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"Ye shall not need further to drede, I will not disparage
Here may ye see, that women be, in love, meek, kind, and stable,
89.-SIR ROGER DE COVERLEY.-IV
We give the Spectator,' No. 335, without abridgment. It is by Addison. "My friend Sir Roger de Coverley, when we last met together at the club, told me that he had a great mind to see the new tragedy ('The Distressed Mother') with me, assuring me at the same time that he had not been at a play these twenty years. 'The last I saw,' said Sir Roger, was the Committee, which I should not have gone to neither had not I been told beforehand that it was a good Church of England comedy.' He then proceeded to inquire of me who this distressed mother was; and upon hearing that she was Hector's widow, he told me that her husband was a brave man, and that when he was a school-boy he had read his life at the end of the dictionary. My friend asked me in the next place if there would not be some danger in coming home late, in case the Mohocks should be abroad. 'I assure you,' says he, 'I thought I had fallen into their hands last night; for I observed two or three lusty black men that followed me half way up Fleet Street, and mended their pace behind me in proportion as I put on to get away from them. You must know,' continued the knight with a smile, 'I fancied they had a mind to hunt me; for I remember an honest gentleman in my neighbourhood who was served such a trick in King Charles the Second's time, for which reason he has not ventured himself in town ever since. I might have shown them very good sport had this been their design; for, as I am an old fox-hunter, I should have turned and dodged, and have played them a thousand tricks they had never seen in their lives before.' Sir Roger added, that 'if these gentlemen had any such intention, they did not succeed very well in it; for I threw them out,' says he, 'at the end of Norfolk Strect, where I doubled the corner, and got shelter in my lodgings before they could imagine what was become of me. However, says the knight, 'if Captain Sentry will make one with us to-morrow night, and you will both of you call upon me about four o'clock, that we may be at the house before it is full, I will have my own coach in readiness to attend you, for John tells me he has got the fore-wheels mended.'
"The captain, who did not fail to meet me there at the appointed hour, bid Sir Roger fear nothing, for that he had put on the same sword which he made use of at the battle of Steenkirk. Sir Roger's servants, and among the rest my old friend the butler, had, I found, provided themselves with good oaken plants, to attend their master upon this occasion. When we had placed him in his coach, with myself at his left hand, the captain before him, and his butler at the head of his footmen in the rear, we conveyed him in safety to the playhouse, where, after having marched up the entry in good order, the captain and I went in with him, and seated him betwixt us in the pit. As soon as the house was full and the candles lighted, my old friend stood up and looked about him with that pleasure which a mind seasoned
with humanity naturally feels in itself at the sight of a multitude of people who seem pleased with one another, and partake of the same common entertainment. I could not but fancy to myself, as the old man stood up in the middle of the pit, that he made a very proper centre to a tragic audience. Upon the entering of Pyrrhus, the knight told me that he did not believe the king of France himself had a better strut. I was indeed very attentive to my old friend's remarks because I looked upon them as a piece of natural criticism, and was well pleased to hear him, at the conclusion of almost every scene, telling me that he could not imagine how the play would end. One while he appeared much concerned for Andromache; and a little while after as much for Hermione; and was extremely puzzled to think what would become of Pyrrhus.
"When Sir Roger saw Andromache's obstinate refusal to her lover's importunities, he whispered me in the car, that he was sure she would never have him; to which he added, with a more than ordinary vehemence, 'You can't imagine, Sir, what it is to have to do with a widow.' Upon Pyrrhus's threatening to leave her, the knight shook his head, and muttered to himself, 'Ay, do if you can.' This part dwelt so much upon my friend's imagination, that at the close of the third act, as I was thinking on something else, he whispered me in my ear, 'These widows, Sir, are the most perverse creatures in the world. But pray,' says he, 'you that are a critic, is the play according to your dramatic rules, as you call them? Should your people in tragedy always talk to be understood? Why, there is not a single sentence in this play that I do not know the meaning of.'
"The fourth act very luckily began before I had time to give the old gentleman an answer. 'Well,' says the knight, sitting down with great satisfaction, I suppose we are now to see Hector's ghost.' He then renewed his attention, and, from time to time, fell a praising the widow. He made, indeed, a little mistake as to one of her pages, whom, at his first entering, he took for Astyanax; but quickly set himself right in that particular, though, at the same time, he owned he should have been glad to have seen the little boy, who, says he, must needs be a very fine child by the account that is given of him. Upon Hermione's going off with a menace to Pyrrhus, the audience gave a loud clap, to which Sir Roger added,' On my word, a notable young baggage.'
"As there was a very remarkable silence and stillness in the audience during the whole action, it was natural for them to take the opportunity of the intervals between the acts to express their opinion of the players and of their respective parts. Sir Roger, hearing a cluster of them praise Orestes, struck in with them, and told them that he thought his friend Pylades was a very sensible man. As they were afterward applauding Pyrrhus, Sir Roger put in a second time: 'And let me tell you,' says he, though he speaks but little, I like the old fellow in whiskers as well as any of them.' Captain Sentry, seeing two or three wags, who sat near us lean with an attentive ear towards Sir Roger, and fearing lest they should smoke the knight, plucked him by the elbow, and whispered something in his ear that lasted till the opening of the fifth act. The knight was wonderfully attentive to the account which Orestes gives of Pyrrhus's death, and, at the conclusion of it, told me it was such a bloody piece of work that he was glad it was not done upon the stage. Seeing afterwards Orestes in his raving fit, he grew more than ordinarily serious, and took occasion to moralize (in his way) upon an evil conscience, adding, that Orestes in his madness looked as if he saw something.
