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First digital edition 2017 by Anna Ruggieri
St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17—TO Mrs. Saville, England
You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded withsuch evil forebodings. I arrived here yesterday, and my first task is to assure my dear sister of my welfare and increasing confidence in the success of my undertaking.
I am already far north of London, and as I walk in the streets of Petersburgh, I feel acold northern breeze play upon my cheeks, which braces my nerves and fills me with delight. Do you understand this feeling? This breeze, which has travelled from the regions towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes. Inspirited by this wind of promise, my daydreams become more fervent and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight. There, Margaret, the sunis forever visible, its broad disk just skirting the horizon and diffusing a perpetual splendour. There—for with your leave, my sister, I will put some trust in preceding navigators—there snow and frost are banished; and, sailing over a calm sea, we may bewafted to a land surpassing in wonders and in beauty every region hitherto discovered on the habitable globe. Its productions and features may be without example, as the phenomena of the heavenly bodies undoubtedly are in those undiscovered solitudes. What may not be expected in a country of eternal light? I may there discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle and may regulate a thousand celestial observations that require only this voyage to render their seeming eccentricities consistent forever. I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man. These are my enticements, and they are sufficient to conquer all fear of danger or death andto induce me to commence this laborious voyage with the joy a child feels when he embarks in a little boat, with his holiday mates, on an expedition of discovery up his native river. But supposing all these conjectures to be false, you cannot contest the inestimable benefit which I shall confer on all mankind, to the last generation, by discovering a passage near the pole to those countries, to reach which at present so many months are requisite; or by ascertaining the secret of the magnet, which, if at allpossible, can only be effected by an undertaking such as mine.
These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my letter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven, for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectualeye. This expedition has been the favourite dream of my early years. I have read with ardour the accounts of the various voyages which have been made in the prospect of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean through the seas which surround the pole. You may remember that a history of all the voyages made for purposes of discovery composed the whole of our good Uncle Thomas' library. My education was neglected, yet I was passionately fond of reading. These volumes were my study day and night, and my familiarity with them increased that regret which I had felt, as a child, on learning that my father's dying injunction had forbidden my uncle to allow me to embark in a seafaring life.
These visions faded when I perused, for the first time, those poets whose effusions entranced my soul and lifted it to heaven. I also became a poet and for one year lived in a paradise of my own creation; I imagined that I also might obtain a niche inthe temple where the names of Homer and Shakespeare are consecrated. You are well acquainted with my failure and how heavily I bore the disappointment. But just at that time I inherited the fortune of my cousin, and my thoughts were turned into the channel of their earlier bent.
Six years have passed since I resolved on my present undertaking. I can, even now, remember the hour from which I dedicated myself to this great enterprise. I commenced by inuring my body to hardship. I accompanied the whale-fishers on several expeditions to the North Sea; I voluntarily endured cold, famine, thirst, and want of sleep; I often worked harder than the common sailors during the day and devoted my nights to the study of mathematics, the theory of medicine, and those branches of physical science from which a naval adventurer might derive the greatest practical advantage. Twice I actually hired myself as an under-mate in a Greenland whaler, and acquitted myself to admiration. I must own I felt a little proud when my captainoffered me the second dignity in the vessel and entreated me to remain with the greatest earnestness, so valuable did he consider my services. And now, dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose? My life might have been passed in ease and luxury, but I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path. Oh, that some encouraging voice would answer in the affirmative! My courage and my resolution is firm; but my hopes fluctuate, and my spirits are often depressed. I am about to proceed on a long and difficult voyage, the emergencies of which will demand all my fortitude: I am required not only to raise the spirits of others, but sometimes to sustain my own, when theirs are failing.
