NEW MAN OF FEELING.
by WILLIAM GODWIN.
THE second day after my arrival, M. Ruffigny conducted me on a little tour to the lake of Uri. "My country," said he, "makes but a petty figure in the map of the globe; and, perhaps, it maybe a frivolous sort of pride in me, that makes me feel complacency in recollecting that I am a burgher of Uri. I do not merely exult that I am a Swiss, but I sometimes indulge myself in a fastidious comparison between my native canton and the more spacious and opulent republics of Zurich and Berne. The little state which I inhabit, is nearly one cluster of rugged and inhospitable mountains; yet this is the district in which the Swiss liberty was engendered; and from hence, as a centre, it spread on every side to the furthest boundaries of the union. I am myself descended from the patriots who secured independence to my native soil. As William Tell married the younger of the daughters of Walter Furst, one of the three immortal leaders, who in 1308 conspired for the deliverance of their country; so an ancestor of mine, in the direct line, married the elder. I know that the pretension of an illustrious ancestry is too often a chimerical boast. I know that, wherever a pedigree is preserved, or a distinguishing compellation is conferred, it is in the nature of things almost impossible, that in a few generations a race should not degenerate, and that fools or villains should not corrupt the blood of the profoundest sages and the most disinterested citizens. I know that, wherever this is the case, wherever licentiousness or imbecility has crossed the glorious breed, every time such a descendant hears the repetition of his name, he bears a more deadly and outrageous satire, than the malice of his worst enemy could invent against him. Forgive me, my friend -- I feel that this censure does not fasten on me. If I have not the public merits of a Furst and a Tell, I have their innocence of manners, and my life has been usefully and honourably spent.
"Zurich, and Basle, and some of our more opulent cantons, are full of manufactures and industry; they contain many citizens who are comparatively wealthy; and the style of living of several of these would not shame the capitals of Paris or London. My co-burghers are all feeders of flocks or cultivators of the earth; there are among them none who are opulent, and none who suffer the evils of poverty; and their tables are such as bring before us the uncorrupted plainness of patriarchal times. I have visited many countries of the globe; but this, instead of distasting me toward the simplicity of my early years, has made me relish it the more. Like a true Swiss of the earlier times, I have returned home, and bidden adieu, without a sigh, to the refinements and ostentation of other climates."
In the course of our excursion, M. Ruffigny pointed out to me the various spots still so dear to the genius of freedom: Gruti, the village where the three heroes of Switzerland planned their undertaking; Brunnen, where the fundamental league between their respective cantons was concluded; Kussnacht, the scene where an arrow from the bow of Tell reached the heart of Gesler, his own oppressor, and the oppressor of his country; and Morgarten and Sempach, the fields in which those celebrated combats were fought, that fixed the liberties of Switzerland on a basis which has endured the shock of ages. All these places were within such a distance, that we either actually visited them in the course of the day, or discerned them, almost in full detail, from the tops of the neighbouring eminences.
After having sated my curiosity in the examination of these venerable scenes, we returned in the afternoon by the lake of Uri. It was along this lake that Tell is related to have been conveyed in fetters by Gesler, that he might be removed from his countrymen, and shut up in one of the dungeons reserved by the tyrant for the intrepid and the honest. As they rowed along a violent tempest arose. The shores on both sides are extremely craggy and dangerous; and the tyrant began to fear that his boat would be dashed to pieces against these insuperable precipices. Tell, perfect in the accomplishments of a Swiss peasant, and endowed with a firm and adventurous temper, surpassed his contemporaries in the art of navigating his native lakes. Gesler knew this, and, trembling for his coward life, ordered the fetters to be struck off from his prisoner, and the helm to be put into his hand. Tell used the opportunity which was given him. There are not above two or three points in the whole circumference of this lake, where it is practicable to land. Tell steered his boat toward the most rugged of these, leaped suddenly upon the rock, climbed with inconceivable adroitness up the precipice, and returned once more to his longing countrymen and confederates. A chapel, erected by admiring posterity on the spot, consecrates the memory of this magnanimous and important achievement.
