Falkner, published in 1837, is the last novel by Mary Shelley;and as we see from her letter she had been passing through a period of ill-health and depression while writing it, this may account for less spontaneity in the style, which is decidedly more stilted ; but, here again, we feel that we are admitted to some of the circle which Mary had encountered in the stirring times of her life, and there is undoubted imagination with some fine descriptive passages. The opening chapter introduces a little deserted child in a picturesque Cornish village. Her parents had died there in apartments, one after the other, the husband having married a governess against the wishes of his relations ; consequently, the wife was first neglected on her husband's death ; and on her own sudden death, a few months later, the child was simply left to the care of the poor people of the village a dreamy, poetic little thing, whose one pleasure was to stroll in the twilight to the village churchyard and be with her mamma. Here she was found by Falkner, the principal character of the romance, who had selected this very spot to end a ruined existence ; in which attempt he was frustrated by the child jogging his arm to move him from her mother's grave. His life being thus saved by the child's instrumentality, he naturally became interested in her. He is allowed to look through the few remaining papers of the parents. Among these he finds an unfinished letter of the wife, evidently addressed to a lady he had known, and also indications who the parents were. He was much moved, and offered to relieve the poor people of the child and to restore her to her relations.
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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley – Her Life And Works
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
British authoress, second wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet, was born in the Polygon, Somers Town, on 30 Aug. 1797, and was the only daughter of William Godwin the elder and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Orphaned of her mother a few days after her birth, she was left to the care of her father, who, bewildered by the charge, soon began to look for some one to share it with him. After sundry rebuffs he at last found the needed person (December 1801) in his next-door neighbour, Mrs. Clairmont, a widow with a son and daughter—‘a clever, bustling, second-rate woman, glib of tongue and pen, with a temper undisciplined and uncontrolled; not bad-hearted, but with a complete absence of all the finer sensibilities’ (Marshall). She inspired no remarkable affection, even in her own children, and Mary was thrown for sympathy upon the companionship of her father, whose real tenderness was disguised by his frigid manner. It was natural that, as she grew up, she should learn to idolise her own mother, whose memory became a religion to her. There seems to have been nothing peculiar in her education. ‘Neither Mrs. Godwin nor I,’ Godwin had written, ‘have leisure enough for reducing modern theories of education to practice;’ but she must have imbibed ideas and aspirations from the numerous highly intellectual visitors to her father's shabby but honoured household. At the age of fifteen she is described by Godwin as ‘singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind. Her desire of knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she undertakes almost invincible.’ From June to November 1812, and again from June 1813 to March 1814, she resided at Dundee with friends, the Baxters, whose son was employed with her foster-brother, Charles Clairmont, in Constable's publishing house at Edinburgh. The day of her return was 30 March, and on 5 May, so far as can be ascertained from Godwin's diary, she first made acquaintance with Shelley, whom she had only once seen before, in November 1812. Shelley was then in the throes of his breach with Harriet. Mary, remitted from beloved friends to an uncongenial stepmother, was doubtless on her part pining for sympathy. By 8 June, to judge by Hogg's record of the meeting between them which he witnessed, they had become affectionate friends; but it was not until 28 July that they left England together, accompanied by Jane Clairmont.
The poet learnt of the death of his first wife in the middle of December 1816, and he married Mary Godwin about a fortnight later. For the next six years her history is almost absorbed in that of her illustrious husband. They were seldom apart, and her devotion to him was complete. Some differences were unavoidable between persons in many respects so diversely organised. Endowed with a remarkably clear, penetrating, and positive intellect, she could not always follow Shelley's flights, and was too honest to affect feelings which she did not really entertain. Possessing in full measure the defects of her qualities, she had not the insight to discern the prophetic character of Shelley's genius; and, although she admired his poetry, her inner sympathy was not sufficiently warm to console him for the indifference of the world. Expressions of disappointment occur occasionally both in his verse and his prose. He was probably thinking of himself when he wrote: ‘Some of us have loved an Antigone in a previous stage of existence, and can find no full content in any mortal tie.’ There were incidents, too, on his side to test both her patience and her affection. With every deduction on these accounts, the union was nevertheless in the main a happy one. Mary undoubtedly received more than she gave. Nothing but an absolute magnetising of her brain by Shelley's can account for her having risen so far above her usual self as in ‘Frankenstein.’ The phenomenon might have been repeated but for the crushing blow of the death of her boy William in 1819. From this time the keynote of her existence was melancholy. Her father's pecuniary troubles, and the tone he chose to take with reference to them, also preyed upon her spirits, insomuch that Shelley was obliged at last to intercept his letters. With all this she was happier than she knew, and after Shelley's death she exclaims, with tragic conviction, ‘Alas! having lived day by day with one of the wisest, best, and most affectionate of spirits, how void, bare, and drear is the scene of life!’ Trelawny was her favourite among her husband's circle; but Byron, much as he made her suffer in many ways, also endeared himself to her. She associated him with Switzerland, where she copied the third canto of ‘Childe Harold’ for him. She liked Hogg and loved Leigh Hunt, but Peacock was uncongenial to her.
Mary Shelley was a hard student during her husband's lifetime. She read incessantly without any neglect of domestic duties, acquiring some knowledge of Greek, and mastering Latin, French, and Italian. Of the two romances which she produced during this period, ‘Frankenstein’ is deservedly by far the more famous. Frankenstein's monster, though physically an abortion, is intellectually the ancestor of a numerous family. The story, which was commenced in 1816 in rivalry with Byron's fragmentary ‘Vampyre,’ was published in 1818. ‘Valperga,’ an historical romance of the fourteenth century, begun in 1820, was printed in the spring of 1822, and published in 1823, after undergoing considerable revision from Godwin.
