NEW MAN OF FEELING.
by WILLIAM GODWIN.
I Hastened, as I have already said, from paris, and plunged amidst the wild and desolate scenery of mount Jura. The next intended stage of my travels was Switzerland, and I pursued the road which led to that country. The first anxiety I felt was to escape from my sufferings and my disgrace. There first I had felt my mind agitated with hose emotions which are destined to have so mighty an influence on the fate of man. But how agitated I had loved. I had not loved innocence; I had not loved the chaste simplicity of the female character: my affections had not gone forth toward any object, which might refine and elevate my soul, which might free me from the impurities I had contracted among the debauchees of the university, restore me to peace with myself, and prepare me to act an hourable part on the theatre of society. Unfortunately, my initiation had been in the polluted tracts of adulterous commerce. My mind had been acted upon with vehemence, but not improved. What true sympathy and affection can arise between persons of opposite sexes, when the basis upon which their intimacy is founded, is crime? when all decorum and character are trampled under foot, and nothing is aimed at but licentious pleasure, at the expense of all our best duties, and all that is truly honourable in human life?
I had been interested in the marchioness. She had originally been considered by me as the model of a spirited, frank and ingenuous character. But the affections of my soul had been much more strongly excited by the countess de B. The marchioness was, and had ultimately been set down by me for, a character merely artificial. But the countess was a woman who appeared to set up no defences, and employ no stratagems; who surrendered herself fully, with all her faculties and all her soul, to her lover. In her I persuaded myself that I had found that true implicity which is most worthy to engage the heart of every beholder. i did not perceive that she was in the worst sense of the word a sensualist, and that this was in a consummate degree a departure from the genuine female character; but unfortunately was induced to judge of the whole sex from the specimens which had thus been brought before me.
Amidst the mountains which separate the Switzerland from France, the idea of the countess was perpetually present to my thoughts. In Troyes, and the other towns which lay in my route, along the populous roads, and by the side of navigable rivers, my thoughts were interrupted, if not amused: but the instant I plunged into solitude and the retreats of uncultivated nature, my reveries became endless and inexhaustible. When I turned round a point the rock, which i gazed intently, yet with an absent mind, upon the deep shadows of the mountains, visto beyond visto, enveloped in clouds, lost in obscurity, and where no human form was to be discerned, there the figure of the countess de B. slitted before me. I heard her voice between the pauses of the echoes, and amidst the dashing of the cascades. Why had I left her?--Had I left her?-- Why had the proved herself dishonourable and unworthy? --Was she indeed unworthy? --I believed every thing, and I believed nothing. Ten times I was inclined again to turn my face toward Paris, and throw myself at her feet. She could not be guilty: that face was a pledge of her rectitude: depravity and inconstancy could not lurk behind the lovely expression of that angelic countenance!--What, turn back, and expose myself to the contempt of every one in Paris, and to her own? What, sue to her, that she would forgive to me the vices she had committed? Be a sharer of her caresses with ---? There was not such woman! It was all a delusion! I might look for her through paris, and through the world but should never find her. The scales had dropped from my eyes, and i might pray in vain, if I could be worthless enough to pray, for the restoration of my former blindness.
I descended the Alps, and entered into Switzerland. It may be, the very air of this country, the country of freedom, of independence, moderation and good sense, had a favourable effect on my temper. I began now to think of M. Ruffigny, to whose protection and counsels my father had to emphatically recommended me. Never did I her the eulogium of one man pronounced by another with that energy and enthusiasm with which my father spoke of this venerable Swiss. He had told me once and again at our parting, and in the letters he addressed to me in my travels, that if ever I became the ornament of my horse, and the benefactor of my fellow, it was to the friendship, the instructions and example of Ruffigny that he looked for that benefit. i had seen this friend of my father once only, when I was five years of age; and the vague and imperfect recollection which remained in my mind, gave a fort of sacredness to his figure, and made him appear in my thoughts like a visitant from the starry spheres.
As I approached nearer to the residence of this man, I began to examine whether I was prepared to appear in his presence. I painted to myself his habitation as the grotto of an aerial spirit, whither I was repairing to do homage, and to receive the communications of an all-penetrating wisdom. While I had been engaged at Paris in the giddy round of licentious pursuits, I had forgotten this incomparable friend; nothing that related to him sobered and awed me; but, now that I had set my foot upon his native soil, I already seemed to feel the contact of his mind and the emanations of his virtues.
M. Ruffigny lived in a neat house which he had built for himself in the valley of Urfern, near the foot of mount St. Gothard, the tallest and most stupendous of the hills of his country. It was a fine summer evening when I approached his residence. The beams of the setting sun illuminated the peaks of the mountain, and gave a divine tranquility to the plains. I felt my heart relieved from the rude tempests, and the flagging and noisome atmosphere which had oppressed it. the sun was declining, and the heat of the day was over, when I entered a wood of tall and venerable trees through which the road lay that led to his habitation. Nothing could be more grateful than the fresh, cool air, which penetrated this wood. After having for some time pursued a serpentine path, I came within sight of the house, and perceived the old man in his garden, examining the processes of vegetation, and stretching forth his hand to relieve and to raise such of its productions as stood in need of his aid. I had no doubt it was M. Ruffigny. I leaped from my horse, and delivering him to the care of my servant, hastened to join the friend of my father. A little wicket at one extremity of the front of the house admitted me into the potagerie. The owner was tall, and of a venerable presence, with a little stoop in his carriage, his visage placid and his eye penetrating admist the wrinkles of age, but, hearing a quick step, he lifted up his head and then surveyed me.
