Italic Content
Long Dash

Letter Number III.


My dear and ever honoured Mother,

Your last half dozen lines afforded me inexpressible pleasure, for they brought me the entire approbation of your Amelia; and the consciousness that I endeavour to deserve, with the certainty that I have obtained it, affords my heart a satisfaction far superior to that which I receive from all the amusements, pleasures, and flattering circumstances which attend me here; and I do not pretend to be insensible to them. I see all that is best and most attractive in this great world of pride, opulence, taste, and fashion. I am accompanied in my progress by the most experienced guides; by persons who are well acquainted with the geography of the country, its language, laws, manners, and customs. In short, the most learned professors in the great school of high life, are ever ready to instruct me; and I have the never-failing vigilance of guardians, who are perfectly qualified to keep me in the right way, and to give me a clue by which I may pass through the labyrinth of pleasure, without losing my way amidst its mazes and meanders.--But, greatly as I feel myself indebted to them, and advantageous as their counsels have been and are to me, I experimentally know that it is to my dearest mother I owe the great protecting influence which actually preserves me from the delusive dangers of this dominion of pleasure. It is the talisman which she has hung around my heart, that protects me from the magic influence of the fashionable world, and keeps the demons of the ton from succeeding in their mischiefs against me.

I maintain the habitual solicitude to unfold my secret thoughts to you,--and that anxiety increases in proportion as they may deviate, however trifling that deviation may be, from the native purity to which you have formed the mind of your daughter;--and I must acknowledge, my dearest mother, that there have been moments, I trust they were only moments, when I have felt myself infected by the influenza of pleasure. When such powerful attacks are made by the united efforts of wealth, art, and taste on the youthful heart, and worked up and prepared as they are by the genii of fashion, they are not to be resisted by common means or with ordinary auxiliaries. Many of the fetes that are given in this great town, would answer to the description of allegorical poetry. I have been present at scenes of luxurious entertainment, in a street of London, which might have been represented by the inventive muse of such a poet as Spenser, as a bower of pleasure, formed by the ministers of that goddess to charm, to delude, and, I had almost said, to destroy. The sounds of delicious music, the voices of the singing men and the singing women, the animating gaiety of the dance, the elegant splendour of decoration, in which invention is exhausted, and the luxury of the banquet:--these, when combined with the brilliant display of company, in all the allurements of dress, with joy in every heart, and smiles on every countenance:--when a mind is so prepared by expectation for enjoyment, and the enjoyment is sanctioned by the presence of those, whose authority may be thought to sanction every thing of which they themselves partake;--with such a cornucopia of pleasure poured forth before them, how is it possible for the young and the gay to resist the fascination?--And when they follow quick one upon another, and form a kind of routine of pleasure; it is a subject for wonder, that the mind should be relaxed into dissipation, and that habits should succeed, which, to say no worse, belie the understanding?

I must confess, my dearest mother, that I, your Eliza, have found myself in a delirium, where I will not say my reason has been lost,--but where I have suffered a partial intoxication of it. I have been in a situation where I have thought of nothing but the delusive objects around me; where my spirits have felt a new and a delightful kind of exhilaration;--where every serious thought was banished, and all reflection lost in a kind of wild sensation of joy. But while I acknowledge the passing dream, I declare my perfect subjection to the talismanic power which could disperse it in a moment. If, in a far wilder state of joyous hurry than I have ever been, any one had whispered one certain magic word--as by an electric shock, the dream would have vanished in an instant, the gaudy coruscations of fancied joy would pass away like the meteors of the air, and all my better thoughts and purest sentiments, which had been affrighted, as it were, from their native abode, would rally back to it, and smile in triumph there.--Need I add, that this magic word is, MOTHER.

I have a proof at hand.--

The night before last I was at one of these entertainments, where, amidst all its elegance, there was good sense enough employed, to render the number of the company conformable to the dimensions of the apartments; a proportion which is too seldom observed: so that to all the fine epithets which might have been appropriately applied to it, that of comfortable might be superadded. Here, I happened to be seated at supper in the midst of my acquaintance; and gay we were as gay could be, and I was among the gayest of them. When Lady Elizabeth -----, whose vivacity had helped to exhilarate me, exclaimed, on a sudden, "Vittoria! Vittoria! The town has conquered the country at last, and my dear Amelia will now prefer blanched almonds to acorns.--Henceforward, I perceive, she will leave the country oaks to the country pigs."--This exclamation sobered me in a moment. The idea of the oaks bore me at once to that venerable mansion which is shaded by them, and to my dearest mother, who is the inhabitant of it. So I instantly looked at my watch, and hastened to join my aunt, with whom I remained till it was time to depart.

But even, if this awakening circumstance had not happened, there was a superior power behind, which would have effectually recovered me from any foolish impressions, fanciful reveries, or giddy thoughts; and that is the last act of each day's life before I retire to rest. This duty, which has been, from my infant years, so habitual to me, and has never ceased to be enforced by you, as a most essential and sacred office, to the moment of my last departure from you, is an admirable specific in folly, a fine restorative in weakness, a soothing calmant of passion, and a benign protection from evil. After the solemn performance of this pious, pleasing rite, I feel, whatever has formed the enjoyment of the preceding day, as if I had never been from your side.

But to return to my subject.--These entertainments are produced by vanity alone. They cannot possibly be traced to any other origin. A gentleman, where we were visiting this morning, having given the description of some very fine house which was lately finished, a lady instantly exclaimed,--"O that the house were mine, for I would then have all London at my feet!--I would give such a gala as should fill my porter's book with every name of title and consequence in the court calendar."--It is, indeed, this love of fashionable consequence alone which gives birth to these splendid assemblies. Friendship cannot have the least concern in it; for it often happens, that half the company at least which attend these solemnities, are not known to the priestess who presides at the alter, while the good man who pays for the hecatombs is only considered as one of the croud of votaries; and if, on the very next day, he were met by such of the company with whom he had not a previous acquaintance, he would scarcely be considered as a subject for recognition, if they happened to know his person, which it is more than probable might not be the case with many of them: so that what begins in vanity, as far as my observation extends, or my intelligence reaches, ends in vexation of spirit. I will relate to you, for your amusement, a curious example of fashionable folly which enlivened and amused the circles of fashion during the last spring.