After her husband's death in 1822 her diaries for years to come are full of involuntary lamentations. Byron's migration to Genoa drew the Hunt circle after him, and there she spent the winter (1822–3), tried by the discomfort of Leigh Hunt's disorderly household, the waning kindness of Byron, who, by her own statement, had at first been most helpful and consolatory, and temporary misunderstandings with Hunt himself. These ordeals lessened the pain of leaving Italy. Byron and Peacock, Shelley's executors, concurred with Godwin in deeming her presence in England necessary. Byron, although he had handsomely renounced his prospective claim to a legacy under Shelley's will, showed no disposition to provide travelling expenses. Trelawny accordingly depleted his own purse for the purpose, and in June 1823 she left for London with her three-year-old child. On the way she had the satisfaction of seeing a drama founded on ‘Frankenstein’ performed with applause at Paris. She found her native land a dismal exchange for Italy, but was for a time much soothed by the society of Mrs. Williams. Sir Timothy Shelley had offered to provide for her son upon condition of her resigning the charge of him, which she of course rejected with indignation. After a time terms were made; but her small allowance was still dependent upon Sir Timothy's pleasure, and was withdrawn for a while when the newspapers named her as the authoress of ‘The Last Man,’ which had been published anonymously. ‘The name annoyed Sir Timothy.’ In the same year (1826), however, the death of Shelley's son by Harriet made little Percy a person of consequence as heir to the baronetcy, and her position improved.
‘The Last Man,’ published in 1826, though a remarkable book, is in no way apocalyptic, and wants the tremendous scenes which the subject might have suggested, the destruction of the human race being effected solely by pestilence. Passages, however, are exceedingly eloquent, and the portrait of Shelley as Adrian, drawn by one who knew him so well, has singular interest. Neither her historical novel, ‘Perkin Warbeck’ (1830), nor her latest fiction, ‘Falkner’ (1837), has much claim to remembrance; but ‘Lodore’ (1835) is remarkable for being, as Professor Dowden was the first to discern, a veiled autobiography. The whole story of the hero's and heroine's privations in London is a reminiscence of the winter of 1813. Harriet Shelley appears much idealised as Cornelia, and her sister's baneful influence over her is impersonated in the figure of a mother-in-law, Lady Santerre. By it Lodore is driven to America, as Shelley to the continent. Emilia Viviani is also portrayed, probably with accuracy.
Mrs. Shelley contributed for many years to the annuals, then in their full bloom, and her graceful tales were collected and published in 1891 as a volume of the ‘Treasure-house of Tales by Great Authors.’ One of these tales, ‘The Pole,’ was written by Claire Clairmont, but made presentable by Mary's revision. In 1831 she was engaged in polishing the style of Trelawny's ‘Adventures of a Younger Son,’ and negotiating with publishers on account of the erratic author, then far away, who gave her nearly as much trouble as Landor had given Julius Hare under similar circumstances. He must have offered her marriage, for she writes: ‘My name will never be Trelawny. I am not so young as I was when you first knew me, but I am as proud. I must have the entire affection, devotion, and above all the solicitous protection of any one who would win me. You belong to womenkind in general, and Mary Shelley will never be yours.’ This probably accounts for Trelawny's depreciation of Mary Shelley in the second edition of his ‘Memoirs,’ so different from the cordial tone of the first edition.
In 1836 Mary lost her father and her old and attached friends, the Gisbornes. She was at the time writing the lives of Petrarch, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, and other Italian men of letters for Lardner's ‘Cabinet Cyclopædia,’ and severely pressed by her exertions to give her son an education at Harrow, whither she had removed for the purpose. Sir Timothy did not see his way to assist, but, through his attorney, ‘trusted and hoped you may find it practicable to give him a good education out of the 300l. a year.’ The thing was done; Percy Florence proceeded from Harrow to Cambridge, but the struggle ruined Mary Shelley's health, and left her, exhausted by effort and ‘torn to pieces by memory,’ very unfit to discharge the task which devolved upon her of editing Shelley's works when the obstacles to publication were removed in 1838. The poems nevertheless appeared in four volumes in 1839, with notes, slight in comparison with what they might have been, but still invaluable. The prose remains were published in the following year, and, notwithstanding the number of pirated editions, both publications proved profitable. A further piece of good fortune signalised 1840, when Sir Timothy relented to the extent of settling 400l. a year upon his grandson on occasion of his attaining his majority and taking his degree. Mrs. Shelley was now able to seek rest and change on the continent, and eagerly availed herself of the opportunity. In 1840 and 1841 she and her son travelled in Germany, and in 1842 and 1843 in Italy. Her impressions were recorded in ‘Rambles in Germany and Italy,’ published in two volumes in 1844 and dedicated to Samuel Rogers, who, like Moore, had always shown himself a sympathising friend. The German part of the book contains little of especial interest, but the Italian part is full of admirable remarks on Italian art and manners.
In 1844 Sir Timothy Shelley's death placed Mary in a position of comparative affluence. The first act of her and her son was to carry out Shelley's intentions by settling an annuity of 120l. upon Leigh Hunt. She next endeavoured to write Shelley's life; but her health and spirits were unequal to so trying a task, and nothing was written but a fragment printed at the beginning of Hogg's biography. She died in Chester Square, London, on 1 Feb. 1851, and was interred in the churchyard at Bournemouth near the residence of her son, in the tomb where he also is buried, and to which the remains of her father and mother were subsequently brought.
Personally, Mary Shelley was remarkable for her high forehead, piercing eyes, and pale complexion. She gained in beauty as she grew in years; and her bust strikingly brings out the resemblance, which Thornton Hunt noticed, to the bust of Clytie. A fine portrait by Rothwell, painted in 1841, is engraved as the frontispiece to Mrs. Marshall's biography.
In record of a sweet sad story,
An altar, and a temple bright,
Circled by steps, and o'er the gate
Was sculptured, 'To Fidelity!'"
The opening scene of this tale took place in a little village on the southern coast of Cornwall. Treby (by that name we choose to designate a spot, whose true one, for several reasons, will not be given,) was, indeed, rather a hamlet than a village, although, being at the sea-side, there were two or three houses which, by dint of green paint and chintz curtains, pretended to give the accommodation of "Apartments Furnished" to the few bathers who, having heard of its cheapness, seclusion, and beauty, now and then resorted thither from the neighbouring towns.
