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I was travelling a few weeks since in the inside of the mailcoach, where I had for my companions three gentlemen; the two who sat opposite to me being still in the prime of life, and the third an elderly person of a highly respectable appearance, and an expression of countenance which I thought particularly pleasing.
It was not for me, being a female, though not young, to begin the conversation with these strangers, neither did the old gentleman seem much disposed to talk; nevertheless there was no dearth of discourse, for our two opposite neighbours were, it seems, of the number of those who are for setting all the world to rights, for reforming parliaments, changing laws, subverting all establishments, and in short, for setting the whole earth on fire, in order to produce salamanders and phenixes from the flames and ashes. And our speculators seemed to be quite elated by the impertinences which they uttered, not considering that those systems of reform which, in theory, appear without fault, may, in experience, be found to work directly in opposition to the end desired, as every statesman and wise politician would have it in his power to prove from the result of his experience; for these crude reformers, as I have often remarked, these favourers of general emancipation from old authorities, almost universally leave the depravity of human nature out of their calculations. As if, in computing the progress of a vessel through any given space of ocean, the calculator should forget to take account of opposing tides and baffling winds, and suppose that deceitful element, the sea, to be always as serene and calm as a bay to the leeward of one of the Fortunate Islands.
The old gentleman on my right had listened to this conversation for some time with his mouth pursed up, as if resolved not to speak. And I was thinking what might be passing in his mind, when suddenly he began to hem and cough, and then shifting himself a little in his seat, and begging my pardon if he incommoded me, he uttered various incoherent monosyllables, much to the following effect. "Well-good-so-ay-true, but" -and then was silent again.
These monosyllables, however, served to silence our opposite companions, and to draw me out; for I said, 'Sir, you were about to speak, will you favour us with your opinions on the subjects which these gentlemen have had under discussion."
"I should have given my opinion, good madam, much more promptly forty years since," he replied; "but when a man has reached his grand climacteric, he is somewhat slower in deciding on questions of the nature of those now in agitation, than we find young people to be."
"Your opinions, then, probably, do not coincide with ours, sir," remarked one of the younger gentlemen.
"I was much of your way of thinking at one time," replied the elder. "In short, I thought that the whole state of society was deranged, and that I wanted only sufficient influence in the world to set all things to rights; but although I had been accounted one of the best arithmeticians in my class at school, I always omitted, in my calculations, when weighing my arguments, to make my allowances for tare and tret—or any other species of drawback."
To do our opposite neighbours justice, they seemed very willing to hear the experience of the old gentleman; and being more decidedly encouraged by me, he was at length drawn on to the relation of the following narrative, which I shall hope to commit to writing in his own words :
"It is of little consequence," said the old gentleman, "what my name may be, or that of my place of abode. Call me, if you please, John Gwynne, and my residence Plus Caervon; and having so done, you will no doubt expect to find that I am a Welshman, and somehow connected with Prince Llewellyn of unfortunate memory; but you are not to know the exact place of my abode. Suffice it to say, that at the age of twenty-one
I found myself in possession of an estate of many acres, bringing me in a handsome income; I being, as it were, a sort of little prince in my retired domain, which is shut out from the rest of the world by different ranges of mountains embracing it, as it were, on all sides, and being only approachable from without by one or two terrific gorges cut in the living granite: in fact, I required little more than the command of life and death, and the privileges of a mint, to have made me as powerful a sovereign as some of those whose princely towers are reflected in the waters of the Rhine-at least, such, at that time, was my opinion of myself; although I trust that I have now a somewhat more rational idea of my own consequence, and am very well contented to be considered nothing more than an obscure Welsh gentleman, who does not think it beneath him to travel from place to place in a public vehicle.
"It was when I was in my prime, that revolutionary principles were first brought forward in the light they have since become so general; and I was mightily taken with these new lights, and joined in the cry against our forefathers, as a parcel of half blind, obstinate, stupid old fellows, who had combined to keep the world in darkness from generation to generation, in order that they might have their own way, and enjoy their own comforts according to their own perverse inclinations; and it was marvellous how wisely I reasoned and declaimed, uttering every species of ridiculous rhapsody respecting the dignity of human nature, and what man would be if relieved from the chains of superstition, the shackles of human laws, the customs of society, and that most cruel of all tyrannies, namely, the domestic.
"I say nothing of the inconsistency by which I was, at this very time, led to avail myself of the old authorities I thus decried, to keep my position in society, and to hold fast my paternal inheritance. Had I really thought that any portion of mankind were unjustly used by the division of property according to the established laws of meum and tuum, I ought to have commenced my plans of reformation by making a fair division of my possessions among the various householders in my native valley, and descending at once into a fellowship with Roger, my carter. But this was not the end at which I proposed to begin my improvements: there was a great deal to be done, I thought, before this equalising