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can reckon upon a continuance of this content and tranquillity on my part.
I have often thought that a small augmentation of tithes is dearly purchased by the sacrifice of this mutual cordiality and confidence. There is something in the consciousness that others share our joys and enter into our feelings, and that our health and happiness are a real concern to our neighbours, which cherishes the soul and seems to dilate its capacities. I glow with satisfaction, when, after some days' confinement, I see sincere congratulations in the looks of every one I meet: methinks at that moment I love myself the more for their sakes; and the delight of my honest parishioners is multiplied into my own.
Since I have been settled here, we have been gradually forming ourselves into a society that has something novel in its principle and constitution. Our number is sixteen, and includes many of the principal gentlemen in the neighbourhood. We have a discipline among us, the object of which is to promote the ends of company and conversation, by maintaining the most perfect order, sobriety, and peace. My quiet behaviour, and known habits of complacency, have raised me, though with some reluctance on my part, to the place of perpetual president.
The fundamental article of our constitution is the prohibition of every species of noise; for, as long as this is inadmissible, we think ourselves out of all danger of quarrelling, from which a degree of noise is inseparable: and though nonsense is not statutable among us, yet we are not afraid of its going to any great lengths under the evident disadvantages of order and tranquillity. There is a certain severity in silence, which will often check the
course of an idle argument, when opposition and ridicule are employed in vain. I remember hearing a plethoric young man run on with surprising volubility for an hour and a half, by the help only of two ideas, during the violence of a debate; till a sudden pause in the rest of the company proved clearly that he was talking about a matter which bore no relation to the point in dispute. The attention of the company being now wholly turned towards him, he began to totter under the mass of confusion he had so long been accumulating: when with one spring he cleared the present difficulty, and leaped from Seringapatam into the minister's budget: here, however, being nearly smothered, he made a violent effort; and before we could turn about to assist him, he was up to his neck in tar-water. He was twice, after this, in danger of being lost in the Southern Ocean; but an African slave-vessel took him up each time, and landed him, some how or other, at Nootka Sound. If I remember right, he held out till the siege of Oczakow, where he was put out of his misery by a summons from Tartary to the teatable. Thus a great deal of precious time is husbanded by this rule of silent attention among the members of our society; and many an idle speech falls to the ground ere it can get three sentences forwards, and is strangled like a Turkish criminal by dumb executioners.
Any elevation of voice above a certain pitch is highly illegal, and punishable accordingly; and to ascertain this proportion as duly as possible, we have taken a room for our purpose, in which there is a very distinct echo, which must not be roused from its dormant state, under very heavy penalties. Any man provoking it to repeat his last word, is judged to be defeated in the argument he is maintaining, and
the dispute must be abandoned altogether; the echo pronounces his sentence, from which there is no appeal. The abuse of superlatives is also cognizable among us; and no man is allowed to say, that his house is the pleasantest in the neighbourhood, that his dogs run the best, or that his crops are the most plentiful. Whatever carries the notion of a challenge with it, or can lead to a wager, we are pledged to discountenance. We admit neither toasting nor singing upon any pretext; and it would be as great an offence to raise a horse-laugh in a quaker's meeting, as to encourage any rude expression of joy among us. An ancient gentleman, lately admitted, was bound over last Saturday, for an eulogy upon old Mr. Shapely's fresh countenance, and a hint at his maid Kitty's corpulency, accompanied with a wink to Mr. Barnaby the churchwarden.
We admit no bets upon any question whatever; and gaming is proscribed by the most solemn inhibitions. The merits of our neighbours is a topic we are forbid to descant upon; and it was a question at our last meeting but one, whether the mention of Mr. Courtly's carbuncle was not unconstitutional. As we are old fellows, and have pretty well lived over the petulance and heyday of passion, these restraints bear less hard upon us, and forfeits become every day less frequent among us; insomuch that we are likely soon to be forced upon some regular contributions, in place of the fines from which we have hitherto drawn our support. I am in hopes we shall at last bring our plan to that state of perfection, that a breach of any statute will stand upon our records as a remarkable occurrence.
The first visit of a new member is a spectacle diverting enough, and it is generally a full half-year before we can shape him and clip him to our stand
ard. It is now about three years since 'squire Blunt bought a large estate in our neighbourhood; and, during the first twelve months, we heard of nothing but this gentleman's quarrels and litigations. As I sometimes walk in his chesnut-groves to meditate upon matter for the entertainment of my worthy readers, I have been twice prosecuted for a trespass, and for breaking down his palings in pursuit of game; and, happening one day to take a telescope out with me, I was again threatened with the vengeance of the law for carrying a gun on his
As it is looked upon as some honour to be of our society, this rough gentleman was suddenly seized with an unaccountable inclination to become a member; and it was astonishing to every body, that, after being well apprized of the inconvenience and rigour of our institution, and his own inability to perform the engagements of it, his ambition seemed no wise discouraged, and he still persisted in his design of proposing himself. As we have a certain term of probation, we rarely refuse to any body above the age of fifty, which is the age of admission, the favour of a trial. The following is a list of Mr. Blunt's forfeits in the black book.
1st day-Endured his own silence so long that he
3d day-Offered to lay a bottle that he would eat
5th day-Called for a song, and paid a shilling instead: nine shillings and sixpence for disturbing the echo; paid thirty shillings and sixpence for contumacy, and swore himself to Coventry.
Here there was an interval of some months, during which our novice absented himself. We were surprised, however, one day, with his company, after we had given him up as irreclaimable. He appeared, indeed, to bring with him a disposition greatly corrected, and actually incurred only two forfeits the whole evening; namely, for bursting into a horse-laugh on Mr. Sidebottom's missing his chair, and giving Mr. Barnaby a slap on the back that raised the echo, and a violent fit of coughing. Since this time he has been twice off and on; but has at last so far accommodated himself to the conditions of the society, as to be counted a valuable member. Having made a great progress in the science of self-correction, his understanding has obtained its proper poise; his reason has had room to exert itself, and has given life and energy to a mass of much good meaning that lay buried at the bottom of his mind.
The fame of this mighty cure hath brought us a great accumulation of credit and power; and it hath actually been in speculation among the freeholders and other voters in the county, to elect their representatives in future from our society; a rule that would ensure to them men of ripe understandings and regular habits. We are subject, as every good institution is, to ridicule from without: the young gentlemen are very pleasant upon us; and we pass under a variety of names among them, as, the Automatons, the Quietists, the Meeting, the Dummies,