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Pray, spare me, sir; I am willing to sit down quietly. I am unequal to this subject. I have done.
But, said the baronet, you must not sit down quietly, madam; Mr Walden has promised us edification; and we all attend the effect of his promise.
No, no, madam, said Mr Walden, you must not come off so easily. You have thrown out some extraordinary things for a lady, and especially for so young a lady. From you we expect the opinions of your worthy grandfather, as well as your own notions. He, no doubt, told you, or you have read, that the competition set on foot between the learning of the ancients and moderns, has been the subject of much debate among the learned in the latter end of the last century.
Indeed, sir, I know nothing of the matter. I am not learned. My grandfather was chiefly intent to make me an English, and, I may say, a Bible scholar. I was very young when I had the misfortune to lose him. My whole endeavour has been since, that the pains he took with me should not be cast away.
I have discovered you, madam, to be a Parthian lady. You can fight flying, I see. You must not, I tell you, come off so easily for what you have thrown out. Let me ask you, Did you ever read "The Tale of a Tub?"
The baronet laughed out, though evidently in the wrong place.
How apt are laughing spirits, said Mr Walden, looking solemnly, to laugh, when perhaps they ought-There he stopt-[to be laughed at, I suppose he had in his head. But I will not, however, be laughed out of my question-Have you, madam, read Swift's "Tale of a Tub?"— -There is such a book, Sir Hargrave, looking with an air of contempt at the baronet.
I know there is, Mr Walden, replied the baronet, and again laughed-Have you, madam? to me. Pray let us know what Mr Walden drives
I have, sir.
Why, then, madam, resumed Mr Walden, you no doubt read, bound up with it, "The Battle of the Books ;" a very fine piece, written in favour of the ancients, and against the moderns; and thence must be acquainted with the famous dispute I mentioned. And this will shew you, that the moderns are but pigmies in science, compared with the ancients. And, pray, shall not the knowledge which enables us to understand and to digest the wisdom of these immortal ancients be accounted learning?—Pray, madam, nodding his head, answer me that.
O how these pedants, whispered Sir Hargrave to Mr Reeves, strut in the livery and brass buttons of the ancients, and call their servility learning! You are going beyond my capacity, sir. I believe what you say is very just; yet the ancients
may be read, I suppose, and not understoodBut pray, sir, let the Parthian fly the field. I promise you that she will not return to the charge. Éscape, not victory, is all she contends
All in good time, madam-But who, pray, learns the language but with a view to understand the author?
Nobody, I believe, sir. But yet some who read the ancients may fail of improving by them.
I was going to say something farther; but the baronet, by his loud and laughing applause, disconcerted me; and I was silent.
And here I must break off, till I return from the play; and then, or in the morning early, I will begin on another sheet.
Now, Lucy, will I resume the thread of an argument, that you, perhaps, will not think worth remembering; yet, as I was called upon by every one to proceed, I would not omit it, were it but to have my uncle's opinion, whether I was not too pert, and too talkative; for my conscience a little reproaches me. You know I have told him, that I will not unbespeak my monitor.
Mr Walden told me, I seemed to think that the knowledge we gather from the great ancients is hardly worth the pains we take in acquiring the languages in which they wrote.
Not so, sir. I have great respect even for linguists; do we not owe to them the translation of the sacred books?-But, methinks, I could wish that such a distinction should be made between language and science, as should convince me, that that confusion of tongues, which was intended for a punishment of presumption in the early ages of the world, should not be thought to give us our greatest glory in these more enlightened times.
Well, madam, ladies must be treated as ladies. But I shall have great pleasure, on my return to Oxford, in being able to acquaint my learned friends, that they must all turn fine gentlemen, and laughers, [Mr Reeves had smiled as well as the baronet and despise the great ancients as men of straw, or very shortly they will stand no chance in the ladies' favour.
Good Mr Walden! Good Mr Walden! laughed the baronet, shaking his embroidered sides, let me, let me beg your patience, while I tell you, that the young gentlemen at both universities are already in more danger of becoming fine gentlemen than fine scholars
And then again he laughed; and, looking
round him, bespoke, in his usual way, a laugh from the rest of the company.
Mr Reeves, a little touched at the scholar's reference to him, in the word laughers, said, It were to be wished, that, in all nurseries of learning, the manners of youth were proposed as the principal end. It is too known a truth, said he, that the attention paid to languages has too generally swallowed up all other and more important considerations; insomuch, that sound morals and good breeding themselves are obliged to give way to that which is of little moment, but as it promotes and inculcates those. And learned men, I am persuaded, if they dared to speak out, would not lay so much stress upon mere languages as you seem to do, Mr Walden.