This part of Cornwall shares much of the peculiar and exquisite beauty which every Englishman knows adorns "the sweet shire of Devon." The hedges near Treby, like those round Dawlish and Torquay, are redolent with a thousand flowers: the neighbouring fields are prankt with all the colours of Flora,--its soft air,--the picturesque bay in which it stood, as it were, enshrined,--its red cliffs, and verdure reaching to the very verge of the tide,--all breathe the same festive and genial atmosphere. The cottages give the same promise of comfort, and are adorned by nature with more luxurious loveliness than the villas of the rich in a less happy climate.
Treby was almost unknown; yet, whoever visited it might well prefer its sequestered beauties to many more renowned competitors. Situated in the depths of a little bay, it was sheltered on all sides by the cliffs. Just behind the hamlet the cliff made a break, forming a little ravine, in the depth of which ran a clear stream, on whose banks were spread the orchards of the villagers, whence they derived their chief wealth. Tangled bushes and luxuriant herbage diversified the cliffs, some of which were crowned by woods; and in "every nook and coign of 'vantage" were to be seen and scented the glory of that coast--its exhaustless store of flowers. The village was, as has been said, in the depth of a bay; towards the east the coast rounded off with a broad sweep, forming a varied line of bay and headland: to the west a little promontory shot out abruptly, and at once closed in the view. This point of land was the peculiarity of Treby. The cliff that gave it its picturesque appearance was not high, but was remarkable for being crowned by the village church, with its slender spire.
Long may it be before the village church-yard ceases to be in England a favoured spot--the home of rural and holy seclusion. At Treby it derived a new beauty, from its distance from the village, and the eminence on which it was placed, overlooking the wide ocean, the sands, the village itself, with its gardens, orchards, and gaily painted fields. From the church a straggling, steep, yet not impracticable path, led down to the sands; by way of the beach; indeed, the distance from the village to the church was scarcely more than half a mile; but no vehicle could approach, except by the higher road, which, following the line of coast, measured nearly two miles. The edifice itself, picturesque in its rustic simplicity, seemed at the distance to be embosomed in a neighbouring grove. There was no house, nor even cottage, near. The contiguous church-yard contained about two acres; a light, white paling surrounded it on three sides; on the fourth was a high wall, clothed thickly with ivy: the trees of the near wood overhung both wall and paling, except on the side of the cliff: the waving of their branches, the murmur of the tide, and the occasional scream of sea-fowl, were all the sounds that disturbed, or rather harmonized with, the repose and solitude of the spot.
On Sunday, the inhabitants of several hamlets congregated here to attend divine service. Those of Treby usually approached by the beach, and the path of the cliff, the old and infirm only taking the longer, but more easy road. On every other day of the week, all was quiet, except when the hallowed precincts were visited by happy parents with a new-born babe, by bride and bridegroom hastening all gladly to enter on the joys and cares of life--or by the train of mourners who attended relation or friend to the last repose of the dead.
The poor are not sentimental--and, except on Sunday, after evening service, when a mother might linger for a few moments near the fresh grave of a lately lost child--or, loitering among the rustic tombs, some of the elder peasants told tales of the feats of the dead companions of their youth, a race unequalled, so they said, by the generation around them. Save on that day, none ever visited or wandered among the graves, with the one exception of a child, who had early learned to mourn, yet whose infantine mind could scarcely understand the extent of the cause she had for tears. A little girl, unnoticed and alone, was wont, each evening, to trip over the sands--to scale, with light steps, the cliff, which was of no gigantic height, and then, unlatching the low, white gate, of the church-yard, to repair to one corner, where the boughs of the near trees shadowed over two graves--two graves, of which one only was distinguished by a simple head-stone, to commemorate the name of him who mouldered beneath. This tomb was inscribed to the memory of Edwin Raby, but the neighbouring and less honoured grave claimed more of the child's attention--for her mother lay beneath the unrecorded turf.
Beside this grassy hillock she would sit and talk to herself, and play, till, warned home by the twilight, she knelt and said her little prayer, and, with a "Good night, mamma," took leave of a spot with which was associated the being whose caresses and love she called to mind, hoping that one day she might again enjoy them. Her appearance had much in it to invite remark, had there been any who cared to notice a poor little orphan. Her dress, in some of its parts, betokened that she belonged to the better classes of society; but she had no stockings, and her little feet peeped from the holes of her well-worn shoes. Her straw bonnet was dyed dark with sun and sea spray, and its blue ribbon faded. The child herself would, in any other spot, have attracted more attention than the incongruities of her attire. There is an expression of face which we name angelic, from its purity, its tenderness, and, so to speak, plaintive serenity, which we oftener see in young children than in persons of a more advanced age. And such was hers: her hair, of a light golden brown, was parted over a brow, fair and open as day: her eyes, deep set and earnest, were full of thought and tenderness: her complexion was pure and stainless, except by the roses that glowed in her cheek, while each vein could be traced on her temples, and you could almost mark the flow of the violet-coloured blood beneath: her mouth was the very nest of love: her serious look was at once fond and imploring; but when she smiled, it was as if sunshine broke out at once, warm and unclouded: her figure had the plumpness of infancy; but her tiny hands and feet, and tapering waist, denoted the faultless perfection of her form. She was about six years old--a friendless orphan, cast, thus young, pennyless on a thorny, stony-hearted world.
