Page images
PDF
EPUB

long blackish hair on his head, and a beard of extravagant length. The good ship Hector, it appears, was doubling Cape Horn, on its return to England; when the wind and currents, setting strong against it, drove it several degrees to the south of the track usually followed by persons navigating those seas. It was about the middle of June, when the days are there at the shortest, on a very starry and moonlight night, that we observed, at some distance, a very black cloud, but seemingly of no extraordinary size or height, moving very fast towards us, and seeming to follow the ship, which then made great way.” The strangeness of its appearance, together with its being perceived, frequently to divide and presently to close again, occasioned it to be observed, with a mixture of alarm and curiosity, by the persons on deck, and many conjectures were offered as to what the phenomenon might portend. The sagacious commander, however, decided the question at once, by causing one of the ship's guns to be fired at it, under the idea that there might possibly be a storm gathering in the air, of which this was a prognostic." This was no sooner done, than we heard a prodigious flounce in the water, at but a small distance from the ship, on the weather quarter; and after a violent noise, or cry in the air, the cloud, that upon our firing dissipated, seemed to return again, but by degrees disappeared.” In the pause of wonder, created by this unexpected incident, they plainly heard a voice calling out for help, like that of a person in distress. Upon this they slackened sail; and hoisting out the boat, R.S. and seven others made to the cry, which they soon found to come “ from an elderly man, labouring for life, with his arms across several long poles, very light, and tied to each other in a very odd manner.” After some demur on the part of the sailors, who, according to the usual faith of tars, took him for a monster, that would certainly upset the boat, he was taken in ; when he abundantly disproved the suspicions entertained of his humanity, by squeezing them successively by the hand, and, in good English, thanking them very courteously for their civility., The adventures of a person thus unexpectedly dropped from the clouds, were naturally enough conjectured by R. Š., to contain something remarkable ; and the kind offices he had an opportunity of doing the old man, with the brute of a captain, were eventually rewarded by a complete satisfaction of his curiosity. Besides, the hero himself, good man, was sure, that as they were of such an uncommon nature, “the world would be glad to know them,” and he had even “flattered himself with hopes of raising somewhat by the sale of them, to put him in a way of living.” In the course of a long and tedious voyage, they had ample leisure, the one to relate, and the other to hear and write down the narrative of the stranger's life; but on their arrival in

England, the latter was more happily and effectually provided for than he ever could have been by the vainly hoped-for curiosity of his countrymen. He died the very night they landed, bequeathing the expenses of his funeral, and the profits of the MS. to his benevolent amanuensis. Such is the miraculous manner in which Peter Wilkins is introduced to the acquaintance of the reader; and under such circumstances are his Life and Adventures represented to have been written. That he himself, in hoping the world would be glad to know and feel an interest in them, was deceived by his own wishes, is sufficiently clear; since, otherwise, it would not have fallen to us at this late day to present, as something new, to the majority of our readers, the following imperfect outline of his story.

Peter Wilkins, a Cornish man, as the title page bears, was the son of one of those unfortunate persons, who had been judged by Jefferys, in the West, for taking the air one day, as far as Sedgemoor, with the Protestant Duke. He coming to that unhappy end, Peter naturally succeeded to all his mother's affection, and meeting “ with so much indulgence from her, for that reason, found very little or no contradiction from any body else.” At the ripe age of sixteen, he conceived himself too big for confinement at the apron string, and began to take all opportunities of enjoying the company of his neighbours. In pursuance of this dutiful design he had the happiness to make a kind and loving father of a person, whom he had only courted for a friend. This was a gentleman of a small paternal estate, “ which had never been the better for being in his hands,” and having at that time “ some uneasy demands upon it,” its owner was of opinion, that the widow's effects might be usefully applied towards freeing it from incumbrances. The method which this worthy takes to worm himself into the good graces of Peter's mother, is described with great truth and naiveté, and may be safely recommended as infallible in all cases similar to the present. The mother is courted through the son; and many wonderful things, clearly foreshown by his discourse and actions, are presaged of him, if his genius be but properly cultivated. Proud of such a hopeful youth, the mother is straight inflamed with a desire of adding what lustre she can to abilities so applauded; and who so proper to advise with on the subject, as the person whose discrimination had first remarked their existence? “My gentleman then had his desire, for he feared not the widow, could he but properly dispose of her charge.” Having beaten her quite out of her inclination to a grammar school in the neighbourhood, he proposes an academy not more than thirty or more miles distant, kept by a very worthy and judicious person, where, if Peter could but be admitted, he did not in the least doubt he would fully answer the expectations

pursuand lovin this ween the

worthy takes to ribed with great in all cases sin

formed of him, and outshine most of his contemporaries. Well; the whole family is now employed in fitting Peter out on his expedition, and as his friend had been so instrumental in bringing it about, it was only natural he should be frequent in his inquiries how affairs went on; and during the process, by humouring the son, ingratiate himself with the mother, though without appearing in the least to aim at it.

“ Thus I, (the coach waiting for us at the door) having been preached into a good-liking of the scheme by my friend, who now insisted upon making one of our company to introduce us, mounted the carriage with more alacrity than could be expected for one who had never before been beyond the smoke of his mother's chimney; but the thoughts I had conceived, from my friend's discourse, of liberty in the academic way, and the weight of so much money in my pocket, as I then imagined would scarce ever be exhausted, were prevailing cordials to keep my spirits on the wing."

