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No 103. TUESDAY, MAY 2, 1780.
To the Author of the Mirror.
SIR, From my earliest infancy I have been remarkable for good-humour, and a gentle, complying, inoffensive disposition ; qualities which, I am told, I inherit of my father, the late Mr. Paul Softly, an eminent linendraper. Though I myself soon recover any disappointment or contradiction I meet with ; yet so tender is my regard to the feelings of others, that I am led somehow, constitutionally, and almost against my reason, to comply with their requests, humour them in their foibles, and acquiesce in their opinions. I cannot bear, Mr. Mirror, it hurts me more than you can imagine, to disappoint the hopes or withstand the solicitation of any human being whatever. There is a sturdy, idle, impudent, merry-looking dog of a sailor, with a wooden leg, stationed at the corner of the street where I live, who, I do believe, has established himself as a pensioner upon me for life, by the earnestness of his tones, and his constant prayers to heaven for blessings on my goodness. Often and often have I been engaged in midnight riots, though fond of peace and good neighbourhood; and frequently, though I abhor wine,
have I been betrayed into intoxication, from a want of power to resist the hospitable importunity of my landlord pressing me to fill a bumper.
From this I would not have you imagine that I am devoid of resolution, or a will of my own.
the contrary, I do assure you, that, upon extraordinary occasions, and when it is necessary, I can resist and resent too. Nay, my wife (if you will believe her) frequently complains of my obstinacy and perverseness; and declares, that, of all the men she ever knew, Simon Softly (for that is my name) is the least sensible of indulgence. However, Sir, as for my wife, considering that I married her, not so much from any personal regard, as in order to please her worthy family, who had served me, though I dare say without any expectation of reward, I thank God I lead a pretty tolerable sort of life with her. Upon the whole, Sir, this disposition of mine has always appeared to me more amiable as well as convenient, than that named firm and decisive, which, confess to you, I suspect is at the bottom nothing else but conceit and ill humour. Upon one occasion in my life, however, (I think it is the very first,) which I am going to lay before you, I must own that it has given me a good deal of serious disturbance.
About six months ago I succeeded, by the death of an uncle, to a land.estate of 100l. a-year, which, unfortunately, lies contiguous to that of the greatest proprietor in the country. Along with it I inherited a law-suit, kept alive by various means ever since the year thirty-three. The subject of it was a fourth part of the estate, which, though it had long been possessed by my predecessors, as part of the farm of Oxentown, Sir Ralph Holdencourt, our adversary and neighbour above mentioned, contended must belong to him, as included in his charters of the barony of Acredale.—But, before I go on, I must make you acquainted with Sir Ralph. He is descended from one of the oldest and most choleric families in the kingdom. The stem of it, as appears from the tree drawn by the hand of his great grandfather, Sir Eustace, was a Norman baron, who came over with the Conqueror. One of his posterity intermarried with a Welsh heiress ; they were driven out of England for some act of rebellion, and since their settle. ment in the north, their blood has been further heightened by alliance with the family of a Scots Peer and a Highland Chieftain. Their jealous pride, and the suddenness of their passion, have all along borne ample testimony to the purity of their lineage. Sir Eustace himself fought four duels, and was twice run through the body. In Sir Ralph's veins, this spirit, though somewhat mitigated by his father's marriage with one, who, as it is whispered, had once served him in the capacity of dairy-maid, is far from being extinct. In his youth, he experienced the vengeance of the law, for beating a merchant of the same surname, who, without just title, claimed kindred with him, and assumed the arms of his family. I have heard too, that he himself was once soundly peppered by a gentleman of small fortune, whose gun Sir Ralph had attempted to seize upon his own ground, under pretence of his being unqualified to carry one. Though now old, he is still noted for his tenacious adherence to all his pretensions, the ceremonious politeness with which he receives the great gentry, and his supercilious treatment of all those who are not entitled to that name. But to go on with my story. Soon after my succession, being on a visit to another neighbour, Mr. B. I found him with his wife preparing to depart, in great form, for the seat of my adversary, to whom they are annually in use of paying their respects. Being ignorant of my situation, they pressed me much to accompany them; and I, desirous to please them, Sir, and not knowing how to excuse myself, at the same time thinking it unreasonable that I should be at enmity with a man whom I did not know, merely because we were at law together, was prevailed on to comply.
In a long avenue of lofty elms, terminated at one end by a large iron gate, at the top of which the family arms are worked, and at the other, by the mansion-house, a large old-fashioned building, with a moat and turrets, we overtook the Knight himself returning from a ride. He seemed to be about sixty, but retained a robust make and florid complexion. He was seated on a superb saddle, with holsters, and a housing of fur: he rode a long-tailed horse, which had once been grey, but had now become white with age ; and was attended, at a due distance, by a sedate elderly looking servant, in an ample livery surtout, mounted on a black dock-tailed coachnag. No sooner had he perceived us, than he pushed on at a gallop, that he might be ready to present himself upon the platform of large outer stone stair, to pay his compliments upon our arrival. I was introduced to him as his new neighbour Mr. Softly ; but the moment the name reached his ears, the blood rushed into his face, and eyeing me with a look of indignation, he turned upon his heel, and left me. At this I was a good deal nettled (for I do not want spirit), and wished to retire: but, perceiving that my horse had been led into the stable, and that I must pass through a crowd of servants who were laughing at my reception, I thought it might be just as good to go on, and so followed them into the great hall. This was a large room, wainscoted with oak, and decorated with some portraits, a map of the estate, a tree of the family descent, beside a spear and a cross-bow, which had been borne, I suppose, by some of the Knight's progenitors. Here we were received by Miss Primrose Holdencourt, his sister, a maiden lady of fifty-five, who, ever since the death of his wife, has done the honours of his table. To her
I made a profound bow, of which she took no notice, unless by bridling up her head, and tossing a look of disdain at me.
Our present company, besides the persons already mentioned, consisted of the Knight's agent or attorney, and the parson of the parish. The two latter, who, for some reason or other, has all along kept standing together by one of the windows near the door, were banished, upon the appearance of dinner, to a bye table in a corner of the room, where I likewise, finding no place unoccupied at the other table, was obliged to take my seat. But, for this disgrace, I was soon comforted by the good-humour and face. tiousness of the attorney (who seemed to take a liking for me), as well as by some excellent ale, in which we both, along with the parson, participated pretty liberally. We had no communication with the other table, unless by an overture of mine towards a reconciliation with Miss Primrose, by drinking her health, which met with a very ungracious reception. We had, however, no great cause to envy their conversation, as it consisted chiefly of some annotations by her upon the table-linen, in which the heads of the twelve apostles, and some worthies of the family, were woven , besides a history from the Knight, of some exploits performed by the latter. Dinner being removed, and the ladies retiring along with it, the other table was naturally compelled to an union with ours; which, however, did not take place without strong marks of repug. nance on the part of the Knight. These became still more and more manifest, as the liquor elevated his pride : he pushed the bottle past me, neglected to require my toast, and every now and then eyed me over his shoulder, with a look of the utmost jea. lousy and aversion. I did not value the looks of him or any other man a farthing ; so I kept my seat