NEW MAN OF FEELING.
by WILLIAM GODWIN.
From the church of St. George's, Hanover Square, where the marriage ceremony was performed, we set out for the baths of Matlock in Derbyshire, where we staid an entire month. This was the happiest month of my life. My dear Mary became placid and cheerful; without forgetting the terrible calamity which the last autumn had brought upon her, she opened her heart to the gratifications which were before her; she felt that, in the solemn contract she had formed, she had undertaken in some degree for my satisfaction and tranquility, and she was determined to watch over her trust. Nor will I be guilty of the false modesty to insinuate, that she did this merely as the discharge of a duty; on the contrary, I was so fortunate as to interest and please her. This she manifested by a thousand flattering symptoms, attentions which can flow only from the heart, and which the head can never supply. Nor let it be forgotten that, though I was now somewhat beyond the meridian of life, I was not destitute of many advantages, calculated to recommend me to a delicate and refined female companion. My person was pleasing, and my demeanor graceful; circumstances which had acquired me in Paris the appellation of the handsome Englishman. That very sensibility which constituted the torment of my life, gave a feeling sweetness to the tones of my voice, and a gentleness to my attentions, such as are found peculiarly acceptable to the better order of females.
If Mary was cheerful and pleased, the happiness I felt is such as cannot be described. What a contrast did there exist between the tumultuous scenes of my Parisian amours, and my relative situation with the accomplished female whom I had now made my wife! The women I had loved, furiously and distractedly loved, in the early period of my life, I had never esteemed. How could I? They had each a husband; they had each children. How can a woman discharge the duties of these sacred relations, at the same time that she is amusing herself with the wishes, or gratifying the appetites, of a lover? The idea is too shocking to be dwelt upon! She puts off the matron, to play the wild and loose-hearted coquette. She presents to her husband the offspring of her criminal amours, and calls it his. All her life is a cheat, one uninterrupted tissue of falsehoods and hypocrisy. Can she tell her thoughts? She, who has not a single thought which, though it may be tolerated in silence, would not, if uttered in appropriate language, make every one of her acquaintance turn to marble at the sound. Esteem her! She is not worthy to live; or, if to live, to be confined in some cloister of penitents, where rigid discipline and coarse attire, and scanty fare, might at length purge her of that ferment in her blood, or that giddy intoxication of thought, which at present renders her the blot of her sex, and the disgrace of the marriage tie!
There are persons who sport the opinion, that the pleasure which is gained by stealth, is the genuine pleasure, and that the prohibition which waits upon the indulgence, gives it its highest zest. It is not so! This opinion is not more pernicious in its tendency, than it is ridiculous in the grounds upon which it rests. What, is it the consciousness of crime, that makes our pleasure? the fear, which continually haunts us with a presentiment that we shall be detected? the cowardice, that forces our countenance to fall in the presence of our fellow-men, and makes a hundred accidental and harmless remarks in conversation or in public, enter like a sword into our vitals? the fearful struggle for ever repeated within us, which leads us to do the thing we condemn, and repine over our weakness that we do it?
No; it is innocence that is the soul of pleasure, with which the sentiment of shame is incompatible. The truly happy man lifts up his face with serenity, and challenges the eyes of all the world. Without frankness, without a conscience void of offence, without a feeling that the being I love is of a worthy nature, and that no one can stand up and say "In consulting your own inclination you have done me unmanly wrong," there cannot be the "sunshine of the soul." Most especially in the connection of sex with sex, it is necessary to substantial enjoyment, that virtue should spread the couch, and that honor and peace of mind should close the curtains. The kiss of honest love, how rapturous! But the true ingredients in this rapture are, a heart-felt esteem of each other's character, a perception that, while the eye we see sparkles, and the cheek glows, with affection, the glow is guiltless of any unhallowed and licentious propensity; in fine, the soothing state of mind which tells us that, while we freely indulge the impulses of our heart, we are not disgracing, but honoring, the mighty power by which we exist. To recollect that neither my own character, nor that of the partner of my joys, is injured, but improved, by the scope of our mutual partialities, is the crown of social pleasure. To persons thus attached, thus bound in honorable connection, each day may be expected to add to their enjoyment, and increase the kindness and esteem with which they regard each other.