Nearly two years previous, a gentleman, with his wife and little daughter, arrived at Treby, and took up his abode at one of the moderate priced lodging-houses before mentioned. The occasion of their visit was but too evident. The husband, Mr. Raby, was dying of a consumption. The family had migrated early in September, so to receive the full benefit of a mild winter in this favoured spot. It did not appear to those about him that he could live to see that winter. He was wasted to a shadow--the hectic in his cheek, the brightness of his eyes and the debility apparent in every movement, showed that disease was triumphing over the principles of life. Yet, contrary to every prognostic, he lived on from week to week, from month to month. Now he was said to be better--now worse--and thus a winter of extraordinary mildness was passed. But with the east winds of spring a great deterioration was visible. His invalid walks in the sun grew shorter, and then were exchanged for a few minutes passed sitting in his garden. Soon he was confined to his room--then to his bed. During the first week of a bleak, ungenial May, he died.
The extreme affection that subsisted between the pair rendered his widow an object of interest even to the villagers. They were both young, and she was beautiful; and more beautiful was their offspring--the little girl we have mentioned--who, watched over and attended on by her mother, attracted admiration as well as interest, by the peculiar style of her childish, yet perfect loveliness. Every one wondered what the bereaved lady would do; and she, poor soul, wondered herself, and would sit watching the gambols of her child in an attitude of unutterable despondency, till the little girl, remarking the sadness of her mother, gave over playing to caress, and kiss her, and to bid her smile. At such a word the tears fell fast from the widow's eyes, and the frightened child joined her sobs and cries to hers.
Whatever might be the sorrows and difficulties of the unhappy lady, it was soon evident to all but herself, that her own life was a fragile tenure. She had attended on her husband with unwearied assiduity, and, added to bodily fatigue, was mental suffering; partly arising from anxiety and grief, and partly from the very virtues of the sufferer. He knew that he was dying, and tried to reconcile his wife to her anticipated loss. But his words, breathing the most passionate love and purest piety, seemed almost to call her also from the desolation to which he was leaving her, and to dissolve the ties that held her to earth. When he was gone, life possessed no one attraction except their child. Often while her father, with pathetic eloquence, tried to pour the balm of resignation, and hopes of eternal reunion, into his wife's heart, she had sat on her mother's knee, or on a little stool at her feet, and looked up, with her cherub face, a little perplexed, a little fearful, till, at some words of too plain and too dread an import, she sprung into her father's arms, and clinging to his neck, amidst tears and sobs, cried out, "You must not leave us, papa! you must stay--you shall not go away!"
Consumption, in all countries except our own, is considered a contagious disorder, and it too often proves such here. During her close attendance, Mrs. Raby had imbibed the seeds of the fatal malady, and grief, and a delicate texture of nerves, caused them to d'evelop with alarming rapidity. Every one perceived this except herself. She thought that her indisposition sprung from over-fatigue and grief, but that repose would soon restore her; and each day, as her flesh wasted and her blood flowed more rapidly, she said, "I shall be better to-morrow." There was no one at Treby to advise or assist her. She was not one of those who make friends and intimates of all who fall in their way. She was gentle, considerate, courteous--but her refined mind shrunk from displaying its deep wounds to the vulgar and unfeeling.
After her husband's death she had written several letters, which she carefully put into the post-office herself--going on purpose to the nearest post town, three miles distant. She had received one in answer, and it had the effect of increasing every fatal symptom, through the anguish and excessive agitation it excited. Sometimes she talked of leaving Treby, but she delayed till she should be better; which time, the villagers plainly saw, would never come, but they were not aware how awfully near the crisis really was.
One morning--her husband had now been dead about four months--she called up the woman of the house in which she lodged; there was a smile on her face, and a pink spot burnt brightly in either cheek, while her brow was ashy pale; there was something ghastly in the very gladness her countenance expressed; yet she felt nothing of all this, but said, "The newspaper you lent me had good news in it, Mrs. Baker. It tells me that a dear friend of mine is arrived in England, whom I thought still on the Continent. I am going to write to her. Will you let your daughter take my little girl a walk while I write?"
Mrs. Baker consented. The child was equipped and sent out, while her mother sat down to write. In about an hour she came out of her parlour; Mrs. Baker saw her going towards the garden; she tottered as she walked, so the woman hastened to her. "Thank you," she said; "I feel strangely faint--I had much to say, and that letter had unhinged me--I must finish it to-morrow--now the air will restore me--I can scarcely breathe."
Mrs. Baker offered her arm. The sufferer walked faintly and feebly to a little bench, and, sitting down, supported herself by her companion. Her breath grew shorter; she murmured some words; Mrs. Baker bent down, but could catch only the name of her child, which was the last sound that hovered on the mother's lips. With one sigh her heart ceased to beat, and life quitted her exhausted frame. The poor woman screamed loudly for help, as she felt her press heavily against her; and then, sliding from her seat, sink lifeless on the ground.
It was to Mrs. Baker's credit that she did not attempt to investigate the affairs of her hapless lodger till after the funeral. A purse, containing twelve guineas, which she found on her table, served, indeed, to satisfy her that she would be no immediate loser. However, as soon as the sod covered the gentle form of the unfortunate lady, she proceeded to examine her papers. The first that presented itself was the unfinished letter which Mrs. Raby was engaged in writing at the time of her death. This promised information, and Mrs. Baker read it with eagerness. It was as follows:--
"My dearest Friend,
"A newspaper has just informed me that you are returned to England, while I still believed you to be, I know not where, on the Continent. Dearest girl, it is long since I have written, for I have been too sad, too uncertain about your movements, and too unwilling to cloud your happiness, by forcing you to remember one so miserable. My beloved friend, my schoolfellow, my benefactress; you will grieve to hear of my misfortunes, and it is selfish in me, even now, to intrude upon you with the tale; but, under heaven, I have no hope, except in my generous, my warm-hearted Alithea. Perhaps you have already heard of my disaster, and are aware that death has robbed me of the happiness which, under your kind fosterage, I had acquired and enjoyed. He is dead who was my all in this world, and but for one tie I should bless the day when I might be permitted to rest for ever beside him.