One thing surprised me, upon reflection, in the conduct of M. Ruffigny. He had received me with particular kindness; yet he did not so much as mention to me the name of my father. I knew that the connection between them was of the most confidential nature, and included a variety of important obligations, though I was a stranger to the particulars. My host did not inquire when I had heard from my father. He might, indeed, have received letters as lately as I could have done. But he did not ask me respecting his health, his vigour, his sentiments, his habits, a thousand minutiae, to which ocular inspection alone can qualify a man to speak. It is so natural for a friend to be anxious about these, and to think he can never talk or hear enough upon these interesting topics !
After having busily employed ourselves in discovering and examining the various memorable objects which occurred in our route, we now passed quietly and silently along the lake. It was a deep and narrow water, about nine miles in length, and skirted on both sides with rocks uncommonly wild and romantic, some perpendicular, some stretching over our heads, and intercepting the view of the upper sky, and clothed for the most part with forests of beech and pine, that extended themselves down to the very edge of the water. The lake was as smooth as crystal, and the arching precipices that enclosed it gave a peculiar solemnity to the gloom. As we passed near the chapel of Tell, the bell happened to toll forth, as if for a funeral. The sound was full, the effect melancholy; each reverberation of the metal was prolonged among the echoes of the rocks. This continued for about fifteen minutes, and then ceased.
We were attended by only two rowers and a steersman, labourers in the corn-fields and garden of M. Ruffigny. Shortly after we had passed the chapel, the rowers suspended their labour, and we glided in silence over the water. We had been so busied in action and conversation during the whole morning, that the stillness which now succeeded seemed perfectly unforced and natural. I sunk into a deep reverie. I thought of William Tell, and the glorious founders of the Swiss liberty; I thought of the simple manners which still prevail in the primitive cantons; I felt as if I were in the wildest and most luxuriant of the uninhabited islands of the South Sea. I was lost in visions of paradise, of habitations and bowers among the celestial orbs, of things supernatural and remote, of the unincumbered spirits of the virtuous and the just, of the pure rewards and enjoyments of a happier state. I had forgotten Switzerland, and M. Ruffigny, and the world, and myself.
Accidentally I lifted my eye, and saw the countenance of my host fixed upon me with peculiar intentness; a tear moistened the furrows of his cheeks. This spectacle recalled me to the reality of things about me; but my heart was softened by the images which had passed through my thoughts, and I could not speak.
"I have not named your father to you," said M. Ruffigny.
My dear father! -- His name, uttered at that moment, awakened the best feelings of my soul.
"Casimir! Casimir Fleetwood!" exclaimed my host, "where have you been?"
"In France: -- at Paris."
"How have you been employed?"
"Not well. -- My father sent me forth for improvement; but I have been employed in libertinism and dissipation."
"Fleetwood, I also am your father; and I will not be less indulgent, scarcely less anxious, than your natural parent. You know in gross, though you do not know in detail, the peculiar attachment I feel for every thing that bears the name of Fleetwood: -- am I not your father?"
"This, sir, is the third day that I have ever seen you; I know little of you yet; the little I have observed has scarcely had time to strike its fibres deep in my bosom. But all that I do know, makes me presume that, were I worthy of the honour, you are the person of all mankind whom I should prefer for an adoptive parent."
"Casimir! my dear Casimir! let not your ears for ever abhor the sound of my voice; let not my form and my visage be for ever loathsome in your sight! -- I cannot speak" --
"I understand you, sir, -- my father is dead!"
Ruffigny held forward to me a letter; I took it from him; I gazed mechanically on the superscription, but could not make out a syllable. My friend drew nearer to me; he put his arm round me, as I sat; I rested my head on his shoulder, and burst into a flood of tears.
The communication of this melancholy intelligence no doubt affected me very differently from what it would otherwise have done, in consequence of the frame of mind, which this day's excursion, and the various objects I had beheld, produced in me. My sensibility was increased by the preparation, and the impression I received was by so much the deeper. I do not pretend to divine Ruffigny's motives for so contriving the scene. Perhaps he knew enough of human nature to believe that it rarely happened to a son in the bloom of life to break his heart for the loss of an aged parent. Perhaps he understood and disapproved of the train of life in which I had lately been engaged, and thought the thus softening my heart the most effectual way of recalling me to my better self.
