Book I - Chapter X
The hospitality of Allworthy; with a short sketch of the characters of two brothers, a doctor and a captain, who were entertained by that gentleman.
Neither Mr Allworthy's house, nor his heart, were shut against any part of mankind, but they were both more particularly open to men of merit. To say the truth, this was the only house in the kingdom where you was sure to gain a dinner by deserving it.
Above all others, men of genius and learning shared the principal place in his favour; and in these he had much discernment: for though he had missed the advantage of a learned education, yet, being blest with vast natural abilities, he had so well profited by a vigorous though late application to letters, and by much conversation with men of eminence in this way, that he was himself a very competent judge in most kinds of literature.
It is no wonder that in an age when this kind of merit is so little in fashion, and so slenderly provided for, persons possessed of it should very eagerly flock to a place where they were sure of being received with great complaisance; indeed, where they might enjoy almost the same advantages of a liberal fortune as if they were entitled to it in their own right; for Mr Allworthy was not one of those generous persons who are ready most bountifully to bestow meat, drink, and lodging on men of wit and learning, for which they expect no other return but entertainment, instruction, flattery, and subserviency; in a word, that such persons should be enrolled in the number of domestics, without wearing their master's cloathes, or receiving wages.
On the contrary, every person in this house was perfect master of his own time: and as he might at his pleasure satisfy all his appetites within the restrictions only of law, virtue, and religion; so he might, if his health required, or his inclination prompted him to temperance, or even to abstinence, absent himself from any meals, or retire from them, whenever he was so disposed, without even a sollicitation to the contrary: for, indeed, such sollicitations from superiors always savour very strongly of commands. But all here were free from such impertinence, not only those whose company is in all other places esteemed a favour from their equality of fortune, but even those whose indigent circumstances make such an eleemosynary abode convenient to them, and who are therefore less welcome to a great man's table because they stand in need of it.
Among others of this kind was Dr Blifil, a gentleman who had the misfortune of losing the advantage of great talents by the obstinacy of a father, who would breed him to a profession he disliked. In obedience to this obstinacy the doctor had in his youth been obliged to study physic, or rather to say he studied it; for in reality books of this kind were almost the only ones with which he was unacquainted; and unfortunately for him, the doctor was master of almost every other science but that by which he was to get his bread; the consequence of which was, that the doctor at the age of forty had no bread to eat.
Such a person as this was certain to find a welcome at Mr Allworthy's table, to whom misfortunes were ever a recommendation, when they were derived from the folly or villany of others, and not of the unfortunate person himself. Besides this negative merit, the doctor had one positive recommendation;--this was a great appearance of religion. Whether his religion was real, or consisted only in appearance, I shall not presume to say, as I am not possessed of any touchstone which can distinguish the true from the false.
If this part of his character pleased Mr Allworthy, it delighted Miss Bridget. She engaged him in many religious controversies; on which occasions she constantly expressed great satisfaction in the doctor's knowledge, and not much less in the compliments which he frequently bestowed on her own. To say the truth, she had read much English divinity, and had puzzled more than one of the neighbouring curates. Indeed, her conversation was so pure, her looks so sage, and her whole deportment so grave and solemn, that she seemed to deserve the name of saint equally with her namesake, or with any other female in the Roman kalendar.
As sympathies of all kinds are apt to beget love, so experience teaches us that none have a more direct tendency this way than those of a religious kind between persons of different sexes. The doctor found himself so agreeable to Miss Bridget, that he now began to lament an unfortunate accident which had happened to him about ten years before; namely, his marriage with another woman, who was not only still alive, but, what was worse, known to be so by Mr Allworthy. This was a fatal bar to that happiness which he otherwise saw sufficient probability of obtaining with this young lady; for as to criminal indulgences, he certainly never thought of them. This was owing either to his religion, as is most probable, or to the purity of his passion, which was fixed on those things which matrimony only, and not criminal correspondence, could put him in possession of, or could give him any title to.
He had not long ruminated on these matters, before it occurred to his memory that he had a brother who was under no such unhappy incapacity. This brother he made no doubt would succeed; for he discerned, as he thought, an inclination to marriage in the lady; and the reader perhaps, when he hears the brother's qualifications, will not blame the confidence which he entertained of his success.
This gentleman was about thirty-five years of age. He was of a middle size, and what is called well-built. He had a scar on his forehead, which did not so much injure his beauty as it denoted his valour (for he was a half-pay officer). He had good teeth, and something affable, when he pleased, in his smile; though naturally his countenance, as well as his air and voice, had much of roughness in it: yet he could at any time deposit this, and appear all gentleness and good-humour. He was not ungenteel, nor entirely devoid of wit, and in his youth had abounded in sprightliness, which, though he had lately put on a more serious character, he could, when he pleased, resume.
He had, as well as the doctor, an academic education; for his father had, with the same paternal authority we have mentioned before, decreed him for holy orders; but as the old gentleman died before he was ordained, he chose the church military, and preferred the king's commission to the bishop's.
He had purchased the post of lieutenant of dragoons, and afterwards came to be a captain; but having quarrelled with his colonel, was by his interest obliged to sell; from which time he had entirely rusticated himself, had betaken himself to studying the Scriptures, and was not a little suspected of an inclination to methodism.
It seemed, therefore, not unlikely that such a person should succeed with a lady of so saint-like a disposition, and whose inclinations were no otherwise engaged than to the marriage state in general; but why the doctor, who certainly had no great friendship for his brother, should for his sake think of making so ill a return to the hospitality of Allworthy, is a matter not so easy to be accounted for.
Is it that some natures delight in evil, as others are thought to delight in virtue? Or is there a pleasure in being accessory to a theft when we cannot commit it ourselves? Or lastly (which experience seems to make probable), have we a satisfaction in aggrandizing our families, even though we have not the least love or respect for them?
Whether any of these motives operated on the doctor, we will not determine; but so the fact was. He sent for his brother, and easily found means to introduce him at Allworthy's as a person who intended only a short visit to himself.
The captain had not been in the house a week before the doctor had reason to felicitate himself on his discernment. The captain was indeed as great a master of the art of love as Ovid was formerly. He had besides received proper hints from his brother, which he failed not to improve to the best advantage.Next