NEW MAN OF FEELING.
by WILLIAM GODWIN.
My application had the desired issue. A polite answer was returned, expressing that Mr. Macneil would be happy to be favoured with my visit. I was the more flattered with this, as the lady to whom I had mentioned my desire, a woman of no common sagacity, had predicted a different event.
I hastened to make use of the privilege I had obtained. I found the house of Mr Macneil uncommonly plain in its style, yet replete with every temperate convenience. The father of the family seemed to be upward of fifty years of age, and was tall, robust, and manly in his appearance. His hair was brown, short, and unpowdered; his ruddy cheek confessed that he was not negligent of the care of his fields, and that he had received in his constitution the reward of his care. Mr Macneil was a Scotchman. The brogue of every country is, perhaps, pleasing to the ear of sensibility, especially when it falls from the lips of a man of cultivation; it seems to assure us that simplicity and the native features of mind have not been eradicated. With me the Scottish dialect is somewhat a favourite; it softens and mellows the sound of our island tongue; and the gravity which accompanies it, gives an air of sobriety and reflection to the speaker, which are particularly in accord with my serious disposition. It reminds us of the fields, and not of cities.
'I thank you for your visit,' said Mr Macneil, taking me by the hand. 'Your letter is a masterly picture of your character. I know not what you have heard of me that made you desirous of seeing me; but I suspect that I, rather than you, shall be the gainer by the intercourse. I am no humourist, nor misanthrope, though circumstances have obliged me to be a little abrupt with some of the persons I have seen since I took up my residence here. I am a very plain man, and if you expect any thing else you will be disappointed.'
I did not find Mr Macneil what I should have called a very plain man, yet I do not blame him for his assertion. It would be best of all, if every man knew himself exactly for what he was, and announced himself accordingly. But this, alas! is impossible. Every one who does not think too humbly of his qualities, sets too high a value upon them. And how ridiculous a thing is self-importance -- a fancied sovereign demanding a tax from his imaginary subjects, which they will never pay! False humility is, indeed, if not a more ridiculous, yet a more degrading error than arrogance. But every man who is aware of all the artifices of self-delusion, will rather set his demands below, than above, the true rate.
Among other subjects, we talked of the character of Rousseau. Mr Macneil expressed himself with a veneration and a tenderness toward this extraordinary man, which I suppose were universally felt by all who approached him, except those who, thinking less of his weaknesses, and the indulgence they demanded, than of their own offended pride, finished by quarrelling with him.
'I saw much of Rousseau; said my host. 'He reposed many confidences in me. He often told me that he felt less suspicious and embarrassed with me, than with almost any man he ever knew; and he asserted that the reason was, that I thought more of the subject discussed, and the scene before me, and less of how they would affect my own tranquility and importance. I could see that one of his great misfortunes had been, that almost all his intimates were chosen from among the French, that nation of egotists! Rousseau was a man of exquisite sensibility, and that sensibility had been insulted and trifled with in innumerable instances, sometimes by the intolerance of priest craft and power, sometimes by the wanton and ungenerous sports of men of letters. He lived, however, toward the close of his life in a world of his own, and saw nothing as it really was; nor were his mistakes less gross, than if he had asserted that his little cottage was menaced by a besieging any, and assailed with a battery of cannon. Whether from the displeasing events that had befallen him, or from any seeds of disease kneaded up in his original constitution, I was convinced, from a multitude of indications, that Rousseau was not in his sober mind. How much are those persons mistaken, who imagine that a madman is necessarily incapable of composing orations as ardent as those of Demosthenes, and odes as sublime as those of Pindar!" How small a portion of the persons who, upon some topic or other, are unhinged in their intellectual comprehension, is it necessary to place under corporeal restraint! Yet I was often led to doubt whether Rousseau, spite of the disease under which he laboured, deserved, upon the whole, to be termed unfortunate. When he was induced to dwell for a time upon the universal complication which he believed to be formed against him, he then undoubtedly suffered. But he had such resources in his own mind! He could so wholly abstract himself from this painful contemplation; his vein of enthusiasm was so sublime; there was such a childlike simplicity often uppermost in his carriage; his gaiety upon certain occasions was so good humoured, sportive, and unbroken! It was difficult for me to persuade myself that the person I saw at such times, was the same as at others was beset with such horrible visions.' Mr. Macneil related to me several curious anecdotes in support of these observations.
