The Prodigal Rake: Memoirs of William Hickey

The Prodigal Rake: Memoirs of William Hickey

The Prodigal Rake: Memoirs of William Hickey

The Prodigal Rake: Memoirs of William Hickey

Excerpt

During the winter of the year 1808, a new inhabitant appeared in the little Buckinghamshire town of Beaconsfield--a retired lawyer named William Hickey, who, having long practised his profession with considerable advantage at the Indian bar, had recently, much against his will, been obliged to give up his practice and return to England, when the iron constitution on which he prided himself at length showed signs of breaking down. No doubt, like most of his fellow nabobs, Hickey had a yellow ravaged face. Otherwise, considering his age--he had been born in 1749---he must have presented, to judge from his last portrait, an energetic and commanding figure, with his smooth dark wig, his brass-buttoned coat, his buckskin breeches and his top boots. The new arrival's immediate household consisted of a pair of elderly unmarried sisters, his favourite Indian servant Munnoo and a large parti-coloured English dog.

Originally, he had taken a house in the town. Then, at Michaelmas 1809, he moved to a "pretty cottage called Little Hall Barn . . . the property of Edmund Waller, Esquire, a lineal descendant of the celebrated poet . . . which premises were adjoining to and part of his own magnificent seat of Hall Barn." Here he passed his time pleasantly enough, "going in rotation (he tells us) to the houses of different friends, and usually running up to London once in six weeks or thereabouts. . . ." At home, he cultivated his garden or walked and rode around the country; and, despite gloomy prognostications as to the effect of the English climate upon his "shattered and debilitated frame," he found that, even in the coldest weather, it was seldom necessary to wear an overcoat. He still suffered, however, from the agonizing headaches that had begun to trouble him before he left the East, and, now and then, from "comparatively slight attacks of my old disagreeable nervous sensations, that are not easily described, but exceedingly distressing to those afflicted with them." Luckily, there was an intelligent doctor at hand, who rendered "the most affectionate assistance. . . ."

A sensible, apparently harmonious life; yet after a while he grew dissatisfied and melancholic. At Beaconsfield, Hickey explains, a "trifling" place "with a very limited society," he soon "experienced the truth of an observation I had frequently heard--viz. that want of employment is one of the greatest miseries that can be attached to a . . .

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