Item of the Day: Zeluco (1789)

Full Title: Zeluco. Various Views of Human Nature, Taken from Life and Manners, Foreign and Domestic. Vol. I. London: Printed for A. Strahan; and T. Cadell, in the Strand, M.DCC.LXXXIX. [1789]

CHAP. I.

Strong Indications of a vicious Disposition.

RELIGION teaches, that Vice leads to endless misery in a future state; and experience proves, that in spite of the gayest and most prosperous appearance, inward misery accompanies her; for, even in this life, her ways are ways of wretchedness, and all her paths are woe.

This observation has been so often made, that it must be known to all, and its truth is seldom formally denied by any; yet the conduct of men would sometimes lead us to suspect, either that they had never heard it, or that they think it false. To recall a truth of such importance to the recollection of mankind, and to illustrate it by example, may therefore be of use.

Tracing the windings of Vice, however, and delineating the disgusting features of Villany [sic], are unpleasant tasks; and some people cannot bear to contemplate such a picture. It is fair, therefore, to warn Readers of this turn of mind not to peruse the story of Zeluco.

This person, sprung from a noble family in Sicily, was a native of Palermo, where he passed the years of early childhood, without being distinguished by any thing very remarkable in his disposition, unless it was a tendency to insolence, and an inclination to domineer over boys of inferior rank and circumstances. The bad endency of this, however, was so strongly remonstrated against by his father, and others who superintended his education, that it was in a great degree checked, and in a fair way of being entirely overcome.

In the tenth year of his age he lost his father, and was left under the guidance of a mother, whose darling he had ever been, and who had often blamed her husband for too great severity to a son, whom, in her fond opinion, nature had endowed with every good quality.

A short time after the death of his father, Zeluco began to betray strong symptoms of that violent and overbearing disposition to which he had always had a propensity, though he had hitherto been obliged to refrain it. Had that gentleman lived a few years longer, the violence of Zeluco’s temper would, it is probable, have been weakened, or entirely annihilated, by the continued influence of this habit of restraint, and his future life might have exhibited a very different character; for he shewed sufficient command of himself as long as his father lived: but very soon after his death, he indulged, without control, every humour and caprice; and his mistaken mother applauding the blusterings of petulance and pride as indications of spirit, his temper became more and more ungovernable, and at length seemed as inflammable as gunpowder, bursting into flashes of rage at the slightest touch of provocation.

It may be proper to mention one instance of this violence of temper, from which the reader will be enabled to form a juster notion than his mother did, of what kind of spirit it was an indication.

He had a favourite sparrow, so tame it picked crumbs from his hand, and hopped familiarly on the table. One day it did not perform certain tricks which he had taught it, to his satisfaction. This put the boy into a passion: the bird being frightened, attempted to fly off the table. He suddenly seized it with his hand, and while it struggled to get free, with a curse he squeezed the little animal to death. His tutor, who was present, was so shocked at this instance of absurd and brutal rage, that he punished him as he deserved, saying, “I hope this will cure you of giving vent to such odious gusts of passion. If it does not, remember what I tell you, Sir; they will render you hateful to others, wretched to yourself, and may bring you one day to open shame and endless remorse. Zeluco complained to his mother; and she dismissed the tutor, declaring, that she would not have her son’s vivacity repressed by the rigid maxims of a narrow-minded pedant.

 

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Filed under 1780's, England, Fiction, Great Britain, Literature, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

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