This is the most favourable period for travelling in Russia. They fly quickly over the snow in their sledges; the motion is pleasant, and, in my opinion, far more agreeable than that of an English stagecoach. The cold is not excessive, if you are wrapped in furs—a dress which I have already adopted, for there is a great difference between walking the deck and remaining seated motionless for hours, when no exercise prevents the blood from actually freezing in your veins. I have no ambition to lose my life on the post-road between St. Petersburgh and Archangel. I shall depart for the latter town in a fortnight or three weeks; and my intention is to hire a ship there, which can easily be done by paying the insurance for the owner, and to engage as many sailors as I think necessary among those who areaccustomed to the whale-fishing. I do not intend to sail until the month of June; and when shall I return? Ah, dear sister, how can I answer this question? If I succeed, many, many months, perhaps years, will pass before you and I may meet. If I fail, youwill see me again soon, or never. Farewell, my dear, excellent Margaret.Heaven shower down blessings on you, and save me, that I may again and again testify my gratitude for all your love and kindness.
Your affectionate brother, R. Walton
Archangel, 28th March, 17—To Mrs. Saville, England
How slowly the time passes here, encompassed as I am by frostand snow! Yet a second step is taken towards my enterprise. I havehired a vessel and am occupied in collecting my sailors; thosewhomI have already engaged appear to be men on whom I can depend andare certainly possessed of dauntless courage.
But I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy,and the absence of the object of which I now feel as a most severeevil, Ihave no friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with theenthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy; ifI am assailed by disappointment, no one will endeavour to sustainme in dejection. I shall commit my thoughts to paper, it is true;butthat is a poor medium for the communication of feeling. I desirethe company of a man who could sympathize with me, whose eyes wouldreply to mine. You may deem me romantic, my dear sister, but Ibitterly feel the want of a friend. I have no one near me,gentleyet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as of a capaciousmind, whose tastes are like my own, to approve or amend my plans.How would such a friend repair the faults of your poor brother! Iam too ardent in execution and too impatient of difficulties. Butit is a still greater evil to me that I am self-educated: for thefirst fourteen years of my life I ran wild on a common and readnothing but our Uncle Thomas' books of voyages. At that age Ibecame acquainted with the celebrated poets ofour own country; butit was only when it had ceased to be in my power to derive its mostimportant benefits from such a conviction that I perceived thenecessity of becoming acquainted with more languages than that ofmy native country. Now I am twenty-eight and am in reality moreilliterate than many schoolboys of fifteen. It is true that I havethought more and that my daydreams are more extended andmagnificent, but they want (as the painters call it) KEEPING; and Igreatly need a friend who would have sense enough not to despise meas romantic, and affection enough for me to endeavour to regulatemy mind. Well, these are useless complaints; I shall certainly findno friend on the wide ocean, nor even here in Archangel, amongmerchants and seamen. Yet some feelings, unallied to the dross ofhumannature, beat even in these rugged bosoms. My lieutenant, forinstance, is a man of wonderful courage and enterprise; he is madlydesirous of glory, or rather, to word my phrase morecharacteristically, of advancement in his profession. He is anEnglishman, and in the midst of national and professionalprejudices, unsoftened by cultivation, retains some of the noblestendowments of humanity. I first became acquainted with him on boarda whale vessel; finding that hewas unemployed in this city, Ieasily engaged him to assist in my enterprise. The master is aperson of an excellent disposition and is remarkable in the shipfor his gentleness and the mildness of his discipline. Thiscircumstance, added to his well-known integrity and dauntlesscourage, made me very desirous to engage him. A youth passed insolitude, my best years spent under your gentle and femininefosterage, has so refined the groundwork of my character that Icannot overcome an intense distaste to the usual brutalityexercised on board ship: I have never believed it to be necessary,and when I heard of a mariner equally noted for his kindliness ofheart and the respect and obedience paid to him by his crew, I feltmyself peculiarly fortunate in beingable to secure his services. Iheard of him first in rather a romantic manner, from a lady whoowes to him the happiness of her life. This, briefly, is his story.Some years ago he loved a young Russian lady of moderate fortune,and having amassed a considerable sum in prize-money, the father ofthe girl consented to the match. He saw his mistress once beforethe destined ceremony; but she was bathed in tears, and throwingherself at his feet, entreated him to spare her, confessing at thesame time that sheloved another, but that he was poor, and that herfather would never consent to the union. My generous friendreassured the suppliant, and on being informed of the name of herlover, instantly abandoned his pursuit. He had already bought afarm with his money, on which he had designed to pass the remainderof his life; but he bestowed the whole on his rival, together withthe remains of his prize-money to purchase stock, and then himselfsolicited the young woman's father to consent to her marriage withher lover. But the old man decidedly refused, thinking himselfbound in honour to my friend, who, when he found the fatherinexorable, quitted his country, nor returned until he heard thathis former mistress was married according to her inclinations."Whata noble fellow!" you will exclaim. He is so; but then he iswholly uneducated: he is as silent as a Turk, and a kind ofignorant carelessness attends him, which, while it renders hisconduct the more astonishing, detracts from the interest andsympathy which otherwise he would command.
