NEW MAN OF FEELING.
by WILLIAM GODWIN.
"BY degrees I became more serious and mediatating. I said to myself, 'What am I? and wherefore am I here?' The years of nonage in the human creature are many, partly because be is surrounded with parents, and kindred, and acquaintances, whose habit it is to take care of him, and to direct his steps. Perhaps the majority of human beings never think of standing by themselves, and choosing their own employments, till the sentence has been regularly promulgated to them, -It is time for you to take care of yourself. For my part, I found myself cast upon a new world, without relations, acquaintances, or friends, and this urged me on prematurely to acts of discretion. I could scarcely persuade myself that the life to which I was devoted, deserved the name of taking care of me, and therefore began to cast about in my own thoughts what I should do.
"' I need not tell you that I detested the condition in which I found myself placed, and longed to escape from it, and seek my fortune. But whither direct my steps ? I dared not think of Switzerland. There resided my uncle, that malignant demon, the recollection of whom haunted my thoughts, waking and sleeping. In all the rest of the world I knew not even the private and proper name of a human creature. I had listened, however, to the old songs of Switzerland, and had some acquaintance with the romances of the middle ages. Mine were the years of romance. Without knowledge enough of what may actually passing in the scenes of the universe, yet with a restless imagination, and a powerful motive urging me to consult it, I patched up as I could, from narratives of humble life, and tales of chivalry, what it was that I should have to encounter. I knew I must have bread, and that bread did not grow in every hedge. I concluded that I must find or make a friend, by whose assistance to support life, and, if possible, attain to something beyond bare subsistence.
" At first I was somewhat terrified with the project I had conceived. Again and again I sat down in despair, and said, ' I am too young-; I must wait yet some years before I can launch upon so great an undertaking.' But my tasks would not wait: they beset me from morning till night, and, when I had once conceived the idea of flight, became continually more insupportable. From the extreme of despair, I passed to the extreme of sanguine expectation. I brooded over my plans, till all difficulties seemed to vanish before me ; the scenes I anticipated at length became as familiar to me, as any thing which had absolutely passed in any former period of my life.
" You will smile when I tell you that my favourite scheme was to go to Versailles, and throw myself at the feet of the King of France. It was the project of a child, and will show you how ripe and unripe at once was the state of my intellect. The Gallic sovereign is, of all kings, the favourite of the people of Switzerland. I had listened to the songs and popular tales concerning Francis I. and Henry IV; and a king of France appeared, in my eyes, the most gallant and generous of mortals. I did not know exactly how much I proposed to tell the King ; I scrupled the secret my uncle had so severely enjoined me to preserve ; yet, if he should insist upon knowing the whole, surely he was able to protect me against the resentment of a burgher of Uri! However this point might be disposed of, I felt in myself a destination superior to that of a handicraft in the silk-mills of Lyons; I believed that I was capable of extraordinary things. What boy from the swifts, but myself, would have had the boldness to think of applying for redress to the King of France ? I was persuaded that I could interest his Majesty in my case, - that I could induce him to judge me deserving of his protection. I would say to him, ' Sire, dispose of me as you please; make me one of your pages; you shall find me the most zealous and faithful of your servants!'
"Louis XIV was at this time in the height of his glory. Among the little topics, by my excellence in which I had distinguished myself in the halcyon days of my childhood, was history. It will easily be supposed that my knowledge amounted to scarcely more than a few names and dates ; I but I had heard certain familiar anecdotes of Henry IV. pleasing to my boyish imagination, and had long since made him my hero. I was told that Louis XIV was the worthy grandson of this free-hearted prince. In one of my Sunday excursions I fell in with an old French soldier. The military private is usually of a loquacious and commuicative temper. I was eager to be acquainted with the character of his master ; he was no less prompt to tell me all he knew. He spoke of the beauty of his figure, and the affability of his demeanour. He related the victories he had won, and described the palaces and public edifices which he had founded or adorned. He swore that he was the most generous, condescending, and tender-hearted of mankind; and he happened to have two or three instances, which he affirmed to have occurred under his own eye, not unhappily illustrative of this character. Every thing, as I thought, seemed to concur for the success of my design. The magnificence of Louis XIV. fascinated my imagination; the examples of his gentleness and humanity were so many omens assuring my good fortune. I bought a portrait of this monarch; it was almost the only extravagance of which I had been guilty since my last degradation. I carried it in my pocket. On Sundays, when I had wandered into the most obscure retreat I could find, I held it in my hand ; I set it before me, I talked to it, and endeavoured to win the good-will of the King. Sometimes I worked myself into such a degree of fervour and enthusiasm, that I could scarcely believe but that the portrait smiled upon me, and, with a look of peculiar benignity, seemed to say, 'Come to Versailles, and I will make your fortune !'
