No. 456. Wednesday, August 13, 1712. Steele.

De quo libelli in celeberrimis locis proponuntur Huic ne perire quidem tacite conceditur.'

OTWAY, in his Tragedy of Venice Preserv'd, has described the Misery of a Man, whose Effects are in the Hands of the Law, with great Spirit. The Bitterness of being the Scorn and Laughter of base Minds, the Anguish of being insulted by Men hardened beyond the Sense of Shame or Pity, and the Injury of a Man's Fortune being wasted, under Pretence of Justice, are excellently aggravated in the following Speech of Pierre to Faffeir: [1]

'I pass'd this very Moment by thy Doors, And found them guarded by a Troop of Villains: The Sons of publick Rapine were destroying. They told me, by the Sentence of the Law, They had Commission to seize all thy Fortune: Nay more, Priuli's cruel Hand had sign'd it. Here stood a Ruffian with a horrid Face, Lording it o'er a Pile of massy Plate, Tumbled into a Heap for publick Sale. There was another making villanous Jests At thy Undoing: He had ta'en Possession Of all thy ancient most domestick Ornaments: Rich Hangings intermix'd and wrought with Gold; The very Bed, which on thy Wedding Night Received thee to the Arms of Belvedira, The Scene of all thy Joys, was violated By the coarse Hands of filthy Dungeon Villains, And thrown amongst the common Lumber.'

Nothing indeed can be more unhappy than the Condition of Bankrupcy. The Calamity which happens to us by ill Fortune, or by the Injury of others, has in it some Consolation; but what arises from our own Misbehaviour or Error, is the State of the most exquisite Sorrow. When a Man considers not only an ample Fortune, but even the very Necessaries of Life, his Pretence to Food it self at the Mercy of his Creditors, he cannot but look upon himself in the State of the Dead, with his Case thus much worse, that the last Office is performed by his Adversaries, instead of his Friends. From this Hour the cruel World does not only take Possession of his whole Fortune, but even of every thing else, which had no Relation to it. All his indifferent Actions have new Interpretations put upon them; and those whom he has favoured in his former Life, discharge themselves of their Obligations to him, by joining in the Reproaches of his Enemies. It is almost incredible that it should be so; but it is too often seen that there is a Pride mixed with the Impatience of the Creditor, and there are who would rather recover their own by the Downfal of a prosperous Man, than be discharged to the common Satisfaction of themselves and their Creditors. The wretched Man, who was lately Master of Abundance, is now under the Direction of others; and the Wisdom, Oeconomy, good Sense and Skill in human Life before, by reason of his present Misfortune, are of no Use to him in the Disposition of any thing. The Incapacity of an Infant or a Lunatick, is designed for his Provision and Accommodation; but that of a Bankrupt, without any Mitigation in respect of the Accidents by which it arrived, is calculated for his utter Ruin, except there be a Remainder ample enough after the Discharge of his Creditors to bear also the Expence of rewarding those by whose Means the Effect of all his Labours was transferred from him. This Man is to look on and see others giving Directions upon what Terms and Conditions his Goods are to be purchased, and all this usually done not with an Air of Trustees to dispose of his Effects, but Destroyers to divide and tear them to Pieces.

There is something sacred in Misery to great and good Minds; for this Reason all wise Lawgivers have been extremely tender how they let loose even the Man who has Right on his Side, to act with any Mixture of Resentment against the Defendant. Virtuous and modest Men, though they be used with some Artifice, and have it in their Power to avenge themselves, are slow in the Application of that Power, and are ever constrained to go into rigorous Measures. They are careful to demonstrate themselves not only Persons injured, but also that to bear it longer, would be a Means to make the Offender injure others, before they proceed. Such Men clap their Hands upon their Hearts, and consider what it is to have at their Mercy the Life of a Citizen. Such would have it to say to their own Souls, if possible, That they were merciful when they could have destroyed, rather than when it was in their Power to have spared a Man, they destroyed. This is a Due to the common Calamity of Human Life, due in some measure to our very Enemies. They who scruple doing the least Injury, are cautious of exacting the utmost Justice.

Let any one who is conversant in the Variety of Human Life reflect upon it, and he will find the Man who wants Mercy has a Taste of no Enjoyment of any Kind. There is a natural Disrelish of every thing which is good in his very Nature, and he is born an Enemy to the World. He is ever extremely partial to himself in all his Actions, and has no Sense of Iniquity but from the Punishment which shall attend it. The Law of the Land is his Gospel, and all his Cases of Conscience are determined by his Attorney. Such Men know not what it is to gladden the Heart of a miserable Man, that Riches are the Instruments of serving the Purposes of Heaven or Hell, according to the Disposition of the Possessor. The wealthy can torment or gratifie all who are in their Power, and chuse to do one or other as they are affected with Love or Hatred to Mankind. As for such who are insensible of the Concerns of others, but merely as they affect themselves, these Men are to be valued only for their Mortality, and as we hope better Things from their Heirs. I could not but read with great Delight a Letter from an eminent Citizen, who has failed, to one who was intimate with him in his better Fortune, and able by his Countenance to retrieve his lost Condition.


It is in vain to multiply Words and make Apologies for what is never to be defended by the best Advocate in the World, the Guilt of being Unfortunate. All that a Man in my Condition can do or say, will be received with Prejudice by the Generality of Mankind, but I hope not with you: You have been a great Instrument in helping me to get what I have lost, and I know (for that Reason, as well as Kindness to me) you cannot but be in pain to see me undone. To shew you I am not a Man incapable of bearing Calamity, I will, though a poor Man, lay aside the Distinction between us, and talk with the Frankness we did when we were nearer to an Equality: As all I do will be received with Prejudice, all you do will be looked upon with Partiality. What I desire of you, is, that you, who are courted by all, would smile upon me who am shunned by all. Let that Grace and Favour which your Fortune throws upon you, be turned to make up the Coldness and Indifference that is used towards me. All good and generous Men will have an Eye of Kindness for me for my own Sake, and the rest of the World will regard me for yours. There is an happy Contagion in Riches, as well as a destructive one in Poverty; the Rich can make rich without parting with any of their Store, and the Conversation of the Poor makes Men poor, though they borrow nothing of them. How this is to be accounted for I know not? but Men's Estimation follows us according to the Company we keep. If you are what you were to me, you can go a great Way towards my Recovery; if you are not, my good Fortune, if ever it returns, will return by slower Approaches.

I am SIR, Your Affectionate Friend, and Humble Servant.

This was answered with a Condescension that did not, by long impertinent Professions of Kindness, insult his Distress, but was as follows.

Dear Tom,

I am very glad to hear that you have Heart enough to begin the World a second Time. I assure you, I do not think your numerous Family at all diminished (in the Gifts of Nature for which I have ever so much admired them) by what has so lately happened to you. I shall not only countenance your Affairs with my Appearance for you, but shall accommodate you with a considerable Sum at common Interest for three Years. You know I could make more of it; but I have so great a Love for you that I can wave Opportunities of Gain to help you: For I do not care whether they say of me after I am dead, that I had an hundred or fifty thousand Pounds more than I wanted when I was living.

Your obliged humble Servant.


[Footnote 1: Act I., sc. 2.]

Translation of motto:
'The man whose conduct is publicly arraigned, is not suffered even to
be undone quietly.'