Si mutabile pectus
Est tibi, consiliis, non curribus, utere nostris;
Dum potes, et solidis etiamnum sedibus adstas,
Dumque male optatos nondum premis inscius axes. OVID. Met. ii. 143.
—Th’ attempt forsake,
And not my chariot but my counsel take;
While yet securely on the earth you stand;
Nor touch the horses with too rash a hand. ADDISON.
TO THE ADVENTURER.
Sir, Fleet, March 24.
I now send you the sequel of my story, which had not been so long delayed, if I could have brought myself to imagine, that any real impatience was felt for the fate of Misargyrus; who has travelled no unbeaten track to misery, and consequently can present the reader only with such incidents as occur in daily life. You have seen me, Sir, in the zenith of my glory, not dispensing the kindly warmth of an all-cheering sun: but, like another Phaeton, scorching and blasting every thing round me. I shall proceed, therefore, to finish my career, and pass as rapidly as possible through the remaining vicissitudes of my life.
When I first began to be in want of money, I made no doubt of an immediate supply. The newspapers were perpetually offering directions to men, who seemed to have no other business than to gather heaps of gold for those who place their supreme felicity in scattering it. I posted away, therefore, to one of these advertisers, who by his proposals seemed to deal in thousands; and was not a little chagrined to find, that this general benefactor would have nothing to do with any larger sum than thirty pounds, nor would venture that without a joint note from myself and a reputable housekeeper, or for a longer time than three months.
It was not yet so bad with me, as that I needed to solicit surety for thirty pounds: yet partly from the greediness that extravagance always produces, and partly from a desire of seeing the humour of a petty usurer, a character of which I had hitherto lived in ignorance, I condescended to listen to his terms. He proceeded to inform me of my great felicity in not falling into the hands of an extortioner; and assured me, that I should find him extremely moderate in his demands: he was not, indeed, certain that he could furnish me with the whole sum, for people were at this particular time extremely pressing and importunate for money: yet, as I had the appearance of a gentleman, he would try what he could do, and give me his answer in three days.
At the expiration of the time, I called upon him again; and was again informed of the great demand for money, and that, “money was money now:” he then advised me to be punctual in my payment, as that might induce him to befriend me hereafter; and delivered me the money, deducting at the rate of five and thirty per cent. with another panegyrick upon his own moderation.
I will not tire you with the various practices of usurious oppression; but cannot omit my transaction with Squeeze on Tower-hill, who, finding me a young man of considerable expectations, employed an agent to persuade me to borrow five hundred pounds, to be refunded by an annual payment of twenty per cent_. during the joint lives of his daughter Nancy Squeeze and myself. The negociator came prepared to enforce his proposal with all his art; but, finding that I caught his offer with the eagerness of necessity, he grew cold and languid; “he had mentioned it out of kindness; he would try to serve me: Mr. Squeeze was an honest man, but extremely cautious.” In three days he came to tell me, that his endeavours had been ineffectual, Mr. Squeeze having no good opinion of my life; but that there was one expedient remaining: Mrs. Squeeze could influence her husband, and her good will might be gained by a compliment. I waited that afternoon on Mrs. Squeeze, and poured out before her the flatteries which usually gain access to rank and beauty: I did not then know, that there are places in which the only compliment is a bribe. Having yet credit with a jeweller, I afterwards procured a ring of thirty guineas, which I humbly presented, and was soon admitted to a treaty with Mr. Squeeze. He appeared peevish and backward, and my old friend whispered me, that he would never make a dry bargain: I therefore invited him to a tavern. Nine times we met on the affair; nine times I paid four pounds for the supper and claret; and nine guineas I gave the agent for good offices. I then obtained the money, paying ten per cent. advance; and at the tenth meeting gave another supper, and disbursed fifteen pounds for the writings.
Others who styled themselves brokers, would only trust their money upon goods: that I might, therefore, try every art of expensive folly, I took a house and furnished it. I amused myself with despoiling my moveables of their glossy appearance, for fear of alarming the lender with suspicions: and in this I succeeded so well, that he favoured me with one hundred and sixty pounds upon that which was rated at seven hundred. I then found that I was to maintain a guardian about me to prevent the goods from being broken or removed. This was, indeed, an unexpected tax; but it was too late to recede: and I comforted myself, that I might prevent a creditor, of whom I had some apprehensions, from seizing, by having a prior execution always in the house.
By such means I had so embarrassed myself, that my whole attention was engaged in contriving excuses, and raising small sums to quiet such as words would no longer mollify. It cost me eighty pounds in presents to Mr. Leech the attorney, for his forbearance of one hundred, which he solicited me to take when I had no need. I was perpetually harassed with importunate demands, and insulted by wretches, who a few months before would not have dared to raise their eyes from the dust before me. I lived in continual terrour, frighted by every noise at the door, and terrified at the approach of every step quicker than common. I never retired to rest without feeling the justness of the Spanish proverb, “Let him who sleeps too much, borrow the pillow of a debtor:” my solicitude and vexation kept me long waking; and when I had closed my eyes, I was pursued or insulted by visionary bailiffs.
When I reflected upon the meanness of the shifts I had reduced myself to, I could not but curse the folly and extravagance that had overwhelmed me in a sea of troubles, from which it was highly improbable that I should ever emerge. I had some time lived in hopes of an estate, at the death of my uncle; but he disappointed me by marrying his housekeeper; and, catching an opportunity soon after of quarrelling with me, for settling twenty pounds a year upon a girl whom I had seduced, told me that he would take care to prevent his fortune from being squandered upon prostitutes.
Nothing now remained, but the chance of extricating myself by marriage; a scheme which, I flattered myself, nothing but my present distress would have made me think on with patience. I determined, therefore, to look out for a tender novice, with a large fortune, at her own disposal; and accordingly fixed my eyes upon Miss Biddy Simper. I had now paid her six or seven visits; and so fully convinced her of my being a gentleman and a rake, that I made no doubt that both her person and fortune would be soon mine.
At this critical time, Miss Gripe called upon me, in a chariot bought with my money, and loaded with trinkets that I had, in my days of affluence, lavished on her. Those days were now over; and there was little hope that they would ever return. She was not able to withstand the temptation of ten pounds that Talon the bailiff offered her, but brought him into my apartment disguised in a livery; and taking my sword to the window, under pretence of admiring the workmanship, beckoned him to seize me.
Delay would have been expensive without use, as the debt was too considerable for payment or bail: I, therefore, suffered myself to be immediately conducted to gaol.
Vestibulum ante ipsum, primisque in faucibus Orci,
Luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia curae:
Pallentesque habitant morbi, tristisque senectus,
Et metus, et malesuada fames, et turpis egestas. VIRG. Aen. vi. 273.
Just in the gate and in the jaws of hell,
Revengeful cares and sullen sorrows dwell;
And pale diseases, and repining age;
Want, fear, and famine’s unresisted rage. DRYDEN.
Confinement of any kind is dreadful; a prison is sometimes able to shock those, who endure it in a good cause: let your imagination, therefore, acquaint you with what I have not words to express, and conceive, if possible, the horrours of imprisonment attended with reproach and ignominy, of involuntary association with the refuse of mankind, with wretches who were before too abandoned for society, but, being now freed from shame or fear, are hourly improving their vices by consorting with each other.
There are, however, a few, whom, like myself, imprisonment has rather mortified than hardened: with these only I converse; and of these you may, perhaps, hereafter receive some account from
Your humble servant, MISARGYRUS.