NEW MAN OF FEELING.
by WILLIAM GODWIN.
In such talk I and my friend spent the chief part of our journey to England. We reached Merionethshire, and found a desolated mansion, and a tenanted grave. In the one, and over the other, we united our ears. 'My friend! my father! most generous of men' were the epithets with which a thousand times we saluted the shade of the departed.
And here I beg leave to protest against the doctrine too commonly promulgated in the world, that we ought to call off our thoughts, as speedily as possible, from the recollection of our deceased friends, and not waste our spirits in lamentation for irremediable losses. The persons from whom I have oftenest heard this lesson, have been of the class of the hard-hearted, who have sought in such 'counsels of prudence' an apology for their own unfeeling serenity. He was a wiser man than they, who said, 'It is good to dwell in the house of mourning; for by the sadness of the countenance the part is made better.' Certainly I found a salutary and purifying effect, in talking to the spirit of my father when I was alone, and in discoursing of his good deeds and his virtues when 1 came into society. I cannot accuse these habits of having generated in me an inclination to indolence and inactivity; or, if they introduced a short interval of that sort, it was a heaven-born inactivity, by which my whole character was improved. Woe to the man who is always busy, -hurried in a turmoil of engagements, from occupation to occupation, and with no seasons interposed, of recollection, contemplation, and repose! Such a man must inevitably be gross and vulgar, and hard and indelicate, -the sort of man with whom no generous spirit would desire to hold intercourse.
After having spent about two months with me in Merionethshire. M. Ruffigny consented to accompany me in an excursion. rendered necessary by particular business, to London. I was not at first exactly aware of the motive / of my venerable monitor to this new compliance. In the sequel it became sufficiently evident.
This was the first considerable visit I ever paid to the metropolis of England. Beside the change of scene, I had a new character to sustain. I had travelled in France a young heir, and in a certain sense under a state of pupilage. In London I was obliged to regard myself as the head of a family, and, in poem of fortune, one of the most eminent country gentlemen of that part of the island where my estates lay, This was calculated in its first impression [Q inspire me with a certain seriousness. But, beside this, I felt. by the death of my father, and the society of my father's friend, purified from the dissipations which had too long engrossed me. I swore, in the views which [ meditated for my future life, that I would never again yield to the degrading follies which had already cost me so bitter a pang.
For some time I kept this resolution. By the persuasions of Ruffigny I frequented, in a moderate degree, the society of my equals; but the very mourning I wore for my deceased parent served as a memento, keeping alive in my heart the recollection of my duties.
In one unfortunate moment I felt my good resolutions thawing before the Harne of beauty. A friend, who had made one with me in a rather numerous party at dinner, persuaded me, when the company broke up, to accompany him to a pelit souper at the lodgings of his mistress. Wine is a most eloquent advocate -the Burgundy and Champagne had been pushed about somewhat briskly at our dinner, and I suffered myself to be persuaded ill the gaiety of the moment, I said, no ill consequence can result from this deviation -I am fortified by a thousand arguments against a relapse into my former errors -why should I deny myself the sight of beauty?
My inviter, Sir George Bradshaw by name, had boasted of the charms of his mistress; but there happened to be present, as the -friend of the lady of the house, a female whose pretensions, at least in my eyes, outshone those which I had heard so vaunted in an unspeakable degree. I will not allow myself to dwell upon her features or her / figure; suffice it to say, that her motions were lighter and more graceful than those of a fawn, that the playfulness of het manner and the sports of her fancy were inexhaustible, that her voice was more rich and harmonious than the lute of Apollo, and she sung twenty frolicsome and humorous songs in the course of the evening with an inexpressible charm. The lady was called Mrs. Comorio -she had lately cohabited with Lord Mandeville, but she had quarreled with her admirer, and her heart and her person were now vacant.
