Italic Content
Long Dash

Letter Number V.


My dear and honoured mother,

I SHALL not attempt to answer your kind and truly maternal letter in any other way, than by returning you the most grateful acknowledgements of my heart, for the additional proof of your ever watchful care and goodness. I do not presume to reason on its contents; but shall employ it as the subject of my continual study and reflection, and consider it as a lesson for my instruction--as a rule for my conduct. I trust you will never write to me in vain; and that not a sentence which proceeds from your lips or your pen, will ever fail of having its due influence on the understanding and the heart of your Amelia.

The principal feature of my public life, for so I think I may correctly name it, since you last heard from me, has been at an entertainment in the city; which equally surprised me, for its magnificence, its splendour, and, which I did not altogether expect, from its novelty. For though I am well aware of the potent effects of education, and the habits of early life, I could not have supposed it possible, that such a marked and extraordinary difference could have prevailed in the manners of the two great divisions of the metropolis: whereas they now appear to me as forming two distinct countries, whose dissimilarity is so decided, that, in my visit to the city, I felt myself, as it were, in a new world, or at least in another country. I must except indeed the article of dress, for the genius of fashion, which presides over the departments of millinery and dress-making, seems to predominate with equal expence, parade, and even taste, on one side of the Temple-bar, as on the other. But you will say the language must be the same. That it is English I most readily allow, and perfectly intelligible I assure you, and possessed all the energy of the vulgar tongue. Every word I heard spoken in the circle of which I formed a part, is, I doubt not, to be found in the dictionary; but these self-same words were so combined, and delivered with such concomitant tones, that they formed a dialet with which I happened to be totally unacquainted. And as to manners, there certainly must be a kind of instinctive habit of imitation among a certain class of citizens, or a settled code of decrums by which their behaviour is regulated, as they bore so strong a resemblance to each other.

But to the history of my adventures.--The fond determination of my dear aunt, that I should see every thing which this great metropolis affords, in the way of amusement, during the period of my residence in it, had induced her to procure tickets of admission to an entertainment at the Mansion-house of the lord mayor; and Mrs. B-----, whose life is passed in the crowds, kindly undertook to chaprone me on the occasion. I understood we were to encounter a bustle; and I prepared myself in every respect for the situation: but in such a bustle I hope never to engage again; though, as I came safe and sound out of it, I am not sorry that I have, for once in my life, been a witness of all the curious occurrences connected with it. I had been in the midst of more than one squeeze during the winter; and I, therefore, arrayed myself in full preparation for another. But to proceed.

