From: Memoirs of Mary Wolstonecraft, Constable and Co. Limited. London 1928
The original plan of Mary, respecting her residence in France, had no precise limit 1 in the article of duration; the single purpose she had in view being that of an endeavour to heal her distempered mind. She did not proceed so far as even to discharge her lodging in London; and, to some friends who saw her immediately before her departure, she spoke merely of an absence of six weeks.
It is not to be wondered at, that her excursion did not originally seem to produce the effects she had expected from it. She was in a land of strangers; she had no acquaintance; she had even to acquire the power of receiving and communicating ideas with facility in the language of the country. Her first residence was in a spacious mansion to which she had been invited, but the master of which (monsieur Fillietaz) was absent at the time of her arrival. At first therefore she found herself surrounded only with servants. The gloominess 2 Of her mind communicated its own colour to the objects she saw; and in this temper she began a series of Letters on the Present Character of the French Nation, one of which she forwarded to her publisher, and which appears in the collection of her posthumous works. This performance she soon after discontinued; and it is, as she justly remarked, 3 tinged with the saturnine temper which at that time pervaded her mind.
Mary carried with her introductions to several agreeable families in Paris. She re newed her acquaintance with Paine. There also subsisted a very sincere friendship between her and Helen Maria Williams, author of a collection of poems of uncommon merit, who at that time resided in Paris. Another person, of whom Mary always spoke4 in terms of ardent commendation, both for the excellence of his disposition and the force of his genius, was a count Slabrendorf, by birth, I believe, a Swede. It is almost unnecessary to mention, that she was personally acquainted with the majority of the leaders in the French revolution. [Her country, combined with her known political sentiments, recommended her; and the celebrity of her writings had prepared the way for her personal reception.]
But the house that, I believe, she principally frequented at this time, was that of Mr. Thomas Christie, a person whose pursuits were mercantile, and who had written a volume on the French revolution. With Mrs. Christie her acquaintance was more intimate 5 than with her husband.
It was about four months after her arrival at Paris in December 1792, 6 that she entered into that species of 7 connection for which her heart secretly panted, 8 from which the tranquillity and the sorrows of the immediately succeeding years of her life were solely derived. 9 The person with whom it was formed (for it would be an idle piece of delicacy10 to attempt to suppress a name, which is known to every one whom the reputation of Mary has reached), was Mr. Gilbert Imlay, 11native of the United States of North America.
The place at which she first saw Mr. Imlay was at the house of Mr. Christie; and it perhaps deserves to be noticed, that the emotions he then excited in her mind, were, I am told, those of dislike, and that, for some time, she shunned all occasions of meeting him. This sentiment however speedily gave place to one of greater kindness.
Previously to the partiality she conceived for him, she 12had determined upon a journey to Switzerland, induced chicfly by motives of economy. But she had some difficulty in procuring a passport; and it was probably the intercourse that now originated 13between her and Mr. Imlay,14 that [finally] changed her purpose, and led her to prefer a lodging at Neuilly, a village three miles from Paris. Her habitation here was a solitary house in the midst of a garden, with no other inhabitants 15than herself and the gardener, an old man who performed for her many of the offices of a domestic, and would sometimes contend for the honour of making her bed. The gardener had a great veneration for his guest, and would set before her, when alone, some grapes of a particularly fine sort, which she could not without the greatest difficulty obtain [of him] when she had any person with her as a visitor. Here it was that she conceived, and for the most part executed, her Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution, *into which, as she observes, are16 incorporated most of the observations she had collected for her Letters, and which was written with more sobriety and cheerfulness than the tone in which they had been commenced. In the evening she was accustomed to refresh herself by a walk in a neighbouring wood, from which her old17 host in vain endeavoured to dissuade her, by recounting divers horrible robberies and murders that had been committed there.
