(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

One day in early September, a rural clergyman takes a friend from town hunting with him. When they stop to rest, the friend finds some indecipherable initials carved on the bark of a tree. The curate says they are probably the work of a young man named Harley, a former resident of the parish. The clergyman adds that he has a manuscript in his possession that tells the greater part of Harley’s story. The manuscript was found among the possessions of a former parishioner, Harley’s friend. The curate thought the work of no great value and has used the papers for wadding in his gun. Upon request, however, the clergyman gives the bundle of disconnected papers to his friend, who returns to town and pieces together the melancholy story they contain.

Mr. Harley, an orphan reared by a maiden aunt, is descended from a good family among the country gentry in England. The passing years have decreased the family’s fortunes, and by the time he reaches manhood he has only a very modest income from the remaining small estate. The young man, who is extremely virtuous, does not feel that he needs any more money, but his friends insist that with very little trouble he can secure the use of some adjoining lands belonging to the Crown. At his friends’ insistence and because he is very much in love with Miss Walton, an heiress, Harley sets out for London to attempt to obtain a lease to the lands. The lease would handsomely increase his fortunes in return for a low rental fee. He undertakes this mission with reluctance, though, because he is uneasy with the idea of striving for financial gain.

Once in London, Harley has several amazing adventures, partly because he is willing to believe all people are good until he finds them to be bad and partly because he wishes to help anyone who needs aid. These adventures take place over several weeks, for Harley finds that the baronet who is to help him in his suit for the lease is not an easy man to see. On the occasion of one visit to see the baronet, Harley meets someone pretending to be a man about town. Harley wishes to know more about London and spends the evening with the young man, only to learn that the fellow is a former footman who serves as a procurer for wealthy men.

A short time later, an unnamed friend invites Harley to accompany a party to the asylum at Bedlam. There, Harley is much affected by the insane, particularly by a young woman who went mad after her lover’s death; she touches Harley’s heart when she cries out that he resembles her dead lover. As the party leaves the young lady, a gentleman offers to tell Harley about some of the inmates. Harley assents, only to find within a few minutes that his guide is himself a madman who imagines himself to be an Asian potentate.

A few evenings later, Harley goes for a walk through the park. While there, he meets an elderly gentleman who invites him to partake of a glass of cider at a nearby pub. Impressed by the gentleman’s attitude of benevolence to a nearby beggar, Harley agrees. Once in the house, Harley is invited to play a hand in a friendly card game, during which the old gentleman and an accomplice swindle the good-hearted Harley out of a substantial sum of money. Leaving the pub...

(The entire section is 1317 words.)