Chapter 20

The history of a philosophic vagabond, pursuing novelty, but losing content

After we had supped, Mrs. Arnold politely offered to send a couple of her footmen for my son’s baggage, which he at first seemed to decline; but upon her pressing the request, he was obliged to inform her, that a stick and a wallet were all the movable things upon this earth that he could boast of. “Why, aye, my son,” cried I, “you left me but poor, and poor I find you are come back; and yet I make no doubt you have seen a great deal of the world.”—“Yes, sir,” replied my son, “but travelling after fortune is not the way to secure her; and indeed, of late I have desisted from the pursuit.”—“I fancy, sir,” cried Mrs. Arnold, “that the account of your adventures would be amusing: the first part of them I have often heard from my niece; but could the company prevail for the rest, it would be an additional obligation.”—“Madam,” replied my son, “I promise you the pleasure you have in hearing, will not be half so great as my vanity in repeating them; and yet in the whole narrative I can scarcely promise you one adventure, as my account is rather of what I saw than what I did. The first misfortune of my life, which you all know, was great; but though it distressed, it could not sink me. No person ever had a better knack at hoping than I. The less kind I found fortune at one time, the more I expected from her another, and being now at the bottom of her wheel, every new revolution might lift, but could not depress me. I proceeded, therefore, towards London in a fine morning, no way uneasy about to-morrow, but cheerful as the birds that carolled by the road, and comforted myself with reflecting, that London was the mart where abilities of every kind were sure of meeting distinction and reward.

“Upon my arrival in town, sir, my first care was to deliver your letter of recommendation to our cousin, who was himself in little better circumstances than I. My first scheme you know, sir, was to be usher at an academy, and I asked his advice on the affair. Our cousin received the proposal with a true sardonic grin. Aye, cried he, this is indeed a very pretty career, that has been chalked out for you. I have been an usher at a boarding school myself; and may I die by an anodyne necklace, but I had rather be an under-turnkey in Newgate. I was up early and late: I was brow-beat by the master, hated for my ugly face by the mistress, worried by the boys within, and never permitted to stir out to meet civility abroad. But are you sure you are fit for a school? Let me examine you a little. Have you been bred apprentice to the business? No. Then you won’t do for a school. Can you dress the boys’ hair? No. Then you won’t do for a school. Have you had the small-pox? No. Then you won’t do for a school. Can you lie three in a bed? No. Then you will never do for a school. Have you got a good stomach? Yes. Then you will by no means do for a school. No, sir, if you are for a genteel easy profession, bind yourself seven years as an apprentice to turn a cutler’s wheel; but avoid a school by any means. Yet come, continued he, I see you are a lad of spirit and some learning, what do you think of commencing author, like me? You have read in books, no doubt, of men of genius starving at the trade: at present I’ll show you forty very dull fellows about town that live by it in opulence. All honest jogg-trot men, who go on smoothly and dully, and write history and politics, and are praised: men, sir, who had they been bred cobblers, would all their lives have only mended shoes, but never made them.

“Finding that there was no great degree of gentility affixed to the character of an usher, I resolved to accept his proposal; and having the highest respect for literature, hailed the antiqua mater of Grub-street with reverence. I though it my glory to pursue a track which Dryden and Otway trod before me. I considered the goddess of this region as the parent of excellence; and however an intercourse with the world might give us good sense, the poverty she entailed I supposed to be the nurse of genius. Big with these reflections, I sat down, and finding that the best things remained to be said on the wrong side, I resolved to write a book that should be wholly new. I therefore dressed up three paradoxes with ingenuity. They were false, indeed, but they were new.1

The jewels of truth have been so often imported by others, that nothing was left for me to import, but some splendid things that, at a distance, looked every bit as well. Witness, you powers, what fancied importance sate perched upon my quill while I was writing! The whole learned world, I made no doubt, would rise to oppose my systems; but then I was prepared to oppose the whole learned world. Like the porcupine, I sate self-collected, with a quill pointed against every opposer.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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