No. 318. Wednesday, March 5, 1712. Steele.
[–non omnia possumus omnes.
A certain Vice which you have lately attacked, has not yet been considered by you as growing so deep in the Heart of Man, that the Affectation outlives the Practice of it. You must have observed that Men who have been bred in Arms preserve to the most extreme and feeble old Age a certain Daring in their Aspect: In like manner, they who have pass’d their Time in Gallantry and Adventure, keep up, as well as they can, the Appearance of it, and carry a petulant Inclination to their last Moments. Let this serve for a Preface to a Relation I am going to give you of an old Beau in Town, that has not only been amorous, and a Follower of Women in general, but also, in Spite of the Admonition of grey Hairs, been from his sixty-third Year to his present seventieth, in an actual Pursuit of a young Lady, the Wife of his Friend, and a Man of Merit. The gay old Escalus has Wit, good Health, and is perfectly well bred; but from the Fashion and Manners of the Court when he was in his Bloom, has such a natural Tendency to amorous Adventure, that he thought it would be an endless Reproach to him to make no use of a Familiarity he was allowed at a Gentleman’s House, whose good Humour and Confidence exposed his Wife to the Addresses of any who should take it in their Head to do him the good Office. It is not impossible that Escalus might also resent that the Husband was particularly negligent of him; and tho he gave many Intimations of a Passion towards the Wife, the Husband either did not see them, or put him to the Contempt of over-looking them. In the mean time Isabella, for so we shall call our Heroine, saw his Passion, and rejoiced in it as a Foundation for much Diversion, and an Opportunity of indulging her self in the dear Delight of being admired, addressed to, and flattered, with no ill Consequence to her Reputation. This Lady is of a free and disengaged Behaviour, ever in good Humour, such as is the Image of Innocence with those who are innocent, and an Encouragement to Vice with those who are abandoned. From this Kind of Carriage, and an apparent Approbation of his Gallantry, Escalus had frequent Opportunities of laying amorous Epistles in her Way, of fixing his Eyes attentively upon her Action, of performing a thousand little Offices which are neglected by the Unconcerned, but are so many Approaches towards Happiness with the Enamoured. It was now, as is above hinted, almost the End of the seventh Year of his Passion, when Escalus from general Terms, and the ambiguous Respect which criminal Lovers retain in their Addresses, began to bewail that his Passion grew too violent for him to answer any longer for his Behaviour towards her; and that he hoped she would have Consideration for his long and patient Respect, to excuse the Motions of a Heart now no longer under the Direction of the unhappy Owner of it. Such for some Months had been the Language of Escalus both in his Talk and his Letters to Isabella; who returned all the Profusion of kind Things which had been the Collection of fifty Years with I must not hear you; you will make me forget that you are a Gentleman, I would not willingly lose you as a Friend; and the like Expressions, which the Skilful interpret to their own Advantage, as well knowing that a feeble Denial is a modest Assent. I should have told you, that Isabella, during the whole Progress of this Amour, communicated it to her Husband; and that an Account of Escalus’s Love was their usual Entertainment after half a Days Absence: Isabella therefore, upon her Lovers late more open Assaults, with a Smile told her Husband she could hold out no longer, but that his Fate was now come to a Crisis. After she had explained her self a little farther, with her Husbands Approbation she proceeded in the following Manner. The next Time that Escalus was alone with her, and repeated his Importunity, the crafty Isabella looked on her Fan with an Air of great Attention, as considering of what Importance such a Secret was to her; and upon the Repetition of a warm Expression, she looked at him with an Eye of Fondness, and told him he was past that Time of Life which could make her fear he would boast of a Lady’s Favour; then turned away her Head with a very well-acted Confusion, which favoured the Escape of the aged Escalus. This Adventure was Matter of great Pleasantry to Isabella and her Spouse; and they had enjoyed it two Days before Escalus could recollect himself enough to form the following Letter.