You complain of it as irksome, and even ignoble. Have you never asked yourself, is not this mere egotism?
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Have I the right to think only of what suits me, and accommodates itself to my caprices? Are there no higher objects than my pleasure or my convenience? Is the great fabric of society of less account than my likings or dislikings? Am I the judge, too, of the influence I may exert over others, or how my actions may sway the destinies of mankind? He said much more in the same strain; some of his observations being true and incontestable, and others the mere outpouring of his crafty and subtle intellect.
Sir Jasper Carew- His Life and Experience
They both alike fell unheeded by me now. Enough for me that I had detected, or fancied I had detected, him. I listened only, from curiosity, and as one listens for the last time. I vowed to myself that this should be our last meeting. I could not descend to the meanness of dissimulation, and affect a friendship I did not feel; nor could I expose myself to the chances of a temptation which assailed me in so many shapes and forms. He had ceased to speak; and I sat, silently pondering this question in my own mind.
I forgot that I was not alone, and was only conscious of my error when I looked up and saw his small and deep-set eyes firmly fixed upon me. I started, and felt my face and forehead burning with a sudden flush of shame. There are impulses that sway us sometimes stronger than our reason; but they are hurricanes that pass away quickly, and leave the bark of our destiny to sail on its course unswervingly.
For a moment I wished to follow him, to say I know not what; but calmer thoughts prevailed, and I left the house and wandered homewards.
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That same evening I sent in my demand of resignation, and the next morning came the reply according it. My first thought was a joyful sense of liberty and freedom from a bondage I had long rebelled against; my next was a dreary consciousness of my helpless and friendless condition in life.
I opened my little purse upon the table, and spread out its contents before me.
There were seven pounds and a few shillings. A portion of my salary was still due to me, but now I would have felt it a degradation to claim it, so odious had the career become in my eyes. I began to think over the various things for which my capacity might fit me. They seemed a legion when I stood in no need of them, and yet none now rose to my mind without some almost impassable barrier. I knew no art nor handicraft. My habits rendered me unequal to daily labor with my hands. I knew many things en amateur, but not as an artist. I could ride, draw, fence, and had some skill in music; but in not one of these could I compete with the humblest of those who taught them.
Foreign languages, too, I could speak, read, and write well; but of any method to communicate their knowledge I had not the vaguest conception. After all, these seemed my best acquirements, and I determined to try and teach them. With this resolve I went out and spent two pounds of my little capital in books.
Sir Jasper Carew, His Life and Experiences, by Charles Lever (Hardcover)
It was a scanty library, but I arrayed it on a table next my window with pride and satisfaction. I turned over the leaves of my dictionary with something of the feeling with which a settler in a new region of the globe might have wandered through his little territory. I suppose it is a condition of the human mind that makes our enjoyments in the ratio of the sacrifices they have cost us. I know of myself, that since that day I now speak of, it has been my fortune to be wealthy, to possess around me every luxury my wish could compass, and yet I will own it, that I have never gazed on the well-filled shelves of a costly library, replete with every comfort, with a tithe of the satisfaction I then contemplated the two or three dog-eared volumes that lay before me.
My first few days of liberty were passed in planning out the future. I studied the newspapers in hope of meeting something adapted to my capacity; but though in appearance no lack of these, I invariably found some fatal obstacle intervened to prevent my success.
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At one place, the requirements were beyond my means; at another, the salary was insufficient for bare support; and at one I remember my functions of teacher were to be united with menial offices against which my pride revolted. At the end of some five weeks I had three pupils; hard-working and hard-worked men they were, who, steadily bent upon advancement in life, now entered upon a career of labor far greater than all they had ever encountered.
Two were about to emigrate, and their studies were geography, with some natural history, and whatever I could acquire for them of information about the resources of a certain portion of Upper Canada. The third was a weaver, and desired to learn French in order to read the works of French mathematicians, at that time sparingly translated into English. He was a man of superior intellect, and capable of a high cultivation, but poor to the very last degree. The thirst for knowledge had possessed him exactly as the passion for gambling lays hold of some other men; he lived for nothing else.
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The defeats and difficulties he encountered but served to brace him to further efforts, and he seemed to forget all his privations and his poverty in the aim of his glorious pursuit. To keep in advance of him in his knowledge, I found impossible. All that I could do was to aid him in acquiring French, which, strange to say, presented great difficulties to him.