In the commencement of the attachment she now formed, Mary18 had neither confident nor adviser. She always conceived it to be a gross breach of delicacy to have any confidant in a matter of this sacred nature, an affair of the heart.19 The origin of the connection was about the middle of April 1793, and it was carried on in a private manner for four months. At the expiration of that period a circumstance occurred that induced her to declare it. The French convention, exasperated at the conduct of the British government, particularly in the affair of Toulon, formed a decree against the citizens of this country, by one article of which the English, resident in France, were ordered into prison till the period of a general peace. Mary had objected to a marriage with Mr. Imlay, who, at the time their connection was formed, had no property whatever; because she would not involve him in certain family embarrassments to which she conceived herself exposed, or make him answerable for the pecuniary demands that existed against her. She how ever considered their engagement as of the most sacred20 nature; and they had mutually formed the plan of emigrating to America, as soon as they should have realized a sum, enabling them to do it in the mode they desired. The decree however21 that I have just mentioned, made it necessary, not that a marriage should actually take place, but that Mary should take the name of Imlay, which, from the nature of their connection [(formed, on her part at least, with no capricious or fickle design)], she conceived herself entitled to do, and obtain a certificate from the American ambassador, as the wife of a native of that country.
Their engagement being thus avowed, they thought proper to reside under the same roof, and for that purpose removed to Paris.
Mary was now22 arrived at the situation, which, for two or three preceding years, her reason had pointed out to her as affording the most substantial prospect of happiness. She had been tossed and agitated by the waves of misfortune. Her childhood, as she often said, had known few of the endearments, which constitute the principal happiness of childhood. The temper of her father had early given to her mind a severe cast of thought, and substituted the inflexibility of resistance for the confidence of affection. The cheerfulness of her entrance upon womanhood, had been darkened, by an attendance upon the death-bed of her mother, and the still more23 afflicting calamity of her eldest sister. Her exertions to create a joint independence for her sisters and herself, had been attended, neither with the success, nor the pleasure, she had hoped from them. Her first youthful passion, her friendship for Fanny, had en countered many disappointments, and, in fine, a melancholy and premature catastrophe. Soon after these accumulated mortifications, she was engaged in a contest with a near relation, whom she regarded as unprincipled, respecting the wreck of her father's fortune. In this affair she suffered the double pain, which arises from moral indignation, and disappointed benevolence. Her exertions to assist almost every member of her family, were great and unremitted. Finally, when she indulged a romantic affection for Mr. Fuseli, and fondly imagined that she should find in it the solace of her cares, she perceived too late, that, by continually impressing on her mind fruitless images of unreserved affection and domestic felicity, it only served to give new pungency to the sensibility that was destroying her.
Some persons may be inclined to observe, that the evils here enumerated, are not among the heaviest in the catalogue of human calamities. But evils take their rank less from their own nature, than from the temper of the mind that suffers them. 24 Upon a man of a hard and insensible disposition, the shafts of misfortune often25 fall pointless and impotent. There are persons, by no means hard and insensible, who, from an elastic and sanguine turn of mind, are continually prompted to look on the fair side of things, and, having suffered one fall, immediately rise again, to pursue their course, with the same eagerness, the same hope, and the same26 gaiety, as before. On the other hand, we not unfrequently meet with persons, endowed with the most exquisite and delicious27 sensibility, whose minds seem almost of too fine28 a texture to encounter the vicissitudes of human affairs, to whom pleasure is transport, and disappointment is agony indescribable. This character is finely pourtrayed by the author of the Sorrows of Werter. Mary was in this respect a female Werter.
She brought then, in the present instance, a wounded and sick heart, to take refuge in the bosom29 of a chosen friend. Let it not however be imagined, that she brought a heart, querulous, and ruined in its taste for pleasure. No; her whole character seemed to change with a change of fortune. Her sorrows, the depression of her spirits, were forgotten, and she assumed all the simplicity and the vivacity of a youthful mind. She was like a serpent upon a rock, that casts its slough, and appears again with the brilliancy, the sleekness, and the elastic activity of its happiest age. 30 She was playful, full of confidence, kindness and sympathy. Her eyes assumed new lustre, and her cheeks new colour and smoothness. Her voice became cheerful; her temper overflowing with universal kindness; and that smile of bewitching tenderness from day to day illuminated her countenance, which all who knew her will so well recollect, and which won, both heart and soul; the affection of almost every one that beheld it.
Mary now reposed herself upon a person, of whose honour and principles she had the most exalted idea. She nourished an individual31 affection, which she saw no necessity of subjecting to restraint; and a heart like hers was not formed to nourish affection by halves. Her conception of Mr. Imlay's "tenderness and worth had twisted him closely round her heart;" and she "indulged the thought, that she had thrown out some tendrils, to cling to the elm by which she wished to be supported."