Yet do not suppose, because I complain a little or because I canconceive a consolation for my toils which I may never know, that Iam wavering in my resolutions. Those are as fixed as fate, and myvoyage is only now delayeduntil the weather shall permit myembarkation. The winter has been dreadfully severe, but the springpromises well, and it is considered as a remarkably early season,so that perhaps I may sail sooner than I expected. I shall donothing rashly: you know mesufficiently to confide in my prudenceand considerateness whenever the safety of others is committed tomy care.
I cannot describe to you my sensations on the near prospect ofmy undertaking. It is impossible to communicate to you a conceptionof the trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful, withwhich I am preparing to depart. I am going to unexplored regions,to "the land of mist and snow," but I shall kill no albatross;therefore do not be alarmed for my safety or if I should come backtoyou as worn and woeful as the "Ancient Mariner." You will smileat my allusion, but I will disclose a secret. I have oftenattributed my attachment to, my passionateenthusiasm for, thedangerous mysteries of ocean to that production of the mostimaginative of modern poets. There is something at work in my soulwhich I do not understand. I am practicallyindustrious—painstaking, a workman to execute withperseverance and labour—but besides this there is a love forthe marvellous, a belief in the marvellous, intertwined in all myprojects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men, evento the wild sea and unvisited regions I am about to explore. But toreturn to dearer considerations. Shall I meet you again, afterhaving traversed immense seas, andreturned by the most southerncape of Africa or America? I dare not expect such success, yet Icannot bear to look on the reverse of the picture. Continue for thepresent to write to me by every opportunity: I may receive yourletters on some occasions when I need them most to support myspirits. I love you very tenderly. Remember me with affection,should you never hear from me again.
Your affectionate brother, Robert Walton
July 7th, 17—To Mrs. Saville, England
My dear Sister,
I write a few lines in haste to say that I am safe—andwell advanced on my voyage. This letter will reach England by amerchantman now on its homeward voyage from Archangel; morefortunate than I, who may not see my native land, perhaps, for manyyears. I am, however, in good spirits: my men are bold andapparently firm of purpose, nor do the floating sheets of ice thatcontinually pass us, indicating the dangers of the region towardswhich we are advancing, appear to dismay them. We have alreadyreached a very high latitude; but it is the height of summer, andalthough not so warm as in England, the southern gales, which blowus speedily towards those shores which I so ardently desire toattain, breathe a degree of renovating warmth which I had notexpected.
No incidents have hitherto befallen us that would make a figurein a letter. One or two stiff gales and the springing of a leak areaccidents which experienced navigators scarcely remember to record,and I shall be well content if nothing worse happen to us duringour voyage.
Adieu, my dear Margaret. Be assured that for my own sake, aswell as yours, I will not rashly encounter danger. I will be cool,persevering, and prudent.
But success SHALL crown my endeavours. Wherefore not? Thus far Ihave gone, tracing asecure way over the pathless seas, the verystars themselves being witnesses and testimonies of my triumph. Whynot still proceed over the untamed yet obedient element? What canstop the determined heart and resolved will of man?
My swelling heart involuntarily pours itself out thus. But Imust finish. Heaven bless my beloved sister!
August 5th, 17—To Mrs. Saville, England
So strange an accident has happened to us that I cannot forbearrecording it, although it is very probable that you will see mebefore these papers can come into your possession.