"I often wonder, dear Alithea, at the heedlessness and want of foresight with which I entered life. Doomed, through poverty and my orphan state, to earn my bread as a governess, my entrance on that irksome task was only delayed by my visit to you: then under your dear roof I saw and was beloved by Edwin; and his entreaties, and your encouragement, permitted my trembling heart to dream of--to possess happiness. Timidity of character made me shrink from my career: diffidence never allowed me to suppose that any one would interest themselves enough in me to raise the poor trembler from the ground, to shelter and protect her; and this kind of despondency rendered Edwin's love a new, glorious, and divine joy. Yet, when I thought of his parents, I trembled--I could not bear to enter a family where I was to be regarded as an unwelcome intruder; yet Edwin was already an outcast--already father and brothers, every relation, had disowned him--and he, like I, was alone. And you, Alithea, how fondly, how sweetly did you encourage me--making that appear my duty which was the fulfilment of my wildest dreams of joy. Surely no being ever felt friendship as you have done--sympathizing even in the untold secrets of a timid heart--enjoying the happiness that you conferred with an ardour few can feel, even for themselves. Your transports of delight when you saw me, through your means, blest, touched me with a gratitude that can never die. And do I show this by asking now for your pity, and saddening you by my grief? Pardon me, sweet friend, and do not wonder that this thought has long delayed my letter.
"We were happy--poor, but content. Poverty was no evil to me, and Edwin supported every privation as if he had never been accustomed to luxury. The spirit that had caused him to shake off the shackles his bigoted family threw over him, animated him to exertions beyond his strength. He had chosen for himself--he wished to prove that his choice was good. I do not allude to our marriage, but to his desertion of the family religion, and determination to follow a career not permitted by the policy of his relations to any younger son. He was called to the bar--he toiled incessantly--he was ambitious, and his talents gave every promise of success. He is gone--gone for ever! I have lost the noblest, wisest friend that ever breathed, the most devoted lover, and truest husband that ever blessed woman!
"I write incoherently. You know what our life in London was--obscure but happy--the scanty pittance allowed him seemed to me amply to suffice for all our wants; I only then knew of the wants of youth and health, which were love and sympathy. I had all this, crowning to the brim my cup of life--the birth of our sweet child filled it to overflowing. Our dingy lodgings, near the courts of law, were a palace to me; I should have despised myself heartily could I have desired any thing beyond what I possessed. I never did--nor did I fear its loss. I was grateful to Heaven, and thus, I fancied, that I paid the debt of my unmeasured prosperity.
"Can I say what I felt when I marked Edwin's restless nights, flushed cheek, and the cough that would not go away? these things I dare not dwell upon--my tears overflow--my heart beats to bursting--the fatal truth was at last declared; the fatal word, consumption, spoken: change of air was all the hope held out--we came here; the church-yard near holds now all earthly that remains of him--would that my dust were mingling with his!
"Yet I have a child, my Alithea; and you, who are incomparable as a mother, will feel that I ought not to grieve so bitterly while this dear angel remains to me. I know, indeed, that without her, life would at once suspend all its functions; why, then, is it, that while she is with me I am not stronger, more heroic? for, to keep her with me, I must leave the indolence of my present life--I must earn the bread of both. I should not repine at this--I shall not, when I am better; but I am very ill and weak; and though each day I rise, resolving to exert myself, before the morning has past away I lie down exhausted, trembling, and faint.
"When I lost Edwin, I wrote to Mr. Raby, acquainting him with the sad intelligence, and asking for a maintenance for myself and my child. The family solicitor answered my letter. Edwin's conduct had, I was told, estranged his family from him; and they could only regard me as one encouraging his disobedience and apostacy. I had no claim on them. If my child were sent to them, and I would promise to abstain from all intercourse with her, she should be brought up with her cousins, and treated in all respects like one of the family. I answered this letter hastily and proudly. I declined their barbarous offer, and haughtily, and in few words, relinquished every claim on their bounty, declaring my intention to support and bring up my child myself. This was foolishly done, I fear; but I cannot regret it even now.
"I cannot regret the impulse that made me disdain these unnatural and cruel relatives, or that led me to take my poor orphan to my heart with pride, as being all my own. What had they done to merit such a treasure? How did they show themselves capable of replacing a fond and anxious mother? How many blooming girls have they sacrificed to their peculiar views! With what careless eyes they regard the sweetest emotions of nature!--never shall my adored girl be made the victim of that loveless race. Do you remember our sweet child? She was lovely from her birth; and surely, if ever angel assumed an earthly vesture, it took a form like my darling: her loveliness expresses only the beauty of her disposition; so young, yet so full of sensibility; her temper is without a flaw, and her intelligence transcends her age. You will not laugh at me for my maternal enthusiasm, nor will you wonder at it; her endearing caresses, her cherub smiles, the silver accents of her infantine voice, fill me with trembling rapture. Is she not too good for this bad world? I fear it, I fear to lose her; I fear to die and to leave her; yet if I should, will you not cherish, will you not be a mother to her? I may be presumptuous; but if I were to die, even now, I should die in the belief that I left my child another mother in you--".
The letter broke off here, and these were the last words of the unfortunate writer. It contained a sad, but too common story of the hardheartedness of the wealthy, and the misery endured by the children of the high-born. Blood is not water, it is said, but gold with them is dearer far than the ties of nature; to keep and augment their possessions being the aim and end of their lives, the existence, and, more especially, the happiness of their children, appears to them a consideration at once trivial and impertinent, when it would compete with family views and family greatness. To this common and iniquitous feeling these luckless beings were sacrificed; they had endured the worst, and could be injured no more; but their orphan child was a living victim, less thought of than the progeny of the meanest animal which might serve to augment their possessions.