"Why, sir," cried I mournfully, "did you suffer me to remain a moment in ignorance of this dreadful intelligence? Why all this pomp of preparation? What are scenery, and patriotism, and heroes, and the achievements of past ages to me? What have I to do with all this world? -- My father! my only friend! -- Where have I been? -- Losing myself, while you stood in need of my consolation! Breaking through every plan that was arranged, loitering away my time among the frivolities and licentiousness of Paris, while you laid down an aching head in solitude, while your pulses failed, and your eyes were closed in darkness! Would to God it were in my power to recall a few past months! -- No matter! -- 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!"
I did not say all this aloud, though a part of it I did. The short time I had passed with Ruffigny was yet long enough to make me feel no sort of constraint in his presence. On the present occasion he did not attempt to console me; he left my grief to its natural course: we finished our voyage in silence. By degrees, as I recovered the use of my reason, I felt myself grateful for his kindness, and respected his judgment in this forbearance.
The night of the day I have described did not pass in repose. Amidst short and disturbed slumbers I saw my father. -- I heard his voice. I roused myself, and returned to recollection. "Dead?" said I. -- "Impossible!" -- Let the reader remember what I have already said of him; "He was the wisest and best man I knew. He had all those advantages from nature, and from the external endowments of fortune, which were calculated to maintain my reverence. We had gradually become more qualified for each other's society and confidence. Our characters had many points of resemblance: we were both serious, both contemplative, both averse to the commerce of the world." -- This dear friend, this sharer in all my interests, should I never meet again? The well-known mansion in Merionethshire, in which I had passed all my boyish days, should I find it vacant of its respected inhabitant? That mild and affectionate countenance, which for many years I had beheld every day, almost at every hour, should I never again behold it? Sometimes he was my playfellow, and even shared in my childish amusements. The little implements and mechanical contrivances upon which my boyish thoughts were employed, and which my desires panted to realise, he would often lend me his hand to assist me to form. His lessons were so paternal, so indulgent, so considerate, so well adapted to my opening powers! The confidences he occasionally reposed in were so cordial! His descriptions and pictures of things to excite my curiosity and emulation were so admirable! I remembered how his manner successively adapted itself to my growing years and demands, from prattling infancy to the full stature of man. All these things rose at first confusedly to my mind, and jostled each other. Sometimes I endeavoured, with melancholy industry, to arrange them; at other times I threw the reins on the neck of my imagination, and resigned myself to the guidance of fortuitous associations. "My life," said I, "under the roof of my father, was the reality of life. The period I spent at Oxford and Paris was an interval of incoherence and inebriety; and this is all now ended! The reality of existence is for ever gone! "
Why is it that, from the hour I heard of my father's decease to the present distant period, the remembrance of that melancholy event has always become associated in my mind with the rocks of Switzerland and the lake of Uri? One of the most affecting of the catastrophes that beset this mortal existence, with what is most solemn and sublime in the aspect of the universe? Grief in all human minds soon assumes the character of a luxury to be indulged, as well as of a pain to be endured. The mourner recollects with complacency the tenderness of his heart and the purity of his feelings. The conscious recurrence of the scene in which my grief began, gave in my case to the grief itself a new merit at the tribunal of sentiment and taste. Honoured, beloved, ever-to-be-regretted author of my life! Never were the ashes of an Eastern monarch attended with so magnificent a funeral! The deep glen of the dark and tranquil lake of Uri was the cathedral in which the rites were solemnised! The chapel of the immortal Tell tolled out its bell to proclaim the ceremony! The patriots who, five centuries ago, established the independence of Switzerland, composed the procession that attended thee to the grave! All these images are for ever worked up together, and constitute in my memory one melancholy and indelible scene!
