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VII. Two Letters from the late Countess of Hertford, afterwards Duchess of Somerset, on the death of her only sou, George, Lord Viscount Beauchamp, who died of the Small Pox, at Bologna, in 1744.
To the Rev. Dr. B.
I AM very sensibly obliged by the very kind compassion you express for me under my heavy affliction. The meditations you have favoured me with, afford the strongest motives for consolation that can be offered to a person under my unhappy circumstances. The dear lamented son I have lost, was the pride and joy of my heart, but I hope I may be the more easily excused for having looked on him in this light, since he was not so from the outward advantages he possessed, but from the virtues and rectitude of his mind. The prospects which flattered me in regard to him, were not drawn from his distinguished rank, or from the beauty of his person, but from the hopes that his example would have been serviceable to the cause of virtue, and would have shewn the younger part of the world, that it was possible to be cheerful without being foolish or vicious, and to be religious without severity or melancholy. His whole life was one uninterrupted course of duty and affection to his parents, and when he found the hand of death upon him, his only regret was to think of the agonies that must rend their hearts; for he was perfectly contented to leave the world, as his conscience did not reproach him with any presumptuous sins, and he hoped his errors would be forgiven. Thus he resigned his innocent soul into the hands of his merciful Creator on the evening of the birth-day which completed his nineteenth year. You will not be surprised, sir, that the death of such a son should occasion the deepest sorrow: yet at the same time it leaves us the most comfortable assurance, that he is far happier than our fondest wishes could have made him, which must enable us to support the remainder of years which it shall please God to allot for us here, without murmuring or discontent, and quicken our endeavours to prepare ourselves to follow him in that happy place, where our dear valuable child is gone before us. I beg the continuance of your prayers, and am,
Sir, yours, &c.
2d. Written ten years after.
I AM sorry, good Mrs. to find that your illness seems rather to increase than diminish: yet the disposition of mind with which you receive this painful dispensation, seems to convert your sufferings into a blessing. While you resign to the will of God in so patient a manner, this disease seems only the chastisement of a wise and merciful being, who chasteneth not for his own, pleasure, but for our profit. Were I not convinced of this great truth, I fear I must long since have sunk under the burthen of sorrow, which God saw fit to wean my foolish heart from this vain world, and shew me how little all the grandeur and riches of it avail to happiness. He gave me a son, who promised all that the fondest wishes of the fondest parents could hope; an honour to his family, an ornament to his country; with a heart early attached to all the duties of religion and society, with the advantage of strong and uninterrupted health, joined to a form, which when he came into Italy, made him more generally known by the name of the English Angel than by that of his family. I know this account may look like a mother's fondness; perhaps it was too much so once but alas! it now only serves to shew the uncertainty and frailty of all human dependance. This justly beloved child was snatched from us before we could hear of his illness. That fatal disease, the small pox, seized him at Bologna, and carried him off the evening of his birth-day, on which he had completed nineteen years. Two posts before, I had a letter from him, written with all the life and innocent cheerfulness inherent to his nature; the next but one came from his afflicted governor,* to acquaint his unhappy father that he had lost the most dutiful and best of sons, the pride and hope of his declining age. He bore the stroke like a wise man and a Christian; but never forgot, nor ceased to sigh for it. A long series of pain and infirmity, which was daily gaining ground upon him, shewed me the sword, which appeared suspended over my head by an almost cobweb thread, long before it dropped. As to my bodily pains, I bless God, they are by no means insupportable at present. I rather suffer a languid state of weakness, which wastes my flesh and consumes my spirits by a gentle decay, than any frightful suffering; and am spending that remains of nature,
Algernon, Duke of Somerset, died Feb. 7, 1749-50,
which was almost exhausted in continued care and anxiety for the sufferings of a person dearer to me than one's self. My daughter, who is very good to me, has sent me her youngest son, just turned of four years old, to amuse me in my solitude, because he is a great favourite of mine, and shews a great deal of his uncle's disposition, and some faint likeness of his person. It is high time to release you from so long a letter, but there are some subjects, on which my tears and pen know not how to stop, when they begin to flow.
I am, dear Madam,
Your sincerely affectionate Friend,
VIII. The Duke of Ormond to his Son.
July 10, 1675.
BY the last account I received of your condition, I must, with the trouble and grief of a father, conclude you are in danger of death, and that, in all human probability, the days you are to live in the world are not many.
