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No. 71. TUESDAY, MAY 22, 1711.
-Scribere jussit amor.
OVID. EPIST. iv. 10.
Love bade me write.
THE entire conquest of our passions is so difficult a work, that they who despair of it should think of a less difficult task, and only attempt to regulate them. But there is a third thing which may contribute not only to the ease, but also to the pleasure, of our life; and that is, refining our passions to a greater elegance than we receive them from Nature. When the passion is Love, this work is performed in innocent, though rude and uncultivated minds, by the mere force and dignity of the object. There are forms which naturally create respect in the beholders, and at once inflame and chastise the imagination. Such an impression as this gives an immediate ambition to deserve, in order to please. This cause and effect are beautifully described by Mr. Dryden in the fable of Cymon and Iphigenia. After he has represented Cymon so stupid,
He whistled as he went, for want of thought;
he makes him fall into the following scene, and shows its influence upon him so excellently, that it appears as natural as wonderful:
It happen'd on a summer's holiday,
That to the greenwood shade he took his way;
By chance conducted, or by thirst constrain'd,
And on the margin of the fount was laid Attended by her slaves, a sleeping maid, Like Dian and her nymphs, when, tir'd with sport, To rest by cool Eurotas they resort: The dame herself the goddess well express'd, Not more distinguish'd by her purple vest, Than by the charming features of her face, And e'en in slumber a superior grace; Her comely limbs composed with decent care, Her body shaded with a slight cymar; Her bosom to the view was only bare: The fanning wind upon her bosom blows, To meet the fanning wind her bosom rose; The fanning wind and purling streams continue her repose. The fool of nature stood with stupid eyes, And gaping mouth, that testified surprise; Fix'd on her face, nor could remove his sight, New as he was to love, and novice in delight: Long mute he stood, and leaning on his staff, His wonder witness'd with an idiot laugh; Then would have spoke, but by his glimm'ring sense First found his want of words, and fear'd offence: Doubted for what he was he should be known, By his clown-accent, and his country tone.
But lest this fine description should be excepted against, as the creation of that great master, Mr. Dryden, and not on account of what has really ever happened in the world, I shall give you verbatim the epistle of an enamoured footman in the country to his mistress. Their surnames shall not be inserted, because their passion demands a greater respect than is due to their quality. James is servant in a great family, and Elizabeth waits upon the daughter of one as numerous, some miles off of her lover. James, before he beheld Betty, was vain of his strength, a rough wrestler, and quarrelsome cudgel-player; Betty a
public dancer at may-poles, a romp at stool-ball: he always following idle women, she playing among the peasants: he a country bully, she a country coquette. But love has made her constantly in her mistress's chamber, where the young lady gratifies a secret passion of her own, by making Betty talk of James; and James is become a constant waiter near his master's apartment, in reading as well as he can, romances I cannot learn who Molly is, who it seems walked ten miles to carry the angry message which gave occasion to what follows:
66 TO ELIZABETH.
86 MY DEAR BETTY,
"REMEMBER your bleeding lover who lies bleeding at the wounds Cupid made with the arrows he borrowed at the eyes of Venus, which is your sweet
Nay more, with the token you sent me for my love and service offered to your sweet person, which was your base respects to my ill conditions, when, alas! there is no ill conditions in me, but quite contrary; all love and purity, especially to your sweet person; but all this I take as a jest.
"But the sad and dismal news which Molly brought me struck me to the heart, which was it seems, and is, your ill conditions for my love and respects to you.
"For she told me, if I came forty times to you, you would not speak with me, which words I am sure is a great grief to me.
"Now, my dear, if I may not be permitted to your sweet company, and to have the happiness of speaking with your sweet person, I beg the favour of you to accept of this my secret mind and thoughts, which hath so long lodged in my breast, the which if
you do not accept, I believe will go nigh to break my heart,
"For indeed, my dear, I love you above all the beauties I ever saw in all my life.
"The young gentleman, and my master's daughter, the Londoner that is come down to marry her, sate in the arbour most part of last night. Oh, dear Betty, must the nightingales sing to those who marry for money, and not to us true lovers! Oh, my dear Betty, that we could meet this night where we used to do in the wood!
Now, my dear, if I may not have the blessing of kissing your sweet lips, I beg I may have the happiness of kissing your fair hand, with a few lines from your dear self, presented by whom you please or think fit. I believe, if time would permit me, I could write all day; but the time being short, and paper little, no more from your never-failing lover till death.
May 14, 1711.”
Poor James! since his time and paper were so short,
* This man's name was James Hirst. He was a servant to the Hon. Edward Wortley, Esq. and, in delivering a parcel of letters to his master, gave by mistake this letter, which he had just prepared for his sweetheart, and kept in its stead one of his master's. He quickly returned to rectify the blunder, but it was too late. Unfortunately, the letter to Betty was the first that presented itself to Mr. Wortley, who had indulged his curiosity in reading the love-tale of his enamoured footman. James requested to have it returned in vain. 'No, James,' said his master,' you shall be a great man, and this letter must appear in The Spectator.
James succeeded in putting an end to Betty's ill conditions, and obtained her consent to marry him; but the marriage was prevented by her sudden death. James Hirst, soon after, from his regard and love for Betty, married her sister, and died about the year 1791, by Pennistone, in the neighbourhood of Wortley, near Leeds. Betty's sister and successor was probably the Molly who walked ten miles to carry the angry message which occasioned the preceding letter.
I that have more than I can use well of both, will put the sentiments of his kind letter, the style of which seems to be confused with scraps he had got in hearing and reading what he did not understand, into what he meant to express.
66 DEAR CREATURE,
"CAN you then neglect him who has forgot all his recreations and enjoyments, to pine away his life in thinking of you? When I do so, you appear more amiable to me than Venus does in the most beautiful description that was ever made of her. All this kindness you return with an accusation, that I do not love. you: but the contrary is so manifest, that I cannot think you in earnest. But the certainty given me in your message by Molly, that you do not love me, is what robs me of all comfort. She says you will not see me: if you can have so much cruelty, at least write to me, that I may kiss the impression made by your fair hand. I love you above all things, and, in my condition, what you look with indifference is to me the most exquisite pleasure or pain. Our young lady and a fine gentleman from London, who are to marry for mercenary ends, walk about our gardens, and hear the voice of evening nightingales, as if for fashion-sake they courted those solitudes, because they have heard lovers do so. Oh Betty! could I hear these rivulets murmur, and birds sing, while you stood near me, how little sensible should I be that we are both servants, that there is any thing on earth above us! Oh! I could write to you as long as I love you, till death itself. "JAMES."
N. B. By the words ill-conditions, James meansin a woman, coquetry; in a man, inconstancy.