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Chapter 1



How have I sinn'd, that this affliction
Should light so heavy on me? I have no more sons,
And this no more mine own.--My grand curse
Hang o'er his head that thus transformed thee!--
Travel? I'll send my horse to travel next.
Monsieur Thomas.

You have requested me, my dear friend, to bestow some of that leisure,
with which Providence has blessed the decline of my life, in registering
the hazards and difficulties which attended its commencement. The
recollection of those adventures, as you are pleased to term them, has
indeed left upon my mind a chequered and varied feeling of pleasure and
of pain, mingled, I trust, with no slight gratitude and veneration to the
Disposer of human events, who guided my early course through much risk
and labour, that the ease with which he has blessed my prolonged life
might seem softer from remembrance and contrast. Neither is it possible
for me to doubt, what you have often affirmed, that the incidents which
befell me among a people singularly primitive in their government and
manners, have something interesting and attractive for those who love to
hear an old man's stories of a past age.

Still, however, you must remember, that the tale told by one friend, and
listened to by another, loses half its charms when committed to paper;
and that the narratives to which you have attended with interest, as
heard from the voice of him to whom they occurred, will appear less
deserving of attention when perused in the seclusion of your study. But
your greener age and robust constitution promise longer life than will,
in all human probability, be the lot of your friend. Throw, then, these
sheets into some secret drawer of your escritoire till we are separated
from each other's society by an event which may happen at any moment, and
which must happen within the course of a few--a very few years. When we
are parted in this world, to meet, I hope, in a better, you will, I am
well aware, cherish more than it deserves the memory of your departed
friend, and will find in those details which I am now to commit to paper,
matter for melancholy, but not unpleasing reflection. Others bequeath to
the confidants of their bosom portraits of their external features--I put
into your hands a faithful transcript of my thoughts and feelings, of my
virtues and of my failings, with the assured hope, that the follies and
headstrong impetuosity of my youth will meet the same kind construction
and forgiveness which have so often attended the faults of my matured

One advantage, among the many, of addressing my Memoirs (if I may give
these sheets a name so imposing) to a dear and intimate friend, is, that
I may spare some of the details, in this case unnecessary, with which I
must needs have detained a stranger from what I have to say of greater
interest. Why should I bestow all my tediousness upon you, because I have
you in my power, and have ink, paper, and time before me? At the same
time, I dare not promise that I may not abuse the opportunity so
temptingly offered me, to treat of myself and my own concerns, even
though I speak of circumstances as well known to you as to myself. The
seductive love of narrative, when we ourselves are the heroes of the
events which we tell, often disregards the attention due to the time and
patience of the audience, and the best and wisest have yielded to its
fascination. I need only remind you of the singular instance evinced by
the form of that rare and original edition of Sully's Memoirs, which you
(with the fond vanity of a book-collector) insist upon preferring to that
which is reduced to the useful and ordinary form of Memoirs, but which I
think curious, solely as illustrating how far so great a man as the
author was accessible to the foible of self-importance. If I recollect
rightly, that venerable peer and great statesman had appointed no fewer
than four gentlemen of his household to draw up the events of his life,
under the title of Memorials of the Sage and Royal Affairs of State,
Domestic, Political, and Military, transacted by Henry IV., and so forth.
These grave recorders, having made their compilation, reduced the Memoirs
containing all the remarkable events of their master's life into a
narrative, addressed to himself in _propria persona._ And thus, instead
of telling his own story, in the third person, like Julius Caesar, or in
the first person, like most who, in the hall, or the study, undertake to
be the heroes of their own tale, Sully enjoyed the refined, though
whimsical pleasure, of having the events of his life told over to him by
his secretaries, being himself the auditor, as he was also the hero, and
probably the author, of the whole book. It must have been a great sight
to have seen the ex-minister, as bolt upright as a starched ruff and
laced cassock could make him, seated in state beneath his canopy, and
listening to the recitation of his compilers, while, standing bare in his
presence, they informed him gravely, "Thus said the duke--so did the duke
infer--such were your grace's sentiments upon this important
point--such were your secret counsels to the king on that other
emergency,"--circumstances, all of which must have been much better
known to their hearer than to themselves, and most of which could only
be derived from his own special communication.

