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they could not enough admire; and they were so struck with Mrs. Benlow's goodness, and the lively happy manner she has of showing it, that they conceived immediately the greatest affection for her. Felicity could not rise higher than it did at this table. For a couple of hours we laughed most immoderately."-Id., p. 92.
But to quit the lives of ladies who married other men, and comē to John Buncle and his own. John quits his father, as Jack Bruce did, on account of a religious difference, and goes about the world, seeking whom he may marry.
His first wife is a Miss Melmoth. He had known her some time, when having been led one day into some particularly serious reflections on life and death by the sight of a skeleton, he considered that it would be a good thing to “commence a matrimonial relation with some sensible, good-humoured, dear, delightful girl of the mountains, and persuade her to be the cheerful partner of his still life.” He thought that “nature and reason ” would then “create the highest scenes of felicity, and that he should live, as it were, in the suburbs of heaven.”
“ This is fine,” concludes he, in an ecstacy. in my life I am fortunate. And suppose this partner. I want in my solitude could be Miss Melmoth, one of the wisest and most discreet of women, thinking a bloom and good-humour itself in a human figure, then, indeed, I must be happy in this silent, romantic station. This spot of earth would then have all the felicities.-Resolved. Con clusum est contra Manichæos, said the great St. Austin ; and with a thump of his fist, he (St. Austin) cracked the table.”— Vol. II., Edit. 1770, p. 62.
6 For once
Miss Melmoth, being one of the wisest as well as loveliest of women, accepts of course the hand that draws so convincing a conclusion from the fist of St. Austin. For two years they lead a life of
but at the end of that time she dies of a fever, and John quits a solitude which he could not bear.
His second wife is the lovely Miss Statia Henley, “bright and charming as Aurora,” daughter of John Henley, Esquire, of the Groves of Basil. She had some fugitive notions of celibacy, which our hero refutes on Christian principles; and, as in the former instance, they lead a life of bliss for two years. The “illustrious Statia" then dies of the small-pox, and is laid by Charlotte's side.
“ Thus did I again become a mourner.
I sat with my eyes shut for three days; but at last called for my horse, to try what air, exercise, and variety of objects could do." Vol. III., p. 57.
Air, exercise, and a variety of objects did very well; for Mr. Buncle misses his way into the house and grounds of the exquisite Miss Antonia Cramer, "a heaven-born maid” and “innocent beauty,” whom he marries of course. But her, also, alas! he loses of the small-pox, at the end of two-no, three years. “Four” days, too, he sits with his eyes shut, which is a day more than he gave to Statia; and then he left the lodge once more, “to live, if he could, since his religion ordered him so to do, and see what he was next to meet with in the world.”
“Nota bene,” says our author at this place.
6 As I mention nothing of any children by so many wives, some readers may perhaps wonder at this ; and therefore, to give a general answer, once for all, I think it sufficient to observe, that I had a great many to carry on the succession ; but as they never were concerned in any extraordinary affairs, nor ever did any remarkable things, that I ever heard of ;-only rise and breakfast, read and saunter, drink and eat, it would not be fair, in my opinion, to make any one pay for their history.”—P. 151.
This kind of progeny, by the way, hardly does credit to our hero's very exquisite marriages. But as extremes meet, and fair play must be seen to the mass of the community, we suppose the young Buncles were dull, in consideration of the vivacity of the parents.
Mr. Buncle having laid his beloved Antonia by the side of his Charlotte and his Statia, now goes to Harrogate; and while there, “it is his fortune to dance with a lady who had the head of an Aristotle, the heart of a primitive Christian, and the form of a Venus de Medicis."
“ This was Miss Spence, of Westmoreland. I was not many hours in her company," says he," before I became most passionately in love with her. I did all I could to win her heart, and at last asked her the question. But before I inform my readers what the consequence of this
was, I must take some notice of what I expect from the Critical Reviewers. These gentlemen will attempt to raise the laugh. Our moralist (they will say) has buried three wives running, and they are hardly cold in their graves before he is dancing like a buck at the Wells, and plighting vows to a fourth girl, the beauty Miss Spence. An honest fellow, this Suarez, as Pascal says of that Jesuit, in his Provincial Letters.