Finding himself thus rich, he confesses he heartily wished they were all fairly at home again, that he might have leisure to count his cash, and dispose of such part of it as he had already appropriated to several uses then in embryo.” But when this was over, and the money all spent, he found his friend's academic liberty but a poor substitute for the complete vacation from all sorts of employment which he had enjoyed in his mother's house. Alas! after sixteen years of idleness at home, he had but little heart to his nouns and pronouns, which now began to be crammed upon him, and “ was ashamed to stand like a great lubber, declining of hæc mulier, a woman,” whilst his juniors, by five years or more, were engaged in scanning Horace, or turning Ovid into nonsense. After passing some time in the melancholy contemplation of his own dullness, a certain accident befell him, when “inclination,” as he expresses it, “ framed by opportunity, produced the date of a world of concern;" for, in about six months after his arrival at the academy, instead of proving his parts by his scholarship, he had proved his manhood, by taking unto him a wife, with the distant promise of an heir to boot. This increased establishment necessarily demanded a recruited purse : he wrote to his mother for a fresh supply; and was answered by his former friend, in a letter, short indeed, but sufficiently significant, beginning with “ Your mother and I are much surprised you should write for money,” &c.-addressed, “ Son Peter,” and subscribed, “ your loving father.” Peter's consternation on the receipt of this letter, he leaves the reader to imagine, and after “a thousand thoughts altogether jostling out each other," he takes refuge in the counsels and sympathy of his wife. But not to tire his hearer “ any further with amours between self and Patty," he

VOL. VII. PART 1.

proceeds to inform him, that having somebody to disburthen his mind to, and to participate in his concerns, he “had been much easier, and kept true tally” with his book, with more than usual delight, so as to win the acknowledgment of his master, for the best capacity he ever had under his tuition.” By the advice of the latter, and under his dictation, he writes his new father a dutiful letter, praying that he would be pleased to order him home, the next recess, he being now near nineteen years of age ; and receives in answer, from that very honest gentleman, the following laconic epistle:

“Son Peter,—Your mother has been dead a good while; and as to your request, it will be only expensive, and of little use; for a person who must live by his studies cannot apply to them too closely."

“ A person who must live by his studies !"_is the natural exclamation of the master :-"Why, have you not a pretty estate to live upon, when it comes to your hands? Peter,” says he, “ I would advise you to go to your father, and inquire how your affairs are left.” The consequence of this advice is an interview with Peter's “loving father,” which is extremely well described, and reminds us of those more sober parts of Smollett, where he ceases to play the buffoon, and instead of burlesquing nature, is content to copy her with fidelity.

It seems that old Peter Wilkins, previous to his fatal execution, had conveyed to his wife both the estate, money, and every thing else he had in the world; and that she, in the common course of such things, had transferred them, with herself, to her liege lord and spouse.

Dolorous and mal-content, master and pupil make the best of their way home again; where, during the remainder of Peter's stay, which was but a week or so, the former frequently moralized with such effect, that his pupil was “almost convinced he ought to submit, and be content.” The passage, indeed, may serve as a specimen of that practical good sense, and unaffected piety, which pervades the whole work, and vie with the beauty of the fiction in recommending it to the good will of the reader.

" You are not now to learn, Peter, that the crimes of the father are often punished in the children, often in the father himself, sometimes in both, and not, seldom in neither, in this life ; and though, at first one should think the future punishment, annexed to bad actions, was sufficient, still it is necessary some should suffer here also for an example to others; we being much more affected with what the eye sees, than what the heart only meditates upon.

“Now, to bring it to our own case; your father, Peter, rose against the lawful magistrate, to deprive him (it matters not that he was a bad

one) of his lawful power. Your father's policy was such, and his design so well laid, as he thought, that upon any ill success to himself, he had secured his estate to go in the way of all others he could wish to have it, and sits down very well contented, that, happen what would, he should bite the government, in preventing the forfeiture. But, lo! his policy is as a wall of sand blown down with a puff! for it is to you it ought, even "himself being umpire, to have come, as no one would think he could prize any before you, his own child. Now, could he look from the grave, and know what passes here, and see Mr. G. in possession of all he fancied he had secured for you, what a weak and short-sighted creature would he find himself! If it be said, he did not know he should have a child, then herein appears God's policy beyond man's; for he knew it, and has so ordered, that that child should be disinherited; for, by the way, Peter, take this for a maxim, wherever the first principle of an action is ill, no good consequence can possibly ever be an attendant on it. Could he, as I said before, but look up and see you, his only child, undone by the very instrument he designed for your security, how pungent would be his anxiety."

“ Heaven seems To claim her stero prerogative, and visit

Upon my boy, his father's faults and follies.” Whilst his master continued to talk after this way, Peter thought he spoke like an angel; but when left to solitude and his own reflections, his former uneasiness returned upon him. In short, without more consideration, I rose in the morning early, and marched off, having first wrote to my wife, assuring her, if ever I was a gainer in life, she should not fail to be a partaker.” His thoughts by the way were uncomfortable enough

at night he slept tolerably; but the morning once more do brought its face of horror with it.” However, after walking about three miles and calling to mind his master's last discourse, his spirit by degrees grew calmer; and he found another set of thoughts were preparing a passage into his mind, “ which did not carry half the dread and terror with them that their predecessors had.” It was now that he became sensible of the benefit of a virtuous education; for, though his religious duties had hitherto been performed from force, custom, or habit, rather than any proper 'regard to their object, yet having “ been always used to say his prayers, as they called it, morning and night,” he began with a sort of superstitious reflection, to accuse himself for having omitted that duty the night before, and also at the setting out in the morning, and very much to blame himself for it, and at the same instant even to wonder at himself for that blame. This leads him into a train of natural reflections, as to the real use of prayer, and the object of it.Does the Being, to whom it is addressed, concern himself with one, who can do bim no service ? Have the prayers, he has

« PreviousContinue »