The wife of my new acquaintance was one of the most accomplished and prepossessing women I ever beheld. I have often remarked that this mixture and result of the manners and habits of different countries, particularly in the female sex, presents something exquisitely fascination and delightful. She was never embarrassed, and never appeared to meditate how a thing was to be done, but did it with an ease, a simplicity, an unpretendingness, which threw every studied grace into contempt in the comparison. She had been humbled by the miscarriage of her early youth. But for this, her person and her accomplishments, the acknowledged sweetness of her temper and clearness of her understanding, might, perhaps, have made her proud, and thus have tarnished the genuine lustre of her excellencies. The modesty with which she presented herself was inexpressibly engaging. There was a cast of the Magdalene' in all she did; nor of the desponding, not of a temper deserting its duties, unconscious of recovered worth, or that invited insolence or contempt. It was a manner that had something in it of timidity, yet could scarcely be said to amount to self-reproach; a manner, indeed, that, by the way in which it confessed her frailty, made reproach, either by look or gesture, from any other impossible. Her failings had chastised in her the pride of birth, and the assurance that superior attainments are apt to inspire, and had generated that temperance, moderation, and gentle firmness, which, wherever they are found, are the brightest ornaments of human nature.
The young ladies, whose merits I had heard so highly extolled. were three. Each of these had principally devoted herself to some particular accomplishment, in which, though not unskilled in other pursuits, she had made extraordinary progress. The eldest applied to the art of design; she drew, and even painted in oil; and her landscapes in particular had an excellence which, to speak moderately of them, reminded the beholder of the style of Claude Lorraine. The principal apartment of the house was hung round with a series of the most striking scenes in the environs of the lakes, delineated by her pencil. The second daughter had chosen music for her favourite pursuit; and her execution, both on the piano forte and in singing, was not inferior to that which her eldest sister had attained on canvass. The youngest was a gardener and botanist. She had laid out her father's grounds, and the style in which they were disposed did the highest credit to her imagination. One side of the family sitting-parlour was skirted with a greenhouse, of the same length as the room, and which seemed to make a part of it. This apartment was furnished with nearly every variety which Flora had ever produced in our island, or which curiosity has imported, and were entirely cultivated by her hand. In her prosecution of the science of botany, she had also resorted to the use of colours; and, though the employment she made of them was inferior in kind to the studies of the eldest, it is almost impossible to conceive any thing superior to what she had reached, either in faithfulness of delineation, or brilliancy of tints.
The names of these young ladies were Amelia, Barbara, and Mary. The eldest had no pretensions to beauty, though there was an uncommon appearance of quick conception and penetrating judgment in the various turns of her countenance. Barbara was a brunette: her features were regular, her mouth was alluring, and her dark eyes flashed with meaning, and melted with tenderness. Mary had a complexion which, in point of fairness and transparency, could not be excelled: her blood absolutely spoke I in her cheeks; the soft white of her hands and neck looked as if they would have melted away beneath your touch; her eyes were so animated, and her whole physiognomy so sensitive, that it was scarcely possible to believe that a thought could pass in her heart, which might not be read in her face.
I never saw a family that excited in me so much approbation. Individuals I had encountered of great worth and extraordinary qualifications; but here was a whole circle of persons, such as a man would wish to spend his life with: so much concord of affection without any jarring passions; so much harmony of interests, yet each member of the family having a different pursuit. To me, who was prone to regard the whole world with an eye of censoriousness and displeasure, and who, having conceived this propensity, but too easily found materials to foster and nourish it, this was a ravishing spectacle. The father so well informed; the mother so interesting; the daughters so accomplished and so lovely! Mr. Macneil seemed to feel a kindness for me, proportioned to the gratification] experienced in my visit; and, after having pressed me to partake of their family fare, proposed a ride along the shores of the Windermere the next morning. The day following was 'occupied in a party on the lake; and thus, by insensible degrees, I became for a time almost an inmate in the family. I was so far advanced in life, as to preclude any idea of indecorum in my visits; and I addressed myself to the different members of the little commonwealth, as if I had been a brother to the master of the house, and an uncle to the daughters. I sat sometimes for hours by Amelia as she painted; I listened with unwearied attention to the lessons executed by Barbara: but my chief pleasure was in attending the gentle and engaging Mary, in her morning visits to her flowers, and in her walks among the avenues which had been constructed, and the bowers which had been planted under her direction.
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