By what infatuation was it that 1 instantly felt myself attracted toward her? Surely, when nature kneaded my frame, she cast in a double portion of her most combustible materials! Deep scars were left in my heart by my Parisian amours, and I believed it impossible that any of the sex could again possess herself of my inmost affections. I had argued myself into a contempt of their character; an opinion that to be a woman, was the same thing as to be heartless, artificial, and perfidious. But what a delightful plaything, what an inexhaustible amusement, should I find in the bewitching Mrs. Comorin! This was the most dangerous stage of my character. The heart cannot be used for ever; after a certain number of experiments it becomes obdurate and insensible; but, if I fell, as I now seemed on the point to do, into the mire of sensuality, I should become a gross and impudent libertine for the term of my life, and remain a hoary and despicable lecher to the brink of the grave.
I saw this alluring woman again and again, and every time I saw her I was more pleased than before. She was made up of pride of heart, ease of manners, and an inexhaustible flow of spirits, -of sentiment and real attachment she was wholly incapable. I saw her for such as she was; but, such as she was, she won my partiality; and, perhaps, owing to the dear-bought experience, which I could not yet recollect without agony, I liked her the better, for her want of those qualities which had so fatally stung my tranquility.
I had strange qualms in my bosom, when the recollection of my inconsistency recurred to my thoughts. I, / that had felt with such bitter remorse my debaucheries at Paris, and the shameful way in which I had wasted my time when my father lay on his death-bed, to be so soon caught in the same toils! Yet, what, alas! is the firmness of twenty-one? Five years of licentiousness had laid the foundation in me, deep and broad, for a dissolute character. In my adventures in Paris I had lost all that ingenuous and decent shame, which so often and so happily stops a young man on the brink of the precipice. Even the original sensitiveness and delicacy of my character rendered me hut the more tremblingly audacious in certain situations.
I was beyond all things alarmed that the caprice which had thus seized me, should remain unknown to M. Ruffigny. His thoughts on the other hand were continually alive to watch. I had been in the habit, while I had nothing to conceal, of mentioning to this aged friend, the persons I saw and the places I visited, whenever we were separated from each other. A practice of this sort, once begun, cannot, without awkwardness and exciting suspicion. be broken off; circumstanced, therefore, as I now was, I named to my monitor Sir George Bradshaw, and the other young men of fashion with whom I associated, but observed an inviolable silence as to the female members of our parties. Ruffigny's suspicions were probably excited. Sir George Bradshaw was by no means the ally he would have chosen for me. Once or twice he expostulated with me upon the new intimacies I seemed to be contracting. I assured him that they were matters of convenience or accident merely, and that, I felt no such partiality' to the Baronet, as a mere change of place would not immediately break off.
One evening that I had left M. Ruffigny to his solitary avocations, the fancy took him to beguile a few hours at the opera. As he had no acquaintance among the audience, he sat in the pit. I was with Sir George Bradshaw. Mrs Comorin, and her friend, in the Baronet's box. Ruffigny perceived me, long before I had an idea mat I was become a spectacle to him. The publicity of the situation restrained my familiarities with this new mistress of my / affections within certain bounds; but Ruffigny saw enough, to leave no doubt in his mind as to the true explanation of the scene. My fair friend was of too vivacious a temperament, not to playa hundred whimsical tricks in the course of an hour; I caught the tone from her, and made myself no less ridiculous. In the heyday of youthful blood, I was capable of little restraint; and my infant passion inspired me with unwonted eagerness and activity. In one of my idlest and most forward sallies I caught the eye of Ruffigny; my face instantly became as red as scarlet.'
The next morning at breakfast we met. Ruffigny charged me seriously with what he had discovered, with the disgrace I was bringing on my father's name, and the weakness and frailty of the resolutions I had solemnly made. The infatuation under which I labored, stung me 10 a defense of the situation in which I had been found. I more than half suspected that I was wrong; and this rendered me tenfold the more peremptory and earnest in my vindication.
'Could I,' asked Ruffigny, 'apologise for this recent misconduct, when I had expressed such bitter compunction for the errors I had fallen into at Paris?'
