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shall not begin upon Childermas-day: tell your writing master that Friday will be soon enough.” I was reflecting with myself on the oddness of her fancy, and wondering that anybody would establish it as a rule to lose a day in every week. In the midst of these my musings, she desired me to reach her a little salt upon the point of my knife, which I did in such a trepidation and hurry of obedience, that I let it drop by the way; at which she immediately startled, and said it fell towards her. Upon this I looked very blank; and observing the concern of the whole table, began to consider myself, with some confusion, as a person that had brought a disaster upon the family. The lady, however, recovering herself, after a little space, said to her husband, with a sigh, “My dear, misfortunes never come single.” My friend, I found, acted but an under part at his table, and being a man of more good-nature than understanding, thinks himself obliged to fall in with all the passions and humors of his yoke-fellow. “Do not you remember, child," says she, “that the pigeon-house fell the very afternoon that our careless wench spilt the salt upon the table?” “Yes," says he, "my dear; and the next post brought us an account of the battle of Almanza." The reader may guess at the figure I made, after having done all this mischief. I despatched my dinner as soon as I could, with my usual taciturnity; when, to my utter confusion, the lady seeing me quitting my knife and fork, and laying them across one another upon my plate, desired me that I would humor her so far as to take them out of that figure, and place them side by side. What the absurdity was which I had committed I did not know, but I
suppose was some traditionary superstition in it; and therefore in obedience to the lady of the house, I disposed of my knife and fork in two parallel lines, which is the figure I shall always lay them in for the future, though I do not know any reason for it.
It is not difficult for a man to see that a person has conceived an aversion to him. For my own part, I quickly found, by the lady's looks, that she regarded me as a very odd kind of fellow, with an unfortunate aspect. For which reason I took my leave immediately after dinner, and withdrew to my own lodgings. Upon my return home, I fell into a profound contemplation of the evils that attend these superstitious follies of mankind; how they subject us to imaginary afflictions, and additional sorrows, that do not properly come within our lot. As if the natural calamities of life were not sufficient for it, we turn the most indifferent circumstances into misfortunes, and suffer as much from trifling accidents as from real evils. I have known the shooting of a star spoil a night's rest; and have seen a man in love grow pale, and lose his appetite, upon the plucking of a merry-thought. A screech-owl at midnight has alarmed a family more than a band of robbers: nay, the voice of a cricket hath struck more terror than the roaring of a lion. There is nothing so inconsiderable, which may not appear dreadful to an imagination that is filled with omens and prognostics. A rusty nail, or a crooked pin, shoot up into prodigies.
For my own part, I should be very much troubled were I endowed with this divining quality, though it should inform me truly of everything that can befall me. I would not anticipate the relish of any happiness, nor feel the weight of any misery, before it actually arrives.
I know but one way of fortifying my soul against these gloomy presages and terrors of mind, and that is, by securing to myself the friendship and protection of that Being who disposes of events, and governs futurity. He sees at one view the whole thread of my existence; not only that part of it which I have already passed through, but that which runs forward into all the depths of eternity. When I lay me down to sleep, I recommend myself to his care; when I awake, I give myself up to his direction. Amidst all the evils that threaten me, I will look up to him for help, and question not but he will either avert them, or turn them to my advantage. Though I know neither the time nor the manner of the death I am to die, I am not at all solicitous about it; because I am sure that he knows them both, and that he will not fail to comfort and support me under them.
At my coming to London, it was some time before I could settle myself in a house to my liking. I was forced to quit my first lodgings, by reason of an officious landlady, that would be asking me every morning how I had slept. I then fell into an honest family, and lived very happily for above a week; when my landlord, who was a jolly good-natured man, took it into his head that I wanted company, and therefore would frequently come into my chamber to keep me from being alone. This I bore for two or three days; but telling me one day that he was afraid I was melancholy, I thought it was high time for me to be gone, and accordingly took new lodgings that very night. About a week after, I found my jolly landlord, who, as I said before, was an honest hearty man, had put me into an advertisement of the Daily Courant, in the following words, “Whereas a melancholy man left his lodgings on Thursday last in the afternoon, and was afterwards seen going towards Islington; if any one can give notice of him to R. B., fishmonger in the Strand, he shall be very well rewarded for his pains.” As I am the best man in the world to keep my own counsel, and my landlord the fishmonger not knowing my name, this accident of my life was never discovered to this very day.
I am now settled with a widow-woman, who has a great many children, and complies with my humor in everything. I do not remember that we have exchanged a word together these five years; my coffee comes into my
every morning without asking for it; if I want fire I point to my chimney, if water to my basin: upon which my landlady nods, as much as to say she takes my meaning, and immediately obeys my signals. She has likewise modelled her family so well, that when her little boy offers to pull me by the coat, or prattle in my face, his eldest sister immediately calls him off, and bids him not disturb the gentleman. At my first entering into the family, I was troubled with the civility of their rising up to me every time I came into the room; but my landlady observing, that upon these occasions I always cried pish ! and went out again, has forbidden any such ceremony to be used in the house; so that at present I walk into the kitchen or parlor, without being taken notice of, or giving any interruption to the business or discourse of the family. The maid will ask her mistress, though I am by, whether the gentleman is ready to go to dinner, as the mistress, who is indeed an excellent housewife, scolds at the servants as heartily before my face as behind my back. In short, I move up and down the house, and enter into all companies with the same liberty as a cat or any other domestic animal, and am as little suspected of telling anything that I hear or see.
I remember last winter there were several young girls of the neighborhood sitting about the fire with my landlady's daughters, and telling stories of spirits and apparitions. Upon my opening the door the young women broke off their discourse, but my landlady's daughters telling them that it was nobody but the gentleman, for that is the name which I go by in the neighborhood as well as in the family, they went on without minding me. I seated myself by the candle that stood on a table at one end of the room; and pretending to read a book that I took out of my pocket, heard several dreadful stories of ghosts as pale as ashes, that had stood at the feet of a bed, or walked over a church-yard by moon-light; and of others that had been conjured into the Red sea, for disturbing people's rest, and drawing their curtains at midnight, with many other old women's fables of the like nature. As one spirit raised another, I observed that at the end of every story the whole company closed their ranks, and crowded about the fire: I took notice, in particular, of a little boy, who was so attentive to every story, that I am mistaken if he ventures to go to bed by himself this twelvemonth. Indeed they talked so long, that the imaginations of the whole assembly were manifestly crazed, and, I am sure, will be the worse for it as long as they live. I heard one of the girls, that had looked upon me over her shoulder, asking the company how long I had been in the room, and whether I did not look paler than I used to do. This put me under some apprehensions, that I should be forced to explain myself if I did not retire; for which reason I took the candle in my hand, and went up into my chamber, not without wondering at this unaccountable weakness in reasonable creatures, that they should love to astonish and terrify one another. Were I a father, I should take a particular care to preserve my children from these little horrors of imagination, which they are apt to contract when they are young, and are not able to shake off when they are in years. I have known a soldier that has entered a breach, affrighted at his own shadow; and look pale upon a little scratching at his door, who, the day before, had marched up against a battery of cannon. There are instances of persons, who have been terrified even to distraction at the figure of a tree, or the shaking of a bull-rush. The truth of it is, I look upon a sound imagination as the greatest blessing of life, next to a clear judgment and a good conscience. In the mean time, since there are very few whose minds are not more or less subject to these dreadful thoughts and apprehensions, we ought to arm ourselves against them by the