Last Monday (July 31st) we were nearly surrounded by ice, whichclosed in the ship on all sides, scarcely leaving her the sea-roomin which she floated. Our situation was somewhat dangerous,especially as we were compassed round by a very thick fog. Weaccordingly lay to, hoping that some change would take place in theatmosphere and weather.
About two o'clock the mist cleared away, and we beheld,stretched out in every direction, vast and irregular plains of ice,which seemed to have no end. Some of my comrades groaned, and myown mind began to grow watchful with anxious thoughts, when astrange sight suddenly attracted our attention and diverted oursolicitude from our own situation. Weperceived a low carriage,fixed on a sledge and drawn by dogs, pass on towards the north, atthe distance of half a mile; a being which had the shape of a man,but apparently of gigantic stature, sat in the sledge and guidedthe dogs. We watched the rapidprogress of the traveller with ourtelescopes until he was lost among the distant inequalities of theice. This appearance excited our unqualified wonder. We were, as webelieved, many hundred miles from any land; but this apparitionseemed to denote thatit was not, in reality, so distant as we hadsupposed. Shut in, however, by ice, it was impossible to follow histrack, which we had observed with the greatestattention. About twohours after this occurrence we heard the ground sea, and beforenight the ice broke and freed our ship. We, however, lay to untilthe morning, fearing to encounter in the dark those large loosemasses which float about after the breaking up of the ice. Iprofited of this time to rest for a few hours.
In the morning, however, as soon as it was light, I went upondeck and found all the sailors busy on one side of the vessel,apparently talking to someone in the sea. It was, in fact, asledge, like that we had seen before, which had drifted towards usin the night on a large fragmentof ice. Only one dog remainedalive; but there was a human being within it whom the sailors werepersuading to enter the vessel. He was not, as the other travellerseemed to be, a savage inhabitant of some undiscovered island, buta European. When I appeared on deck the master said, "Here is ourcaptain, and he will not allow you to perish on the open sea."
On perceiving me, the stranger addressed me in English, althoughwith a foreign accent. "Before I come on board your vessel," saidhe, "will you have the kindness to inform me whither you arebound?"
You may conceive my astonishment on hearing such a questionaddressed to me from a man on the brink of destruction and to whomI should have supposed that my vessel would have been a resourcewhich he wouldnot have exchanged for the most precious wealth theearth can afford. I replied, however, that we were on a voyage ofdiscovery towards the northern pole.
Upon hearing this he appeared satisfied and consented to come onboard. Good God! Margaret, if youhad seen the man who thuscapitulated for his safety, your surprise would have beenboundless. His limbs were nearly frozen, and his body dreadfullyemaciated by fatigue and suffering. I never saw a man in sowretched a condition. We attempted to carry himinto the cabin, butas soon as he had quitted the fresh air he fainted. We accordinglybrought him back to the deck and restored him to animation byrubbing him with brandy and forcing him to swallow a smallquantity. As soon as he showed signs of life wewrapped him up inblankets and placed him near the chimney of the kitchen stove. Byslow degrees he recovered and ate a little soup, which restored himwonderfully.
Two days passed in this manner before he was able to speak, andI often feared that his sufferings had deprived him ofunderstanding. When he had in some measure recovered, I removed himto my own cabin and attended on him as much as my duty wouldpermit. I never saw a more interesting creature: his eyes havegenerally an expression of wildness, and even madness, but thereare moments when, if anyone performs an act of kindness towards himor does him any the most trifling service, his whole countenance islighted up, as it were, with a beam of benevolence and sweetnessthat I never saw equalled. But he is generally melancholy anddespairing, and sometimes he gnashes his teeth, as if impatient ofthe weight of woes that oppresses him.
When my guest was a little recovered I had great trouble to keepoff the men, who wished to ask him a thousand questions; but Iwould not allow him to be tormented by their idle curiosity, in astate of body and mind whose restoration evidently depended uponentire repose. Once, however, the lieutenant asked why he had comeso far upon the ice in so strange a vehicle.
His countenance instantly assumed an aspect of the deepestgloom, and he replied, "To seek one who fled from me."
"And did the man whom you pursued travel in the samefashion?"
"Then I fancy we have seen him, for the day before we picked youup wesaw some dogs drawing a sledge, with a man in it, across theice."