'Very easily, and very consistently,' I replied. 'Those errors I should ever regret, and regarded now with as much abhorrence as ever. With whom were they committed? With women having husbands and children, and occupying a respectable situation in society. I could conceive nothing, which would be pronounced more atrocious by an uncorrupted mind. If the crimes, thus committed under a decent veil, and which, like the thefts of the Spartan youth, were commended as long as they were carried on with a dexterous obscurity, came to be detected, what misery and confusion would they produce in families? But, detected or not detected, they poisoned every thing that was valuable in socialties. They depended for their perpetration upon one eternal scene of hypocrisy and dissimulation. The guilty female, instead of being that exemplary character which her situation called upon her to fill, was devoted to licentious thoughts, and must in her / cooler moments be the object of her own contempt. The children she brought into me world she could not love, and the husband she received with personated caresses was the individual in the world she was conscious of most deeply injuring. Where such a state of society prevailed, every lover must regard his mistress with moral disapprobation, and every husband suspect that by the partner of his bosom his confidence was betrayed.
'But in the acquaintance I contracted with this English lady, I injured no one. No delusion was practised by any of the parties. She would not be made worse by any thing into which she was induced by me; and neither I nor anyone else understood her but for what she was. Unfortunately my adventures in Paris had led me to form such an idea of the sex, that I could never be reconciled to the thoughts of marriage: must I on that account remain as solitary and continent as a priest?'
The conversation between me and Ruffigny gradually became warmer; but I was like Tdemachus in the island of Calypso, so inflamed by the wiles of the God of Love, so enamored with the graces and witchcraft of my Eucharis, that all remonstrances were vain. In vain were the reasonings of honour and truth; in vain the voice of my venerable instructor, to which I had vowed everlasting attention. I paned from him with peevishness and ill humour.
'Is it possible,' said I, as I sallied into the street, 'to conceive any thing so unreasonable as Ruffigny? There are two principal crimes which, in the code of just morality, respect the relations of the sexes, -adultery and seduction, I know that puritans and monks have added a third to the class, and have inveighed indiscriminately against all incontinence. I do not decide whether their censure is wholly destitute of foundation. But was ever anyone so absurd, as to place simple incontinence upon a level with incontinence attended by one or the other of these aggravations? And yet this obstinate old Swiss will not be beaten out of it!'
This argument, no doubt, was exceedingly demonstrative and satisfactory; but, as I passed and repassed it in my / mind, I did not altogether like it. I hastened to dine with Sir George Bradshaw, and to visit Mrs. Comorin. I believed I should derive better lights on the subject from the brilliancy of her eyes, than from Burgersdicius or Condillac.
My sensations of this day were in a high degree painful and perturbed. I confess that at moments Mrs. Comorin never appeared to me so beautiful as now. I gazed on her with ecstasy; but that very ecstasy was tempestuous, and interrupted with visions of my father and my father's friend. Nothing was dear and perspicuous in my mind. I suspected that my present passion was a vapour only, was lighter than vanity; my thoughts whispered me, that all I had seen most worthy and excellent on earth, was my deceased parent and Ruffigny. My soul was chaos.
A certain sentiment of remorse led me, sooner than usual, to quit the company and hasten home. I tasked my thoughts as I went, -'Shall I be distant and cold to Ruffigny? Shall I endeavour to soothe him, and appease his anger? or, shall I sacrifice every thing at once to his invaluable friendship?' I enquired of my servant as I entered, -'Where is M. Ruffigny?'
'Into the country. He has been employed all day in preparations, and set out
in a post-chaise about half an hour ago.'
'Impossible! Gone into the country, and say nothing to me of the matter!'
'He has left a letter for you.'
I was impatient to peruse this letter. Yet, even while I opened it, a thousand
contending thoughts were embattled in my mind. I fdt that his going was intimately connected with our dissension of that morning. I vehemently accused myself for having so far offended the good old man. I was full of resentment against him for having, at this first difference, conceived a mortal offence, It was not till after repeated efforts, that I found myself in a state sufficiently calm to read the letter. /
'Casimir Fleetwood, The fact is at length ascertained. I have travelled from Switzerland to Britain, and my dear friend, your late father, has died, -in vain.
'Is it possible? Shall this be so? Casimir Fleetwood, you are called on to decide!
'I cannot descend to altercation. It is not seemly, that tried and hoary integrity should come into the lists, to chop logic with petulant and hot-blooded vice. If events, such as have lately been brought to strike upon your heart, will not waken you, in vain might a stronger impulse be sought in the deductions of Zeno, and the homilies of EpiCtetus." Remember what I am, and how related to your family; remember your late father; remember the day of the lake of Uri!