“To this I reply, that I think it unreasonable and impious to grieve immoderately for the dead. A decent and proper tribute of tears and sorrow humanity requires ; but when that duty has been paid, we must remember, that to lament a dead woman is not to lament a wife! A wife must be a living woman."— Vol. III., P:
He argues furthermore, that it would be sinful to behave on such occasions as if Providence had been unjust. The lady has been lent but for a term; and we must bow to the limitation. Besides, she is in Heaven; and therefore it would be senseless to continue murmuring, and not make the most of the world that remains to us, while she is "breathing the balmy air of Paradise,” and being “beyond description happy."
Miss Spence, however, is a little coy. She is a very learned as well as charming young lady. She quotes Virgil, discourses with her lover on fluxions and the Differential Calculus, and is not to be won quite so fast as he wishes. Nevertheless, he wins her at last; loses her in six
months of a malignant fever and four doctors; and in less than three months afterwards, marries the divine Miss Emilia Turner, of Skelsmore Vale-alas! for six weeks only. A chariot and four runs away with them, and his “charmer is killed.” She lives about an hour, repeats some consolatory verses to him out of a Latin epitaph, and bids him adieu with “the spirit of an old Roman.”
John's next “intended” (for the marriage did not take place in due order) was the enchanting Miss Dunk, famous for “exact regularity of beauty, and elegant softness of propriety.” This elegant softness of propriety does not hinder the fair Agnes from running away with him from her father's house; but she has scarcely arrived at the village where they are to be married, when she falls sick, is laid out for dead, and is buried in the next churchyard. Not long afterwards the unhappy lover meets her, alive, laughing, and taking no notice, in the character of the wife of Dr. Stanvil, an amiable anatomist. The word will explain the accident that brought the charmer into the doctor's hands. Buncle, vexed as he owns himself to lose her, could not but see the reasonableness of the result and the folly of making an “uproar;" so he gallantly imitates the lady's behaviour, and rides off to fall in with that “fine creature” Julia Fitzgibbons, as charming for a bewitching negligence, as Miss Dunk was for a divine self-possession. John studies physic under her father; marries her in the course of two years; and at the end of ten months loses her in a river while they are fishing. He sits with his eyes shut ten days (so highly do his wives increase in value); and then calls his man "to bring out the horses," and is off, on Christian principles, for wife the seventh.
Who should this be but Miss Dunk? His friend, Dr. Stanvil, her husband, drops down dead of an apoplexy on purpose to oblige him. The widow lets him know that her reserve had not proceeded a bit from dislike; quite the contrary. She marries him; they lead a blissful life for a year and a half, during which he is reconciled with his father, who has become a convert to Unitarianism; and then the lady goes the
way of all Buncle's wives, dying of his favourite uxoricide, the small-pox; and John, after diverting himself at sea, retires to a "little flowery retreat,” in the neighbourhood of London, to hear purling streams on the one hand, and news on the other, and write verses about going to Heaven.
The reader is to bear in mind, that all these marriages are interspersed with descriptions, characters, adventures of other sorts, natural history, and, above all, with polemics full of the most ridiculous beggings of the question, and the most bigoted invectives against bigotry. A few specimens of the table of contents will show him what sort of reading he has missed :
“ The History of Miss Noel.
“ A Conversation in relation to the Primævity of the “Hebrew Tongue.
66 Of Mrs. O'Hara's and Mrs. Grafton's Grottoes.
Description of a Society of Protestant Married Friars.
The Author removes to Oldfield Spaw, on account of Indisposition occasioned hy Hard Drinking; and his Reflections on Hard Drinking.
"A Discourse on Fluxions between Miss Spence and the Author.
66 Of the Athanasian Creed.
“ Picture and Character of Curll, the Bookseller.” (He says he was very tall, thin, ungainly, goggle-eyed, whitefaced, splay-footed, and baker-kneed; very profligate, but not ill-natured.")
It is impossible to be serious with John Buncle, Esquire, jolly dog, Unitarian, and Blue Beard; otherwise, if we were to take him at his word, we should pronounce him, besides being a jolly dog, to be one of a very selfish description, with too good a constitution to correct him, a prodigious vanity, no feeling whatever, and a provoking contempt for everything unfortunate, or opposed to his whims. He quarrels with