The Dangers of Hedonism

"Hummingbirds or a Dandy Trio" by caricaturist George Cruilshank (1819)

“Hummingbirds or a Dandy Trio” by caricaturist George Cruilshank (1819)

Snippets 67Memoirs of a Man of Fashion was published anonymously in three volumes in 1821. The books contain much useful information about the wealthy classes during the early years of the 19th Century. The following anecdote is from the third volume, a cautionary tale that is still relevant today. Subtitled “The Dangers of Dissipation” (which means reckless spending), it serves as a warning about where a hedonistic lifestyle can lead…

Poor Harry Mortimer had outlived his health, his friends, and his respectability, ‘ere he was thirty-six. A fortune, squandered at an early age, had procured him luxuries, and surrounded him with false friends and envious companions. When the gold which attracted these carrion crows, who lived on his substance, was expended, they flew off like birds of prey to a richer victim — to a plumper repast. A knowledge of the frail and interested of the fairer sex had deprived him of female solace, either in a wife or friend; for he dared not to trust the first, and he was not fortunate enough to find the second.

His furor of gaming had consumed itself; and the sports of the field became insupportable to his diminished strength, and his still more exhausted purse. Debility likewise debarred him from the benefit of extensive exercise; town was too expensive for his pocket; the country was ill adapted for the state of his mind, and for the lowness of his spirits: books he had never read; his intellectual faculties had been so neglected, that he could not now bring them into action; his prospects were cloudy and unpromising; his reminiscences insufferable: all the man about him was gone; the mere animal remained; nay, the vital spark burnt like a dim lamp, dreary and unenlightening to himself and to others.

His only means of retreat and of provision were to cut off the entail of an estate, by joining the next heir in levying a fine and suffering a recovery, so as to enable him to sink the principal in a canal concern, and to live upon the annuity accruing therefrom. He heard, by accident, of my being in town, and wrote to me to come and see him as the greatest favor; nay, as an act of charity. I did so, and thereby ascertained his way of living.

He breakfasted in bed; read the leading article of a newspaper with difficulty, by the aid of spectacles; rose at three; could not shave himself; dressed; walked half an hour, until overcome with fatigue, or lay on the sofa until six, when he dined. After his soup, his hand shook so violently, that he was obliged to nerve it with a glass of brandy. His conversation was all complaints of pains, and disappointment, until he became intoxicated; when a beam of humanity and benevolence peeped feebly through the haze of liquor.

He ended his irrational day by falling fast asleep, and being carried up to bed in his servant’s arms. If alone, he smoked his cigar, and sat up until three in the morning, until brandy and water brought him down. If in company, he got intoxicated early, and was conveyed speechless from the table. Thus has he worked out the vital system…

His end was hastened by a paralytic stroke: he dragged on a few weeks of miserable existence, unpitied and unvisited. Yet, do I remember this man, young, handsome, much-esteemed, and possessed of a fine fortune.

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About Roger Pocock

Author of Co-writer on Editor of
This entry was posted in 19th Century, Autobiographies, Books, History, Memoirs, People, Snippets and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Dangers of Hedonism

  1. A sad ending to what could have been a great life.


  2. Midwestern Plant Girl says:

    Ouch. Live hard, die young I guess!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. egbertstarr says:

    Ah, the snows of yesteryear! (Where have all my ether parties fled?)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, at least he was once young, handsome, much-esteemed, and once possessed of a fine fortune. I’d hate to read a piece written by someone who never found anything to like about the man. Yikes!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: The Dangers of Hedonism – Ryan Brandom

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