Learning, here, replied Mr Walden, a little peevishly, has not a fair tribunal to be tried at. As it is said of the advantages of birth or degree, so it may be said of learning; no one despises it that has pretensions to it. But, proceed, Miss Byron, if you please.
Very true, I believe, sir, said I; but, on the other hand, may not those who have either, or both, value themselves too much on that account?
I knew once, said Miss Clements, an excellent scholar, who thought, that too great a portion of life was bestowed on the learning of languages; and that the works of many of the ancients were more to be admired for the stamp which antiquity has fixed upon them, and for the sake of their purity in languages that cannot alter, (and whose works are therefore become the standard of those languages,) than for the lights obtained from them by men of genius, in ages that we have reason to think more enlightened, as well by new discoveries as by revelation.
I am even tempted to ask, continued she, Whether the reputation of learning is not oftener acquired by skill in those branches of science which principally serve for amusement to inquisitive and curious minds, than by that in the most useful sort?
himself to be a very learned man? And yet that work is written wholly in the language of his own country, as the works of Homer and Virgil were in that of theirs :-And they, I presume, will be allowed to be learned men.
Milton, madam, let me tell you, is infinitely obliged to the great ancients; and his very freallusions to them, and his knowledge of their mythology, shew that he is.
His knowledge of their mythology, sir !—His own subject so greatly, so nobly, so divinely, above that mythology—I have been taught to think, by a very learned man, that it was a condescension in Milton to the taste of persons of more reading than genius in the age in which he wrote, to introduce, so often as he does, his allusions to the pagan mythology; and that he neither raised his sublime subject, nor did credit to his vast genius, by it.
Mr Addison, said Mr Walden, is a writer admired by the ladies. Mr Addison, madam, as you will find in your Spectators, [sneeringly he spoke this, gives but the second place to Milton, on comparing some passages of his with some
If Mr Addison, sir, has not the honour of being admired by the gentlemen, as well as by the ladies, I dare say Mr Walden will not allow, that his authority should decide the point in question; and yet, as I remember, he greatly extols Milton.-But I am going out of my depth. -Only permit me to say one thing more-If Homer is to be preferred to Milton, he must be the sublimest of writers; and Mr Pope, admirable as his translation of the Iliad is said to be, cannot have done him justice.
You seem, madam, to be a very deep English scholar. But say you this from your own observation, or from that of any other?
I really own, that my lights are borrowed, replied I; I owe the observation to my godfather, Mr Deane. He is a scholar; but as great an admirer of Milton as of any of the ancients. A gentleman, his particular friend, who is as great an admirer of Homer, undertook, from Mr Pope's translation of the Iliad, to produce passages that in sublimity exceeded any in the Paradise Lost. The gentlemen met at Mr Deane's house, where I then was. They allowed me to be present; and this was the issue: the gentleman went away convinced, that the English poet as much excelled the Grecian in the grandeur of his sentiments, as his subject, founded on the Christian system, surpasses the pagan.
The debate, I have the vanity to think, said Mr Walden, had I been a party in it, would have taken another turn; for I do insist upon it, that, without the knowledge of the learned languages, a man cannot understand his own.
I opposed Shakespeare to this assertion; but wished, on this occasion, that I had not been a party in this debate; for the baronet was even noisy in his applauses of what I said; and the
applauses of empty minds always give one suspicion of having incurred it by one's over-forwardness.
He drowned the voice of Mr Walden, who, two or three times, was earnest to speak; but not finding himself heard, drew up his mouth as if to a contemptuous whistle, shrugged his shoulders, and sat collected in his own conscious worthiness; his eyes, however, were often cast upon the pictures that hung round the room, as much better objects than the living ones before him.
But what extremely disconcerted me, was a freedom of Miss Barnevelt's; taken upon what I last said, and upon Mr Walden's hesitation, and Sir Hargrave's applauses; she professed that I was able to bring her own sex into reputation with her. Wisdom, as I call it, said she, notwithstanding what you have modestly alleged to depreciate your own, when it proceeds through teeth of ivory, and lips of coral, receives a double grace. And then, clasping one of her mannish arms around me, she kissed my cheek.
I was surprised, and offended; and with the more reason, as Sir Hargrave, rising from his seat, declared, that since merit was to be approved in that manner, he thought himself obliged to follow so good an example.
I stood up, and said, Surely, sir, my compliance with the rest of the company, too much, I fear, at my own expense, calls rather for civility than freedom from a gentleman. I beg, Sir Hargrave-There I stopt; and I am sure looked greatly in earnest.
He stood suspended till I had done speaking; and then, bowing, sat down again: but, as Mr Reeves told me afterwards, he whispered a great oath in his ear, and declared, that he beheld with transport his future wife; and cursed himself if he would ever have another; vowing in the same whisper, that were a thousand men to stand in his way, he would not scruple any means to remove them.
