her with a reciprocal feeling had been successful. Upon this object, as I have before said, all my energies were bent; and in the pursuit of it my character seemed to undergo a partial change, insomuch that many of my former acquaintances would, I think, have scarcely recognized the cold blooded, sarcastic, dissolute Sydenham, in the kind, considerate, and amiable being into which I was transformed. Accustomed as I had ever been, and possessing a natural facility, to adapt myself to my company, it was not difficult for me to assume these virtues, without the semblance of which no man of any discrimination would have dared to approach this pure and high-minded girl in the capacity of a candidate for her respect and affection. But I must do myself the justice to say, that I did not wear the external form of these amiable qualities merely for the purpose of recommending myself to Miss Paulet. One beneficial effect of my intercourse with her charming family was to make me shamefully sensible of my own defects, and to inspire me with a hearty disgust and contempt for those vices and fooleries, in the practice of which I had formerly taken some sort of pride and pleasure. In fact, I think most of my irregularities proceeded less from innate corruption, than from a disbelief in the existence of virtue : and my private opinion of my own character now is, that I was naturally endowed with an extreme fastidiousness, and an acute perception of vice and folly, the essence of a satirical temper, which, being shocked and confirmed by early experience, gave a turn to my character totally different from that which it would probably have taken, had my lot been cast among better specimens of human nature than those which had been hitherto my fortune to encounter. Whether this notion be warranted by the disclosures of these volumes, the reader may form a sounder judgment than I can, for I do not pretend to that knowledge, which has been well qualified the highest wisdom—the knowledge of oneself.

Be this, however, as it may, the truth is, that under the benign influence of Alice Paulet and her relatives, I became sensible of a growing distaste to my former habits, and of the wickedness and weakness of the style of thinking and acting to which I had hitherto accorded. I began to understand that I was not endowed with worldly advantages merely for the gratification of selfish caprices, and that if I was blessed with talents, they were given to me less for my own private advantage, than for the benefit and happiness of mankind. Whatever might be my speculative opinions as to virtue or religion, I had no right, either by my conduct or conversation, to bring into contempt two principles which were, to give them their least praise, essential to the existence of every civilized community. I felt, likewise, that I should beware how I recklessly brandished that weapon of satire, lest I should thereby wound innocent and well-meaning persons, as I could not but be conscious I had frequently done; if I could wield it with dexterity and force, let its attacks be exclusively directed against hypocrisy and affectation, for the destruction of which it is peculiarly fitted.

Could anything be more profligate, said I to myself, than my political conduct ? Did I not from first to last abuse the share which I took in public life? In the first instance, I deceived the constituents whom I addressed, by representing myself to them as the personification of an upright, independent, and able member of Parliament, in contradistinction to the dishonesty, tyranny, and incapacity which I opposed. Yet, had these people sent me to the House of Commons, was it my intention to have acted in accordance to my professions ? The bare idea of such a thing never crossed my mind. My object was to display the address of which I was master, and to secure a personal gratification. From the hustings, where I had, in the strongest language, eulogized political integrity, and denounced cajolery and jobbing, I passed, with a bank bill in my pocket, to the house of an in

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VOL. II.

fluential voter, and purchased a seat for a rotten borough. Placed in Parliament, I chose my party without the slightest respect to my opinion of their public character, but as my personal inclination directed me. True, that I did not enter upon public life with any sordid view-true, that I refused ofice-true, that I broke away from my party connexions, when full of vigour and hope, to support a falling man and a ruined cause, because I thought that man abused, and his cause good; but what merit could I conscientiously claim for either of these acts ? If my necessities had been pressing, or my disposition avaricious—if my ambition could have been content with subordinate power—if there had been less glare of magnanimity in sacrificing myself to a great man, who was the victim of treachery and cunning unknown to his noble nature-dare I assert my conviction that I should have spurned place, abandoned my party, and declared for Anstruther?" In fact, had I not mingled in politics from a motive pretty much of the same kind as that which actuates those hypocrites, who, as the poet informs us,

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All this I inwardly resolved shall be amended in the event of one contingency-my union with Alice Paulet! Already I felt a happier, because a wiser, and, in good resolutions, a better man. The day on which my happiness was consummated, I fixed as the commencement of a new life, the principles of which should be virtue and utility. That I should be competent to carry this plan into execution, provided I were successful in my present object, I had little doubt, for under the influence of my better self, my sluggishness would be stimulated, my indecision confirmed, and, the form of Alice being continually interposed between me and temptation, I should be preserved from any danger of relapsing into my former habits.

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