NEW MAN OF FEELING.
by WILLIAM GODWIN.
I saw that I was alone, and I desired to have a friend. Friends, in the ordinary sense of the word, and that by no means a contemptible sense, I had many; friends who / found pleasure in my conversation, who were convinced of the integrity of my principles of conduct, and who would have trusted me in the most important concerns. But what sort of a friend is it whose kindness shall produce a conviction in my mind that I do not stand alone in the world? This must be a friend, who is to me as another self, who joys in all my joys, and grieves in all my sorrows, not with a joy or grid that looks like compliment, not with a sympathy that changes into smiles when I am no longer present, though my head continues bent to the earth with anguish. -I do not condemn the man, upon whom a wound through my vitals acts but as a scratch; I know that his feelings are natural; I admit him for just, honest, and humane -a valuable member of society. But he is not the brother of my heart. I will not suffer myself to be beguiled, and to fall into so wretched an error as to mistake the friendship of good-humour, or even of esteem, for the friendship which can best console a man in calamity and wretchedness, whether of mind or external circumstances. I walk among these men as in an agreeable promenade; I speak to one and another, and am cheered with the sight of their honest countenances; but they are nothing to me: I know that, when death removes me from the scene for ever, their countenances will the next day be neither less honest nor less cheerful. Friendship, in the sense in which I felt the want of it, has been truly said to be a sentiment that can grasp but one individual in its embrace. The person who entertains this sentiment must see in his friend a creature of a species by itself, must respect and be attached to him above all the world, and be deeply convinced that the loss of him would be a calamity which nothing earthly could repair. By long habit, he must have made his friend a part of himself; must be incapable of any pleasure in public, in reading, in travelling, of which he does not make his friend, at least in idea, a partaker, or of passing a day or an hour in the conceptions of which the thought of his friend does not mingle itself.
How many disappointments did I sustain in the search after a friend! How often this treasure appeared as it were within my grasp, and then glided away from my / eager embrace! The desire to possess it, was one of the earliest passions of my life, and, though eternally baffled, perpetually returned to the assault. I met with men, who seemed willing to bestow their friendship upon me; but their temper, their manners, and their habits, were so discordant from mine, that it was impossible the flame should be lighted in my breast. I met with men, to whom I could willingly have sworn an eternal partnership of soul; but they thought of me with no corresponding sentiment; they were engaged in other pursuits, they were occupied with other views, and had not leisure to distinguish and to love me.
Some one, perhaps, will ask me, Why are qualities of this nature necessary in a friend? If I die, why should I wish my friend to bear about him a heart transfixed with anguish for my loss? Is not this wish miserably ungenerous and selfish? -God knows, in that sense I do not entertain the wish: I wish my friend to possess every possible enjoyment, and to be exempted from every human suffering. But let us consider the meaning of this. I require that my friend should be poignantly affected by my death, as I require that he should be affected if I am calumniated, shipwrecked, imprisoned, robbed of my competence or my peace. Not that I have any pleasure in his distress, simply considered; but that I know that this is the very heart and essence of an ardent friendship. I cannot be silly enough to believe that the man who looks on, at my calamity or my death, without any striking interruption of his tranquility, has a vehement affection for me. He may be considerate and kind; he may watch by my bed-side with an enlightened and active benevolence; he may even be zealous to procure every alleviation of my pains, and every aid for restoring me to enjoyment and health: but this is not love. No; if he can close my eyes, and then return with a free and unembarrassed mind to his ordinary business and avocations, this is not love.
