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On SOLITUDE and COMPANY : with CHARACTERS. :
Written by a LADY, L OW glorious a privilege has man beyond all other fublu
(1 bary beings ! 'who, though indigent, unpitied, forsaken by the world, and even chained in a dungeon, can, by the aid of divine contemplation, enjoy all the charms of pomp, respect, and liberty !-Transport himself in idea to whatever place he wishes, and grasp in theory imagined empires !
Unaccountable it is, therefore, that to many people find an irksomenefs in being alone !-Guilt, indeed, crcates perturbations, which may make retirement horrible, and drive the selftormented wretch into any company, to avoid the agonies of remorfe ; but I speak not of those who are afraid to reflect, but of those who seem to me not to have the power to do it.
There are several of my acquaintance, of both sexes, who lead lives perfectly inoffensive, and, when in company, appear 10 have a fund of vivacity, capable of enlivening all the conversation they come into ; yet, if you happen to meet them after half an hour's folitude, are for some minates the most heavy lampish creatures upon earth :- ask them if they are indispofed, they will drawl oùt “ No, they are well enough: if any misfortune has befallen them, ftill they answer to No," in the same ftupid tone as before, and look like things inanimate, 'till fomething is faid or done to infpire them.-One would imagine they were but half awoke from a deep sleep'; and indeed their minds, during this lethargy, may be said to have been in a more inactive state than even that of deep, for they have not fo much as dreamed ; but I think they may joftly enough be com: pared to clock-work, which has power to do nothing of itself, 'till wound up by another.
Whatever opinion the world may have of the wit of persons of this catt, I cannot help thinking there is a vacuum in the mind ;-that they have no ideas of their own; and only, thro' costom, and a genteel education, are enabled to talk agreeably on thofe of other people. A real fine genius can never want matter to entertain itself; and though on the top of a mountain, without fociety, and without books, or any exterior means of employment, will always find that within which will keep it from being idle :-memory and recollection will bring the trans. actions of past times to view ;-observation and discernment point out the present, with their causes; and fancy, tempered With judgement, anticipate the future. This power of con. tenplation and reflection it is that chiefly diftinguishes the human from the brute creation, and proves that we have fouls, which are in reality-sparks of that divine, omniscient, omni. present Being, whence we all boast to be derived.
The pleasures which an agreeable society bestows, are indeed the most elegant we can talte ; but even that company we like best, would grow infipid and tiresome, were we to be for ever in it; and to a person who knows how to think juftly, it would certainly be as great a mortification never to be alone, as to be always so.
Conversation, in effect, but furnishes matter for contemplation ;-it exhilarates the mind, and fits it for reflection afterwards.-Every new thing we hear in company, raises in us new ideas in the closet, or on the pillow; and as there are few people but one may gather something from, either to divert or inprove, a good understanding will, like the industrious bee, fuck out the various sweets, and digest them in retirement. But chose who are perpetually hurrying from one company to another, and never suffer themselves to be alone but when weary nature fummonses them to repose, will be little amended, though the max. ims of a Senęca were to be delivered to them in all the enchanting eloquence of a Tully.
But not to be more improved, is not the worst mischief that attends an immoderate aversion to solitude. -People of this homour, rather than be alone, Aly into all company indiscrimin. ately, and sometimes fall into such as they have reason to repent their whole lives of having ever seen ; for though they may not possibly reap any advantage from the good, their reputations must certainly, and perhaps their morals and fortunes too, will foffer very much from the bad; and where we do not give ourfelves leisure to chuse, it is rarely we happen on the former, as they, being infinitely the smaller number, are less easy of access to those whose characters they are un acquainted with.
Many young persons of both sexes owe their roin to this one unfortunate propensity of loving to be always in company; and it is the more dangerous, a3 no-body takes any pains to conquer it in themselves ; but, on the contrary, are apt to mistake it for a laudable inclination, and look on those who preach up the happiness of a more retired life, as pblegmatic and vapourilh.-I doubt not but I shall pass for such in the opinion of many of my readers, who are too volatile to consider chat it is not a sullen, cynical, total avoiding of society, that I recommend, but a proper love of solitude at some times, to enable us to relish with more pleasure, as well as to be essentially the better for conversa. tion at others, and also to select such for our companions as may be likely to answer both chefe ends.
Nor is it only where there is a difference of fex that. I think youth ought to be opon its guard :-the dangers in that case are too universally allowed to stand in need of any remonstrances, and yet perhaps are not greater than others which both may happen to fall into among those of their own. Are not almost all the extravagancies parents with so much grief behold their children guilty of, owing to ill-chosen company -Great is the privilege of example, and some are so weak as to think they must do as they fee others do.-The fear of being laughed at; has made many a young gentleman run into vices to which his inclination was at first averse ; but, alas ! by habitude, be, come more pleasing to him : he has, in his turn too, played the tempter's part, and made it his glory to reduce others, as him. felf had been seduced. It is this love of company, more than the diverfions mentioned in the bills, ihat makes our ladies run galloping in troops every evening to masquerades, balls and alfemblies, in winter ; and in the summer, to Vauxhall, Ranelagh, Maryle Bonne, Sadler's-Wells, and twenty other fuch-like places; which, in this age of luxury, serve as decoys 'to draw the thoughtless and unwary together, and, as it were, prepare the way for other more vieious excesses ; for there are, and of condition too, not a few (as I am informed by the gnomes who pre. fide over midnight revels) that, going with no other intention than to partake what seems an innocent recreation, are prevailed upon, by the love of company, either to reinain in these houses, or adjourn to fome other place of entertainment, 'till the sweet harbinger of day, Aurora, awakes, and blushes to behold the order of nature thus perverted ; nor then, perhaps, would fepa. rate, did not wearied limbs, heavy languid eyes, and dirty linen, remind them of repairing to their respective habitations ; where having lain a while, they rise, they dress, and go again in quest of new company and new amusements.
