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to set out, I amused myself by repeating the favourite passages of my tragedy aloud, forming polite answers to the compliments that should be made me, and adjusting the ceremony of my visit.
I observed the time appointed with such punctuality, that I knocked at the door while the clock was striking. Orders had been given for
admittance; and the porter being otherwise engaged, it happened that the servant, whose place it was to introduce me, opened the door in his stead, and, upon hearing my name, advanced directly before me into the room; so that no discovery was made of an enormous queue of brown paper, which some mischievous brat had, with a crooked pin, hung between the two locks of my major periwig. I followed the valet into a magnificent apartment, where, after I got within a very large Indian screen, I found five ladies and a gentleman.
I was a little disconcerted in my first address, by the respect that was shewn me, and the curiosity with which I was regarded: however, I made my general obeisance, and addressing myself in particular to the elder of the ladies, whom I considered as my patroness, I expressed my sense of the honour she had done me in a short speech, which I had preconceived for the purpose; but I was immediately informed, that the lady whose favour I had acknowledged was not yet come down: this mistake increased my confusion : for, as I could not again repeat the same words, I reflected that I should be at last unprepared for the occasion on which they were to have been used.
The company all this while continued standing; I therefore hastily turned about to reconnoitre my chair; but the moment I was seated, I perceived every one labouring to stifle a laugh. I instantly suspected that I had committed some ridiculous indecorum, and I attempted to apo
logize for I knew not what offence; but after some hesitation, my extreme sensibility struck me speechless. The gentleman, however, kindly discovered the cause of their merriment, by exclaiming against the rude licentiousness of the vulgar, and at the same time taking from behind me the pendulous reproach to the honours of my head. This discovery afforded me inexpressible relief; my paper ramellie was thrown into the fire, and I joined in the laugh which it produced; but I was still embarrassed by the consequences of my mistake, and expected the lady, by whom I had been invited, with solicitude and apprehension.
When she came in, the deference with which she was treated by persons who were so much my superiors, struck me with awe; my powers of recollection were suspended, and I resolved to express my sentiments only by the lowness of my bow and the distance of my behaviour: I therefore hastily retreated backward; and at the same time bowing with the most profound reverence, unhappily overturned the screen, which, in its fall, threw down the breakfast-table, broke all the china, and crippled the lapdog. In the midst of this ruin I stood torpid in silence and amazement, stunned with the shrieks of the ladies, the yelling of the dog, and the clattering of the china: and while I considered myself as the author of such complicated mischief, I believe I felt as keen anguish as he, who, with a halter about his neck, looks up, while the other end of it is fastening to the gibbet.
The screen, however, was soon replaced, and the broken china removed; and though the dog was the principal object of attention, yet the lady some times adverted to me: she politely desired that I would consider the accident as of no consequence; the china, she said, was a trifle, and she hoped Pompey was more frightened than hurt. I made some apology, but with great confusion and incoherence : at length, however, we were again seated, and breakfast was brought in.
I was extremely mortified to perceive that the discourse turned wholly upon the virtues of Pompey, and the consequences of his hurt: it was examined with great attention and solicitude, and found to be a razure of the skin the whole length of one of his fore-legs. After some topical application, his cushion was placed in the corner by his lady, upon which he lay down, and indeed whined piteously
I was beginning to recover from my perplexity, and had just made an attempt to introduce a new subject of conversation, when, casting my eye downward, I was again thrown into extreme confusion, by seeing something hang from the fore-part of my chair, which I imagined to be a portion of my shirt; though indeed it was no other than the corner of a napkin on which I sat, and which, during the confusion produced by the fall of the screen, had been left in the chair.
My embarrassment was soon discovered, though the cause was mistaken ; and the lady hoping to remove it, by giving me an opportunity to display my abilities without the restraint of ceremony, requested that I would now give her the pleasure which she had impatiently expected, and read my play.
My play, therefore, I was obliged to produce, and having found an opportunity hastily to button up the corner of the napkin while the manuscript lay open in my lap, I began to read: and though my voice was at first languid, tremulous, and irresolute, yet my attention was at length drawn from my situation to my subject; I pronounced with greater emphasis and propriety, and I began to watch for the effects which I
expected to produce upon my auditors; but I was extremely mortified to find, that whenever I paused to give room for a remark or an encomium, the interval was filled with an ejaculation of pity for the dog, who still continued to whine upon his cushion, and was lamented in these affectionate and pathetic terms• Ah! poor, dear, pretty, little creature.'
It happened, however, that by some incidents in the fourth act, the passions were apparently interested, and I was just exulting in my success, when the lady who sat next me unhappily opening her snuff-box, which was not effected without some difficulty, the dust that flew up threw me into a fit of sneezing, which instantly caused my upper lip to put me again out of countenance: I therefore hastily felt for my handkerchief, and it was not with less emotion than if I had seen a ghost, that I discovered it had been picked out of my pocket. In the meantime, the opprobious effusion descended like an icicle to my chin; and the eyes of the
which this accident had drawn upon me, were now turned away, with looks which shewed that their pity was not proof against the ridicule of my distress. What I suffered at this moment, can neither be
expressed nor conceived; I turned my head this
and that in the anguish of my mind, without knowing what I sought; and at last, holding up my manuseript before my face, I was compelled to make use of the end of my neckcloth, which I again buttoned into my bosom. After many painful efforts, I proceeded in my lecture, and again fixed the attention of my hearers. The fourth act was finished, and they expressed great impatience to hear the catastrophe: I therefore began the fifth with fresh confidence and vigour; but, before I had read a page, I was interrupted by two gentlemen of great quality, professors of Buckism, who came with a design to wait
upon the ladies to an auction.
I rose up with the rest of the company when they came in ; but what was my astonishment, to perceive the napkin, which I had unfortunately secured by one corner, hang down from my waist to the ground! From this dilemma, however, I was delivered by the noble Buck, who stood nearest to me: who, swearing an oath of astonishment, twitched the napkin from me, and throwing it to the servant, told him that he had redeemed it from the rats, who were dragging it by degrees into a place where he would never have looked for it. The young
ladies were scarce less confounded at this accident than I; and the noble matron herself was somewhat disconcerted : she saw my extreme confusion; and thought fit to apologize for her cousin's behaviour, . He is a wild boy, Sir, says she, he plays these tricks with every body; but it is his way, and nobody minds it. When we were once more seated, the Bucks, upon the peremptory refusal of the ladies to go out, declared they would stay and hear the last act of my tragedy; I was therefore requested to go on.
But my spirits were quite exhausted by the violent agitation of my mind; and I was intimidated by the presence of two persons, who appeared to consider me and my performance as objects only of merriment and sport. I would gladly have renounced all that in the morning had been the object of my hope, to recover the dignity which I had already lost in my own estimation ; and had scarce any wish but to return without further disgrace into the quiet shade of obscurity. The ladies, however, would take no denial, and I was at length obliged to comply.
I was much pleased and surprised at the attention with which my new auditors seemed to listen