On our arrival at the Mansion-house, the master of the ceremonies, a smart little man, in a black gown covered with tassels, took Mrs. B-----'s hand, and led her through a crowded room to present her to the lady mayoress, who was a tall, stout, well-looking woman, of about forty. She was very superbly dressed, and sat in a crimson velvet chair, on somewhat of an elevated position. She honoured us with a gracious smile, and said nothing; we curtsied very low, and did the same. At a small distance from her were two empty chairs, and Mrs. B----- thought we might as well occupy them as any other, which we accordingly did. But we had invaded, as it seemed, the sanctum sanctorum of the aldermen's ladies; for two of those dames, in all the pride and plumage of their character, told us, without the least reserve, that we must resign our situations. One of them said to Mrs. B-----, "You have got my place, ma'am, and must move:" when the other said as coolly to me, "And you must do the same." We obeyed without hesitation; and, surprised as I was, I nevertheless felt a strong disposition to indulge a laugh: but as we had been turned out of our seats for one indecorum, I apprehended we might be turned out of the room if we committed another; so I kept a grave countenance, and we mingled with the crowd. In a short time, however, the lord mayor appeared in a gown covered with gold, and its train borne, and preceded by a man bearing a sword. The aldermen followed in red gowns: and after the lord mayor had shaken the lady mayoress by the hand, he turned short round, and strutted off in the same ceremony as he came. The lady mayoress followed, conducted by the master of the ceremonies; and each of the aldermen taking his lady, the procession moved forwards to the dinner. We fell in with the crowd, and such a scene ensued as beggars all description. In the Hanover-square squeeze we were immovably jammed, and submitted, with all possible good humour, to our situation: but here there was room enough to move; and the contest, which was a most unceremonious one, was who should get first; and we were driven, and without a word of apology, to right and left, by elbows as red as the aldermen's gowns. Nothing, therefore, was left for us but to defend ourselves against all this pummeling as well as we could, and to move onward with this turbid stream, which at length forced its way, and us along with it, through a vast portal, into the Egyptian hall, a most magnificent room, where there was a sumptuous banquet, as I understood, for four hundred guests, and such a display of ornamental confectionary as I had never seen. Here, as the company entered, they all set a running to get places; so we did the same, and were fortunate enough to obtain them. A vast band in the gallery continued playing "God save the King" for some time; when silence being proclaimed, grace was pronounced, and eating began; and from the voracity, both male and female, with which it proceeded, it might be supposed that the good people, within my observation at least, had fasted for eight-and-forty hours. I unfortunately had placed myself opposite to a turbot; and a jolly dame, on the other side of the table, rose up, and she said, to see if there was no fish, when the turbot caught her eye, and she instantly vociferated, "I should be glad if the lady in a pink cap and a white feather would fill me a plate of what's before her." Now this cap-and-feather lady was your poor dear Amelia: I therefore obeyed her commands most amply. "And now, miss, some lobster sauce." I accordingly gave her a small ladle-full; on which she exclaimed--"Don't be afraid, miss, a little more, if you please; miss, don't spare, there's plenty of everything here." So I quadrupled her portion, and she added, "Thank you, miss." A rosy-faced man, who sat next her, and who eat and talked at the same time, very shrewdly observed, that she did not know whether the lady was a miss or not: on which she desired him, in a very snappish tone, to hold his foolish tongue. But such an injunction the good man was not, just at this time, disposed to obey: so filling a glass of wine, and happening to catch my eye, he said, with as significant a look as his feathers were capable of assuming, "I do not know, ma'am, whether you are a miss or a mistress; but if you are a miss, you'll excuse my freedom, here's wishing you may be a mistress before this time twelvemonth." I really could not help feeling confused at the man's impertinent ignorance; and had scarcely recovered myself sufficiently to look about me, when a man, of rather a genteel appearance, looking directly to me, made an inclination, which I, of course, returned, when he instantly cried out, "No, no, it was not you I meant, but the young lady next you:" and he then repeated the compliment with a familiar nod to her. I really began to feel uncomfortable, while Mrs. B----- quite enjoyed it, and laughed a la folie. But I soon had my revenge; for now my health was actually drank, and the civil man, looking towards Mrs. B-----, added, "Your mamma's health, miss." Now you must know, that though Mrs. B----- us a most amiable, pleasing woman, and would have no objection to be considered as my sister, she would rather be spared the honour of being taken for my mother. She accordingly coloured as red as my cap, and words, "vulgar, undiscerning brute!" escaped her in a tone which marked more mortification than such a circumstance, I think, should have occasioned.

I was now attacked by a pert, squat young lady, of about thirty, as I should think, who sat to the left of me; and who, without a single syllable of introduction, asked me if my necklace was mock or real pearl. I told her that I had always understood it to be the latter. ----- "And, pray, have you bracelets of the same?" when I drew off my glove, and let her see that the decorations of my arms were of the same kind. "You must know," said she, "that my papa deals in these things; and we have just such a suit of pearls as these in our shop, which he says would not sell for less than five hundred pounds." She then actually seized my arm, and examined it, with its bijoulerie, as if it were an article in that very shop to which she belongs. But as, according to her notions, any one who wears a suit of pearls worth five hundred pounds, must be a person of consequence, she began to treat me as such; and after she had fished out the place of my residence, she began to mend her manners, and became very communicative: she not only explained the ceremonies of the feast, which were wholly unintelligible to me, but gave me a very amusing history of the company about us; and with a part of it, my dearest mother, I hope to amuse you.