· Heaven forbid, and I am far from suggesting that to run such lengths as these should be common to all who hate retirement and reflection : fortune is sometimes kinder than our endeavours merit, and by not throwing any temptations in our way, renders our carelessness of no worse consequence than being deprived of those solid pleasures which flow from a consciousness of having behaved according to the dictates of honour and reason.
But suppose we make some allowances to a few of the very young and gay, especially the beautiful and high-born, who, by a mistaken fondness in their parents, from the moment they were capable of understanding what was said to them, heard nothing but Aattery, and are made to believe they came into the world for no other purpose than to be adored and indulged, what can we fay for those who had a different education, and are of riper years How little excuse is there for a gadding matron, or for a woman who ought to have the care of a hoole and family at heart !How odd a figure does the mother of five or fix children make, at one of thefe nocturnal rambles; and how ridiculous is it for a person in any trade or avocation, to be, or affect to be, above the thought of all economy, and make one in every party of pleasure that presents itself! -- Yet such as these are no prodigies. --All kinds of regulation and managemeat require fome small reflection and recess from company ; and these are two things fo terrible to fome people, that they will rather suffer every thing to bę puined, chan endure the fatigue of thought.
A young widow of my acquaintance, rich, beauçiful, and gay, had scarce fullied the blackness of her weeds, before the ventured to take for a second hufband a man, who, had he once considered on what the was about to do, she would have found had.no one'quality that could promise her any felicioy with him. He had not been married a month before he loaded her with che most gross abuse, turned her innocent babes out of doors, and affronted all her friends who came to reafon with him on the injustice and cruelty of his behaviour.-Tbe unadvised ftep the had taken, indeed, but little merised compaction for the levent; but the sweetness of dispeation with which the had always treated all who knew her, rendered it imposible not to have a fellow-feeling of the calamities de laboured under A particular friend of ber's, however, took one day the liberty of asking how she could throw away herself on a person fo every way undeserving of her ? To which the made this short, but fin. cere reply, " Ah !” faid Me, “ it is & fad shing .to live alone!" To this the other might have returned, that the could Dot be said to be alone, who had a mother to advise, and three Sweet children to divert her most melancholy hours: but this would have been only adding to her affiliation ; and her condition being now irremediable, required confolation mode .
When this immoderate defire of company remains in persons of an advanced age, though it threatens des mischief, it is more ridiculous than in the younger fort. I know a lady, who, by her own confeffion, is no less than sixty-five, yet, in all that long length of time, has treasured up nothing in her mind wherewith The can entertain herfelf two minutes. She has been a widow for several years, has a jointure fufficient to fupport a handsome ieguipage, is without children, or any other incumbrance, and might live as much refpected by the world as the is really contemned, could the prevail on herself to reflect what fort of beha
vioer would be most becoming in a woman of her age and circumstances.
But indead of living in a regular, decent manner, the roams from place to place, hires lodgings at three or four diferent houses at the same time, lies one night at St. James's, another ac Covent-Garden, a third perhaps at Westminster, and a fourth in the city :-- or does she look on this as a fufficient variety ;- The has at this moment apartments at Richmond, Hammersmith, Kensington, and Chelsea, each of which the visits two or three times at least every month ; so that her time is passed in a continval whirl from one home to another, if any can be justly called so: but it seems as if the had an aversion to the very name ; for the rooms she pays for, she dwells in the least, fel. dom eats in any of them, and forces herself, as it were, in to those of other people, where the sends in a stock of provision fufficient for a whole family, in order to purchase for herself a welcome. But as people of any figure in the world would not accept of fuch favours, and thofe of good senfe not endure to be deprived of the privilege of thinking their own thoughts, and entertaining their own friends, it can be only the extreme ne. ceflitous, or those who have as little in their heads as herself, that will submit to have their lodgings and time taken up in this manner.
Poor woman ! How does she lavish away a handsome in. come ! How forfeit all pretensions to good understanding and good breeding, merely for the fake of being permitted to talk as much as the pleases without contradi&tion, and being never alone but when asleep. I have been told by those who are to be depended upon, that the moment the is out of hed, the runs with her stays and petticoats into che next neighbour's charaber, not being able to live without company even 'till she is dressed.
There are people so uncharitable, as to believe some latent crime hangs heavy on the minds of all those who take so much pains to avoid being alone ; but I am far from being of that number : it is my opinion, that neither this old rattle I have mentioned, nor many others who act in the same manner, ever did a real injury to any one. Those who are incapable of thinking, are certainly incapable of premeditated mischief; and, as I have already said, seem to me a set of insenfibles, who never a& of themselves, but are acted upon by others.
Before one passes so cruel a censure, one should therefore examine, I mean not the lives and characters, for they may deceive us, but at what point of time this averfion to solitude commenced :mif from childhood, and lo continued even to the extremeft old age, it can proceed only from a weakness in the Vol. I. 23.