"As we were the first that came into the house, so we were the last that went out of it, being resolved to have a clear passage for our old friend, whom we did not care to venture among the justling of the crowd. Sir Roger went out fully satisfied with his entertainment, and we guarded him to his lodging in the same
manner that we brought him to the playhouse, being highly pleased for my own part, not only with the performance of the excellent piece which had been presented, but with the satisfaction which it had given to the good old man."
The following is from the 'Spectator,' No. 383, by Addison.
"As I was sitting in my chamber, and thinking on a subject for my next 'Spectator,' I heard two or three irregular bounces at my landlady's door; and upon the opening of it, a loud cheerful voice inquiring whether the philosopher was at home. The child who went to the door answered, very innocently, that he did not lodge there. I immediately recollected that it was my good friend Sir Roger's voice, and that I had promised to go with him on the water to Spring Garden (Vauxhall) in case it proved a good evening. The knight put me in mind of my promise from the bottom of the staircase, but told me that if I was speculating he would stay below until I had done. Upon my coming down, I found all the children of the family got about my old friend; and my landlady herself, who is a notable prating gossip, engaged in a conference with him; being mightily pleased with his stroking her little boy on the head, and bidding him to be a good child and mind his book. "We were no sooner come to the Temple Stairs, but we were surrounded with a crowd of watermen, offering us their respective services. Sir Roger, after having looked about him very attentively, spied one with a wooden leg, and immediately gave him orders to get his boat ready. As we were walking towards it, 'You must know,' says Sir Roger, 'I never make use of anybody to row me that has not lost cither a leg or an arm. I would rather bate him a few strokes of his oar than not employ an honest man that has been wounded in the queen's service. If I was a lord or a bishop, and kept a barge, I would not put a fellow in my livery that had not a wooden leg.'
"My old friend, after having seated himself, and trimmed the boat with his coachman, who, being a very sober man, always serves for ballast on these occasions, we made the best of our way for Vauxhall. Sir Roger obliged the waterman to give us the history of his right leg; and, hearing that he had left it at La Hogue, with many particulars which passed in that glorious action, the knight, in the triumph of his heart, made several reflections on the greatness of the British nation; as, that one Englishman could beat three Frenchmen; that we could never be in danger of popery so long as we took care of our fleet; that the Thames was the noblest river in Europe; that London Bridge was a greater piece of work than any of the seven wonders of the world; with many other honest prejudices which naturally cleave to the heart of a true Englishman.
After some short pause, the old knight, turning about his head twice or thrice to take a survey of this great metropolis, bid me observe how thick the city was set with churches, and that there was scarce a single steeple on this side Temple Bar. A most heathenish sight!' says Sir Roger: there is no religion at this end of the town. The fifty new churches will very much mend the prospect; but church work is slow, church work is slow.'
"I do not remember I have anywhere mentioned in Sir Roger's character his custom of saluting everybody that passes by him with a Good-morrow or a Goodnight. This the old man does out of the overflowings of his humanity; though, at the same time, it renders him so popular among his country neighbours, that it is thought to have gone a good way in making him once or twice knight of the shire. He cannot forbear this exercise of benevolence even in town when he meets with any one in his morning or evening walk. It broke from him to several boats that passed by us upon the water; but, to the knight's great surprise, as he gave the Good-night to two or three young fellows a little before our landing, one of them, instead of returning the civility, asked us what queer old put we had in the boat, with a great
deal of the like Thames ribaldry. Sir Roger seemed a little shocked at first; but at length, assuming a face of magistracy, told us that, if he were a Middlesex justice, he would make such vagrants know that her Majesty's subjects were no more to be abused by water than by land.
“We were now arrived at Spring Garden, which is excellently pleasant at this time of the year. When I considered the fragrance of the walks and bowers, with the choirs of birds that sung upon the trees, and the loose tribe of people that walked under their shades, I could not but look upon the place as a kind of Mahometan paradise. Sir Roger told me it put him in mind of a little coppice by his house in the country, which his chaplain used to call an aviary of nightingales. 'You must understand,' says the knight, 'there is nothing in the world that pleases a man in love so much as your nightingale. Ah, Mr. Spectator, the many moonlight nights that I have walked by myself, and thought on the widow by the music of the nightingale !'
"We concluded our walk with a glass of Burton ale and a slice of hung beef. When we had done eating ourselves, the knight called a waiter to him, and bid him carry the remainder to the waterman that had but one leg. I perceived the fellow stared upon him at the oddness of the message, and was going to be saucy; upon which I ratified the knight's commands with a peremptory look."