I fear, neither you nor I have so served God, that we can reasonably expect he should afford you a miraculous deliverance from that distemper and weak estate to which your own negligence and intemperance, and my ill example and want of seasonable and proper admonition, may have too much contributed.
I hope your own piety, and consideration of a happy or miserable eternity, have suggested to you thoughts of this nature; and whether it shall please God to restore you to your health, or put a period to your life, this merciful affliction of his, which allows you time for repentance and addresses for mercy, will be of advantage to you. Yet I have thought it my duty to furnish you with all the helps in my power towards your making a happy end (if it be God's will) or a profitable use of these approaches of death, if, in undeserved indulgence towards us, he shall vouchsafe to
Lady Eliz. Smithson, afterwards Countess of Northumberland.
give you a longer life. I have therefore sent my chaplain, Dr. Ashton, to administer those assistances and comforts to you which are proper for his function, and necessary for you; not knowing whether any of our clergy may be had, or if there may, whether so able or so affectionate.
I hope it is below your spirit, and that you have too much reason and christianity to think you are the nearer death because you prepare yourself for eternal life. You know I have lately given you proof of my kindness to you, yet I would have you value this care of your well-dying before and beyond it, since, as it may be the last, so it is the greatest demonstration I can give of being, Your affectionate Father,
IX. To Sir Richard Steele, on his Play of the Conscious Lovers.
No one, I believe, has a higher opinion of the Conscious Lovers, in general, than myself, or more admires the character of Indiana, in particular, which is, I think, drawn with exquisite skill. She appears to be amiable in the highest degree, as her story is very judiciously told, and in the most affecting manner; but it grieves me to say, what, however, I apprehend to be too just, that the character of Bevil, is strained beyond all reason. You have, I fear, instead of making his character proper to be imitated, rendered it such as no wise man ought to imitate; since it is possible, on his principles, for two persons of the strictest virtue, perfectly suited for each other, and in the highest degree sensible of it, with a competency in their own hands to answer all consequences, and with which they themselves are contented, to be made as miserable as total separation can be supposed to make them, merely because a person, who happens to be a parent of one of them, takes it into his head, that he has an absolute power of commanding (by virtue of that relation) one, who is as much a man, and as capable of reasoning as himself, and a thousand times more intimately concerned in the affair about which he pretends to have so unlimited an authority. Now, to make this necessary, in order to preserve and support the character of a virtuous inan, and a good
son, is highly injurious to virtue and filial duty, if these do not require it.
It is surprising to hear people insist, as they do, on such absolute obedience to parents, especially Whigs, who in political affairs, profess to act upon principles so much more reasonable. How can they who say (and I think rightly) that the good of the governed is the end of government, and therefore wisely protest against non-resistance, and passive obedience, be so inconsistent with themselves, as to introduce those principles into families, which they disavow in the state? Am I any more obliged to obey a tyrant father, than a tyrant king? If not, why is my obedience to the former made absolute, and to the latter conditional?
No doubt there are ages of life in which children ought to be subject to the absolute commands of their parents, and that for this plain reason, because at such ages those children are not arrived to the proper use of their own understanding; but when they are, they ought to be treated accordingly, and no more commanded and corrected (both which should cease together) but reasoned with; and if that will not do, what then? How should one reasonable creature treat another who does not see the force of his arguments! Ought he to break his head, or should he (as Mr. Locke proposes in his Treatise on Education) pray for him? "which is all (he says) a parent can or ought to do in such a case." It will be no objection to the justness of this assertion, that the exact time when each child is fit to be treated in this way, cannot be determined, any more than it is true that black and white are the same, because the edges of each may be so blended, that it will be impossible to say where the one begins and the other ends, though at a greater distance from those edges the difference is sufficiently distinguishable; as are virtue and vice in the extremes, how difficult soever it may be to determine the bounds of each precisely.
I should not have given you or myself, sir, any trouble on this subject, but that I fear this play is capable of doing a great deal of mischief, on the account of which I have objected to it: for it is with great reluctance that I oppose Sir Richard Steele, because I sincerely believe, that he designs to promote the cause of virtue, not only in this performance, but likewise in all his writings I have ever seen. I believe too, that he has, in many respects, done it effectually, as I doubt not he has in every one aimed at it uprightly: and, I likewise believe, no man could be more concerned to find his design frustrated herein than himself, and that if he thought an alteration of any part of his performances would