I know not how other men are constituted; but something of this sort seemed essential to my happiness. It is not wonderful, perhaps, that I, who had been so circumstanced from my infancy, as to accustom me to apprehend / every discord to my feelings and tastes as mortal to the serenity of my mind, should have had so impatient a thirst for friendship. The principle of the sentiment may be explained mechanically, and is, perhaps, to a considerable degree, mechanical in its operation. The circumstances, whether allied to pleasure or pain, in which I am placed, strike upon my mind, and produce a given sensation. I do not wish to stand alone, but to consider myself as part only of a whole. If that which produces sensation in me, produces sensation no where else, I am substantially alone. If the lash inflicted on me will, being inflicted on another, be attended with a similar effect, I then know that there is a being of the same species or genus with myself. Still we are, each of us, substantive and independent. But, if there is it being who feels the blow under which I flinch, in whom my sensations are by a kind of necessity echoed and repeated, that being is a part of myself. Every reasoning and sensitive creature seems intuitively to require, to his perfectly just and proper state, this son of sympathy. It is inconceivable how great an alleviation is in this way afforded, how it mitigates the agony of every kind of distress. It is inconceivable in how deep and insurmountable it solitude that creature is involved, who looks every where around for sympathy, but looks in vain. Society, an active and a crowded scene, is the furthest in the world from relieving the sensation of this solitude. The more moving and variegated is the assembly in which I am present, the more full is my conviction that I am alone. 1 should find as much consolation and rest among what the satirist calls the vitrified inhabitants of the planet Mercury, as here.
The operation, as I have said, is in one view of it mechanical; in another it is purely intellectual and moral. To the happiness of every human creature, at least in a civilised state, it is perhaps necessary that he should esteem himself, that he should regard himself as an object of complacency and honour: but in this, as well as every other species of creed, it should seem almost impossible for any one to be a firm believer, if there art: no other persons in the world of the same sect as himself. However worthy and valuable he may endeavour to consider himself, his / persuasion will be attended with little confidence and solidity, if it does not find support in the judgments of other men. The martyr, or the champion of popular pretensions, cheerfully encounters the terrors of a public execution, provided the theatre on which he is to die is filled with his approvers. And, in this respect, the strength of attachment and approbation in a few, or in one, will sometimes compensate the less conspicuous complacence of thousands. I remember to have heard a very vain man say, 'I have a hundred friends, any one of whom would willingly die, if it were required for my preservation or welfare': no wonder that such a man should be continually buoyed up with high spirits, and enjoy the most enviable sensations. Alas! what this man was able to persuade himself he possessed in so wild an exuberance, I sought for through life, and found in no single instance!
Thus I spent more than twenty years of my life, continually in search of contentment, which as invariably eluded my pursuit. My disposition was always saturnine. I wanted something. I knew not what I sought it in solitude and in crowds, in travel and at home, in ambition and in independence. My ideas moved slow; I was prone to ennui. I wandered among mountains and rivers, through verdant plains, and over immense precipices; but nature had no beauties. I plunged into the society of the rich, the gay, the witty, and the eloquent; but I sighed; disquisition did not rouse me to animation; laughter was death to my flagging spirits.
This disease, which afflicted me at first but in a moderate degree, grew upon me perpetually from year to year. As I advanced in life, my prospects became less gilded with the sunshine of hope; and, as the illusion of the scenes of which I was successively a spectator wore Out, I felt with deeper dejection that 1 was alone in the world.
It will readily be supposed, that in these twenty years of my life I met with many adventures; and that, if I were so inclined, I might, instead of confining myself as I have done to generals, have related a variety of minute circum. stances, sometimes calculated to amuse the fancy, / and sometimes to agitate the sympathetic and generous feelings, of every reader. I might have described many pleasing and many pathetic incidents in Merionethshire: I might have enlarged upon my club of authors, and thus, in place of making my volumes a moral tale, have converted them into a vehicle for personal satire: I might have expanded the story of my political life, and presented the reader with many anecdotes of celebrated characters, that the world has little dreamed of: I might have described the casualties of my travels, and the heart-breaking delusions and disappointments of a pretended friendship. It is by no means for want of materials, that I have touched with so light a hand upon this last portion of my life. But I willingly sacrifice these topics. I hasten to the events which have pressed with so terrible a weight on my heart, and have formed my principal motive to become my own historian.
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