Wednesday, April 2, 1712. Steele.
Justitiae partes sunt non violare homines: Verecundiae non offendere.
As Regard to Decency is a great Rule of Life in general, but more especially to be consulted by the Female World, I cannot overlook the following Letter which describes an egregious Offender.
I was this Day looking over your Papers, and reading in that of December the 6th with great delight, the amiable Grief of Asteria for the Absence of her Husband, it threw me into a great deal of Reflection. I cannot say but this arose very much from the Circumstances of my own Life, who am a Soldier, and expect every Day to receive Orders; which will oblige me to leave behind me a Wife that is very dear to me, and that very deservedly. She is, at present, I am sure, no way below your Asteria for Conjugal Affection: But I see the Behaviour of some Women so little suited to the Circumstances wherein my Wife and I shall soon be, that it is with a Reluctance I never knew before, I am going to my Duty. What puts me to present Pain, is the Example of a young Lady, whose Story you shall have as well as I can give it you. Hortensius, an Officer of good Rank in her Majesty’s Service, happen’d in a certain Part of England to be brought to a Country-Gentleman’s House, where he was receiv’d with that more than ordinary Welcome, with which Men of domestick Lives entertain such few Soldiers whom a military Life, from the variety of Adventures, has not render’d over-bearing, but humane, easy, and agreeable: Hortensius stay’d here some time, and had easy Access at all hours, as well as unavoidable Conversation at some parts of the Day with the beautiful Sylvana, the Gentleman’s Daughter. People who live in Cities are wonderfully struck with every little Country Abode they see when they take the Air; and tis natural to fancy they could live in every neat Cottage (by which they pass) much happier than in their present Circumstances. The turbulent way of Life which Hortensius was used to, made him reflect with much Satisfaction on all the Advantages of a sweet Retreat one day; and among the rest, you’ll think it not improbable, it might enter into his Thought, that such a Woman as Sylvana would consummate the Happiness. The World is so debauched with mean Considerations, that Hortensius knew it would be receiv’d as an Act of Generosity, if he asked for a Woman of the Highest Merit, without further Questions, of a Parent who had nothing to add to her personal Qualifications. The Wedding was celebrated at her Fathers House: When that was over, the generous Husband did not proportion his Provision for her to the Circumstances of her Fortune, but considered his Wife as his Darling, his Pride, and his Vanity, or rather that it was in the Woman he had chosen that a Man of Sense could shew Pride or Vanity with an Excuse, and therefore adorned her with rich Habits and valuable Jewels. He did not however omit to admonish her that he did his very utmost in this; that it was an Ostentation he could not but be guilty of to a Woman he had so much Pleasure in, desiring her to consider it as such; and begged of her also to take these Matters rightly, and believe the Gems, the Gowns, the Laces would still become her better, if her Air and Behaviour was such, that it might appear she dressed thus rather in Compliance to his Humour that Way, than out of any Value she her self had for the Trifles. To this Lesson, too hard for Woman, Hortensius added, that she must be sure to stay with her Friends in the Country till his Return. As soon as Hortensius departed, Sylvana saw in her Looking-glass that the Love he conceiv’d for her was wholly owing to the Accident of seeing her: and she is convinced it was only her Misfortune the rest of Mankind had not beheld her, or Men of much greater Quality and Merit had contended for one so genteel, tho bred in Obscurity; so very witty, tho never acquainted with Court or Town. She therefore resolved not to hide so much Excellence from the World, but without any Regard to the Absence of the most generous Man alive, she is now the gayest Lady about this Town, and has shut out the Thoughts of her Husband by a constant Retinue of the vainest young Fellows this Age has produced: to entertain whom, she squanders away all Hortensius is able to supply her with, tho that Supply is purchased with no less Difficulty than the Hazard of his Life.