NEW MAN OF FEELING.
by WILLIAM GODWIN.
The proper topic of the narrative I am writing is the record of my errors, To write it, is the act of my pentinence and humiliation. I can expect however few persons to interest themselves respecting my errors, unless they are first informed what manner of man I am, what were my spontaneous and native dispositions, and whether I am such a one as that my errors are worthy of commiseration and pity. This must be my apology for the topic I am here to introduce, a topic on which all ingenous minds are disposed to be silent, and which shall in this place be passed over as flightly as possible, my beneficence and charities. I was fond of penetrating into the cottages of the poor. I should be greatly unjust to myself, if I suffered the reader to suppose that the wild elevation and intellectual luxuries I indulged had the effect to render me insensible to the miseries of man. Nothing was squalid, loathsome and disgusting in my yes, where it was possible for me to be useful. I shrunk from the society of man in general, and foresaw in the intercourse of my species, something forever prepared to thwart my sensibility, and to jar against the unreal world in which I lived. But I never shrunk from the presence of calamity. From the liberal allowance with which my father supplied me I relieved its wants, I sheltered it from the menaces of a prison, and I even prevailed on myself to resort willingly to such towns as our vicinity afforded, to plead its cause, and parley with its oppressor.
No doubt in my pride did not come away ungratified from these enterprizes. Far be it from me to assert, with certain morose and coldblooded moralists, that our best actions are only more subtle methods by which self-love seeks its gratification. My own heart, in every act of benevolence I ever performed, gave the lie to this execrable doctrine. I felt that it was the love of another and not of myself that prompted my deed; I experienced a disinterested joy in human relief and human happiness, independently of the question whether I had been concerned in producing it; and, when the season of retrospect arrived, I exulted in my own benevolence, from the divine consciousness that, while I had been most busily engaged in the talk, my own gratification was forgotten.
There is however, as I have intimated, a very subtle and complicated association in human feelings. The generous sympathy which animated my charitable deeds was pure; it flowed from a celestial source, and maintained its crystal current, as unmingled with the vulgar stream of personal passions, as the oil extracted from the most aromatic fruits, flows separate and unconfounded with the mire of the kennel on which it may have fallen. There is no doubt however that the honourable character I exhibited on the these occasions, prompted me the more joyfully to seek their repetition. Humanity and self-complacency were distinct causes of my beneficence; but the latter was not less powerful than the former in nourishing it into a habit. In other scenes of human intercourse I played an equal and doubtful part; the superior eloquence or information of my competitor might overwhelm me; he might have more passion to pursue his purpose, of more want of feeling to harden him against the obstacles that opposed: but in the cottage to which my benevolence led me, I appeared like a superior nature; I had here no opposition to contend with, no insult to awaken my irritability, and no superciliousness to check the operations of my sentiment. It was also fortunate for me, that the cases of distress which came before me in this remote part of the island, were not numerous enough to distract my choice, or to render me callous by the too great frequency of their impressions.
One adventure of this fort interested me so much by the liveliness of its incidents that I cannot refuse briefly to describe it in this place. The season had for many days been uncommonly wet. The waters were swelled with continual rains, and the low-lands were almost inundated. It was July. After a series of heavy showers, on afternoon the sky brightened, the sun burst forth with redoubled splendor, and all nature smiled. This is a moment particularly dear to the lover of rural scenery. Dry weather tarnishes the face of nature, fades the lovely colours of hill and valley, and profanes and destroys those sweet odours which, more than any thing else, give the last finish to the charms of nature. I hastened to enjoy the golden opportunity. by long practice I knew how to find the path were mire and swamps would not occur to interrupt my pleasure. My way led me by a steep acclivity of the mountain, which overhangs the bason that forms the source of the Desunny. I gained the eastern extremity of the ridge, that i might the more amply enjoy the beams of the setting sun as he sunk beneath the waves of the Irish sea. It was the finest evening my eyes ever beheld. the resplendent colours of the clouds, the rich purple and burnished gold in various streaks fantastically formed and repeated, were beyond any imagination to conceive. The woods were vocal. The scents that surrounded me, the steaming earth, the fresh and invigorating air, the hay and the flowers, constituted, so to the express myself, and olfactory concert, infinitely more ravishing than all the concords of harmonious sound that human art ever produced. This lovely moment combined in one impression the freshness of the finest morning, with all the rich and gorgeous effects peculiar to the close of a summer's day.
I stood, as I have said, on the edge of the precipice. I gazed for a long time upon the various charms, that what we ordinarily, but improperly, call inanimate nature unfolded. I saw the rustic, as he retired from endeavouring to repair the injury his hay had sustained, and the flocks, as they passed slowly along to their evening's repose. Presently an individual object engrossed my attention. A young lamb had wandered by some accident to the middle of the precipice, and a peasant was pursuing it, and endeavouring to call it to his arms. I shuddered at the fight. The precipice was in some parts almost perpendicular. The rains had rendered the surface exceedingly slippery. The peasant caught at the shrubs and tufts of grass as he descended; and, with a skill peculiar to the inhabitants of the mountains, seemed to proceed securely in the most desperate places. The lamb, whether from heedlessness or wantonness, advanced further along the mountainside, as the shepherd pursued.
