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N 50. SATURDAY, JULY 17, 1779.
THOUGH the following letter has been pretty much anticipated by a former paper, yet it possesses too much merit to be refused insertion,
To the AUTHOR of the MIRROR. Sir, Activity is one of those virtues indispensably requisite for the happiness and welfare of mankind, which nature appears to have distributed to them with a parsimonious hand. All men seem naturally averse, not only to those exertions that sharpen and improve the mental powers, but even to such as are necessary for maintaining the health, or strengthening the organs of the body. Whatever industry and enterprise the species have at any time displayed, originated in the bosom of pain, of want, or. of necessity; or, in the absence of these causes, from the experience of that listlessness and languor which attend a state of total inaction. But with how great a number does this experience lead to no higher object than the care of external appearances, or to the prostitution of their time in trivial pursuits, or in licentious pleasures ? The surest, the most permanent remedy, and, in the end too, the most delightful, which is to be found in unremitted study, or in the labours of a profession, is, unhappily, the last we recur to. Of all who have risen to eminence in the paths of literature or ambition, how few are
there, who at first enjoyed the means of pleasure, or the liberty of being idle ? and how
could every one enumerate within the circle of his acquaintance, possessed of excellent abilities, and even anxious for reputation, whom the fatal inheritance of a bare competency has doomed to. obscurity through life, and quiet oblivion when dead ?
Let no man confide entirely in his resolutions of activity, in his love of fame, or in his taste for li, terature. All these principles, even where they are strongest, unless supported by habits of industry, and roused by the immediate presence of some great object to which their exertion leads, gradually lose, and at last resign, their influence. The smallest particle of natural indolence, like the principle of gravitation in matter, unless counterbalanced by continual impulse from some active cause, will insensibly lower, and at last overcome, the flight of the sublimest genius. In computing it, we ought to recollect, that it is a cause for ever present with us, in all moods, in every disposition; and that, from the weakness of our nature, we are willing, at any rate, to relinquish distant prospects of happiness and advantage for a much smaller portion of present indulgence.
I have been led into these reflections by a visit which I lately paid to my friend Mordaunt, in whom they are, unhappily, too well exemplified. I have known him from his infancy, and always admired the extent of his genius, as much as I respected the integrity of his principles, or loved him for the warmth and benevolence of his heart. But, since the time when he began to contemplate his own character, he has often confessed to me, and feel. ingly complained, that nature had infused into it a large portion of indolence, an inclination to despondency, and a delicacy of feeling, which disqualified him for the drudgery of business, or the bustle of public life. Frequently, in those tedious hours, when his melancholy claimed the attendance and support of a friend, have I seen a conscious blush of shame and self-reproach mingle with the secret sigh, extorted from him by the sense of this defect. His situation, however, as second son of a family, which, though old and honourable, pos. sessed but a small fortune, and no interest, abso. lutely required that he should adopt a profession. The law was his choice ; and, such is the power of habit and necessity, that after four years spent in the study of that science, though at first it had impaired his health, and even soured his temper, he was more sanguine in his expectation of success, and enjoyed a more constant flow of spirits, than I had ever known him to do at any former period. The law, unfortunately, seldom bestows its honours or emoluments upon
young ; and my fiiend, too reserved, or two indifferent, to court a set of men on whose good will the attainment of practice, in some degree, depends, found himself, at the end of two years' close attendance at the bar, though high in the esteem of all that knew him well, as poor, and as distant from preferment, as when he first engaged in it. All my assurances, that better days would soon shine upon him, and that his present situation had, at first, been the lot of many now raised to fame and distinction, were insufficient to support him. A deep gloom settled on his spirits, and he had already resolved to relinquish this line of life, though he knew not what other to enter upon ; when the death of a distant relation unexpectedly put him in possession of an estate, which, though of small extent, was opulence to one that wished for nothing more than independence, and the disposal of his own time.
After many useless remonstrances upon my part, he set out for his mansion in the country with his mother, and a nephew of eight years old, resolved, as he said, to engage immediately in some work to be laid before the public, and having previously given me his word that he would annually dedicate a portion of his time to the society of his friends in town. In the course of eighteen months, however, I did not see him ; and finding that his letters, which had at first been full of his happiness, his occupations, and the
of his work, were daily becoming shorter, and somewhat mysterious on the two last of these points, I resolved to satisfy myself by my own remarks with regard to his situation.
I arrived in the evening, and was shewn into the parlour; where the first objects that caught my attention were a fishing-rod and two fowling-pieces in a corner of the room, and a brace of pointers upon the hearth. On a table lay a German flute, some music, a pair of shuttlecocks, and a volume of the Annual Register. Looking from the window, I discovered
my friend in his waistcoat, with a spade in his hand, most diligently cultivating a spot of ground in the kitchen-garden. Our mutual joy, and congratulations at meeting, it is needless to trouble you with. In point of figure I could not help remarking, that Mordaunt, though most negligently apparelled, was altered much for the better, being now plump, rosy, and robust, instead of pale and slender as formerly. Before returning to the house, he insisted that I should survey his grounds, which in his own opinion, he said, he had rendered a paradise, by modestly seconding and bringing forth the intentions of nature. I was conducted to a young grove, which he had planted himself, rested in a hut which he had built, and drank from a rivulet for which he had tracked a channel
with his own hands. During the course of this walk, we were attended by a flock of tame pigeons, which he fed with grain from his pocket, and had much conversation with a ragged family of little boys and girls, all of whom seemed to be his inti. mate acquaintance. Near a village in our way homewards, we met a set of countrymen engaged at cricket, and soon after a marriage company, dancing the bride's dance upon the green. My friend, with a degree of gaiety and alacrity which I had never before seen him display, not only engaged himself, but compelled me likewise to engage, in the exercise of the one, and the merriment of the other. In a field before his door, an old horse, blind of one eye, came up to us at his call, and eat the remainder of the from his hand.
Our conversation for that evening, relating chiefly to the situation of our common friends, the memory of former scenes in which we had both been engaged, and other such subjects as friends naturally converse about after a long absence, afforded me little opportunity of satisfying my curiosity. Next morning I arose at my wonted early hour, and, stepping into his study, found it unoccupied. Upon examining a heap of books and papers that lay confusedly mingled on the table and the floor, I was surprised to find, that by much the greater part of them, instead of politics, metaphysics, and morals (the sciences connected with his scheme of writing), treated of Belles Lettres, or were calculated merely for amusement. The Tale of a Tub lay open on the table, and seemed to have concluded the studies of the day before. The Letters of Junius, Brydon's Travels, the World, Tristram Shandy, and two or three volumes of the British Poets, much used, and very dirty, lay scattered above a heap of quarto's, which, after blowing the dust from them, I found to be an