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THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE,
ADRESSED TO THE
WILLIAM STURGES BOURNE, M.P.
fc. fc. &c.
Of Testwood Park, Hampshire.
If it should be asked why I have recorded the series of retired scenes, and sometimes abstruse conversations, which compose the following narrative, my answer is a very simple one: in the present state of the world, they may possibly do good, and cannot do harm. Not that I think the world worse now than it has been for perhaps the last hundred years. The upper
and lower classes I should say are certainly not so; I am not so sure of the middle. The wide spread of that luxury which is consequent on wealth, by extinguishing the modest style of living which once belonged to us, has undermined our independence, and left our virtue defenceless. All would be Statesmen, Philosophers, or people of fashion. All, too, run to London. The woods and fields are unpeopled; the plain mansions and plain
manners of our fathers deserted and changed; every thing is swallowed up by a devouring dissipation; and the simplicities of life are only to be found in books.
Yet it is the proper blending of the simplicities of life with its elegancies, the wholesome union of public and private duty, the golden moderation recommended by Horace (all which you, Sir, understand and practise so well), that can alone enable us, whether we are politicians or private gentlemen, to act up to the real design of our nature, and be happy with dignity, or prosperous (if prosperous) without losing our virtue.
Ambition is indeed a great, and, under due regulation, a noble passion; but, for the most part, it is interminable. Few, like you, after shewing how fitted they are for the administration of public affairs, think of retiring from them in time; or, if they do retire, they are pursued into their retreat by the spectres of what they have left, and know not how to use the leisure which perhaps they have courted.
Yet ambition is at least as full as ever of falsehood and treachery; of the cajoleries of honest men by confidants in office; of the sacrifice of friends, and the prevalency of upstart influence.
To fly from such evils is the obvious immediate remedy; but often the remedy is so little understood, as to be worse than the disease.
Hence the very
dangerous mistakes about solitude, which are noticed in this work.
Again,—there is in the world a spread of instruction, as well as of luxury; and also, I think, more zeal, more lively attention to duty, in our religious instructors. Yet I question if there is, either in the higher or middle ranks, that regard for the religious, or even the moral feelings and principles of one another, which would check either man or woman in the choice of friends, or in forming the nearest and dearest of connections.
How sweet is the passion of Love! But I question, as now felt (if indeed it is felt, or an indiscriminating luxury have not demanded it a sacrifice to its ravenous selfishness), whether it ever found difficulty from opposing opinions on the points I have mentioned. The truth is, most women, of whatever rank, are, or would be, fine ladies; and a fine lady has on these points (thanks to her education !) no opinion at all.
In duller days, now long gone by, we both of us may indeed remember a tale, which was thought pathetic, of a certain . Clementina, who really sacrificed her love to her religion. But her religion was not pure; it was founded in superstition: and her firmness was not her own, but supported by the craftiness of priests. And besides, she was not an English fine lady.
Once more, and I have done. With the spread of luxury, there is a spread of infidelity; I say luxury, because God forbid it should arise from instruction. The efforts indeed of infidelity have been well met by the exertions of our best and highest rank of instructors; by a Watson, a Paley, a Tomline, and a Porteus; and, last in order, not least in merit, by a Rennel. Yet scepticism has again laid hold of us; and if there are more saints among us than formerly, there are also more infidels; most of all, perhaps, persons who never inquire. How should it be otherwise, when all-absorbing ambition or all-absorbing pleasure, attended by a dissipation which is nothing less than frantic, consume our youth, and harden their hearts !
With all these convictions, perhaps no apology is necessary for relating a story which, though it is simple and domestic even (I fear) to tameness, displays, in practical colouring, the evils I have imagined; while, at the same time, it endeavours to supply an antidote to them. To be sure, this antidote is offered under a dress which may appear extraordinary, and little suited to the gravity of many of the subjects discussed. I can only say, it was the dress in which the subjects were presented to me; and I was not willing to separate them from the narrative from a feeling that the lighter and more tender parts might enliven or interest the