No. IX

To Amasia. 

            However unqualifies I may be for the talk you have assigned me, I shall yet have too much pleasure in the attempt [117] entirely to excuse myself from undertaking it. I am not surprised at the pleasure you assure me you received from your visit to Hortensius and his lady, and in compliance with your request, will venture a rude outline of portraits, which deserve the pencil of a better artist. 

   A physiognomist would at the first view, receive a favourable impression from the fine figure, and ingenuous countenance of Hortensius; and first impressions, when forcible, I believe generally come pretty near the truth. With great mental powers, Hortensius had received every advantage that a liberal education can bestow; to which he has added by visiting different countries that expansion of mind, which without weakening the social and patriotic affections, has truly rendered him a citizen of the world —


“The love of human kind, 

The large ambitious wish to make them blest.” 

He has his progress through life seen frequent occasion to change his opinions on [118] the most important subjects; and has ever intrepidly followed truth, wherever it might lead him, without suffering his integrity to be warped by the claims of interest, or the allurements of ambition. In this steady adherence to principle he has made expensive sacrifices; but so graceful has been his resignation of external, and adventitious advantages, that while his friends with concern, and his enemies with malignant pleasure, have observed him decline the path of public honours, for which his virtues and abilities eminently qualified him, he alone is unconscious of having done any thing extraordinary, from being accustomed to habits of greatness and goodness. His general manners have a happy mixture of elegance and simplicity; his conversation (though unstudied) is elevated and improving, and reflects like a polished mirror, a virtuous and unspotted mind. His disposition is frank and open; for what has he to dread from the inspection of men, who in all his conduct, his pursuits and his pleasures, believes himself in the presence of a pure and omniscient Being? [119]

            He is a firm believer in revelation from a rational conviction (after an impartial examination) of its truth, but with genuine liberality of mind (a phrase much used, but little understood) never consigns over those who differ from him, either to folly, or to reprobation. On this subject he often quotes a maxim from Shenstone, “How is a man said to be guilty of incredulity? Are there not sizes of understandings, adapted to the different sorts, and as it were sizes of narrations?” He is fond of retirement, because he has resources in himself which prevent it from ever becoming tedious; yet he is incited both by social affections, and social duties, frequently to mix in society, when the company insensibly find that the conversation takes a more correct, a more solid, a more useful, and not less cheerful turn, without discovering that they owe it to the superior talents, and address of Hortensius. He possesses the happy art of reproving the inexperienced, and misinformed, without wounding their self-love; and of awing the boisterous, and licentious, into a temporary decency by the real dignity of unaffected virtue, that can be — [120]


“Sometimes angry, while its frown confounds, 

Nay, ev’n vindictive, but in a vengeance just.” 


In his domestic relations, Hortensius is an affectionate husband, a tender parent, a generous master, a firm and faithful friend. Superior to all vulgar prejudices, he has given equal attention to the mental improvement of his daughters as of his sons and has taught them to found their virtues on the stable basis of principle, not on the fluctuating idle vapour of opinion. He justly considers as ridiculous, the absurd notion, that nature has given judgement to man, and to women imagination: nothing can be more distinct, than the mere flutter of thoughtless vivacity, which often bespeaks a frivolous mind, easily amused and dissipated, because incapable of fixed attention,— and that exquisite sensibility of natural and moral beauty, which improved and chastened by high cultivation, selects, combines, arranges, —


         “Darts with resistless ardor, to embrace

          Majestic forms.”


and leads to uncreated excellence and beauty. Judgement and imagination are [121] equally, when possessed in an exalted degree, the result of strong mental energy. If in trifles women display more taste and fancy than men, it is because their attention has been chained down to trifles. Sexual distinctions in intellect and virtue, have depraved and weakened the human species.

            Hortensius, by exemplifying in his own conduct, the virtues he recommends to his children, displays at once their excellence and practicability; engages their confidence, their reverence, and their love. In all inferior concerns he is regular and punctual, and by his punctuality enhances every obligation he confers. You will perhaps accuse me of giving no shades to my picture, and retort upon me an aphorism I have frequently repeated from Lavater, — “A God, a plant, an animal, are not companions for man, nor are the faultless.” Hortensius has undoubtedly the frailties which belong to human nature, but it is not pleasing to lose a great character in its defects. If his acute sensibility has subjected him to inequalities of temper, [122] and his refined taste rendered him in some degree fastidious; if his benevolence has sometimes exceeded the bounds of prudence, and his warm affections hurried him into what might be termed an undue seal; these failing growing on the stem of virtue, have by rendering him more watchful, more humble, more candid to the errors of others, enriched the soil which gave them birth.

            From an entire regard for her husband, Hortensia has assimilated herself to him, has caught, concentrated, and reflected his good qualities; in her society he enjoys “the calm satisfaction which refreshes the parched heart like the silent dews of heaven, of being beloved by one who can understand him.” His studies, his pursuits, and his amusements, the partakes, heightens, and improves. There is no disgusting contention between them for superiority; on occasions of importance both yield to reason: trifles they do not think worth contesting, and over the errors of humanity, affection spreads a graceful veil. Their behavior to each other is at an equal [123] distance from the studied formality of decayed love, and the rude blunt familiarity, which is the grave of respect and friendship. They never disconcert their friends by indelicate contests, and acrimonious retorts, from a conviction that in an union so intimate, exposing the weakness of each other must bring contempt upon both. They contrive to be independent with a narrow income, by contracting their wants; and cheerfulness, neatness, taste, and hospitality, amply compensate for the absence of splendour, pomp and luxury.

            In the moral and intellectual improvement of their offspring, they unite their cares; while mutual confidence, and good sense prevent from counteracting each other: from their plan of education artificial refinement is excluded; and they never lose sight of the idea, that their children are a valuable deposit, committed to their hands, to be trained up for the benefit of society, and for the glories of immortality.

                                                        I am, &c. [124]