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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 657

The novel concerns a young man named Harley, who finds himself in need of increasing his fortune sooner rather than later. There are two possible ways he could do so:

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One of these was, the prospect of his succeeding to an old lady, a distant relation, who was known to be possessed of a very large sum in the stocks: but in this their hopes were disappointed; for the young man was so untoward in his disposition, that . . . his visits rather tended to alienate than gain the good-will of his kinswoman. He sometimes looked grave when the old lady told the jokes of her youth; . . . nay, he had once the rudeness to fall asleep while she was describing the composition and virtues of her favourite cholic-water.

Because he failed on all fronts to satisfy her moods and requests, when she died she left him no money whatsoever.

The other method is to try to secure a lease on the crown lands that border the estate he inherited from his father. He could purchase them relatively inexpensively, as their rental income is rather low. His associates encourage him to do this, and offer to provide him introductions to a baronet in London who could further his cause. Social advancement was thus highly recommended to Harley:

They did not fail to enumerate the many advantages which a certain degree of spirit and assurance gives a man who would make a figure in the world: they repeated their instances of good fortune in others, ascribed them all to a happy forwardness of disposition….

Arriving in London after a few small adventures, Harley cannot immediately connect with the baronet, but he keeps trying. While in the city, his friends take him to see the local sights which, in those days, included Bedlam, the famous asylum. Some of the inmates were so wild they were chained up while others wandered about, and Harley confused them with the other visitors as their opinions basically matched his own. One such man told him:

But delusive ideas, sir, are the motives of the greatest part of mankind, and a heated imagination the power by which their actions are incited: the world, in the eye of a philosopher, may be said to be a large madhouse.

Harley’s naïveté leads him to give aid to a destitute young woman, eking out her living as a prostitute. Harley is subjected to her piteous tale of woe about how she became separated from her father, a military officer. As the story concludes, the father walks in and...

(The entire section contains 657 words.)

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