"The jolly woman," said she, "whom you helped to the turbot, is the wife of a tinman; and the saucy fellow who was so familiar with you, is her husband. He serves the lord mayor with the fine illumination around us, and has the pleasure of stuffing, as you see him, by the light of his own lamps. She with the sky-blue feather, is the widow of a linen-draper, who left her fifteen thousand pounds and a country-house; he was one of the volunteers, and died in consequence of a fever he caught from over-exercise in a sham-fight. She has been out of her weeds about a month, and there are many candidates for her favour, or rather for her fortune. Her late husband was a very plain man; and she now says, if she marries again, she'll please her eye, though she plagues her heart. The fat girl who sits next to her is the daughter of a weight and scale maker; and if she were to get into one of her father's scales, he must furnish plenty of weights to make the other sink. As for that lady who is now looking through a quizzing-glass, and is so elegantly dressed, she can very well afford it: she is the wife of a lottery-office keeper. They are people that get a deal of money; for let who will have the blanks, the lottery is sure to turn up a prize to them. Do stretch forward a little, and look at that nice, neat, prim, precise figure, who sits next but one to me: her husband is a bookseller in Paternoster-row; and she may be truly said, I think, to be in print. The two pretty girls who are dressed both alike, are the daughters of a drum-maker, who is making a fortune out of the war: he drinks Bonaparte's health every night, the last thing he does before he goes to bed. They are very amiable young women, and particular friends of mine; but their tongues never lie still: and when they are in high spirits, a score of their father's drums would be scarce sufficient to silence them. The gentleman whom you mistook about drinking my health, is, you must know, an admirer of mine; he is a glover, in a very good way of business, who buried his wife about two years ago. But the last time I was at the debating society, it was proved, to my satisfaction, that a man can never be really and truly in love more than once: I am determined, therefore, not to marry a widower."

Thus was she proceeding, and as you must perceive, with no common share of sarcastic vivacity, when proclamation was made for silence, and the lord mayor rose to deliver a speech which brought my astonishment to its climax. He rose, he said (I give his precise words), to drink the healths of the company who had honoured him with their presence, and to express his cordial thanks for their having comported themselves in such a decent and orderly manner. He then drank his wine; and, to complete the whole, the band struck up Handel's Water Music.

I ventured to ask my neighbour if such speeches were usual. Not such as this, she said; but she supposed the chief magistrate, who is a worthy, well-meaning, but very uneducated man, had failed in employing suitable expressions: for, as she observed, aptly enough, a stranger must be led to imagine that it was customary for the company, on these occasions, to break the lamps, destroy the chandeliers, and throw the glasses over their heads; and that his lordship thought it right to thank his guests for having spared them: at the same time, she begged leave to assure me, that no other spirit of destruction prevailed at these festivities, than such as may be gratified by knives, forks, and spoons. ----- Here our conversation ended, when she presented me with her address in the form of a shopcard; entreated me to do her the honour of calling upon her when I should come into the city; and, at the same time, informed me, if I wanted any thing in her papa's line, no one would do me greater justice: and, one of these days, I will most assuredly indulge the freak, and become one of her papa's customers.

The banquet was concluded; and of the retiring cavalcade, who should form a part but my dear Lady C.; who, seeing us among the crowd, desired one of the aldermen to rescue us from it; which he instantly did, with the utmost politeness and attention. We now accompanied the procession, and were admitted into the lady mayoress's circle. The ball began about ten, when I danced a minuet with an alderman--and, with that self-same alderman, attempted to go down a country-dance; but it would have been equally possible to have threaded one of our thickest beech-woods as to have penetrated the ball-room: it was said that three thousand persons were present. ----- Heat, noise, and confusion of every kind, continued till about two in the morning, when the crowd began to disperse, and about four we contrived to make our escape. ----- Such is the history of a day, which I am not sorry that I have passed, but which I shall never wish to repeat. If it should but amuse you, my dearest mother, I shall be satisfied.

I remain, with the utmost affection and veneration,

Your most dutiful daughter,