It was many days after the communication of this intelligence before my mind could recover any tolerable composure. How various circumstances combined to make this a terrible blow to me! I felt naked and unsheltered from the blasts of the world. I was like a vine that had long twined itself round the trunk of a sturdy oak, and from which at length the support and alliance of the oak is taken away. The shoots of my emulation and enterprise lay prostrate on the ground, and the fibres of my heart were torn and bleeding. If I had been present on this melancholy occasion, if I had heard from my father the accents of a last farewell, if it had been permitted me to soften the last pangs of expiring life, to say to myself, I now see the friend whom I shall see no more, to kiss his clay-cold forehead, to feel the affectionate pressure of his hand for the last time, my remorse would have been less. I remembered with insupportable anguish the manner in which my absence had been employed. Not in wholesome and salutary studies, not in useful and improving meditation, not in sound observations upon the varieties of man and the distinguishing features of nations; but in vice, in dissipation, in what I was sure my father would least of all have approved, in a timid and ignominious sacrifice to the licentious maxims of a nation among whom I was a sojourner.
The day after that of the lake of Uri, I did not come out of my chamber. I had no courage to lift up my head, and my passion once and again relieved itself by a flood of tears. I sat for hours immoveable, engrossed in dim and inexplicable reverie. This blunting of the senses was grateful and life-giving; the brief intervals in which I returned to myself were filled with intolerable anguish. "How happy was I yesterday!" exclaimed I to myself: "how desolate to-day!" Nevertheless, I was yesterday as fatherless as I am to-day ; my dear parent for more than two months has been no more: but I did not know my misfortune! With what pleasure did I receive the kindness, observe the habits, and speculate upon the propensities, of my father's friend! With what interest did I set out yesterday morning upon the little excursion we had planned! How much did I enjoy the scenery, as it was formed by the all-directing hand of nature, and as it was modified by the recollection of the human acts which had there been performed! Cruel Ruffigny, how could you suffer me to live under this delusion! How could you look on, enjoying in malicious sport my blindness, and see me amuse myself with straws, while the rock, upon which my habitation had rested, was dissolved away beneath its foundations! -- Yet, why, ah, why has this delusion ever been taken away! Yesterday, and the day preceding, and the days before, I did not know my misfortune, and I was happy! Oh, that this dream could have lasted for ever! -- I shall never again see my father, -- never, never! -- yet why might I not have been led on with the pleasing hope, and have said, "To-morrow, and to-morrow, -- a short time yet, -- and we shall meet!" How happy, to have pursued an interminable route, and still have believed that I was almost at my journey's end! to have trusted for ever, and confided, as long as I continued to live!
My kind host sent me my morning's repast, but it stood by me untouched. Ever since I had received the news, I had a sensation within me that rejected food, as peremptorily as the glands of a person labouring under a hydrophobia throw back the water he might attempt to absorb. Dinnertime came; and hunger at length subdued the obstinacy of my grief. With bitter scorn of my own frailty, I swallowed a few morsels of the food which was set before me. In the evening, Ruffigny entered my chamber. He sat down, and for some minutes continued silent. At length he spoke. He did not ask me how I had rested, or how I felt myself. He began with words concerning my father; he made a calculation of their respective ages. I could not stand this: to myself I had repeated my father's name a hundred times; but I could not bear to hear it formed by the voice of another. Ruffigny desisted. A few minutes more, and he returned to the same topic with some variation. I now endured it better. He pronounced -- an eulogium of my father's virtues. This was not altogether without a soothing sensation; though from time to time I covered my face with my hands, struck my forehead with my clenched fist, and broke into other mechanical gestures of impatience. Ruffigny spoke of the years he had spent in society with my father. He recollected a variety of little incidents and adventures, which had served to display his judgment and humanity, the resources of his mind, and the generousness of his temper. If all this discourse had been artificial, if it had resembled the funeral encomium of a venal orator, it would only have irritated my impatience, and increased my sorrows. But Ruffigny loved my father only less than I loved him. The chief differences were, that he had not seen him for years, and this had served him for a weaning; and that the instinct of blood, or that prejudice and sentiment which amply supply the place of instinct, was in full ascendancy in me, and was wanting in him. We mingled our tears. His discourse was the overflowing of his heart, -- a relief that was necessary to the anguish he felt, and to the restraint he had imposed upon himself in the two first days of my visit. His sorrow would have produced more injurious effects upon him, had it not been that he felt it as a duty incumbent upon him to console mine.
