Page images

writer to be a silly fellow, I little guessed who was the individual person; but in his second performance he hath been pleased to acquaint me who he is.

This fellow, sir, you are to know, I have em ployed every means in my power to persecute, ever since I was acquainted with him; not because he is a fool (for I have no fixed quarrel with so numerous a body), but because he is in reality a good


You will, perhaps, think this a very strange confession; and so it would be, if there was any possibility of your guessing from whom it came; but I have the satisfaction to be assured, that though I am actually known both to you and to your friend Axylus, I shall be the last person in the world to whom either of you will impute the character I shall here lay open. I well know that I pass upon you both, and a thousand other such wise people, for one of the best and worthiest men alive for, as a late orator at the Robinhood said,


had the honour to be an Atheist ;' so I, sir, have the honour to be a most profound hypocrite. By which means I have universally obtained a good character, and perhaps a much better than what the silly Axylus hath acquired by really deserving it; for, as Plato remarks in the second book of his republic, the just man and the unjust man are often reciprocally mistaken by mankind, and do frequently pass in the world the one for the other. The reason of which, as I take it, and as he in Plato indeed intimates, is, that the former are for the most part fools, and the latter are men of sense.

If I could so far prevail, however, as to deprive this Axylus of all the praise which he receives from his actions, and to show him in an opprobrious light to the world, I might perhaps be contented, and wish him ill no longer. And yet I am not positive that this would be the case; for what amends can it make to a man who sees his mistress in his rival's

arms, that the world in general are persuaded that he himself alone enjoys her; or could all the flattery of his courtiers, and all the Te Deums of his priests, Satisfy Lewis the Fourteenth, and prevent his envying the Duke of Marlborough. I am well apprised that the reputation of goodness is all which I aim at, and is all which a wise man would desire; notwithstanding which, I am convinced that praise sounds most harmonious to that ear where it finds an echo from within; nay, who knows the secret comforts which a good heart may dictate from within, even when all without are silent! I perceive symptoms of such inward satisfaction in Axylus, and for that reason I envy and hate him from the bottom of my soul.

You will perhaps say, why then do you not imitate him? Your servant, sir; shall I imitate a fool because I see him happy in his folly? for folly I am convinced it is to interest yourself in the happiness, or in the concerns of others. Horace, who was a sensible writer, and knew the world, advises every man to roll himself up in himself, as a polished bowl, which admits of no rubs from without; and the old Greek, like a wise rogue, exclaims; When I am dead, let the earth be con*sumed by fire. It is no concern of mine; all my • affairs are well settled.'

Here again it may be objected, why do you envy one whom you condemn as a fool? To this, I own it is not easy to give an answer. In fact, nature hath moulded up with the wisest clay of man some very simple ingredients. Hence we covet those commendations which we know are seldom bestowed without a sneer, and which are annexed to characters that we despise. The truth I am afraid is, that I would willingly be this very man. That I have sometimes such a fear, I confess to you, as I think it impossible you should ever guess from whence the confession comes; for I would not for ten thousand

pounds, that any man should know, I had ever such a wish; nay, I would not for an equal sum know myself that I had it.

And from this fear, this suspicion. (for I once more assure you, and myself, that it is no more than a suspicion), I heartily detest this Axylus. For this reason, I have hitherto pursued him with the most inveterate hatred; have industriously taken every occasion to plague him, and have let slip no opportunity of ruining his reputation,

I am aware I may have let drop something which may lead you into an opinion, that I really esteem this character, which I would endeavour to persuade you I despise; but, before I finish this letter, I flatter myself I shall place this fellow in so contemptible a light, that I shall have no reason to apprehend your drawing any such conclusion.

First, notwithstanding all the secret comforts which Axylus pretends to receive from the energies of benevolence, as he calls them, I cannot persuade myself, that there is really any pleasure in a good action. I must own to you, I do not speak this absolutely on my own knowledge, for I do not remember to have done one truly good, benevolent action in my whole life. Indeed, I should heartily despise myself, if I had any such recol


And if there be no pleasure in goodness, I am sure there is no profit in it. This Axylus himself will, I doubt not, be ready to confess. No man hath ever made or improved, though many have injured, and some have destroyed, their fortunes this


In the last place, as to the motives which arise from our vanity, and which, as that very wise writer Mr. Mandevil observes, are much the strongest supports of what is generally called benevolence, I think to make the folly of doing good from suck motives very plainly appear, I am far from being

an enemy to praise, or from expressing that contempt for a good character, which some have affected. But, surely, it becomes a man to purchase every thing as cheap as he can; now, why should he be at the pains and expence of being good in reality, when he may so certainly obtain all the applause he aims at merely by pretending to be so.

An instance of this I give you in myself, who, without having ever done a single good action, have universally a good character; and this I have acquired by only taking upon me the trouble of supporting one constant series of hypocrisy all my days.

Axylus, on the contrary, for want of undergoing this trouble, hath missed the praises he deserves. While he carelessly doth a hundred good actions, without being at the pains of displaying them, they are all overlooked by the world; nay, often by my means (for I am always watchful on such occasions) his most disinterested benevolence is seen in a disadvantageous light; and his goodness, instead of being commended, turns to his dishonour.

An example of this I saw the other day, when you published his last letter, where all that is said of an unhappy woman, drawn in to be guilty of the highest degree of wickedness, by the most wicked and profligate of men, I am convinced flowed immediately from that compassion which is the constant energy of these good hearts. Now, sir, even this I turned against him. I represented it as a barbarous attempt to revile the character of a man before he had undergone his trial; and, can you believe it? such is the nature of man, I found some persons who could not, or would not, see the difference between concluding a person guilty who is in custody, and who is to undergo a legal disquisition into his crimes, and concluding one to be guilty of a fact, for which he hath fled from justice, and who, even by the evi dence given on oath in the solemn trial of another, appears to all the world to be guilty.

But perhaps it may be said, though the world in general do not commend your actions, still you are repaid for them sufficiently, by having the esteem, the love, the gratitude, of those to whom they are done. To this purpose I will tell you a short story. The fact is true, and happened to Mr. Axylus himself.

That silly good man had done many great services. to a private family. Indeed, the very bread they eat was for a long time owing to his foolish generosity, and, at length, by his advice and assistance, this family was brought from a state of poverty and distress to what might be called affluence in their condition. I was acquainted with the whole scene, and often present at it, and, indeed, it was one of the pleasantest I ever saw; for while the good man was rejoicing in his own goodness, and feeding his foolish vanity with fond conceits of the grateful returns which were made to him in the bosoms of the obliged, they, on the other side, were continually laughing at his folly amongst themselves, and flattering their own ingenuity with their constant impositions on his good-nature, and ascribing every thing which they obtained of him to their own superior cunning and power of over-reaching him.

When I had enjoyed this scene till I was weary of it, I was resolved to work myself another satisfaction out of it, by tormenting the man I hate. I accordingly communicated the secret to Axylus, and gave him almost demonstration of the truth of what I told him. He answered with a smile, he hoped I was mistaken; but if not, he was answerable for the means only, and not for the end; and the very same day did a new favour to one of the family.

I will conclude by telling you, that it was I who sent him the trial of Miss Blandy to vex him, and Į hope you will print this letter, that he may have the plague of guessing at me, for I am sure he will

« PreviousContinue »