My situation is not quite so ludicrous as that of the great Sully, and
yet there would be something whimsical in Frank Osbaldistone giving Will
Tresham a formal account of his birth, education, and connections in the
world. I will, therefore, wrestle with the tempting spirit of P. P.,
Clerk of our Parish, as I best may, and endeavour to tell you nothing
that is familiar to you already. Some things, however, I must recall to
your memory, because, though formerly well known to you, they may have
been forgotten through lapse of time, and they afford the ground-work of
my destiny.

You must remember my father well; for, as your own was a member of the
mercantile house, you knew him from infancy. Yet you hardly saw him in
his best days, before age and infirmity had quenched his ardent spirit of
enterprise and speculation. He would have been a poorer man, indeed, but
perhaps as happy, had he devoted to the extension of science those active
energies, and acute powers of observation, for which commercial pursuits
found occupation. Yet, in the fluctuations of mercantile speculation,
there is something captivating to the adventurer, even independent of the
hope of gain. He who embarks on that fickle sea, requires to possess the
skill of the pilot and the fortitude of the navigator, and after all may
be wrecked and lost, unless the gales of fortune breathe in his favour.
This mixture of necessary attention and inevitable hazard,--the frequent
and awful uncertainty whether prudence shall overcome fortune, or fortune
baffle the schemes of prudence, affords full occupation for the powers,
as well as for the feelings of the mind, and trade has all the
fascination of gambling without its moral guilt.

Early in the 18th century, when I (Heaven help me) was a youth of some
twenty years old, I was summoned suddenly from Bourdeaux to attend my
father on business of importance. I shall never forget our first
interview. You recollect the brief, abrupt, and somewhat stern mode in
which he was wont to communicate his pleasure to those around him.
Methinks I see him even now in my mind's eye;--the firm and upright
figure,--the step, quick and determined,--the eye, which shot so keen and
so penetrating a glance,--the features, on which care had already planted
wrinkles,--and hear his language, in which he never wasted word in vain,
expressed in a voice which had sometimes an occasional harshness, far
from the intention of the speaker.

When I dismounted from my post-horse, I hastened to my father's
apartment. He was traversing it with an air of composed and steady
deliberation, which even my arrival, although an only son unseen for four
years, was unable to discompose. I threw myself into his arms. He was a
kind, though not a fond father, and the tear twinkled in his dark eye,
but it was only for a moment.

"Dubourg writes to me that he is satisfied with you, Frank."

"I am happy, sir"--

"But I have less reason to be so" he added, sitting down at his bureau.

"I am sorry, sir"--

"Sorry and happy, Frank, are words that, on most occasions, signify
little or nothing--Here is your last letter."

He took it out from a number of others tied up in a parcel of red tape,
and curiously labelled and filed. There lay my poor epistle, written on
the subject the nearest to my heart at the time, and couched in words
which I had thought would work compassion if not conviction,--there, I
say, it lay, squeezed up among the letters on miscellaneous business in
which my father's daily affairs had engaged him. I cannot help smiling
internally when I recollect the mixture of hurt vanity, and wounded
feeling, with which I regarded my remonstrance, to the penning of which
there had gone, I promise you, some trouble, as I beheld it extracted
from amongst letters of advice, of credit, and all the commonplace
lumber, as I then thought them, of a merchant's correspondence. Surely,
thought I, a letter of such importance (I dared not say, even to myself,
so well written) deserved a separate place, as well as more anxious
consideration, than those on the ordinary business of the counting-house.