This aroused the stranger's attention, and he asked a multitudeof questions concerning the route which the demon, as he calledhim, had pursued. Soon after, when he was alone with me, hesaid, "Ihave, doubtless, excited your curiosity, as well as that of thesegood people; but you are too considerate to make inquiries."
"Certainly; it would indeed be very impertinent and inhuman inme to trouble you with any inquisitiveness of mine."
"Andyet you rescued me from a strange and perilous situation;you have benevolently restored me to life."
Soon after this he inquired if I thought that the breaking up ofthe ice had destroyed the other sledge. I replied that I could notanswer with any degree of certainty, for the ice had not brokenuntil near midnight, and the traveller might have arrived at aplace of safety before that time; but of this I could not judge.From this time a new spirit of life animated the decaying frame ofthe stranger. He manifested the greatest eagerness to be upon deckto watch for the sledge which had before appeared; but I havepersuaded him to remain in the cabin, for he is far too weak tosustain the rawness of the atmosphere. I have promised that someoneshould watchfor him and give him instant notice if any new objectshould appear in sight.
Such is my journal of what relates to this strange occurrence upto the present day. The stranger has gradually improved in healthbut is very silent and appears uneasy when anyone except myselfenters his cabin. Yet his manners are so conciliating and gentlethat the sailors are all interested in him, although they have hadvery little communication with him. For my own part, I begin tolove him as a brother, and his constant anddeep grief fills me withsympathy and compassion. He must have been a noble creature in hisbetter days, being even now in wreck so attractive and amiable. Isaid in one of my letters, my dear Margaret, that I should find nofriend on the wide ocean; yetI have found a man who, before hisspirit had been broken by misery, I should have been happy to havepossessed as the brother of my heart.
I shall continue my journal concerning the stranger atintervals, should I have any fresh incidents to record.
August 13th, 17—
My affection for my guest increases every day. He excites atonce my admiration and my pity to an astonishing degree. How can Isee so noble a creature destroyed by misery without feeling themost poignant grief? He is so gentle, yet so wise;his mind is socultivated, and when he speaks, although his words are culled withthe choicest art, yet they flow with rapidity and unparalleledeloquence. He is now much recovered from his illness and iscontinually on the deck, apparently watching for the sledge thatpreceded his own. Yet, although unhappy, he is not so utterlyoccupied by his own misery but that he interests himself deeply inthe projects of others. He has frequently conversed with me onmine, which I have communicated to him without disguise. He enteredattentively into all my arguments in favour of my eventual successand into every minute detail of the measures I had taken to secureit. I was easily led by the sympathy which he evinced to use thelanguage of my heart, to give utteranceto the burning ardour of mysoul and to say, with all the fervour that warmed me, how gladly Iwould sacrifice my fortune, my existence, my every hope, to thefurtherance of my enterprise. One man's life or death were but asmall price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which Isought, for the dominion I should acquire and transmit over theelemental foes of our race. As I spoke, a dark gloom spread over mylistener's countenance. At first I perceived that he tried tosuppress his emotion; he placed his hands before his eyes, and myvoice quivered and failed me as I beheld tears trickle fast frombetween his fingers; a groan burst from his heaving breast. Ipaused; at length he spoke, in broken accents: "Unhappy man! Do youshare my madness? Have you drunk also of the intoxicating draught?Hear me; let me reveal my tale, and you will dash the cup from yourlips!"
Such words, you may imagine, strongly excited my curiosity; butthe paroxysm of grief that had seized the stranger overcame hisweakened powers, and many hours of repose and tranquil conversationwere necessary to restore his composure. Having conquered theviolence of his feelings, he appeared to despise himself for beingthe slave of passion; and quelling the dark tyranny of despair, heled me again to converse concerning myself personally. He asked methe history of my earlier years. The tale was quickly told, but itawakened various trains of reflection. I spoke of my desire offinding a friend, of my thirst for a more intimate sympathy with afellow mind than had ever fallen to my lot, and expressed myconviction that a man could boast of little happiness who did notenjoy this blessing. "I agree with you," replied the stranger; "weare unfashioned creatures, but half made up, if one wiser, better,dearer than ourselves—such a friend ought to be—do notlend his aid to perfectionate our weak and faulty natures. I oncehad a friend, the most noble of human creatures, and am entitled,therefore, to judge respecting friendship. You have hope,and theworld before you, and have no cause for despair. But I—I havelost everything and cannot begin life anew."