He however made me a partaker of his own enthusiasm, and I worked hard and long at pursuits for which my habits of mind and thought little adapted me. I need scarcely say that all this time my worldly wealth made no progress. My scholars were very poor themselves, and the pittance I earned from them I had oftentimes to refuse accepting.
Each day showed my little resources growing smaller, and my hopes held out no better prospect for the future. Was I to struggle on thus to the last, and sink under the pressure? My poverty had now descended to actual misery; my clothes were ragged; my shoes scarcely held together; more than once an entire day would pass without my breaking my fast.
I lost all zest for life, and wandered about in lonely and unfrequented places, in a half-dreamy state, too vague to be called melancholy. My mind, at this time, vacillated between a childish timidity and a species of almost savage ferocity. At some moments tears would steal along my cheeks, and my heart vibrated to the very finest emotions; at others, I was possessed with an almost demoniac fierceness, that seemed only in search of some object to wreak its vengeance upon.
A strange impression, however, haunted me through both these opposite states, and this was, that my life was menaced by some one or other, and that I went in hourly peril of assassination. This sense of danger impressed me with either a miserable timidity, or a reckless, even an insolent, intrepidity. By degrees, all other thoughts were merged in this one, and every incident, no matter how trifling, served to strengthen and confirm it.
Fortunately for my reader, I have no patience to trace out the fancies by which I was haunted. I imagined that kings and emperors were in the conspiracy against me, and that cabinets only plotted how to entrap me. I sold the last remnant of my wardrobe and my few remaining books, and quitted my dwelling, to forsake it again for another, after a few days.
Grim want was, at length, before me, and I found myself one morning — it was a cold one of December — with only a few pence remaining. It chanced to be one of my days of calmer temperament; for some previous ones I had been in a state bordering on frenzy; and now the reaction had left me weak and depressed, but reasonable. I went over, to myself, as well as I was able, all my previous life; I tried to recall the names of the few with whom my fate seemed to connect me, and of whose whereabouts I knew nothing; I canvassed in my own mind how much might be true of these stories which I used to hear of my birth and parentage, and whether the whole might not possibly have been invented to conceal some darker history.
Such doubts had possibly not assailed me in other times; but now, with broken hopes and shattered strength, they took a bold possession of me. I actually possessed nothing which might serve to confirm my pretension to station. Documents or papers I had none; nor was there, so far as I knew, a living witness to bear testimony to my narrative.
In pondering thus I suddenly remembered that, in the letter which I once had addressed to Mr. Pitt, were enclosed some few memoranda in corroboration of my story. What they were exactly, and to what extent they went, I could not recall to memory; but it was enough that they were, in some shape, evidences of that which already to my own mind was assuming the character of a delusion. To this faint chance I now attached myself with a last effort of desperation.
Some clew might possibly be found in these papers to guide my search, and my whole thoughts were now bent upon obtaining them. With this object I sat down and wrote a few most respectful lines to the minister, stating the nature of my request, and humbly excusing myself for the intrusion on his attention. This letter shared the same fate as my former one. I wrote a third time, I knew not in what terms, for I wrote late at night, after a day of mad and fevered impatience.
I had fasted for nigh two entire days. An intense thirst never ceased to torture me; and as I wandered wildly here and there, my state alternated between fits of cold shuddering, and a heat that seemed to be burning my very vitals. The delusions of that terrible interval were, doubtless, the precursors of actual madness.
I felt as though I had done all that should invoke it. I have said I wrote a third letter; and to make sure of its coming to hand, I walked with it to Hounslow. The journey occupied me more than half the night, for it was day when I arrived. I delivered it into the hands of a servant, and, saying that I should wait for the answer, I sat down upon a stone bench beside the door. Still, I was led to this conclusion by observing and reflecting on a somewhat similar phenomenon in our own day; and indeed it was the only explanation I was ever able to come to, respecting those great mansions that we Irish gentlemen are so fond of rearing on our estates, "totally regardless of expense," and just as indifferent to all the circumstances of our fortune, and all the requirements of our station, -the only real difference being, that our forefathers were satisfied with quizzing their descendants, whereas we, with a livelier appreciation of fun, prefer enjoying the joke in our own day.
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