But my father did not observe my dissatisfaction, and would not have
minded it if he had. He proceeded, with the letter in his hand. "This,
Frank, is yours of the 21st ultimo, in which you advise me (reading from
my letter), that in the most important business of forming a plan, and
adopting a profession for life, you trust my paternal goodness will hold
you entitled to at least a negative voice; that you have insuperable--ay,
insuperable is the word--I wish, by the way, you would write a more
distinct current hand--draw a score through the tops of your t's, and
open the loops of your l's--insuperable objections to the arrangements
which I have proposed to you. There is much more to the same effect,
occupying four good pages of paper, which a little attention to
perspicuity and distinctness of expression might have comprised within as
many lines. For, after all, Frank, it amounts but to this, that you will
not do as I would have you."

"That I cannot, sir, in the present instance, not that I will not."

"Words avail very little with me, young man," said my father, whose
inflexibility always possessed the air of the most perfect calmness of
self-possession. "_Can not_ may be a more civil phrase than _will not,_
but the expressions are synonymous where there is no moral impossibility.
But I am not a friend to doing business hastily; we will talk this matter
over after dinner.--Owen!"

Owen appeared, not with the silver locks which you were used to venerate,
for he was then little more than fifty; but he had the same, or an
exactly similar uniform suit of light-brown clothes,--the same pearl-grey
silk stockings,--the same stock, with its silver buckle,--the same
plaited cambric ruffles, drawn down over his knuckles in the parlour, but
in the counting-house carefully folded back under the sleeves, that they
might remain unstained by the ink which he daily consumed;--in a word,
the same grave, formal, yet benevolent cast of features, which continued
to his death to distinguish the head clerk of the great house of
Osbaldistone and Tresham.

"Owen," said my father, as the kind old man shook me affectionately by
the hand, "you must dine with us to-day, and hear the news Frank has
brought us from our friends in Bourdeaux."

Owen made one of his stiff bows of respectful gratitude; for, in those
days, when the distance between superiors and inferiors was enforced in a
manner to which the present times are strangers, such an invitation was a
favour of some little consequence.

I shall long remember that dinner-party. Deeply affected by feelings of
anxiety, not unmingled with displeasure, I was unable to take that active
share in the conversation which my father seemed to expect from me; and I
too frequently gave unsatisfactory answers to the questions with which he
assailed me. Owen, hovering betwixt his respect for his patron, and his
love for the youth he had dandled on his knee in childhood, like the
timorous, yet anxious ally of an invaded nation, endeavoured at every
blunder I made to explain my no-meaning, and to cover my retreat;
manoeuvres which added to my father's pettish displeasure, and brought a
share of it upon my kind advocate, instead of protecting me. I had not,
while residing in the house of Dubourg, absolutely conducted myself like

A clerk condemn'd his father's soul to cross,
Who penn'd a stanza when he should engross;--

but, to say truth, I had frequented the counting-house no more than I had
thought absolutely necessary to secure the good report of the Frenchman,
long a correspondent of our firm, to whom my father had trusted for
initiating me into the mysteries of commerce. In fact, my principal
attention had been dedicated to literature and manly exercises. My father
did not altogether discourage such acquirements, whether mental or
personal. He had too much good sense not to perceive, that they sate
gracefully upon every man, and he was sensible that they relieved and
dignified the character to which he wished me to aspire. But his chief
ambition was, that I should succeed not merely to his fortune, but to the
views and plans by which he imagined he could extend and perpetuate the
wealthy inheritance which he designed for me.

