Project Canterbury

The Velvet Cushion

By John Cunningham

London: Printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1814.

Chapter II.

'The first place in which I remember to have seen the light, was in the shop of an upholsterer in Fleet-street, in the days of bloody Queen Mary. You, Sir, who feel something, though I rejoice to say little, of the ravages of time in your own person, (the old lady, notwithstanding the qualifying word 'little,' looked somewhat grave and angry) can easily believe that I have lost much of my original dignity. I was then as splendid as gold and tassels could make me. Several of my species lay near me, and none of them less magnificently caparisoned than myself. Of these, alas, I soon lost sight.--'Dear, lost companions of my tuneful art,'--they have long since fallen before that besom which sweeps the high and the low, the velvet and serge, into one indiscriminate grave. I soon heard myself destined [10/11] by the master of the warehouse to the pulpit of a great church in the metropolis, and thither I was, next day, transported in a coach. And here, Sir, I beg to observe, that I was not always able to write my own history. In fact, when I entered the church, nothing could be more ignorant than myself. I had heard only the conversation of the manufactory. But my new circumstances gave me great advantages. It soon occurred to me, that in so busy a world even a cushion could not be meant to be idle. As my nature, therefore, unfitted me for action, I determined to give myself wholly to thought and speculation. You, Sir, who both think and act, will not despise those who do only the former. The Arabs, indeed, as I have heard, when they take a prisoner, always first ask him what he can do? And when a French S├žavans, whom they caught, hoping to escape manual drudgery, told them, in reply, that he was accustomed only to sedentary [11/12] pursuits--they, by way of turning him to account, actually tarred and feathered him, and set him to hatch eggs. But Arabs are barbarians, and in my native country I could not fear any such indignity. But to return.--If my nature disposed me to thought, so did my circumstances. From the Pisgah of the pulpit I have seen most of the great men of successive ages, whom piety, custom, accident, or their wives, have brought to church.. In the same commanding situation I have heard all the best preachers of three centuries. Thus all the grand questions in religion and morality, and, by dint of fasts and thanksgivings, in politics, have been submitted to my consideration. And. when conveyed for warmth during the week, from the pulpit to the vestry, I have heard all sorts of questions discussed, in all sorts of tempers, by all sorts of men. The clerks, sextons, and pew-openers, also, a class of persons falsely thought to have little to do with the [12/13] affairs of the church, except to take one fee for burying the dead, and sometimes another for digging them up again, have given me much information. They play, indeed, inferior parts in the ecclesiastical drama; but, as far as free and fluent elocution goes to form an actor, they have probably few superiors. Amidst such privileges, I trust, I have not been altogether idle. And if you are curious to see the result of my cogitations, and to compare them with your own, you have now the opportunity. The paper in your hands, contains an account of much that I have heard and seen, with my own comments upon it.'

"Was there ever such a treasure, my love," said the old gentleman. She could think of no such treasure except, indeed, the aged vicar himself. It was not that she had the same instinctive and antiquarian attachment for the cushion with himself; but she had taught herself pretty much to love whatever he loved. Indeed, common views and objects for [13/14] fifty years leave small differences of taste in the subjects of them. Perhaps, with the exception of two habits of the good vicar, there was scarcely an act of his life to which she could not reconcile herself. The habits which I mean, were occasionally smoking a single pipe; and sometimes, though very rarely, preaching a borrowed sermon. The truth, as to these points, was, she could ill endure that a mouth, ordained to be the channel of his own kindness and wisdom, should be degraded into, either a mere conveyance of smoke, or of the thoughts of other people. As to other things, they were like the strings of two finely-tuned instruments is--touch the one, and the other vibrated. I have always been deeply interested in this aged couple. All the world are delighted to watch the young as they grow up together. To me it is not less delightful to see the old wear out together--to see two creatures of distinct tempers and passions by degrees melting into one--to see how [14/15] happy those may be, who habitually prefer the happiness of another to their own--to see finally real love, like a flower blooming amidst ruins, surviving the vigor of the body, and all those attractions on which it is thought to depend. Some fanciful writer has imagined, that mankind fall from Heaven in pairs; and that, unless the right pair meet again after their descent, they can neither of them be happy. If this be true, I should certainly imagine that this venerable couple dropped from the skies together; at all events they will, I doubt not, together, ascend the skies. But as they will frequently appear in the course of this history, the reader may judge of all these things for himself. In the mean time, I proceed to another chapter.

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