" While I attended the lessons of the regents of the free- school of Lyons, I received the weekly stipend usually allotted to boys of my age. I had before, as I have mentioned, received, a louis d'or and -a three livres piece from my uncle and cousin at parting. Like a boy, I sometimes spent my money upon toys and confitures; but for the most part I reserved it, and suffered it to grow into a little stock. Young as I was, from the moment of parting with my uncle I could not conceal from myself that I was in an extraordinary situation. The secrecy that had been enjoined me weighed upon my mind. Compelled to deny my family, my friends, and my country and suddenly dropped in a city where I was unacquainted with a single creature, I incessantly said, ' What is next to befal me? It is necessary for me to provide myself, and not to be wholly unprepared for events which it is not in my power to foresee.' Youth is, in some respects, the age of suspicion; at least it was so with me. Whenever a child of the age at which I was arrived, feels that he is thwarted and rigorously used, he half suspects some motive, obscure and unavowed, ' in the individual from whom his mortification is derived.
" The period I ultimately fixed for my flight was the week of Easter. At this time we were allowed at the mill two holidays, in addition to that of Sunday. I was perhaps partly influenced in choosing this season, by the idea that when I was not wanted at work, my presence or absence would be little taken notice of. The people with whom I lived were too wretched, and too anxious about their own children, to feel much kindness for me; and I should not be reported to the overseer till Wednesday. But the principal consideration that guided me was the cheerfulness of the season; liberty was, to the whole lower class of the people, the order of the day. I had three days of freedom : why should I not make this the starting post of my eternal liberty ?
" I will not trouble you with a detail of my smaller adventures on the road. Full of the anticipation of my grand undertaking, I had repeatedly turned my steps on my days of relaxation toward Paris, and made many enquiries respecting the way. I had learned the names of the principal towns. I set out with a beating heart; and, having walked gravely till I was out of the city, I then began to run. I did not, however, run far; my thoughts were too full of agitation to admit any regularity of motion. Sometimes I slackened my pace, because I feared I should be taken for a fugitive; and sometimes because I said to myself, ' I must manage my strength, if I expect it to carry me far.'
" Two hundred and fifty miles was a great undertaking for a boy under nine years of age. One advantage I possessed: I had money, more than I could prudently spend on the passage. My mind was too intently fixed upon the end of my journey, to be capable of much calculation respecting the obstacles I had to encounter. One resolution, however, I fixed, firm as the basis of my native mountains,-' No consideration on earth, no difficulties, no discouragements, shall ever carry me back!' A mechanic becomes a sort of machine; his limbs and articulations are converted, as it were, into wood and wires. Tamed, lowered, torpified into this character, he may be said, perhaps, to be content. It is well ! It seems necessary that there should be such a class of animated machines in the world. It is probable, if I had continued much longer in the silk-mills of Lyons, I should have become such a being myself. But, with the conceptions and recollections which continually beset my imagination, it appeared the most horrible of all destinies. I, that dared, at nine years of age, launch myself in the world, -that dared, to a certain degree, to revolve the various chances of human affairs, and defy the worst,--that purposed to challenge the attention, the equity, and the compassion of the King of France, --should I be thus neutralised! Why did I feel thus? Because my early education had not prepared me for my present lot. I understood why my companions of my own age were put into the silk-mill: their parents were engaged in employments equally deadening; their parents were unable by their labour to obtain bread for themselves and their offspring: but I did not understand why I was there. I felt such a loathing at this moment to the occupation which had engrossed me for months, that, if I could have been assured that such should be my occupation for as many months to come, I believe, child as I was, I should sooner have taken a knife and thrust it into my heart, than submit to it.
" In thinking over my situation as I passed along, I felt that the thing most immediately pressing upon me was to avoid exciting the curiosity and suspicion of the persons whose assistance might be necessary to me on the road. The production of a louis d'or, for example, might be fatal to a boy of my childish appearance and coarseness of attire. in my journey from Urseren to Lyons, I had learned something of the nature of inns; and I retained all these things as perfectly as if they had occurred only yesterday. I resolved to go only to the meanest inns, and ask for the plainest accommodations. On the second day I joined a wagoner, who was conducting his commodities to Dijon; and this considerably facilitated the first part of my journey. I began with asking him of my road to Macon, the first considerable place through which I was to pass. He was going through Macon.
"'How much further?'
"The meanness of my attire encouraged him to question me in his turn.
"'What had I to do at Macon?'
"'I was going to see the world,' I replied.
"'I perceive, my spark,' cried the wagoner, ' what you are. You belong to the silk-mills; you are a runaway, and I have a great mind to take you up, and send you back to your master.'
" I was surprised at his so instantly fixing on my true character; though, on reflection, it was by no means extraordinary that a person just come from Lyons should have made the conjecture; the costume was sufficiently peculiar.
" ' I will never stay at the silk-mill,' said I; ' nobody has a right to confine me there.'
" 'Nobody has a right, youngster? Not your parents? Your wildness, I dare say, will break their hearts.'
" ' 1 have no parents.'- I confessed to him that I was determined to go to Paris.
" ' And what will you do at Paris? You will be starved to death.'
" ' Better be starved, than undergo such misery as I have suffered. But I will not starve !'
" The wagoner began to reflect, that, if I had no parents or kindred, nobody would be greatly injured by my elopement. He contented himself, therefore, with seriously expostulating with me on the folly of my project, and advising me to return. Finding his remonstrances of no avail, he agreed to take me under his protection as far as he was going on my way, Thus I conquered more than one third of the road.
Next Chapter Table of Contents