Mrs. Baker felt some complacency on reading this letter; with the common English respect for wealth and rank, she was glad to find that her humble roof had sheltered a man who was the son--she did not exactly know of whom, but of somebody, who had younger sons and elder sons, and possessed, through wealth, the power of behaving frightfully ill to a vast number of persons. There was a grandeur and dignity in the very idea; but the good woman felt less satisfaction as she proceeded in her operations--no other letter or paper appeared to inform or to direct. Every letter had been destroyed, and the young pair had brought no papers or documents with them. She could not guess to whom the unfinished letter she held was addressed, all was darkness and ignorance. She was aghast--there was none to whom to apply--none to whom to send the orphan. In a more busy part of the world, an advertisement in the newspapers would have presented itself as a resource; but Treby was too much cut off from the rest of the world, for its inhabitants to conceive so daring an idea; and Mrs. Baker, repining much at the burthen fallen upon her, and fearful of the future, could imagine no means by which to discover the relations of the little orphan; and her only notion was to wait, in hopes that some among them would at last make inquiries concerning her.
Nearly a year had passed away, and no one had appeared. The unfortunate lady's purse was soon emptied--and her watch, with one or two trinkets of slight value, disposed of. The child was of small cost, but still her sordid protectress harped perpetually on her ill luck:--she had a family of her own, and plenty of mouths to feed. Missy was but little, but she would get bigger--though for that matter it was worse now, as she wanted more taking care of--besides, she was getting quite a disgrace--her bonnet was so shabby, and her shoes worn out--and how could she afford to buy others for one who was not a bit of her flesh and blood, to the evident hurt of her own children? It was bad enough now, but, by and by, she saw nothing but the parish; though Missy was born for better than that, and her poor mamma would turn in her grave at the name of such a thing. For her part she was to blame, she feared, and too generous--but she would wait yet a little longer before it came to that--for who could tell--and here Mrs. Baker's prudence dammed up the stream of her eloquence--to no living ear did she dare trust her dream of the coach and six that might one day come for her little charge--and the remuneration and presents that would be heaped upon her;--she actually saved the child's best frock, though she had quite outgrown it, that on such a day her appearance might do her honour. But this was a secret--she hid these vague but splendid images deep in her heart, lest some neighbour might be seized with a noble emulation--and through some artifice share in her dreamy gains. It was these anticipations that prevented Mrs. Baker from taking any decisive step injurious to her charge--but they did not shed any rosy hues over her diurnal complaints--they grew more peevish and frequent, as time passed away, and her visions attained no realization.
The little orphan grew meanwhile as a garden rose, that accident has thrown amidst briers and weeds--blooming with alien beauty, and unfolding its soft petals--and shedding its ambrosial odour beneath the airs of heaven, unharmed by its strange position. Lovely as a day of paradise, which by some strange chance visits this nether world to gladden every heart, she charmed even her selfish protectress, and, despite her shabby attire, her cherub smiles--the free and noble steps which her tiny feet could take even now, and the music of her voice, rendered her the object of respect and admiration, as well as love, to the whole village.
The loss of her father had acquainted the poor child with death. Her mother had explained the awful mystery as well as she could to her infantine intellects, and, indulging in her own womanish and tender fancies, had often spoken of the dead as hovering over and watching around his loved ones, even in the new state of existence to which he had been called. Yet she wept as she spoke: "He is happy," she exclaimed, "but he is not here! Why did he leave us? Ah, why desert those who loved him so well, who need him so dearly. How forlorn and cast away are we without him!"
These scenes made a deep impression upon the sensitive child--and when her mother died too, and was carried away and placed in the cold earth, beside her husband, the orphan would sit for hours by the graves, now fancying that her mother must soon return, now exclaiming, "Why are you gone away? Come, dear mamma, come back--come quickly!" Young as she was, it was no wonder that such thoughts were familiar to her. The minds of children are often as intelligent as those of persons of maturer age--and differ only by containing fewer ideas--but these had so often been presented to her--and she so fixed her little heart on the idea that her mother was watching over her, that at last it became a part of her religion to visit, every evening, the two graves, and saying her prayers near them, to believe that her mother's spirit, which was obscurely associated with her mortal remains reposing below, listened to and blest her on that spot.
At other times, neglected as she was, and left to wander at will, she conned her lesson, as she had been accustomed at her mother's feet, beside her grave. She took her picture-books there--and even her playthings. The villagers were affected by her childish notion of being "with mamma;" and Missy became something of an angel in their eyes, so that no one interfered with her visits, or tried to explain away her fancies. She was the nursling of love and nature: but the human hearts which could have felt the greatest tenderness for her, beat no longer, and had become clods of the soil,--
Borne round in earth's diurnal course
With rocks, and stones, and trees.
There was no knee on which she could playfully climb--no neck round which she could fondly hang--no parent's cheek on which to print her happy kisses--these two graves were all of relationship she knew upon the earth--and she would kiss the ground and the flowers, not one of which she plucked--as she sat embracing the sod. "Mamma" was everywhere around. "Mamma" was there beneath, and still she could love and feel herself beloved.
At other times she played gaily with her young companions in the village--and sometimes she fancied that she loved some one among them--she made them presents of books and toys, the relics of happier days; for the desire to benefit, which springs up so naturally in a loving heart, was strong within her, even in that early age. But she never took any one with her in her church-yard visits--she needed none while she was with mamma. Once indeed a favourite kitten was carried to the sacred spot, and the little animal played amidst the grass and flowers, and the child joined in its frolics--her solitary gay laugh might be heard among the tombs--she did not think it solitary; mamma was there to smile on her, as she sported with her tiny favourite.
Towards the end of a hot, calm day of June, a stranger arrived at Treby. The variations of calm and wind are always remarkable at the sea-side, and are more particularly to be noticed on this occasion; since it was the stillness of the elements that caused the arrival of the stranger. During the whole day several vessels had been observed in the offing, lying to for a wind, or making small way under press of sail. As evening came on, the water beyond the bay lay calmer than ever; but a slight breeze blew from shore, and these vessels, principally colliers, bore down close under it, endeavouring by short tacks to procure a long one, and at last to gain sea-room to make the eastern headland of the bay. The fishermen on shore watched the manoeuvres of the different craft; and even interchanged shouts with the sailors, as they lay lazily on the beach. At length they were put in motion by a hail for a boat from a small merchantman--the call was obeyed--the boat neared the vessel--a gentleman descended into it--his portmanteau was handed after him--a few strokes of the oar drove the boat on the beach, and the stranger leapt out upon the sands.