To me the situation was new, was such as I had not anticipated, and was so much the more enchanting to me. I had lived long in the world, and I had lived alone. My soul panted for a friend, and I had never found such a friend as it demanded, a friend "who should be to me as another self, who should joy in all my joys, and grieve in all my sorrows, and whose sympathy should be incapable of being changed by absence into smiles, while my head continued bent to the earth with anguish." I had not been aware that nature has provided a substitute in the marriage-tie, for this romantic, if not impossible friendship. The love which Pythias is said to have borne for Damon, or Theseus for Pirithous, many a married pair have borne for each other. The difference of sex powerfully assists the intimacy; similarity of character can never unite two parties so closely, as the contrast of masculine enterprise in one, and a defenseless tenderness in the other. Man and wife, if they love, must love each other vehemently. Their interests are in almost all cases united. If they have children, these children form a new bond, either party pursues the same end, and has its affections directed towards the same object. Independently of this, whatever contributes to the welfare of the one is advantageous to the other, and the calamity or death of either is a kind of destruction which overtakes the by-stander. Habit assists the mutual dependence; and very often it happens that, when a wedded pair has lived for a long series of years together, the death of the feebler of the two is only a signal calling on the other to be gone, that he survives but a few days, and they are deposited at the same moment in a common grave.
Thus does the system of things of which we are a part supply our inherent deficiencies, and conscious, as it were, in how small a degree we are adapted for sublime virtues, assist, by a sort of mechanical link, in the construction of that vivid and unremitting attachment which the human heart demands.
To me, who had been accustomed to live alone with dependents, with acquaintance, and with servants, how delicious were the attentions of a beautiful and accomplished woman, whose interests were for ever united with my own! A servant dares not, and an acquaintance but coldly performs the ordinary duty of enquiring after your health, and sending you forth to the occupations of the day crowned with their good wishes. How pleasing to be an object of interest and concern to the person whom I deeply esteem and fervently love! How delicious the eye that glistens with pleasure to hail my return, and the cheek that reddens with kindness! It is this which constitutes the unspeakable charm of home. My home is not a fabric of walls which shelters me; is not even the windows, the furniture, the elbow-chair, and the mute fire-side, which habit has endeared and hung round with a thousand pleasing associations; it is that there I find the countenance that gladdens at my approach, and the heart that welcomes me. The affection of Mary I felt as a charm reconciling me to life; it gave me value in my own eyes, to observe her beautiful and well-proportioned presence, her speaking eye, her lucid complexion, and to say, To the soul that inhabits there I am of importance; she is cheerful, because I am happy and well; if I perished, she would feel she had lost every thing! How flattering to the human heart, that there is a being, and a noble one, whom with one accent of my voice I can delight, with one glance of my eye I can fill with sweet content! My tenants loved me, because I had power; my acquaintance, because I could contribute to their entertainment; the poor who dwelt near my mansion, for my wealth; but my wife would love me in sickness or in health, in poverty, in calamity, in total desolation!
While we resided at Matlock, we visited the beauties and romantic scenery of Derbyshire. I was familiarly acquainted with the whole before, and I now performed the office of cicerone and interpreter to Mary. But how different were the sensations with which I now visited each charming, or each wonderful scene! Even a bright and spirit-stirring morn, did not now stir in me a contemplative and solitary spirit; it turned my eye on my companion, it awakened us to the interchange of cheerful and affectionate looks, it tip our tongues with many a pleasant sally, and many a tender and sympathetic expression. When we looked down upon the rich and fertile plains, when we hung over the jutting and tremendous precipice, I perceived with inexpressible pleasure, that mine was no longer a morose and unparticipated sensation, but that another human creature, capable of feeling all my feelings, rejoiced and trembled along with me. When I retired to my inn after the fatigues and dangers of the day, I did not retire to a peevish and foward meal among drawers and venal attendants; I sat down with the companion of my heart, and shared the pleasures of idleness, as we had before shared the pleasures of activity. How many agreeable topics of conversation did the rivers and the mountains suggest; how many occasions of mutual endearment did they afford! It seemed that the spirit of kindness still gained new strength, as the scene was perpetually shifted before our eyes, and as we breathed an atmosphere forever new.
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