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HIS MAN WILLIAM.
Mr. Fantom was a retail trader in the city of London. As he had no turn to any expensive vices, he was reckoned a sober, decent man; but he was covetous and proud, selfish and conceited. As soon as he got forward in the world, his vanity began to display itself, though not in the ordinary method, that of making a figure, and living away; but still he was tormented with a longing desire to draw public notice, and to distinguish himself. He felt a general sense of discontent at what he was, with a general ambition to be something which he was not; but this desire had not yet turned itself to any particular object. It was not by his money he could hope to be distinguished, for half his acquaintance had more; and a man must be rich indeed, to be noted for his riches in London. Mr. Fantom's mind was a prey to vain imaginations. He despised all those little acts of kindness and charity which every man is called to perform every day; and while he was contriving grand schemes, which lay quite out of his reach, he neglected the ordinary duties of life, which lay directly before him. Selfishness was his governing principle. He fancied he was lost in the mass of general society; and the usual means of attaching importance to insignificance occurred to him—that of getting into clubs and societies. To be connected with a party would, at least, make him known to that party, be it ever so low and contemptible; and this local importance it is, which draws off vain minds from those scenes of general usefulness, in which, though they are of more value, they are of less distinction.
About this time, he got hold of a famous little book written by the New Philosopher,* whose pestilent doctrines have gone about seeking whom they may destroy: these doctrines found a ready entrance into Mr. Fantom's mind; a mind at once shallow and inquisitive, speculative and vain, ambitious and dissatisfied. As almost every book was new to him, he fell into the common error of those who begin to read late in life,—that of thinking that what he did not know himself, was equally new to others; and he was apt to fancy that he and the author he was reading were the only two people in the world who knew any thing. This book led to the grand discovery; he had now found what his heart panted after,— a way to distinguish himself. To start out a full-grown philosopher at once, to be wise without education, to dispute without learning, and to make proselytes without argument, was a short cut to fame, which well suited his vanity and his ignorance. He rejoiced that he had been so clever as to examine for himself, pitied his friends who took things upon trust, and was resolved to assert the freedom of his own mind. To a man fond of bold novelties and daring paradoxes, solid argument would be flat, and truth would be dull, merely because it is not new. Mr. Fantom believed, not in proportion to the strength of the evidence, but to the impudence of the assertion. The trampling on holy ground with dirty shoes, the smearing the sanctuary with filth and mire, the calling prophets and apostles by the most scurrilous names, was new, and dashing, and dazzling. Mr. Fantom, now being set free from the chains of slavery and superstition, was resolved to show his zeal in the usual way, by trying to free others; but it would have hurt his vanity, had he known that he was the convert of a man who had written only for the vulgar, who had invented nothing, no, not even one idea of original wickedness; but who had stooped to rake up out of the kennel of infidelity all the loathsome dregs and offal dirt, which politer unbelievers had thrown away as too gross and offensive for their better-bred reader.
Mi. Fantom, who considered that a philosopher must set up with a little sort of stock in trade, now picked up all the common-place notions against Christianity, which have been answered a hundred times over: these he kept by him ready cut and dried, and brought out in all companies, with a zeal which would have done honor to a better cause, but which the friends to a better cause are not so apt to discover. He soon got a.1 the cant of the new school. He prated about narrowness, and ignorance, and bigotry, and prejudice, and priestcraft, on the one hand; and on the other, of public good, the love of mankind, and liberality, and candor, and toleration, and, above all, benevolence. Benevolence, he said, made up the whole of religion, and all the other parts of it were nothing but cant, and jargon, and hypocrisy. By benevolence he understood a gloomy and indefinite anxiety about the happiness of people with whom he was utterly disconnected, and whom Providence had put it out of his reach either to serve or injure. And by the happiness this benevolence was so anxious to promote, he meant an exemption from- the power of the laws, and an emancipation from the restraints of religion, conscience, and moral obligation.
*thomas Paine, whose "Rights of Man "and "Age of Reason "were widely circulated at this period, in cheap editions, by missionaries in the employ of seditious clubs and infidel societies.
Finding, however, that he made little impression on his old club at the Cat and Bagpipes, he grew tired of their company. This1 club consisted of a few sober citizens, who met of an evening for a little harmless recreation after business: their object was, not to reform parliament, but their own shops; not to correct the abuses of government, but of parish officers; not to cure the excesses of administration, but of their own porters and apprentices; to talk over the news of the day, without aspiring to direct the events of it. They read the papers with that anxiety which every honest man feels in the daily history of his country. But as trade, which they did understand, flourished, they were careful not to reprobate those public measures by which it was protected, and which they did not understand. In such turbulent times, it was a comfort to each to feel he was a tradesman, and not a statesman; that he was not called to responsibility for a trust for which he found he had no talents, while he was at full liberty to employ the talents he really possessed, in fairly amassing a fortune, of which the laws would be the best guardian, and government the best security. Thus a legitimate self-love, regulated by prudence, and restrained by principle, produced peaceable subjects and good citizens; while in Fantom a boundless selfishness and inordinate vanity converted a discontented trader into a turbulent politician.
