NEW MAN OF FEELING.
by WILLIAM GODWIN.
Let me not be misunderstood. Let it not be supposed that the passion and determination of my mind in favour of this charming girl were less fervent than they ever had been. On the contrary she became every hour more interesting to me. While she sat like Niobe, her whole soul dissolved in tears for the untimely destruction of her family, it was impossible not to feel in its utmost energy the wish, Might I be your comforter! In proportion as she gained the power of attending in some degree to the objects before her, her intercourse gave me nameless emotions. There was a gentle sweetness in her manner, that I never saw in any other human creature. I remembered her gay and active and spirited; it was now a faint and undefined image of these qualities that presented itself, a sun that yielded an uncertain beam, amidst the mass of clouds that sought to overwhelm it. That transparent complexion, that countenance in which, like a book, the spectator might read every emotion and temporary impulse of the soul, rendered every state of mind of the angelic creature to whom it belonged interesting. When the first faint smile, after the death of her father, illumined her features, it struck me like a resurrection from the dead: my sensations were such as those which Admetus must have felt, when Hercules brought back to him his heroic consort from the regions of Pluto. There was something too aerial, too subtle, too heavenly in her countenance, to be properly the attribute of a terrestrial being. The glories of Elysium seemed to hang round her. Poor Mary had nothing on earth left her to love, but me; and she felt toward me as toward father, mother, sisters in one. Nothing could be so delicate and flattering to me, as the whole of her demeanour; and every demonstration of this sort had a double price, as it appeared a gentle and voluntary and cheerful restraint upon the state of her mind, so much taken away from the dead to give to the living.
Thus we passed the winter. The cheerful blaze of our quiet hearth compensated for the driving hail and snow which raged without. Gradually I endeavoured to engage the attention of my charmer with indifferent objects. I adorned her apartments with the most beautiful products of the gardener's care I was able to procure. I obtained some for her which she had never seen before. She instructed me in botany; she brought forth her port-folios, and showed me her charming drawings. I called her attention to the beauties of the English writers from Queen Elizabeth to the Civil War, writers who had always appeared to me to surpass those of any other age or country. It was one of the agreeable attributes of this winter, that our interviews were never broken in upon by any accidental interloper. One peaceful hour of animated disquisition, or soothing remission, passed away after another, unmarked. When I saw my adorable ward, if not happy, at least peaceful and pleased, my heart beat with honest exultation, and I said, This is my work! she was willing to yield equal credit to my exertions. It was the work of nature! Time, youth and health inevitably did so much for my patient, that there was little left for me, her soul's physician, to effect. If the intercourse and position I have described would have been delightful to any one with the soul of a man, imagine what they were to me, who, from the hour of my birth till now, had never experienced the sweets of honourable love.
A brilliant and genial spring succeeded the winter. I had never felt this interesting period of the awakening of the universe from its torpor, so deeply as now. Nature became restored to life and the pulses of life, and my charmer sympathised with the general tone of created things. During the winter I had never ventured to propose to her a visit to any of the scenes of public amusement which the metropolis affords; no one could have looked in her face, and started the proposition; it would have been treason to the majesty of her grief; it would have been sacrilege, to bring forward the dejected mourner amidst the hardened gaiety and indifference of an assembly, or the unhallowed jests and obstreperous mirth of a theatre. An excursion into the country is an amusement of a different sort. Nature in her gayest scenes is never drunken and tumultuous. A cheerful sobriety is their characteristic. When I escape from the multitude, and hasten to her retreats, I am never incommoded with obtrusive and discordant sounds; all around me is silent; or, if any thing is heard, it is the rustling of the wind, or the uncouth warblings of the feathered tribe; even the lowing of the herds is sweet; and if I were placed amidst a forest of wild beasts, I should find, could I divest myself of the terror they excite, that the mighty master had tempered their roarings, till they afforded a sublime mellowness, not unpleasing to the ear.
The soft tints of the morning had a staid liveliness in them which led my poor Mary out of herself, ere she was aware. The air had a sweet alacrity which she could not resist. "Mr. Fleetwood," said she, "your attentions are a thousand times greater than I deserve. Had they a character of obtrusiveness and command, I should know what part to take. But I can discover nothing in them which betrays that you think of gratification to yourself; you appear to be the soul of humanity and tenderness. I should be the most ungrateful creature in the world, if I did not accept your solicitudes for my health and invitations to the air, or if I refused to smile, when nature and Fleetwood summon me to smile."