We now conclude this series of papers. The account of the death of Sir Roger is in Addison's best style. It is said that he killed his good knight to prevent others misrepresenting his actions and character. It certainly was not easy to preserve the true balance between our amusement at the eccentricities of his hero and our love for his goodness, as Addison alone has preserved it. Steele vulgarized Sir Roger.
"We last night received a piece of ill news at our club, which very sensibly afflicted every one of us. I question not but my readers themselves will be troubled at the hearing of it. To keep them no longer in suspense, Sir Roger de Coverley is dead! He departed this life at his house in the country, after a few weeks' sickness. Sir Andrew Freeport has a letter from one of his correspondents in those parts, that informs him that the old man caught a cold at the county sessions, as he was very warmly promoting an address of his own penning, in which he succeeded according to his wishes. But this particular comes from a Whig justice of peace, who was always Sir Roger's enemy and antagonist. I have letters both from the chaplain and Captain Sentry, which mention nothing of it, but are filled with many particulars to the honour of the good old man. I have likewise a letter from the butler, who took so much care of me last summer when I was at the knight's house. As my friend the butler mentions, in the simplicity of his heart, several circumstances the others have passed over in silence, I shall give my readers a copy of his letter, without any alteration or diminution.
'Knowing that you was my old master's good friend, I could not forbear sending you the melancholy news of his death, which has afflicted the whole country, as well as his poor servants, who loved him, I may say, better than we did our lives. I am afraid he caught his death the last county sessions, where he would go to see justice done to a poor widow woman and her fatherless children, that had been wronged by a neighbouring gentleman; for you know, Sir, my good master was always the poor man's friend. Upon his coming home, the first complaint he made was, that he had lost his roast-beef stomach, not being able to touch a surloin, which was served up according to custom; and you know he used to take great delight in From that time forward he grew worse and worse, but still kept a good heart the last. Indeed we were once in great hopes of his recovery, upon a kind nge that was sent him from the widow lady whom he had made love to the
last forty years of his life; but this only proved a lightning before death. He has bequeathed to this lady, as a token of his love, a great pearl necklace and a couple of silver bracelets set with jewels, which belonged to my good old lady his mother. He has bequeathed the fine white gelding that he used to ride a hunting upon to his chaplain, because he thought he would be kind to him; and has left you all his books. He has, moreover, bequeathed to the chaplain a very pretty tenement with good lands about it. It being a very cold day when he made his will, he left for mourning to every man in the parish a great frieze coat, and to every woman a black riding-hood. It was a most moving sight to see him take leave of his poor servants, commending us all for our fidelity, whilst we were not able to speak a word for weeping. As we most of us are grown grey-headed in our dear master's service, he has left us pensions and legacies, which we may live very comfortably upon the remaining part of our days. He has bequeathed a great deal more in charity, which is not yet come to my knowledge; and it is peremptorily said in the parish, that he has left money to build a steeple to the church: for he was heard to say some time ago, that if he lived two years longer, Coverley church should have a steeple to it. The chaplain tells everybody that he made a very good end, and never speaks of him without tears. He was buried, according to his own directions, among the family of the Coverleys, on the left hand of his father Sir Arthur. The coffin was carried by six of his tenants, and the pall held up by six of the quorum. The whole parish followed the corpse with heavy hearts, and in their mourning suits; the men in frieze, and the women in riding-hoods. Captain Sentry, my master's nephew, has taken possession of the Hall-house and the whole estate. When my old master saw him a little before his death, he shook him by the hand, and wished him joy of the estate which was falling to him, desiring him only to make a good use of it, and to pay the several legacies and the gifts of charity, which he told him he had left as quit-rents upon the estate. The Captain truly seems a courteous man, though he says but little. He makes much of those whom my master loved, and shows great kindness to the old house-dog that you know my poor master was so fond of. It would have gone to your heart to have heard the moans the dumb creature made on the day of my master's death. He has never enjoyed himself since; no more has any of us. It was the melancholiest day for the poor people that ever happened in Worcestershire. This being all from, Honoured Sir, your most sorrowful servant, 'EDWARD BISCUIT.'
P.S. My master desired some weeks before he died, that a book, which comes up to you by the carrier, should be given to Sir Andrew Freeport in his name.' "This letter, notwithstanding the poor butler's manner of writing it, gave us such an idea of our good old friend, that upon the reading of it there was not a dry eye in the Club. Sir Andrew, opening the book, found it to be a collection of acts of parliament. There was in particular the Act of Uniformity, with some passages in it marked by Sir Roger's own hand. Sir Andrew found that they related to two or three points which he had disputed with Sir Roger, the last time he appeared at the Club. Sir Andrew, who would have been merry at such an incident on another occasion, at the sight of the old man's handwriting burst into tears, and put the book into his pocket. Captain Sentry informs me that the knight had left rings and mourning for every one in the Club."
[RICHARD DE BURY, Bishop of Durham, was born in 1287; was tutor to the Prince of Wales, afterwards Edward III.; subsequently received the highest ecclesiastical preferments from the King; and died at his episcopal palace at Auckland, in 1345. He was an admirable scholar,