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John Buncle is evidently Amory himself. This is apparent from the bits of real autobiography which are mixed with the fictitious, and which constitute one of the strange jumbles in his book. Hazlitt has called him the “English Rabelais;" and in point of animal spirits, love of good cheer, and something of a mixture of scholarship, theology, and profane reading, he may be held to deserve the title; but he has no claim to the Frenchman’s greatness of genius, freedom from bigotry, and profoundness of wit and humour. He might have done very well for a clerk to Rabelais; and his master would have laughed quite as much at, as with him. John is a kind of innocent Henry the Eighth “of private life,” without the other's fat, fury, and solemnity. He is a prodigious hand at matrimony, at divinity, at a song, at a loud “hem,” and at a turkey and chine. He breaks with the Trinitarians as confidently and with as much scorn as Henry did with the Pope; and he marries seven wives, whom he disposes of by the lawful process of fever and small-pox. His book is made up of natural history, mathematics (literally), songs, polemics, landscapes, eating and drinking, and characters of singular men, all bound together by his introductions to and marriages with these seven successive ladies, every one of whom is a charmer, a Unitarian, and cut off in the flower of her youth. Buncle does not know how to endure her loss; he shuts his eyes “for three days;” is stupified; is in despair; till suddenly he recollects that Heaven does not like such conduct; that it is a mourner's business to bow to its decrees; to be devout; to be philosophic: in short, to be jolly, and look out for another dear, bewitching partner, “on Christian principles.” This is, literally, a fair account of his book; and our readers are now qualified to understand the passages we proceed to extract.
The “ Lives of Several Ladies," which preceded Buncle's autobiography, professed to be genuine lives, and were equally manifest fictions, mixed with a portion of truth. The ladies, like the wives, were all Unitarians, and all charming; and the writer, after a certain spiritual mode, fell in love with them. They partook of his zest for all the pleasures of life; had a great objection to ugly, as well as to Athanasian husbands, and none in the world to a good supper. The lives are addressed to a friend of the name of Jewks--a name which is often apostrophized with an abrupt joviality of the most amusing kind, in the midst of theological disquisitions. As the opening of this work is no unfavourable specimen of the author, and furnishes a pretty thorough foretaste of his spirit, the reader is presented with a few
pages of it.
“Your letter, dear Jewks, I had the pleasure of receiving; and, that you should not suspect me of neglecting you, I postpone my journey to Chadson, to answer your questions. To the best of my power I will give you a monument of my friendship, though at present my condition is such, that I cannot subtract too much from the
of the intellect, to give to those of motion. You shall have all I know relating to the lady you inquire after. You shall have, by the way, a few occasional observations.
“ In the year 1739, I travelled many hundred miles to visit ancient monuments, and discover curious things; and as I wandered, to this purpose, among the vast hills of Northumberland, fortune conducted me one evening, in the month of June, when I knew not where to rest, to the sweetest retirement my eyes have ever beheld. This is Hali-farm. It is a beautiful vale surrounded with rocks, forest, and water. I found at the upper end of it the prettiest thatched house in the world, and a garden of the most artful confusion I had ever seen. The little mansion was covered on every side with the finest flowery greens.
The streams, all round, were murmuring and falling a thousand ways. All the kinds of singing birds were here collected, and in high harmony on the sprays. The ruins of an abbey enhance the beauties of this place; they appear at the distance of four hundred yards from the house; and as some great trees are now grown up among the remains, and a river winds between the broken walls, the view is solemn, the picture fine.
“When I came up to the house, the first figure I saw was the lady whose story I am going to relate. She had the charms of an angel, but her dress was quite plain and clean like a country maid. Her person appeared faultless, and of the middle size, between the disagreeable extremes; her face a sweet oval, and her complexion the brunette of the bright rich kind; her mouth, like a rose-bud that is just beginning to blow; and a fugitive dimple, by fits, would lighten and disappear. The finest passions were always passing in her face; and in her long, even, chestnut eyes, there was a fluid fire sufficient for half-a-dozen pair.