Miss Barnevelt only laughed at the freedom she had taken with me. She is a loud and fearless laugher. She hardly knows how to smile; for, as soon as anything catches her fancy, her voice immediately bursts her lips, and widens her mouth to its full extent.-Forgive me, Lucy, I believe I am spiteful.
Lady Betty and Miss Clements, in low voices, praised me for my presence of mind, as they called it, in checking Sir Hargrave's forwardness.
Just here, Lucy, I laid down my pen, and stept to the glass, to see whether I could not please myself with a wise frown or two; at least with a solemnity of countenance, that, occasionally, I might dash with it my childishness of look; which certainly encouraged this freedom of Miss Barnevelt. But I could not please myself. My muscles have never been used to anything but smiling; so favoured, so beloved, by
every one of my friends; a heart so grateful for all their favours-How can I learn now to frown; or even long to look grave?
All this time the scholar sat uneasily careless.
In the meantime, Mr Reeves, having sent for, from his study," Bishop Burnet's History of his Own mes," said he would, by way of moderatorship in the present debate, read them a passage, to which, he believed, all parties would subscribe; and then read what I will transcribe for you from the conclusion to that performance.
"I have often thought it a great error to waste young gentlemen's years so long in learning Latin, by so tedious a grammar. I know those who are bred to the profession of literature, must have the Latin correctly; and for that the rules of grammar are necessary; but these rules are not at all requisite to those who need only as much Latin as thoroughly to understand and delight in the Roman authors and poets.
"But suppose a youth had, either for want of memory, or of application, an incurable aversion to Latin, his education is not for that to be despaired of: there is much noble knowledge to be had in the English and French languages: Geography, History, chiefly that of our own country, the knowledge of Nature, and the more practical parts of the mathematics, (if he has not a genius for the demonstrative,) may make a gentleman very knowing, though he has not a word of Latin." And why, I would fain know, said Mr Reeves, not a gentlewoman?"There is a fineness of thought, and a nobleness of expression, indeed, in the Latin authors," [This makes for your argument, Mr Walden," that will make them the entertainment of a man's whole life, if he once understands and reads them with delight;" [Very well! said Mr Walden;" but, if this cannot be attained to, I would not have it reckoned that the education of an ill Latin scholar is to be given over."
Thus far the Bishop.
We all know, proceeded Mr Reeves, how well Mr Locke has treated this subject. And he is so far from discouraging the fair sex from learning languages, that he gives us a method, in his Treatise of Education, by which a mother may not only learn Latin herself, but be able to teach it to her son. Be not, therefore, ladies, ashamed either of your talents or acquirements. Only take care, you give not up any knowledge that is more laudable in your sex, and more useful, for learning; and then, I am sure, you will, you must, be the more agreeable, the more suitable companions for it, to men of sense. Nor let any man have so narrow a mind as to be apprehensive for his own prerogative, from a learned woman. A woman who does not behave the better the more she knows, will make her husband uneasy, and will think as well of herself, were she
But Miss Clements really shone. Yet, in the eye of some people, what advantages has folly in a pretty woman, over even wisdom in a plain one! Sir Hargrave was much more struck with the pert things spoken, without fear or wit, by Miss Cantillon, than with the just observations that fell from the lips of Miss Clements.
Mr Walden made no great figure on these fashionable subjects; no, not on that of the plays; for he would needs force into conversation, with a preference to our Shakespeare, his Sophocles, his Euripides, his Terence; of the merits of whose performances, how great soever, no one present but Mr Reeves and himself could judge, except by translations.
Sir Hargrave spoke well on the subject of the reigning fashions, and on modern dress, so much the foible of the present age.
Lady Betty and Mrs Reeves spoke very properly of the decency of dress, and propriety of fashions, as well as of public entertainments.
Miss Clements put in here also with advantage to herself.
Nor would Mr Walden be excluded this topic. But, as the observations he made on it, went no deeper than what it was presumed he might have had at second-hand, he made a worse figure here, than he did on his more favourite subject. He was, however, heard, till he was for bring ing in his Spartan jacket, (I forget what he called it,) descending only to the knees of the women, in place of hoops; and the Roman toga for the men.
Miss Barnevelt broke in upon the scholar; but by way of approbation of what he said; and went on with subjects of heroism, without permitting him to rally and proceed, as he seemed inclined to do.