Love of his profession was the motive which he chose should be most
ostensible, when he urged me to tread the same path; but he had others
with which I only became acquainted at a later period. Impetuous in his
schemes, as well as skilful and daring, each new adventure, when
successful, became at once the incentive, and furnished the means, for
farther speculation. It seemed to be necessary to him, as to an ambitious
conqueror, to push on from achievement to achievement, without stopping
to secure, far less to enjoy, the acquisitions which he made. Accustomed
to see his whole fortune trembling in the scales of chance, and dexterous
at adopting expedients for casting the balance in his favour, his health
and spirits and activity seemed ever to increase with the animating
hazards on which he staked his wealth; and he resembled a sailor,
accustomed to brave the billows and the foe, whose confidence rises on
the eve of tempest or of battle. He was not, however, insensible to the
changes which increasing age or supervening malady might make in his own
constitution; and was anxious in good time to secure in me an assistant,
who might take the helm when his hand grew weary, and keep the vessel's
way according to his counsel and instruction. Paternal affection, as well
as the furtherance of his own plans, determined him to the same
conclusion. Your father, though his fortune was vested in the house, was
only a sleeping partner, as the commercial phrase goes; and Owen, whose
probity and skill in the details of arithmetic rendered his services
invaluable as a head clerk, was not possessed either of information or
talents sufficient to conduct the mysteries of the principal management.
If my father were suddenly summoned from life, what would become of the
world of schemes which he had formed, unless his son were moulded into a
commercial Hercules, fit to sustain the weight when relinquished by the
falling Atlas? and what would become of that son himself, if, a stranger
to business of this description, he found himself at once involved in the
labyrinth of mercantile concerns, without the clew of knowledge necessary
for his extraction? For all these reasons, avowed and secret, my father
was determined I should embrace his profession; and when he was
determined, the resolution of no man was more immovable. I, however, was
also a party to be consulted, and, with something of his own pertinacity,
I had formed a determination precisely contrary. It may, I hope, be some
palliative for the resistance which, on this occasion, I offered to my
father's wishes, that I did not fully understand upon what they were
founded, or how deeply his happiness was involved in them. Imagining
myself certain of a large succession in future, and ample maintenance in
the meanwhile, it never occurred to me that it might be necessary, in
order to secure these blessings, to submit to labour and limitations
unpleasant to my taste and temper. I only saw in my father's proposal for
my engaging in business, a desire that I should add to those heaps of
wealth which he had himself acquired; and imagining myself the best judge
of the path to my own happiness, I did not conceive that I should
increase that happiness by augmenting a fortune which I believed was
already sufficient, and more than sufficient, for every use, comfort, and
elegant enjoyment.

Accordingly, I am compelled to repeat, that my time at Bourdeaux had not
been spent as my father had proposed to himself. What he considered as
the chief end of my residence in that city, I had postponed for every
other, and would (had I dared) have neglected altogether. Dubourg, a
favoured and benefited correspondent of our mercantile house, was too
much of a shrewd politician to make such reports to the head of the firm
concerning his only child, as would excite the displeasure of both; and
he might also, as you will presently hear, have views of selfish
advantage in suffering me to neglect the purposes for which I was placed
under his charge. My conduct was regulated by the bounds of decency and
good order, and thus far he had no evil report to make, supposing him so
disposed; but, perhaps, the crafty Frenchman would have been equally
complaisant, had I been in the habit of indulging worse feelings than
those of indolence and aversion to mercantile business. As it was, while
I gave a decent portion of my time to the commercial studies he
recommended, he was by no means envious of the hours which I dedicated to
other and more classical attainments, nor did he ever find fault with me
for dwelling upon Corneille and Boileau, in preference to Postlethwayte
(supposing his folio to have then existed, and Monsieur Dubourg able to
have pronounced his name), or Savary, or any other writer on commercial
economy. He had picked up somewhere a convenient expression, with which
he rounded off every letter to his correspondent,--"I was all," he said,
"that a father could wish."

My father never quarrelled with a phrase, however frequently repeated,
provided it seemed to him distinct and expressive; and Addison himself
could not have found expressions so satisfactory to him as, "Yours
received, and duly honoured the bills enclosed, as per margin."

Knowing, therefore, very well what he desired me to, be, Mr. Osbaldistone
made no doubt, from the frequent repetition of Dubourg's favourite
phrase, that I was the very thing he wished to see me; when, in an evil
hour, he received my letter, containing my eloquent and detailed apology
for declining a place in the firm, and a desk and stool in the corner of
the dark counting-house in Crane Alley, surmounting in height those of
Owen, and the other clerks, and only inferior to the tripod of my father
himself. All was wrong from that moment. Dubourg's reports became as
suspicious as if his bills had been noted for dishonour. I was summoned
home in all haste, and received in the manner I have already communicated
to you.

Sir Walter Scott