Ruffigny went on. " A most valuable life has been terminated, and you do well to weep. A great gap has been made in society; and, though you are the principal loser, yet all who knew your father, particularly all who were within reach of his wisdom or beneficence, are losers too. He has left a considerable estate, and there is need of some one to look into its condition and prosperity. He has left tenants, and they will miss his superintendence and indulgence. Because they have lost him, I hope that will not be a reason that they should lose you. Your father has perished from the face of the earth, but it is not your design that his memory should perish with him! Strangers, no doubt, have already given him a grave. But shall not his son enquire what they have done, and supply what they may have left deficient? Shall no stone mark the place where his ashes rest? Shall no filial curiosity demand, from those who were on the spot, the history of his last moments, the paroxysms he suffered, the consolations that relieved them, the last words which were breathed from his dying lips? Shall no one endeavour to draw out an image of his life, by enquiring into his injunctions, and perpetuating the execution of those plans upon which, it may be, his affections were bent? These are the duties of survivors; it is in this way that our offspring prove their attachment to those to whom they were bound in a thousand obligations."
The discourse of Ruffigny produced in me the revolution he meditated. "I will set out for England this moment!" cried I.
"Would it," answered Ruffigny, "be any increase to your satisfaction that I should accompany you?"
"Good Heaven! venerable old man," exclaimed I, "you cannot entertain the thought?"
"The wish to perform a pilgrimage to the tomb of my ancient friend is uppermost in my heart. Will you permit me to occupy a corner in the chaise that is to convey you to England?"
I threw myself into his arms; I burst into tears; I even sobbed upon his bosom. -- "My father is not wholly dead! What must be my obligation to the friend, who at such a moment is willing to supply his place!"
When my first surprise at this generous proposal had subsided, I argued with Ruffigny: I objected his age and infirmities; I intreated him to consider well the extent of so exampled a sacrifice. My arguments were not urged with all the force of which they were capable; my heart betrayed me; my very soul thrilled with pleasure, and yearned over the old man, who said, "Shall I not accompany you to England?"
My host concealed from me one part of the motive that induced him to this extraordinary resolution. My father, as I have said, had furnished me with a most exemplary letter of introduction to his Swiss friend, and had trusted much to his affectionate and benevolent wisdom for the perfecting my character. When I least suspected it, my deceased parent had obtained accurate accounts of my proceedings at Oxford and at Paris, and had transmitted a faithful abstract of these accounts to M. Ruffigny. He was exceedingly anxious for the future purity of my character and honour of my transactions, and was of opinion that a violent interference, and a rude check put upon my excesses, was by no means the most effectual method for my reformation. He therefore scarcely seemed to be aware of my errors, at the time that he was most exactly informed of, and most disapproved them. He believed that an unsuccessful attempt to place them before me in their full light, would be infinitely more injurious than if no attempt were made. His great dependence was upon my visit to Switzerland. He had the most exalted notion of the talents, the virtues, and the zeal of his friend in this corner of the world. He persuaded himself that the operation of novelty would be highly favourable to the accomplishment of his wishes, and that the unexpected meeting with a man so qualified, and the yet untried expedients which Ruffigny would employ for my improvement, would produce the happiest effects.
My father was now dead; and my host felt the task which had devolved upon him as of double obligation. I was a legacy which the friend most dear to him on earth had bequeathed to him, and a trust with which his last breath he had consigned to his care. As a legacy, the long attachment he had felt to the name of Fleetwood made him regard me as the most valuable estate that could have been conveyed to him; and as a trust, there was nothing for which he more desired to live, than the faithful, discharge of what the person conferring that trust expected from him. When the choice of various means were in my late father's power, he had fixed upon the vigilance and discretion of Ruffigny, as that by which he desired to secure my improvement and happiness. Had fate not bereaved me thus untimely -- of a father's care, he would no doubt have employed various engines and instruments for the same end. While a parent's eye was upon me, however much he trusted to the discretion of this friend, Ruffigny would still have been a deputy, not a principal. Now the task became entirely his; and every engagement that he felt to the virtues and the memory of my father, called upon him, as the last tribute of friendship, to leave no effort unexerted for my welfare.
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