We made a tour in succession to almost all the environs of the metropolis. If one is content to give up the demand for the wild, the majestic and awful in scenery, I know of no city, the neighbourhood of which affords a greater variety of rich and beautiful and animated spots, than London. The Thames is the great wealth of this vicinity. What can be more striking than the crowd of masts and vessels of various sizes, as discovered from Greenwich, or the frolic meandrings of this rural stream, as it shows itself at Richmond? What objects can be more unlike than these two? If you recede from the river, Sydenham, and Epsom, and Esher, and Hampstead, and Hendon, and twenty other delightful scenes, are ready to advance their several claims for the prize of beauty. Let not my readers wonder at this enumeration, which to some of them may perhaps appear trite. Let them recollect that with every one of these places I associate some interesting scene of courtship, which renders the remembrance dear to me. Let them be thankful that I dismiss this part of my narrative so lightly. If I were to enlarge upon the history of this beautiful spring, and relate at length the pleasing incidents which occurred, particularly at Epsom and Richmond, instead of consecrating a page to this topic, I should fill volumes.
In the month of July I became a husband. When a sufficient period had elapsed to make my poor Mary feel that she belonged in some measure to the world, she was too ingenuous not to disdain the forms and semblances of grief. As she had scarcely any visitor beside myself, it became proper that we should, as soon as might be, put an end to this equivocal situation, upon which the good-natured world is always eager to interpose its constructions. "My beloved Fleetwood," said Mary, "I feel that I love you to the full as much, I believe more, than I could love a man of my own age. The sentiment that I feel for you has a sort of religion in it, which renders it a thousand times sweeter, and more soothing to my heart. I reverence, at the same time that I love you. I shall be infinitely more reluctant to wound you, and more solicitous for your peace, than I should be, if you were a youth in the full revelry and exuberance of the morning of life. In all partnership engagements, there must be a subordination. If I had a young husband, I might perhaps sometimes be presumptuous enough to estimate his discernment at no higher a rate than my own; but the case is otherwise now. Mistake me not, my dear Fleetwood. I am not idle and thoughtless enough, to promise to sink my being and individuality in yours. I shall have my distinct propensities and preferences. Nature has moulded my mind in a particular way; and I have of course my tastes, my pleasures, and my wishes, more or less different from those of every other human being. I hope you will not require me to disclaim them. In me you will have a wife, and not a passive machine. But, whenever a question occurs of reflection, of experience, of judgment, or of prudential consideration, I shall always listen to your wisdom with undissembled deference. In every thing indifferent, or that can be made so, I shall obey you with pleasure. And in return I am sure you will consider me as a being to be won with kindness, and not dictated to with the laconic phrase of authority.
"Yet I am sorry, my dear love, that you should marry a woman who has suffered so cruelly as I have done. My father's advice to you was, 'Fleetwood, if you marry, chuse a girl, whom no disappointments have soured, and no misfortunes have bent to the earth.' Fleetwood, you must not be angry with me, if I sometimes recollect that my father, mother, and sisters, all perished together by an untimely and tragical fate. Peaceful and serene as I may appear to you, I bear a wound in my breast, which may be skinned over, and seem as if it were cured, but which will occasionally break out afresh, and produce symptoms of fever, impatience and despair. How exquisite are the various charities of human life! From the most venerable of these, those which are entailed upon us without asking our leave, and are stamped with the highest sanctity, I am cut off for ever. I am like a being who, by some severe ordination of providence, is destined to stand alone, to know no kindred, to have no alliance or connection, but what my own election and voluntary engagement may eventually supply. If you should fail me, Fleetwood! mdash; I have faults; you unquestionably have faults too. You are difficult to be pleased; I see it; my father told me so; my powers of pleasing, perhaps my inclination to please, have their limits. If you should fail me, I have no one to fly to; I shall remain a solitary monument of despair! These thoughts will sometimes intrude, and make me sad. Other persons lose their relations one by one; they are gradually broken in to their forlorn situation. I was overwhelmed at once: and never, so long as I shall continue to exist, shall I recover this terrible stroke.
"But why do I thus cheat my sorrows, by dwelling in general propositions! If my lost relatives had been otherwise than they were, I could have borne it, I ought to have borne it. Fleetwood, you knew them! No, never was there such a father, such a mother, such sisters. How we loved each other! How happy we made each other, and what powers we had of contributing to each other's happiness! — Barbara! Amelia! my father! my mother! If I dwell upon the horrible theme I shall go distracted! — Fleetwood, how I wish that I too could commit myself to the mercy of the ocean! When the thought of my own death rises to my mind, it never comes in so soothing a form as if I imagine it to happen by drowning. Believe me, there is nothing I so earnestly pray for, as that this may be the means by which I may cease to exist. I should not feel it as death; it would be a reunion to all I love!
Life is the desert; life the solitude.
This mingles me with all my soul has lov'd:
'Tis to be borne to sisters and to parents;
'Tis to rejoin the stock from which I sprung,
And be again in Nature!"
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