As he said this his countenance became expressive of a calm,settled grief that touched me to the heart. But he was silent andpresently retired to his cabin.
Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply thanhe does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and everysight afforded by these wonderful regions seem still to have thepower of elevating his soul from earth. Such a man has a doubleexistence: he may suffer misery and be overwhelmed bydisappointments, yet when he has retired into himself, hewill belike a celestial spirit that has a halo around him, within whosecircle no grief or folly ventures.
Will you smile at the enthusiasm I express concerning thisdivine wanderer? You would not if you saw him. You have beentutored and refined by books and retirement from the world, and youare therefore somewhat fastidious; but this only renders you themore fit to appreciate the extraordinary merits of this wonderfulman. Sometimes I have endeavoured to discover what quality it iswhich he possesses that elevates him so immeasurably above anyother person I ever knew. I believe it to be an intuitivediscernment, a quickbut never-failing power of judgment, apenetration into the causes of things, unequalled for clearness andprecision; add to this a facility of expression and a voice whosevaried intonations are soul-subduing music.
August 19, 17—
Yesterday the strangersaid to me, "You may easily perceive,Captain Walton, that I have suffered great and unparalleledmisfortunes. I had determined at one time that the memory of theseevils should die with me, but you have won me to alter mydetermination. You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did;and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may notbe a serpent to sting you, as mine has been. I do not know that therelation of my disasters will be useful to you; yet, when I reflectthat you are pursuingthe same course, exposing yourself to the samedangers which have rendered me what I am, I imagine that you maydeduce an apt moral from my tale, one that may direct you if yousucceed in your undertaking and console you in case of failure.Prepare to hear of occurrences which are usually deemed marvellous.Were we among the tamer scenes of nature I might fear to encounteryour unbelief, perhaps your ridicule; but many things will appearpossible in these wild and mysterious regions which would provokethelaughter of those unacquainted with the ever-varied powers ofnature; nor can I doubt but that my tale conveys in its seriesinternal evidence of the truth of the events of which it iscomposed."
You may easily imagine that I was much gratified by the offeredcommunication, yet I could not endure that he should renew hisgrief by a recital of his misfortunes. I felt the greatesteagerness to hear the promised narrative, partly from curiosity andpartly from a strong desire to ameliorate his fate if it werein mypower. I expressed these feelings in my answer.
"I thank you," he replied, "for your sympathy, but it isuseless; my fate is nearly fulfilled. I wait but for one event, andthen I shall repose in peace. I understand your feeling," continuedhe, perceiving that I wished to interrupt him; "but you aremistaken, my friend, if thus you will allow me to name you; nothingcan alter my destiny; listen to my history, and you will perceivehow irrevocably it is determined."
He then told me that he would commence his narrative the nextday when I should be at leisure. This promise drew from me thewarmest thanks. I have resolved every night, when I am notimperatively occupied by my duties, to record, as nearly aspossible in his own words, whathe has relatedduring the day. If Ishould be engaged, I will at least make notes. This manuscript willdoubtless afford you the greatest pleasure; but to me, who knowhim, and who hear it from his own lips—with what interest andsympathy shall I read it in some future day! Even now, as Icommence my task, his full-toned voice swells in my ears; hislustrous eyes dwell on me with all their melancholy sweetness; Isee his thin hand raised in animation, while the lineaments of hisface are irradiated by the soul within.
Strange and harrowing must be his story, frightful the stormwhich embraced the gallant vessel on its course and wreckedit—thus!
I am by birth a Genevese, and my family is one of the mostdistinguished of that republic. My ancestors had beenfor many yearscounsellors and syndics, and my father had filled several publicsituations with honour and reputation. He was respected by all whoknew him for his integrity and indefatigable attention to publicbusiness. He passed his younger days perpetually occupied by theaffairs of his country; a variety of circumstances had preventedhis marrying early, nor was it until the decline of life that hebecame a husband and the father of a family.
