Wilton did not mistake the motives of the Earl: he knew him to be anything but a penurious man; and he had long seen and been aware of the motives on which that nobleman acted towards him. He knew that it was with a wish to give him everything that was necessary and appropriate to the situation in which he was placed, but by no means to encourage expensive habits, or desires which might unfit him for the first laborious steps which he was destined to tread in the path of life. He felt, indeed, that there was an ambitious spirit in his own heart, and it cost him many a struggle in thought, to regulate its action: to guide it in the course of all that was good and right, but resolutely to restrain it from following any other path. “Ambition,” he thought, “is like a falcon, and must be trained to fly only at what game I will. Its proud spirit must be broken, to bend to this, and to submit to that; to yield even to imaginary indignities, provided they imply no sacrifice of real honour, and to strive for no false show, while I am striving for a greater object.”
Thus passed a year, but during that time the Earl’s health had been in no degree improved; and a number of painful events had taken place in his political course which had left his mind more irritable than before, while continual suffering had brought upon him a sort of desponding recklessness, which made him cast behind him altogether those things which he had previously considered the great objects of existence, and desire nothing but to quit for ever the scene of political strife, and pass the rest of his days in peace, if not in comfort.
Such had been the state of his mind when Wilton had last seen him in London, towards the beginning of the year 1695; but the young gentleman was somewhat surprised, about a month afterwards, to receive a sudden summons to visit the Earl in town, coupled with information, that it was his friend’s design immediately to proceed to Italy, on account of his health. The summons was very unexpected, as we have implied; but the Earl informed him in his letter that he was going without loss of time; and as the shortest way of reaching him, Wilton determined to mount his horse at once, and ride part of the way to London that night. Of his journey, however, and its results, we will speak in another chapter.
That there are epochs in the life of every man, when all the concurrent circumstances of fortune seem to form, as it were, a dam against the current of his fate, and turn it completely into another direction, when the trifling accident and the great event work together to produce an entirely new combination around him, no one who examines his own history, or marks attentively the history of others, can doubt for a moment. It is very natural, too, to believe that there are at those moments indications in our own hearts—from the deep latent sympathies