I was too much engaged in contemplating his interesting figure, instantly to announce myself. He hesitated for a moment, and then spoke.
Casimir Fleetwood! said he.
The fame. he pressed my hand with peculiar emotion.
The very image of Ambrose Fleetwood, his grandfather! I have expected your visit some time. I have a thousand things to say to you, and a thousand enquiries to make. You look like an honest man, and an observing one. it does my old heart good, to receive under my roof the last representative of the friends I have loved and honoured more than any other I ever had.
M. Rnffigny proceeded to question me respecting my travels. How long I had left England? Where I had been? What stay I had made in Paris? What society I had frequented? What connections I had formed? what remarks and conclusions I had drawn from what I saw? He addressed to me no interrogatories but such as a friendly anxiety for my welfare might naturally dictate; yet I could perceive that he endeavoured to draw from his enquiries materials for estimating my understanding and character. I acquitted myself in this experiment as i could thought I felt embarrassed with the recollection of affairs and transactions in Paris, which I was not at present disposed to confide to M. Ruffigny. My venerable host listened with attention to what i said, and sometimes interposed his commendation where he judged it deserved, but at no time did there drop from his lips a syllable of censure. He probably conceived that premature criticisms on what I thought proper to unfold, would check the spirit of communication, and lessen the opportunity to discover my character which he was desirous to obtain.
As we walked up and down in the garden, engaged in this sort of conversations, I turned my eye occasionally round, and examined the spot in which I was placed. It was a scene in which use seemed to take the precedence of ornament. Though roses, woodbines, lilacs and laburnums, with such other flowering shrubs as require little aid from the hand of the cultivator were interspersed, the plots into which the inclosure was divided, were principally apples, and were bordered with fruit-bering plants and shrubs. On the lower side of the garden was seen the broad example of the Reufs, which, though a little further from its source it dashes over rude fragments of rock in a continual cataract, flows along the valley in a smooth and silent stream. The opposite side of the garden was skirted by the acclivity of the mountain, the surface of which, to a considerable height, was covered with the most luxuriant vines my eyes ever beheld.
After having walked for a considerable time, we went toward the house. Upon a smooth turf before the door was spread a table, with a few melons, grapes and wall-fruit, a loaf of bread, and a flagon of weak, but agreeably flavoured wine. This is my supper, said M. Ruffigny. We sat down together. We talked of England, of France, and of the country in which we then were, and I was charmed and instructed with the acute remarks delivered by my host upon the comparative manners of each. He spoke with enthusiasm of the scenery of his native country, of the enviable freedom enjoyed by its inhabitants, and the happy equality and competence in which they lived. Here said he, you behold in happy contrast, the simplicity of man, and the exuberance of nature. My countrymen appear in the plainness of what in England you would call a quaker-like habit and manners, while the region that sustains them is cloathed in all the dyes of heaven, and wantons herself in more various forms of majesty and beauty than mere imagination could ever conceive. Hence I learn to venerate and respect the intelligible rectitude of the species to which I belong, and to adore with sacred awe the mysterious power which draws us in to existence, and nurses our inexperience in its genial bosom.
The adventures through which I had passed and the misanthropy I had contracted, did not allow me perfectly to accord with this sentiment of M. Ruffigny.
The next morning my beneficent friend received me in his library. It was the only spacious apartment in his house, and was fitted up with peculiar neatness and convenience. I cast my eyes around upon the shelves, and perceived that they were principally furnished with the old poetical compositions of France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, together with a very complete collection of botanical writers, particularly those which treated of the natural protections of Helvetia. One compartment of the library was devoted to English authors, principally from the age of Elizabeth to the Restoration.
I pass some hours of every day, said the old man, in this apartment; but my life is principally in the open air; I think more than I read; and I am more attached to the great and living volume of nature, than to the cold, insensible, mechanically constructed pages and sheets that have been produced by my fellow creatures. Let no man despite the oracles of books! A book is a dead man, a sort of mummy, embowelled and embalmed, but that once had flesh and motion, and a boundless variety of determinations and actions. I am glad that I can, even upon these terms, converge with the dead, with the wife and the good of revolving centuries. Without books I should not understand the volume of nature; I should pass the scanty years of my existence a mere novice; the life of a single man is too short to enable him to penetrate beyond the surface of things. The furniture of these shelves constitutes an elaborate and valuable commentary; but the objects beyond those windows, and the circles and communities of my contemporaries, are the text to which that commentary relates.
After breakfast M. Ruffigny and myself walked out, and ascended one branch of the St. Gothard. I was surprised to observe with what agility and spirit the old man encountered this species of labour. It is all use, said he. Temperance and the habit of daily exercise have preserved, and probably long will preserve to me these inexpensive and invaluable pleasures.
My host pointed out the various beauties of the successive landscapes which from the different points of the rock were presented to my view. It was a boundless magazine of the most ravishing objects. he directed my attention to the different towns, and villages like towns, which were discoverable from various distances, descanted on the ingenuity of manufactures, and the vigilance and expedients of agriculture. This whole territory, said he, is one continued monument of the triumph of temperance, industry and independence.
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