This was "talking a new language to her;" but "conscious that she was not a parasite plant," she was willing to encourage and foster the luxuriances of affection. 32 Her confidence was entire; her love was unbounded. 33 Now, for the first time in her life, she gave a loose to all the sensibilities of her nature.
[It might be considered as a trite remark, if I were to observe here, that the highest pleasures of human life are nearly connected with its bitterest sorrows, and that the being who restlessly aspires to superior gratifications, has some reason to fear, lest his refinement should be a precursor to anguish and repentance. Influenced by this anticipation, there are persons who resolutely circumscribe themselves within the sphere of a rigid and miserable separation from others, that they may be independent of their injustice or folly. But this is a sordid policy. The mistake of Mary in this instance is easy of detection. She did not give full play to her judgment in this most important choice of life. She was too much under the influence of the melancholy and disappointment which had driven her from her native land; and, gratified with the first gleam of promised relief, she ventured not to examine with too curious a research into the soundness of her expectation. The least that can be said of the connection that she now formed, is, that it was a very unequal one. In years the parties were a match for each other; in every other point they were ill fitted for so entire an intimacy.]
Soon after the time to which my narrative has reached, 34 her attachment to Mr. Imlay 35gained a new link, by [her] finding reason to suppose herself with child.
Their establishment36 at Paris, was however broken up37 almost as soon as formed, 38 by the circumstance of Mr. Imlay's entering into39 business, urged, as he said, by the prospect of a family, and this being a favourable crisis in French affairs for commercial speculations. The pursuits in which he was engaged,40 led him in the month of September to Havre de Grace, then called Havre Marat, probably to superintend the shipping of goods, in which he was jointly engaged with some other person or persons. Mary remained in the capital.
The solitude in which she was now left, proved an unexpected trial. Domestic affections constituted the object upon which her heart was fixed; and she early felt, with an inward grief, that Mr. Imlay "did not attach those tender emotions round the idea of home, which, every time they recurred, dimmed her eyes with moisture." She had expected his return from week to week, and from month to month; but a succession of business still continued to detain him at Havre. At the same time the sanguinary character which the government of France began every day [more decidedly] to assume, contributed to banish tranquillity from the first months of her pregnancy. Before she left Neuilly, she happened one day to enter Paris on foot (I believe, by the Place de Louis Quinze), when an execution, attended with some peculiar aggravations, had just taken place, and the blood of41 the guillotine appeared fresh upon the pavement. The emotions of her soul burst forth in indignant exclamations, while a prudent bystander warned her of her danger, and intreated her to hasten and hide her discontents. She described to me, more than once, the anguish she felt at hearing of the death of Brissot, Vergniaud, and the twenty deputies, as one of the most intolerable sensations she had ever experienced.
Finding the return of Mr. Imlay continually postponed, she determined, in January 1794, to join him at Havre. One motive that influenced her, though, I believe, by no means the principal, was the growing cruelties of Robespierre, and the desire she felt to be in any other place, rather than the devoted city, in the midst of which they were perpetrated.
From January to September, Mr. Imlay and Mary lived together, with great harmony, at Havre, where the child, with which she was pregnant, was born, on the fourteenth of May, and named Frances, in remembrance of the dear friend of her youth, whose image could never be erased from her memory.
In September, Mr. Imlay took his departure from Havre for the port of London. As this step was said to be necessary in the way of business, he endeavoured to prevail upon Mary to quit Havre, and once more take up her abode at Paris. Robespierre was now no more, and, of consequence, the only objection she had to residing in the capital, was re moved. Mr. Imlay was already in London, before she undertook her journey, and it roved the most fatiguing journey42 she ever made; the carriage, in which she travelled, being overturned no less than four times between Havre and Paris.
This absence, like that of the preceding year in which Mr. Imlay had removed to Havre, was represented [by him] as an absence that was to have a short duration. In two months he was once43 again to join her in Paris. It proved however the prelude to an eternal separation. The agonies of such a separation, or rather desertion, great as Mary would have found them upon every supposition, were vastly increased, by the lingering method in which it was effected, and the ambiguity that, for a long time, hung upon it. This circumstance produced the effect, of holding her mind, by force, as it were, to the most painful of all subjects, and not suffering her to derive the just advantage from the energy and elasticity of her character.