The new comer gave a brief order, directing his slight luggage to be carried to the best inn, and, paying the boatmen liberally, strolled away to a more solitary part of the beach. "A gentleman," all the spectators decided him to be--and such a designation served for a full description of the new arrival to the villagers of Treby. But it were better to say a few words to draw him from among a vast multitude who might be similarly named, and to bestow individuality on the person in question. It would be best so to present his appearance and manner to the "mind's eye" of the reader, that if any met him by chance, he might exclaim, "That is the man!" Yet there is no task more difficult, than to convey to another, by mere words, an image, however distinctly it is impressed on our own minds. The individual expression, and peculiar traits, which cause a man to be recognized among ten thousand of his fellow men, by one who has known him, though so palpable to the eye, escape when we would find words whereby to delineate them.
There was something in the stranger that at once arrested attention--a freedom, and a command of manner--self-possession joined to energy. It might be difficult to guess his age, for his face had been exposed to the bronzing influence of a tropical climate, and the smoothness of youth was exchanged for the deeper lines of maturity, without anything being as yet taken from the vigour of the limbs, or the perfection of those portions of the frame and face, which so soon show marks of decay. He might have reached the verge of thirty, but he could not be older--and might be younger. His figure was active, sinewy and strong--upright as a soldier (indeed a military air was diffused all over his person); he was tall, and, to a certain degree, handsome; his dark grey eyes were piercing as an eagle's, and his forehead high and expansive, though somewhat distorted by various lines that spoke more of passion than thought; yet his face was eminently intelligent; his mouth, rather too large in its proportions, yet grew into beauty when he smiled--indeed, the remarkable trait of his physiognomy was its great variation--restless, and even fierce, the expression was often that of passionate and unquiet thoughts; while at other times it was almost bland from the apparent smoothness and graceful undulation of the lines. It was singular, that when communing only with himself, storms appeared to shake his muscles, and disfigure the harmony of his countenance--and that when he addressed others, all was composed--full of meaning, and yet of repose. His complexion, naturally of an olive tint, had grown red and adust under the influence of climate--and often flushed from the inroads of vehement feeling. You could not doubt at the instant of seeing him, that many singular, perhaps tragical, incidents were attached to his history--but, conviction was enforced that he reversed the line of Shakspeare, and was less sinned against, than sinning--or, at least, that he had been the active machinator of his fate, not the passive recipient of disappointment and sorrow. When he believed himself to be unobserved, his face worked with a thousand contending emotions, fiery glances shot from his eyes--he appeared to wince from sudden anguish--to be transported by a rage that changed his beauty into utter deformity: was he spoken to, all these tokens vanished on the instant--dignified--calm, and even courteous, though cold, he would persuade those whom he addressed that he was one of themselves--and not a being transported by his own passions and actions into a sphere which every other human being would have trembled to approach. A superficial observer had pronounced him a good fellow, though a little too stately--a wise man had been pleased by the intelligence and information he displayed--the variety of his powers, and the ease with which he brought forward the stores of his intellect to enlighten any topic of discourse. An independent and a gallant spirit he surely had--what, then, had touched it with destruction--shaken it to ruin, and made him, while yet so young, abhorrent even to himself?
Such is an outline of the stranger of Treby; and his actions were in conformity with the incongruities of his appearance--outwardly unemployed and tranquil; inwardly torn by throes of the most tempestuous and agonizing feelings. After landing he had strolled away, and was soon out of sight; nor did he return till night, when he looked fatigued and depressed. For form's sake,--or for the sake of the bill at the inn,--he allowed food to be placed before him; but he neither ate nor drank--soon he hurried to the solitude of his chamber--not to bed--he paced the room for some hours; but as soon as all was still--when his watch and the quiet stars told him that it was midnight, he left the house--he wandered down to the beach--he threw himself upon the sands--and then again he started up and strode along the verge of the tide--and then sitting down, covering his face with his hands, remained motionless: early dawn found him thus--but, on the first appearance of a fisherman, he left the neighbourhood of the village, nor returned till the afternoon--and now when food was placed before him, he ate like one half famished; but after the keen sensation of extreme hunger was satisfied, he left the table and retired to his own room.
Taking a case of pistols from his portmanteau, he examined the weapons with care, and, putting them in his pocket, walked out upon the sands. The sun was fast descending in the sky, and he looked, with varying glances, at it, and at the blue sea, which slumbered peacefully, giving forth scarcely any sound, as it receded from the shore. Now he seemed wistful--now impatient--now struck by bitterer pangs, that caused drops of agony to gather on his brow. He spoke no word; but these were the thoughts that hovered, though unexpressed, upon his lips: "Another day! Another sun! Oh, never, never more for me shall day or sun exist. Coward! Why fear to die! And do I fear? No! no! I fear nothing but this pain--this unutterable anguish--this image of fell despair! If I could feel secure that memory would cease when my brain lies scattered on the earth, I should again feel joy before I die. Yet that is false. While I live, and memory lives, and the knowledge of my crime still creeps through every particle of my frame, I have a hell around me, even to the last pulsation! For ever and for ever I see her, lost and dead at my feet--I the cause--the murderer! My death shall atone. And yet even in death the curse is on me--I cannot give back the breath of life to her sweet pale lips! O fool! O villain! Haste to the last act; linger no more, lest you grow mad, and fetters and stripes become your fitter punishment than the death you covet!"
"Yet,"--after a pause, his thoughts thus continued:--"not here, nor now: there must be darkness on the earth before the deed is done! Hasten and hide thyself, O sun! Thou wilt never be cursed by the sight of my living form again!"
