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the past, present, and future appear at one view. While others with thy talents were tormented with ambition, with vainglory, with envy, with emulation how well didst thou turn thy mind to its own improvement in things out of the power of fortune, in probity, in integrity, in the practice and study of justice; how silent thy passage, how private thy journey, how glorious thy end! Many have I known more famous, some more knowing, not one so innocent.'
[Spectator, No. 133.
a Soldier's Letter
THERE is nothing which I contemplate with greater pleasure than the dignity of human nature, which often shows itself in all conditions of life. For, notwithstanding the degeneracy and meanness that is crept into it, there are a thousand occasions in which it breaks through its original corruption, and shows what it once was, and what it will be hereafter. I consider the soul of man as the ruin of a glorious pile of building; where, amidst great heaps of rubbish, you meet with noble fragments of sculpture, broken pillars and obelisks, and a magnificence in confusion. Virtue and wisdom are continually employed in clearing the ruins, removing these disorderly heaps, recovering the noble pieces that lie buried under them, and adjusting them as well as possible according to their ancient symmetry and beauty. A happy education, conversation with the finest spirits, looking abroad into the works of nature, and observations upon mankind, are the great assistances to this necessary and glorious work. But even among those who have never had the happiness of any of these advantages, there are sometimes such exertions of the greatness that is natural to the mind of man, as show capacities and abilities, which only want these accidental helps to fetch them out, and show them in a proper light. A plebeian
soul is still the ruin of this glorious edifice, though encumbered with all its rubbish. This reflection rose in me from a letter which my servant dropped as he was dressing me, and which he told me was communicated to him, as he is an acquaintance of some of the persons mentioned in it.
The epistle is from one Sergeant Hall of the Foot-guards. It is directed, 'To Sergeant Cabe, in the Coldstream regiment of Footguards, at the Red Lettice, in the Butcher Row, near Temple Bar
I was so pleased with several touches in it, that I could not forbear showing it to a cluster of critics, who, instead of considering it in the light I have done, examined it by the rules of epistolary writing. For as these gentlemen are seldom men of any great genius, they work altogether by mechanical rules, and are able to discover no beauties that are not pointed out by Bouhours and Rapin. The letter is as follows :
* FROM THE CAMP BEFORE MONS,
* 26th September. COMRADE,
'I received yours, and am glad yourself and your wife are in good health, with all the rest of my friends. Our battalion suffered more than I could wish in the action. But who can withstand fate? Poor Richard Stevenson had his fate with a great many more. He was killed dead before we entered the trenches. We had above two hundred of our battalion killed and wounded. We lost ten sergeants, six are as followeth :- Jennings, Castles, Roach, Sherring, Meyrick, and my son Smith. The rest are not your acquaintance. I have received a very bad shot
in my head myself, but am in hopes, and please God, I shall recover. I continue in the field, and lie at my colonel's quarters. Arthur is very well ; but I can give you no account of Elms; he was in the hospital before I came into the field. I will not pretend to give you an account of the battle, knowing you have a better in the prints. Pray, give my service to Mrs. Cook and her daughter, to Mr. Stoffet and his wife, and to Mr. Lyver, and Thomas Hogsdon, and to Mr. Ragdell, and to all my friends and acquaintance in general who do ask after me. My love to Mrs. Stevenson. I am sorry for the sending such ill news. Her husband was gathering a little money together to send to his wife, and put it into my hands. I have seven shillings and threepence, which I shall take care to send her. Wishing both of you all happiness,
'Your assured friend, and comrade,
We had but an indifferent breakfast ; but the Mounseers never had such a dinner in all their lives.
My kind love to my comrade Hinton, and Mrs. Morgan, and to John Brown and his wife. I sent two shillings, and Stevenson sixpence, to drink with you at Mr. Cook's ; but I have heard nothing from him. It was by Mr. Edgar.
Corporal Hartwell desires to be remembered to you, and desires you to inquire of Edgar, what is become of his wife Pegg ; and when you write, to send word in your letter what trade she drives.
“We have here very bad weather, which I doubt will be an hindrance to the siege ; but I am in hopes
we shall be masters of the town in a little time, and then, I believe, we shall go to garrison.'
I saw the critics prepared to nibble at my letter; therefore examined it myself, partly in their way, and partly my own. This is, said I, truly a letter, and an honest representation of that cheerful heart which accompanies the poor soldier in his warfare.
Is not there in this all the topic of submitting to our destiny as well discussed as if a greater man had been placed, like Brutus, in his tent at midnight, reflecting on all the occurrences of past life, and saying fine things on being itself? What Sergeant Hall knows of the matter is, that he wishes there had not been so many killed ; and he had himself a very bad shot in the head, and should recover if it pleased God. But, be that as it will, he takes care, like a man of honour, as he certainly is, to let the widow Stevenson know, that he had seven and threepence for her, and that, if he lives, he is sure he shall go into garrison at last. I doubt not but all the good company at the Red Lettice drank his health with as much real esteem as we do of any of our friends. All that I am concerned for is, that Mrs. Peggy Hartwell may be offended at showing this letter, because her conduct in Mr. Hartwell's absence is a little inquired into. But I could not sink that circumstance, because you critics would have lost one of the parts which I doubt not but you have much to say upon, whether the familiar way is well hit in this style or not? As for myself, I take a very particular satisfaction in seeing any letter that is fit only for those to read who are concerned in it, but especially on such a subject.