A very opulent citizen, who was already a member of parliament, had the ambition to figure as a man of fashion. He accordingly took a very fine house at this end of the town, and having fitted it up in a very splendid manner, the next step was to collect a society suitable to it. This, he understood, was to be accomplished by his cara sposa's elegant parties; and he determined to begin by a masquerade, whose eclat was to induce the leading characters of the ton to appear at his door. The preparations for this superb entertainment were carefully announced by all fashionable means; and cards of admission were issued to all the recorded visitors, and such members of the House of Commons to whom parliamentary business had made him known, with a few persons of title, &c. to which the accidental jostle of summer watering-places had introduced him, so that altogether there was a promise of a pretty sprinkle of company for the present season, while the whole fashionable world would thus be decoyed for the following winter. A noble lord, however, who was a perfect stranger to the parties, having an inclination to partake of the festivity, sent a card of requisition for half a dozen tickets for himself and family. This circumstance rather alarmed the pride and lessened the consequence of both the gentleman and the lady: and an answer was accordingly returned, that the cards of admission were confined to those names which were found in the porter's book. This piece of pride had well nigh proved too fatal to the splendour of the entertainment; for it was very soon found, that in consequence of this refusal, there was an absolute canvas making among the persons of fashion, who had been invited, to prevent their accepting the invitation; so that no alternative was left but to admit all the world to the fete, or to waste its magnificence on the small circle of their own acquaintance. The former, of course, was preferred, and as the invitations now flew all over the town, all the town flew to them; and this gala was the most splendid shew of the season. But as this gentleman had been in the habit of calculating profit and loss, he recurred to it on the present occasion, and determined it should be his first and last venture in the commerce of fashionable life.

A lady, a Mrs. B----- , a very pleasing, amiable woman, a Tunbridge acquaintance of my aunt's, amused us exceedingly last night, by giving, with great good-humour and pleasantry, an account of a similar folly of her own. Mr. B----- had made a very large fortune in the East Indies, and, on their return to England to enjoy it, made their winter residence in a very handsome house in one of the squares; and, having made acquaintance with a broken-down woman of fashion at Bath, this new friend persuaded Mrs. B----- to introduce herself at once into high life, by giving a ball and supper to a select party; and she undertook that it should be attended by the persons of the first distinction. Nor did she fail of accomplishing her promise: but none of these high people would engage to attend it unless they had a certain number of cards to distribute among their own particular friends. The conditions could not be refused, and they amounted, altogether, to one hundred and seventy; so that poor dear Mrs. B, whose house, according to the style of the entertainment, would not accommodate more than one hundred and eighty persons, could only admit ten persons to her ball whom she had ever spoken to before. The great folks, it is true, curtsied most gracefully to her, as they entered the apartments; and, on their departure, they thanked her, with great cordiality, for the delightful party, and hoped she would favour them with just such another the next winter; and this, with the liberty of leaving her name at their doors, was all she got for the five hundred pounds lavished on the occasion. To which, indeed, she observed, might be added, the reproaches and ridicule of her own private friends and acquaintance, who were necessarily excluded. To repair, however, the disgrace among the latter, she gives another ball to them alone; and to invite us to it, was the object of her visit. "And such," says she, "has been the beginning, and will be the end, of my chapter in the chronicles of fashion."

As I am upon the subject of these assemblies, and my paper will allow me, I will mention one more, and which was to the full as curious as those which I have just described. It was a ball and supper given by Lady D, and in the first place, three times as many people were invited as the house could possibly accommodate in the way of supper; and, therefore, three suppers were prepared, which were to succeed each other. This was a contrivance, as you will perceive, of special promise, and it answered fully to its engagement. The drawing-room apartments were very soon so completely crouded, that dancing was impracticable, and was not even attempted. So much for the ball: and when the first supper was announced, the company who crouded the staircase, being nearest at hand, took possession of it, and your daughter was one of them: and in consequence of the accession of fresh arrivals, not only every room, but every avenue, was so entirely filled up, that not a plate could be changed, or a decanter replenished with water; as the servants, from this extraordinary pressure, were completely excluded from the scene of their duty; so that while the gay folks without were clamouring for something to eat, those within were equally clamourous for something to drink; and thus we remained immovable and half stifled, till a large portion of the company had taken their leave. In short, when the second supper was served, there was no one left to eat it. And thus ended the splendid scene of waste, folly, and extravagance, without having afforded satisfaction to an human being but the cooks and confectioners who had provided it. The lady of the house, as I have heard, sat up stairs crying with vexation, and had the satisfaction of hearing herself and her arrangements treated with the most unceremonious disapprobation. At five in the morning we returned home, and except a few rents in my dress, which, indeed, amounted to a total demolition of it, I suffered no inconvenience. My friend, lady Elizabeth -----, caught a violent cold; and, when I found her in that affliction, it was impossible for me not to renew my warfare with her, on the topic of a town life, its rational pleasures, and delightful consequences: when she abused me for my robust, vulgar, country health; and said she had now lost all hopes of my ever acquiring the elegant languor of a woman of fashion. That is an improvement, which I, most certainly, do not wish to attain; and I trust, that when I shall return to my native home, my dear and ever honoured mother will find me, in every respect, what I was whe she last embraced her most dutiful and affectionate