Thus did the transport of passion embrace the universe in its grasp; and the very sunlight seemed to have a pulse responsive to his own. The bright orb sunk lower; and the little western promontory, with its crowning spire, was thrown into bold relief against the glowing sky. As if some new idea were awakened, the stranger proceeded along the sands, towards the extremity of the headland. A short time before, unobserved by him, the little orphan had tripped along, and, scaling the cliff, had seated herself, as usual, beside her mother's grave.
The stranger proceeded slowly, and with irregular steps. He was waiting till darkness should blind the eyes of day, which now appeared to gaze on him with intolerable scrutiny, and to read his very soul, that sickened and writhed with its burthen of sin and sorrow. When out of the immediate neighbourhood of the village, he threw himself upon a fragment of rock, and--he could not be said to meditate--for that supposes some sort of voluntary action of the mind--while to him might be applied the figure of the poet, who represented himself as hunted by his own thoughts--pursued by memory, and torn to pieces, as Actæon by his own hounds. A troop of horrid recollections assailed his soul: there was no shelter, no escape! various passions, by turns, fastened themselves upon him--jealousy, disappointed love, rage, fear, and last and worst, remorse and despair. No bodily torture, invented by revengeful tyrant, could produce agony equal to that which he had worked out for his own mind. His better nature, and the powers of his intellect, served but to sharpen and strike deeper the pangs of unavailing regret. Fool! He had foreseen nothing of all this! He had fancied that he could bend the course of fate to his own will; and that to desire with energy was to insure success. And to what had the immutable resolve to accomplish his ends brought him? She was dead--the loveliest and best of created beings: torn from the affections and the pleasures of life! from her home, her child! He had seen her stretched dead at his feet: he had heaped the earth upon her clay-cold form;--and he the cause! he the murderer!
Stung to intolerable anguish by these ideas, he felt hastily for his pistols, and rising, pursued his way. Evening was closing in; yet he could distinguish the winding path of the cliff: he ascended, opened the little gate, and entered the church-yard. Oh! how he envied the dead!--the guiltless dead, who had closed their eyes on this mortal scene, surrounded by weeping friends, cheered by religious hope. All that imaged innocence and repose, appeared in his eyes so beautiful and desirable: and how could he, the criminal, hope to rest like one of these? A star or two came out in the heavens above, and the church spire seemed almost to reach them, as it pointed upwards. The dim, silent sea was spread beneath: the dead slept around: scarcely did the tall grass bend its head to the summer air. Soft, balmy peace possessed the scene. With what thrilling sensations of self-enjoyment and gratitude to the Creator, might the mind at ease drink in the tranquil loveliness of such an hour. The stranger felt every nerve wakened to fresh anguish. His brow contracted convulsively. "Shall I ever die!" he cried; "Will not the dead reject me!"
He looked round with the natural instinct that leads a human being, at the moment of dissolution, to withdraw into a cave or corner, where least to offend the eyes of the living by the loathsome form of death. The ivyed wall and paling, overhung by trees, formed a nook, whose shadow at that hour was becoming deep. He approached the spot; for a moment he stood looking afar: he knew not at what; and drew forth his pistol, cocked it, and, throwing himself on the grassy mound, raised the mouth of the fatal instrument to his forehead. "Oh go away! go away from mamma!" were words that might have met his ear, but that every sense was absorbed. As he drew the trigger, his arm was pulled; the ball whizzed harmlessly by his ear: but the shock of the sound, the unconsciousness that he had been touched at that moment--the belief that the mortal wound was given, made him fall back; and, as he himself said afterwards, he fancied that he had uttered the scream he heard, which had, indeed, proceeded from other lips.
In a few seconds he recovered himself. Yet so had he worked up his mind to die; so impossible did it appear that his aim should fail him, that in those few seconds, the earth and all belonging to it had passed away--and his first exclamation, as he started up, was, "Where am I!" Something caught his gaze; a little white figure, which lay but a few paces distant, and two eyes that gleamed on him--the horrible thought darted into his head--had another instead of himself been the victim? and he exclaimed in agony, "Gracious God! who are you?--speak! What have I done!" Still more was he horror-struck when he saw that it was a little child who lay before him--he raised her--but her eyes had glared with terror, not death; she did not speak; but she was not wounded, and he endeavoured to comfort and re-assure her, till she, a little restored, began to cry bitterly, and he felt, thankfully, that her tears were a pledge that the worst consequences of her fright had passed away. He lifted her from the ground, while she, in the midst of her tears, tried to get him away from the grave he desecrated. The twilight scarcely showed her features; but her surpassing fairness--her lovely countenance and silken hair, so betokened a child of love and care, that he was the more surprised to find her alone, at that hour, in the solitary church-yard.
He soothed her gently, and asked, "How came you here? what could you be doing so late, so far from home?"
"I came to see mamma."
"To see mamma! Where? how? Your mother is not here."
"Yes, she is; mamma is there;" and she pointed with her little finger to the grave.
The stranger started up--there was something awful in this childish simplicity and affection: he tried to read the inscription on the stone near--he could just make out the name of Edwin Raby. "That is not your mother's grave," he said.
"No; papa is there--mamma is here, next to him."
The man, just bent on self-destruction, with a conscience burning him to the heart's core--all concentrated in the omnipotence of his own sensations--shuddered at the tale of dereliction and misery these words conveyed; he looked earnestly on the child, and was fascinated by her angel look; she spoke with a pretty seriousness, shaking her head, her lips trembling--her large eyes shining in brimming tears. "My poor child," he said, "your name is Raby, then?"
"Mamma used to call me Baby," she replied; "they call me Missy at home--my name is Elizabeth."
"Well, dear Elizabeth, let me take you home; you cannot stay all night with mamma."
"O no; I was just going home, when you frightened me."
"You must forget that; I will buy you a doll to make it up again, and all sorts of toys;--see, here is a pretty thing for you!" and he took the chain of his watch, and threw it over her head; he wanted so to distract her attention, as to make her forget what had passed, and not to tell a shocking story when she got home.
"But," she said, looking up into his face, "you will not be so naughty again, and sit down where mamma is lying."
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