After praising what he had said of the Spartan and Roman dresses, she fell to enumerating her heroes, both ancient and modern. Achilles, the savage Achilles, charmed her. Hector, how ever, was a good clever man ; yet she could not
What a length have I run! How does this narrative letter-writing, if one is to enter into minute and characteristic descriptions and conversations, draw one on !-I will leave off for the present; yet have not quite dismissed the company (though I have done with the argument) that I thought to have parted with before I conIcluded this letter.
But I know I shall please my uncle in the livelier parts of it, by the handle they will give him against his poor niece. My grandmother, and aunt Selby, will be pleased, and so will you, my Lucy, with all I write, for the writer's sake ; such is their and your partial love to Their and your ever-grateful HARRIET.
By the time tea was ready, Lady Betty whisperingly congratulated me on having made so considerable a conquest, as she was sure I had, by Sir Hargrave's looks.
She took notice also of a gallant expression of his, uttered, as she would have it, with an ear nestness that gave it a meaning beyond a common compliment. My cousin Reeves had asked Miss Clements if she could commend to me-an honest, modest man-servant? I, said Sir Hargrave, can, I myself shall be proud to wear Miss Byron's livery, and that for life.
Miss Cantillon, who was within hearing of this, and had seemed to be highly taken with the baronet, could hardly let her eyes be civil to me; and yet her really pretty mouth, occasionally, worked itself into forced smiles, and an affectation of complaisance.
Sir Hargrave was extremely obsequious to me all the tea-time; and seemed in earnest a little uneasy in himself; and, after tea, he took my cousin Reeves into the next room; and there made your Harriet the subject of a serious conversation; and desired his interest with me.
He prefaced his declaration to Mr Reeves, with assuring him, that he had sought for an opportunity more than once, to be admitted into my company, when he was last at Northampton; and that he had not intruded himself then into this company, had he not heard I was to be there.
He made protestations of his honourable views; which looked as if he thought they might be doubted, if he had not given such assurances. A tacit implication of an imagined superiority, as well in consequence as fortune.
Mr Reeves told him, it was a rule which all my relations had set themselves, not to interfere with my choice, let it be placed on whom it would.
Sir Hargrave called himself a happy man upon this intelligence.
He afterwards, on his return to the company, found an opportunity, as Mrs Reeves and I were talking at the farther part of the room, in very vehement terms, to declare himself to me an admirer of perfections of his own creation; for he volubly enumerated many; and begged my permission to pay his respects to me at Mr Reeves's. Mr Reeves, Sir Hargrave, said I, will receive what visits he pleases in his own house, I have no permission to give.
He bowed, and made me a very high compliment, taking what I said for a permission.
What, Lucy, can a woman do with these selfflatterers?
of us like the same person. I mean not to disparage Sir Hargrave; but I have compassion for the ladies who sigh for him in secret. One woman only can be his wife; and perhaps she will not be one of those who sigh for him; especially were he to know that she does.
Perhaps not, replied Miss Cantillon; but I do assure you that I am not one of those who sigh for Sir Hargrave.
The ladies smiled.
I am glad of it, madam, said I. Every woman should have her heart in her own keeping, till she can find a worthy man to bestow it
Miss Barnevelt took a tilt in heroics.
Well, ladies, said she, you may talk of love, and love as much as you please; but it is my glory, that I never knew what love was. I, for my part, like a brave man, a gallant man; one in whose loud praise fame has cracked half-adozen trumpets. But as to your milk-sops, your dough-baked lovers, who stay at home and strut among the women, when glory is to be gained in the martial field, I despise them with all my heart. I have often wished that the foolish heads of such fellows as these were cut off in time of war, and sent over to the heroes to fill their cannon with, when they batter in breach, by way of saving ball.
I am afraid, said Lady Betty, humouring this romantic speech, that if the heads of such persons were as soft as we are apt sometimes to think them, they would be of as little service abroad as they are at home.
O, madam, replied Miss Barnevelt, there is a good deal of lead in the heads of these fellows. But were their brains, said the shocking creature, if any they have, made to fly about the ears of an enemy, they would serve both to blind and terrify him.
Even Mr Singleton was affected with this horrid speech; for he clapt both his hands to his head, as if he were afraid of his brains.
Lady Betty was very urgent with us to pass the evening with her; but we excused ourselves; and, when we were in the coach, Mr Reeves told me, that I should find the baronet a very troublesome and resolute lover, if I did not give him countenance.
And so, sir, said I, you would have me do, as I have heard many a good woman has done, marry a man, in order to get rid of his importunity?
And a certain cure too, let me tell you, cousin, said he, smiling.
We found at home, waiting for Mr Reeves's return, Sir John Allestree; a worthy sensible man, of plain and unaffected manners, upwards of fifty.
Mr Reeves mentioning to him our past entertainment and company, Sir John gave us such an account of Sir Hargrave, as helped me not