Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
Old Age: France: Madame DArblay
By Horace Walpole (17171797)
STRAWBERRY HILL, 29th August, 1796.
TO MISS HANNAH MORE. You are not only the most beneficent, but the most benevolent of human beings. Not content with being a perfect saint yourself, which (forgive me for saying) does not always imply prodigious compassion for others; not satisfied with being the most disinterested, nay, the reverse of all patriots, for you sacrifice your very slender fortune, not to improve it, but to keep the poor honest instead of corrupting them; and you write politics as simply, intelligibly, and unartfully, not as cunningly as you can to mislead. Well, with all these giant virtues, you can find room and time in your heart and occupations for harbouring and exercising what those monkeys of pretensions, the French, invented and called les petites morales, which were to supply society with filigrain duties, in the room of all virtues, which they abolished on their road to the adoption of philosophy and atheism. Yes, though for ever busied in exercising services and charities for individuals, or for whole bodies of people, you do not leave a cranny empty into which you can slip a kindness. Your inquiry after me to Miss Berry is so friendly, that I cannot trust solely to her thanking you for your letter, as I am sure she will, having sent it to her as she is bathing in the sea at Bognor Rocks; but I must with infinite gratitude give you a brief account of myselfa very poor one indeed must I give. Condemned as a cripple to my couch for the rest of my days I doubt I am. Though perfectly healed, and even without a scar, my leg is so weakened that I have not recovered the least use of it, nor can move across my chamber unless lifted up and held by two servants. This constitutes me totally a prisoner. But why should not I be so? What business had I to live to the brink of seventy-nine? And why should one litter the world at that age? Then, I thank God I have vast blessings; I have preserved my eyes, ears, and teeth; I have no pain left; and I would bet with any dormouse that it cannot outsleep me. And when one can afford to pay for every relief, comfort, or assistance that can be procured at fourscore, dares one complain? Must not one reflect on the thousands of old poor, who are suffering martyrdom, and have none of these alleviations. O, my good friend, I must consider myself as at my best; for if I drag on a little longer, can I expect to remain even so tolerably? Nay, does the world present a pleasing scene? Are not the devils escaped out of the swine, and overrunning the earth headlong?
What a theme for meditation, that the excellent humane Louis Seize should have been prevented from saving himself by that monster Drouet, and that that execrable wretch should be saved even by those, some of whom one may suppose he meditated to massacre; for at what does a Frenchman stop? But I will quit this shocking subject, and for another reason too: I omitted one of my losses, almost the use of my fingers: they are so lame that I cannot write a dozen lines legibly, but am forced to have recourse to my secretary. I will only reply by a word or two to a question you seem to ask; how I like Camilla? I do not care to say how little. Alas! she has reversed experience, which I have long thought reverses its own utility by coming at the wrong end of our life when we do not want it. This author knew the world and penetrated characters before she had stepped over the threshold; and, now she has seen so much of it, she has little or no insight at all: perhaps she apprehended having seen too much, and kept the bags of foul air that she brought from the Cave of Tempests too closely tied.
Adieu, thou who mightest be one of the cleverest of women if thou didst not prefer being one of the best! And when I say one of the best I have not engaged my vote for the second.Yours most gratefully.