'On that day you said, "Would to God it were in my power to recal a few past months! My prospects and my pleasures are finished; my life is tarnished; my peace is destroyed; I shall never again think of myself with approbation, or with patience!" And you are now returned to the course of life which you then censured with so much bitterness. Was it you that said it?
'One of the worst symptoms on the present occasion, is the sophistry with which you defend your error. A beginning sinner offends, and accuses himself while he offends; a veteran in wrong has still some flimsy, miserable dissertation, by which he proves that wrong is not wrong.
'Another symptom which almost bids me despair, is the recent date of your conversion and good resolutions. The evening before we set out from Merionethshire, we wept together at your father's grave. The monitor whom you consented, at seventy years of age, to withdraw from his native valley, and to bring along through various climes and states, has not yet quitted you. If you relapse, while all these things are green and fresh before you, what shall be predicted of the actions and pursuits in which you will be engaged a few years hence?
'Shame, my dear Fleetwood, shame is ever the handmaid of vice. What is the language you have held to me / for the last three weeks? What shall I name you? Mean prevaricator! You pretended to inform me who were the persons with whom you associated. You mentioned all the men of your society; you did not hint at a single woman. You said, you felt no such partiality to Sir George Bradshaw, as a mere change of place would not immediately break off. -Do you think, that there is no vice in the conduct, which led you thus pitifully to juggle with your friend? Do you think that such a juggler is worthy the name of Fleetwood, or worthy the name of man?
'You say that, in attaching yourself to the mistress of Lord Mandeville, you neither seduce innocence, nor make yourself responsible for the violation of solemn vows. Be it so. A sound mind would prompt you not to describe your conduct by negatives, but to enquire, what it is that you do? You sacrifice the serenity of an honourable mind to the tumult of the lowest passions in man. It is as true of the connection you now propose, as of any of the past, that you cannot esteem the person with whom you form this warm and entire intimacy. Every creature that lives, derives some of the color of his being from the objects which are continually and familiarly around him.
'You have heard it said, that no man can be a great poet, or an elevated and generous writer, who is not first a good man. Goodness is the cornerstone of all true excellence. You cannot be blind enough to believe, that the course to which you are returning, is consistent with goodness. Many of your most familiar thoughts will be sensual and groveling; not of the class of impulses of sense which are purified by the most sacred charities of our nature; but of those which lead us to associate with the debauched, and to have our favourite resort in the haunts of profligacy. You will have a succession of mistresses; there will not be one vestige of the refined and the ideal, what is noblest in taste and most exquisite in moral feeling, left within you, By gross and vulgar souls you will be admitted for respectable; the men who do honour to the species to which they belong, with one consent will pity and will shun you./
'Fleetwood, you must now decide -now, and for ever.
'Casimir, my heart bleeds for you. Think what my feelings are; the feelings of Ruffigny, to whom the name of Fleetwood is a name for every thing sacred, who cannot be content that one spot should stain the lustre of its white, who lives only in the hope to discharge a small part of his obligations to your father and grandfather, and whose aged heart will burst, the moment he is convinced the son is fixed to disgrace the virtues of his ancestors!-
'You will recollect that I had a business which made it desirable for me to make an excursion into Devonshire, previously to my return to my native country. I have seized this occasion for that purpose. I shall be absent a fortnight. Casimir, I cannot parley with you. I leave you to your reflections. When I return, I shall know, whether Ruffigny is to live or die.
'Yours, more than his own,
Before I had half read this letter I rung the bell, and ordered myself a post-chaise. I felt that I could suffer a thousand deaths sooner than pass this fortnight in separation, or suffer my friend to remain a moment in doubt of my good resolutions, when I had formed them. I travelled all night, and overtook Ruffigny at Basingstoke. I rushed into his arms; I could not utter a word; I sobbed on his bosom. When I could speak, I was endless in my professions of gratitude, and in protestations of a future innocent and honourable life. I spoke of the recent delusion into which I had fallen with accents of horror, self-detestation, and despair. Ruffigny was deeply affected.
"This prompt and decisive return to reason and virtue inspires me with the most sanguine hope,' said he. /
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