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N° 311. TUESDAY, FEB. 26, 1711-12.
Nec Veneris pharetris mucer est, aut lampade fervet ;
Juv. Sat. vi. 137.
DRYDEN. MR. SPECTATOR, I AM amazed that, among all the variety of characters with which you have enriched your speculations, you have never given us a picture of those audacious young fellows among us who commonly go by the name of the fortune-stealers. You must know, sir, I am one who live in a continual apprehension of this sort of people, that lie in wait, day and night, for our children, and may be considered as a kind of kidnappers within the law. I am the father of a young heiress, whom I begin to look upon as marriageable, and who has looked upon herself as such for above these six years. She is now in the eighteenth year of her age.
The fortune-hunters have already cast their eyes upon
her, and take care to plant themselves in her view whenever she appears in any public assembly. I have myself caught a young jackanapes, with a pair of silver-fringed gloves, in the very fact. You must know, sir, I have kept her as a prisoner of state ever since she was in her teens. Her chamber windows are cross-barred; she is not permitted to go out of the house but with her keeper, who is a staid relation of my own; I have likewise forbid her the use of pin and ink, for this twelve-month last past, and do not suffer a band-box to be carried into her room before it has been searched. Notwithstanding these precautions, I am at my wit's end, for fear of any sudden surprise. There were, two or three nights ago, some fiddles heard in the street, which I am afraid portend me no good; not to mention a tall Irishman, that has been seen walking before my house more than once this winter. My kinswoman likewise informs me, that the girl has talked to her twice or thrice of a gentleman in a fair wig, and that she loves to go to church more than ever she did in her life. She gave me the slip about a week ago, upon which my whole house was in alarm. I immediately dispatched a hue and cry after her to the 'Change, to her mantua-maker, and to the
young ladies that visit her; but after above an hour's search she returned of herself, having been taking a walk, as she told me, by Rosamond's pond. I have hereupon turned off her woman, doubled her guards, and given new instructions to my relation, who, to give her her due, keeps a watchful eye over all her motions. This, sir, keeps me in a perpetual anxiety, and makes me very often watch when my daughter sleeps, as I am afraid she is even with me in her turn. Now, sir, what I would desire of you is, to represent to this fluttering tribe of young fellows, who are for making their fortunes
by these indirect means, that stealing a man's daughter for the sake of her portion is but a kind of a tolerated robbery; and that they make but a poor amends to the father, whom they plunder after this manner, by going to bed with his child. Dear sir, be speedy in your thoughts on this subject, that, if possible, they may appear before the disbanding of the army.
· I am, sir,
Themistocles, the great Athenian General, being asked whether he would rather chuse to marry his daughter to an indigent man of merit, or to a worthless man of an estate, replied, that he should prefer a man without an estate to an estate without a man. The worst of it is, our modern fortune-hunters are those who turn their heads that way, because they are good for nothing else. If a young fellow finds he can make nothing of Coke and Littleton, he provides himself with a ladder of ropes, and by that means very often enters upon the premises.
The same art of scaling has likewise been practised with good success by many military engineers. Stratagems of this nature make parts and industry superfluous, and cut short the way to riches.
Nor is vanity a less motive than idleness to this kind of mercenary pursuit. A fop, who admires his person in a glass, soon enters into a resolution of making his fortune by it, not questioning but every woman that falls in his way will do him as much justice as he does himself. When an heiress sees a man throwing particular graces into his ogle, or talking loud within her hearing, she ought to look to herself; but if withal she observes a pair of red
heels, a patch, or any other particularity in his dress, she cannot take too much care of her person. These are baits not to be trifled with, charms that have done a world of execution, and made their way into hearts which have been thought impregnable. The force of a man with these qualifications is so well known, that I am credibly informed there are several female undertakers about the 'Change, who, upon the arrival of a likely man out of a neighbouring kingdom will furnish him with a proper dress from head to foot, to be paid for at a double price on the day of marriage.
We must, however, distinguish between fortunehunters and fortune-stealers. The first are those assiduous gentlemen who employ their whole lives in the chase, without ever coming to the quarry. Suffenus has combed and powdered at the ladies for thirty years together; and taken his stand in a sidebox, until he has grown wrinkled under their eyes. He is now laying the same snares for the present generation of beauties, which he practised on their mothers. Cottilus, after having made his applications to more than you meet with in Mr. Cowley's ballad of mistresses, was at last smitten with a city lady of 20,0001. sterling ; but died of old age before-he could bring matters to bear. Nor must I here omit my worthy friend Mr. Honeycomb, who has often told us in the club, that for twenty years successively, upon the death of a childless rich man, he immediately drew on his boots, called for his horse, and made up to the widow. When he is rallied upon his ill success, Will, with his usual gaiety, tells us, that he always found her pre-engaged. Widows are indeed the great game
of fortune-hunters. There is scarce a young fellow in the
town of six foot high that has not passed in review before one or other of these wealthy relicts. Hudibras's Cupid, who
took his stand' Upon a widow's* jointure land,
daily employed in throwing darts, and kindling flames. But as for widows, they are such a subtle generation of people, that they may be left to their own conduct; or if they make a false step in it, they are answerable for it to nobody but themselves. The young
innocent creatụres who have no knowledge and
experience of the world, are those whose safety I would principally consult in this speculation. The stealing of such an one should, in my opinion, be as punishable as a rape. Where there is no judgment there is no choice; and why the inveigling a woman before she is come to years of discretion should not be as criminal as the seducing of her before she is ten years old, I am at a loss to comprehend.
* The name of the widow here alluded to was Tomson. See Grey's edit. of Hudibras, vol. i. part i. canto iii. p. 212 and 213.