The procrastination of which I am speaking was however productive of one advantage. It put off the evil day. She did not suspect the calamities that awaited her, till the close of the year. She gained an additional three months of comparative happiness. But she purchased it at a very dear rate. Perhaps no human creature ever suffered greater misery, than dyed the whole year 1795, in the life of this incomparable woman. It was wasted in that sort of despair, to the sense of which the mind is continually awakened, by a glimmering of fondly cherished, expiring hope.
Why did she thus obstinately cling to an ill-starred unhappy passion?44 Because it is of the very essence of affection, to seek to perpetuate itself. He does not love, who can resign this cherished sentiment, without suffering some of the sharpest struggles that our nature is capable of enduring. Add to this, Mary had fixed her heart upon this chosen friend; and one of the last impressions a worthy mind can submit to receive, is that of the worthlessness of the person upon whom it has fixed all45 its esteem. Mary had struggled to entertain a favourable opinion of human nature; she had unweariedly fought for a kindred mind, in whose integrity and fidelity to take up her rest. [Wounded affection, wounded pride, all those principles which hold most absolute empire in the purest and loftiest minds, urged her to still further experiments to recover her influence, and to a still more poignant desperation, long after reason would have directed her to desist, and resolutely call off her mind from thoughts of so hopeless and fatal a description.] Mr. Imlay undertook to prove, in his letters written immediately after their complete separation, that his conduct towards her was reconcilable to the strictest rectitude; but undoubtedly Mary was of a different opinion. Whatever the reader may decide in this respect, there is one sentiment that, I believe, he will unhesitatingly admit: that of pity for the mistake of the man, who, being in possession of such a friendship and attachment as those of Mary, could hold them at a trivial price, and, "like the base Indian, throw a pearl away, richer than all his tribe.*"
* A person, from whose society at this time Mary derived particular gratification,46 was Archibald Hamilton Rowan, who had lately become a fugitive from Ireland, in consequence of a political prosecution, and in whom she found those qualities which were always eminently engaging to her, great integrity of disposition, and great kindness of heart.
1 limit] limits Ist ed.
2 gloominess] gloom.
3 remarked] remarks Ist ed.
4 of whom Mary always spoke] whom Mary always spoke of, Ist ed.
5 acquaintance was more intimate] intercourse was greater.
6 in December, I792 del.
7 species of del.
8 for which her heart secretly panted del.
9 from which the tranquillity . . . derived.] and which had the effect of diffusing an immediate tranquillity and cheerfulness over her manners. Ist ed.
10 delicacy] forbearance in this place.
11 Mr. Imlay] this person.
12 him, she] Mr. Imlay, Mary.
13 that now originated] which now occurred.
14 between her and Mr. Imlay del.
15 inhabitants] inhabitant.
16 as she observes, are] she
* No part of the proposed continuation of this work, has been found among the papers of the author.
17 old del.
18 In the commencement . . . now formed, Mary] The commencement of the attachment Mary now formed, Ist ed.
19 I She always conceived . . . of the heart.] Delicacy, she thought, required the making an intercourse of this sort sacred and confidential.
20 sacred] inviolable.
21 The decree however] Meanwhile the decree.
22 was now] now thought herself.
23 still more del.
24 less from . . . suffers them.] more from the temper of the mind that suffers them, than from their abstract nature. Ist ed.
25 often del.
26 the same del.
27 delicious] refined.
28 fine] delicate.
29 bosom] attachment.
30 She was like a serpent . . . its happiest age. del.
31 individual del.
32 Her conception of . . . of affection. del.
33 Her love was unbounded del.
34 to which my narrative has reached] I am now speaking of Ist ed.
35 her attachment to Mr. Imlay] the attachment of Mary.
36 Their establishment] The establishment she had formed.
37 up del.
38 formed] entered on.
39 entering into] engaging in.
40 in which he was engaged] into which he entered.
41 of] from.
42 journey del.
43 once del.
44 an ill-starred unhappy passion] a passion, at once illassorted, and unpromising.
45 fixed all] placed.
46 from whose society at this time Mary derived particular gratification] whom Mary saw frequently about this time.
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