While I was engaged in observing this little manoeuvre, I suddenly heard a scream. It came from a spot exceedingly near to me. Two boys sat in a nook where I had not perceived them, and cried out, My brother! my brother! A venerable grey-headed man was with them. He exclaimed, My son! my William! and prepared to plunge down the precipice. The scream I had heard was the effect of what at that moment happened before my eyes; yet such is the curious structure of the human senses, that what I heard seemed to be prior in time to what I saw. The peasant had almost overtaken his lamb. The lamb was on the point of escaping by a sudden leap; the peasant sprung upon him, and both were at the bottom of the precipice, and plunged in the bason, now swelled into a lake, with the rapidity of lightning. I flew to the group I have described; I laid hold of the old man at the moment of his proposed descent; I cried out, "Stay, poor man! what can you do? I will save your son!" I knew a path, more secure, yet scarcely more circuitous than that which the peasant had followed. I had the advantage over him, that I was not diverted from my course by any object whose deviations I pursued. For some time I went on safely; i saw the peasant rise to the surface of the water and sink again; my impatience was too great to combine any longer with wariness; I lost my footing, and in an instant I also was in the lake.
My fall had been from a less terrible height than his, and I recovered myself. I swam toward the place where he had last sunk; he rose; I threw my arm around his neck, and supported him. the difficulty however which remained, appeared insuperable the shores on almost every side were shelving, and impossible to be scaled with the peasant in my arms, who was in a state of insensibility. As I was endeavouring to find the means of escaping from this difficulty, I saw a boat advancing toward us; it was row by a young woman; it approached; she was William's mistress, and the owner of the lamb for which he had ventured his life; we got him into the boat; he was more sunned with the fall, than injured by the water; he appeared to be gradually recovering; even the lamb was saved.
By the time we had reached the shore, the father and the two brothers were come round to our landing place. All their attention was at first turned upon William; I was nothing to them; I retired to a little distance, and observed the group. The eldest boy supported William as he sat; the blooming maid rubbed his temples; the father sat before him and clasped his son's hands between his. It was an interesting spectacle; a painter might have sketched them as they sat. The eyes of the boy glistened with eagerness; the girl hung over her lover, while her colour alternately changed from its natural ruddiness to a languid paleness; the hairs of the old man were as white as snow. Presently, william uttered a profound sigh; it was a welcome found to the whole assembly. the least boy was at first wrapped in silent attention; but presently began to play with Molly, the pet lamb, that frisked about him. In a short time the old man exclaimed, Where is our deliverer? It was now my turn; I was at a short distance; they were all tumultuous in their expressions of gratitude. The peasant-girl and myself supported William to his cottage; I offered my other arm to the father; the biggest boy led their favorite lamb by a string which hung from his neck; the youngest bore in triumph his father's stick, who,as he leaned on my arms, no longer needed its support.
Such was the commencement of my acquaintance with an honest family. The habitation of the girl was a small distance from theirs; she was one of a numerous assemblage of sisters who lived with their mother. I found that the young persons had been lovers for more than a year, but had deferred their marriage for prudential reasons. The industry of William was the support of his own house; his father was past his labour; they had resolved not to marry till the next brother should be able to take the place now filled by the eldest. The accident that had just occurred, in which the cottage maid preserved the life of her lover, increased their affection, and doubled their impatience however which they were resolute to subject to the most honourable considerations. I saw them often; I loved them much. William was ingenuous and active; the maid added to a masculine intrepidity most of the more lovely graces of her own sex. The father often lamented even with tears, that he was no longer capable of those exertions which might enable William freely to obey the dictates of his heart. The attachment which I felt to them was that of a patron and a preserver; when I observed the degree of content which prevailed among them, when I witnessed the effusions of their honest esteem and affection, my heart whispered to me, This would not have existed but for me! I prevailed on my father to bestow a farm upon the lovers; I engaged, out of my on little stock, to hire a labourer for the old man; they married, and I had the satisfaction to convert one virtuous establishment into two.
Such were the principal occupations of my juvenile years. I loved the country, without feeling my partiality to what are called the sports of the country. My temper, as I have already said, was somewhat unsocial, and so far as related to the intercourse of my species, except when some strong stimulus of humanity called me into action, unenterprising. I was therefore no hunter. I was inaccessible to the pitiful ambition of showing, before a gang of rural inquires, that I had not be motive, which ordinarily influences the inhabitants of the country to the cultivation of there sports, the want of occupation. I was young: the world was new to me: I abounded with occupation. In the scenery of Merionethshire I found a source of inexhaustible amusement. Science, history, poetry, engaged me by turns, and into each of them by turns my soul plunged itself with an ardour difficult to describe. in the train of these came my visions, my beloved and variegated inventions, the records, which tome appeared voluminous and momentous, of my past life, the plans of my future, the republics I formed, the feminaries of education for which I constructed laws, the figure I proposed hereafter to exhibit in the eyes of a wondering world. I had a still further and more direct reason for my rejection of the sports of the field. I could not with patience regard to torture anguish and death, as the sources of my amusement.
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