There was, however, one member of the Cat and Bagpipes, whose society he could not resolve to give up, though they seldom agreed, as, indeed, no two men in the same class and habits of life could less resemble each other. Mr. Trueman was an honest, plain, simple-hearted tradesman, of the good old cut, who feared God, and followed his business: he went to church twice on Sundays, and minded his shop all the week—spent frugally, gave liberally, and saved moderately. He lost, however, some ground in Mr. Fantom's esteem, because he paid his taxes without disputing, and read his Bible without doubting.
Mr. Fantom now began to be tired of every thing in trade, except the profits of it; for the more the word benevolence was in his mouth, the more did selfishness gain dominion in his heart. He, however, resolved to retire for a while into the country, and devote his time to his new plans, schemes, theories, and projects for the public good. A life of talking, and reading, and writing, and disputing, and teaching, and proselyting, now struck him as the only life; so he soon set out for the country with his family; for, unhappily, Mr. Fantom had been the husband of a very worthy woman many years before the new philosophy had discovered that marriage was a shameful infringement on human liberty, and an abridgment of the rights of man. To this family was now added his new footman, William Wilson, whom he had taken with a good character out of a sober family. Mr. Fantom was no sooner settled., than he wrote to invite Mr. Trueman to come and pay him a visit; for he would have burst if he could not have got some one to whom he might display his new knowledge: he knew that if, on the one hand, Trueman was no scholar, yet, on the other, he was no fool; and though he despised his prejudices, yet he thought he might be made a good decoy-duck; for, if he could once bring Trueman over, the whole club at the Cat and Bagpipes might be brought to follow his example; and thus he might see himself at the head of a society of his own proselytes—the supreme object of a philosopher's ambition. Trueman came accordingly. He soon found that however he might be shocked at the impious doctrines his friend maintained, yet that an important lesson might be learned even from the worst enemies of truth—namely, an everwakeful attention to their grand object. If they set out with talking of trade or politics, of private news or public affairs, still Mr. Fantom was ever on the watch to hitch in his darling doctrines: whatever he began with, he was sure to end with a pert squib at the Bible, a vapid jest on the clergy, the miseries of superstition, and the blessings of philosophy. "Oh !" said Trueman to himself, "when shall I see Christians half so much in earnest? Why is it that almost all zeal is on the wrong side?"
"Well, Mr. Fantom," said Trueman one day at breakfast, "I am afraid you are leading but an idle sort of life here."— "Idle, sir !" said Fantom; "I now first begin to live to some purpose; I have, indeed, lost too much time, and wasted my talents on a little retail trade, in which one is of no note; one can't distinguish one's self."—" So much the better," said Trueman ; " I had rather not distinguish myself, unless it was by leading a better life than my neighbors. There is nothing I should dread more than being talked about. I dare say, now, heaven is in a good measure filled with people whose names were never heard out of their own street and village. So I beg leave not to distinguish myself."—" Yes, but one may, if it is only by signing one's name to an essay or paragraph in a newspaper," said Fantom.—" Heaven keep John Trueman's name out of a newspaper," interrupted he in a fright; "for if it be there, it must either be found in the Old Bailey or the Bankrupt List, unless, indeed, I were to remove shop, or sell off' my old stock. Well, but, Mr. Fantom, you, I suppose, are now as happy as the day is long ?"—" O yes," replied Fantom, with a gloomy sigh, which gave the lie to his words, " perfectly happy! I wonder you do not give up all your sordid employments, and turn philosopher !"—" Sordid, indeed I" said Trueman; "do not call names, Mr. Fantom; I shall never be ashamed of my trade. What is it has made this country so great? a country whose merchants are princes? It is trade, Mr. Fantom, trade. I cannot say, indeed, as well as I love business, but now and then, when I am overworked, I wish I had a little more time to look after my soul; but the fear that I should not devote the time, if I had it, to that best purpose, makes me work on; though often, when I am balancing my accounts, I tremble, lest I should neglect to balance the grand account. But still, since, like you, I am a man of no education, I am more afraid of the temptations of leisure than of those of business. I never was bred to read more than a chapter in the Bible, or some other good book, or the magazine or newspaper; and all that I can do now, after shop is shut, and take a walk with my children in the fields besides. But if I had nothing to do from morning to night, I might be in danger of turning politician or philosopher. No, neighbor Fantom, depend upon it, that where there is no learning, next to God's grace, the best preservative of human virtue is business. As to our political societies, like the armies in the cave of Adullam, 'every man that is in distress, and every man that is in debt, and every man that is discontented,' will always join himself unto them."