- She had a volume of Shakspeare in her hand as I came softly towards her, having left my horse at a distance with my servant; and her attention was so much engaged with the extremely poetical and fine lines which Titania speaks in the third act of the Midsummer Night's Dream, that she did not see me till I was quite near her. She seemed then in great amazement. She could not be much more surprised if I had dropped from the clouds.
But this was soon over, upon my asking her if she was not the daughter of Mr. John Bruce, as I supposed from a similitude of faces, and informing her that her father, if I was right, was my near friend, and would be glad to see his chum in that part of the world. Marinda replied, “You are not wrong ;' and immediately asked me in. She conducted me to a parlour that was quite beautiful in the rural way, and welcomed me to Hali-farm, as her father would have done, she said, had I arrived before his removal to a better world. She then left me for a while, and I had time to look over the room I
The floor was covered with rushes wrought into the prettiest mat, and the walls decorated all round with the finest flowers and shells. Robins and nightingales, the finch and the linnet, were in the neatest red cages of her own making; and at the upper end of the chamber, in a charming little open grotto, was the finest strix capite aurito, corpore rufo, that I have seen, that is, the great cagle owl. This beautiful bird, in a niche like a ruin, looked vastly fine.
As to the flowers which adorned this room, I thought they were all natural at my first coming in, but on inspection it appeared that several baskets of the finest kinds were inimitably painted on the walls by Marinda's hand.
“ These things afforded me a pleasing entertainment for about half an hour, and then Miss Bruce returned. One of the maids brought in a supper-such fare, she said, as her little cottage afforded; and the table was covered with green peas and pigeons, cream cheese, new bread and butter. Everything was excellent in its kind. The cider and ale were admirable. Discretion and dignity appeared in Marinda's behaviour; she talked with judgment; and, under the decencies of ignorance, was concealed a valuable knowledge.”— Vol. I., p. 1.
This is the way in which Buncle meets with most of his ladies. They are discovered in lovely places reading books, and are always prepared for nice little suppers. Their fathers or other companions are generally people to match. Jack Bruce, Marinda's father, was an excellent good fellow, disinherited by his own father for refusing to sign the thirty-nine articles. He disappears in a solitude, marries a farmer's daughter (“an extraordinary beauty” with an understanding "), and becomes a farmer himself.
“ 'Religion,' would Jack Bruce say, as we passed an evening over a little bowl of nectar—for he never taught in the dry, sober method—religion,' &c.”
Then follows a picture of philosophic Unitarianism.
“This was a glorious faith, Jewks." People, he says, “ may substitute inventive pieces in the place of true religion, and multiply their fancies into endless volumes; such as, Revelation examined with Candour, the most uncandid
thing that ever was written; the Life of David, &c., by the same author; Rogers's Discourse of the Visible and Invisible Church ; Waterland's Importance, and other writings; the execrable dialogues called Ophiomaches; Trapp, Webster, and Vernon ; the miserable Answers to the Bishop of Clogher ; Dodwell, Church, and Brooks, against Middleton ; Knowles against the Argument à Priori ; and cartloads of such religious lumber" (these italics are the author's); “but, my dear Jewks, true Christianity lies in repentance and amendment."
Miss Bruce wins a husband by painting pictures of “Arcadia” and the “Crucifixion,” and “playing on the fiddle.” Divers charming young ladies come to her house by accident, and form extempore never-dying friendships, in the manner of the people in the Rovers—.
“Come to my arms, my slight acquaintance."
Among others are Mrs. Schomberg and Miss West.
“ They were riding to Crawford Dyke, near Dunglass, the place I intended for, and by a wrong turn in the road came to Mrs. Benlow's house, instead of going to Robin's Toad, where they designed to bait. It was between eight and nine at night when they got to her door; and as they appeared, by the richness of their riding-dress, their servants, and the beautiful horses they rid, to be women of distinction, Mrs. Benlow invited them in, and requested they would lie at her house that night, as the inn they were looking for was very bad. Nothing could be more grateful to the ladies than this proposal. They were on the ground in a moment; and we all sat down soon after, with the greatest cheerfulness, to a fine dish of trouts, roasted chickens, tarts, and sparragrass. The strangers were quite charmed with everything they saw. The sweet rural room they were in, and the wild beauties of the garden in view,