As the circumstances of his marriage illustrate his character, Icannot refrain from relating them. One of his most intimate friendswas a merchant who, from a flourishing state, fell, throughnumerous mischances, into poverty. This man, whose name wasBeaufort, was of a proud and unbending disposition and could notbear to live in poverty and oblivion in the same country where hehad formerly been distinguished for his rank and magnificence.Having paid his debts, therefore, in the most honourable manner, heretreated with his daughter to the town of Lucerne, where he livedunknown and in wretchedness. My father loved Beaufort with thetruest friendship and was deeply grieved by his retreat in theseunfortunate circumstances. He bitterly deplored the false pridewhich led his friend to a conduct so little worthy ofthe affectionthat united them. He lost no time in endeavouring to seek him out,with the hope of persuading him to begin the world again throughhis credit and assistance.
Beaufort had taken effectual measures to conceal himself, and itwas ten months before my father discovered his abode. Overjoyed atthis discovery, he hastened to the house, which was situated in amean street near the Reuss. But when he entered, misery and despairalone welcomed him. Beaufort had saved but a very small sum ofmoney from the wreck of his fortunes, but it was sufficient toprovide him with sustenance for some months, and in the meantime hehoped to procure some respectable employment in a merchant's house.The interval was, consequently, spent in inaction; his griefonlybecame more deep and rankling when he hadleisure forreflection, and at length it took so fast hold of his mind that atthe end of three months he lay on a bed of sickness, incapable ofany exertion.
His daughter attended him with the greatest tenderness,but shesaw with despair that their little fund was rapidly decreasing andthat there was no other prospect of support. But Caroline Beaufortpossessed a mind of an uncommon mould, and her courage rose tosupport her in her adversity. She procured plain work; she plaitedstraw and by various means contrived to earn a pittance scarcelysufficient to support life.
Several months passed in this manner. Her father grew worse; hertime was more entirely occupied in attending him; her means ofsubsistence decreased; and in the tenth month her father died inher arms, leaving her an orphan and a beggar. This last blowovercame her, and she knelt by Beaufort's coffin weeping bitterly,when my father entered the chamber. He came like a protectingspirit to the poorgirl, who committed herself to his care; andafter the interment of his friend he conducted her to Geneva andplaced her under the protection of a relation. Two years after thisevent Caroline became his wife.
There was a considerable difference between the ages of myparents, but this circumstance seemed to unite them only closer inbonds of devoted affection. There was a sense of justice in myfather's upright mind which rendered it necessary that he shouldapprove highly to love strongly. Perhaps duringformer years he hadsuffered from the late-discovered unworthiness of one beloved andso was disposed to set a greater value on tried worth. There was ashow of gratitude and worship in his attachment to my mother,differing wholly from the doting fondnessof age, for it wasinspired by reverence for her virtues and a desire to be the meansof, in some degree, recompensing her for the sorrows she hadendured, but which gave inexpressible grace to his behaviour toher. Everything was made to yield to her wishes and herconvenience. He strove to shelter her, as a fair exotic issheltered by the gardener, from every rougher wind and to surroundher with all that could tend to excite pleasurable emotion in hersoft and benevolent mind. Her health, and even the tranquillity ofher hitherto constant spirit, had been shaken by what she had gonethrough. During the two years that had elapsed previous to theirmarriage my father had gradually relinquished all his publicfunctions; and immediately after their union they sought thepleasant climate of Italy, and the change of scene and interestattendant on a tour through that land of wonders, as a restorativefor her weakened frame.
From Italy they visited Germany and France. I, their eldestchild, was born at Naples, and as an infant accompanied them intheir rambles. I remained for several years their only child. Muchas they were attached to each other, they seemed to drawinexhaustible stores of affection from a very mine of love tobestow them upon me. My mother's tender caresses and my father'ssmile of benevolent pleasure while regarding me are my firstrecollections. I was their plaything and their idol, and somethingbetter—their child, the innocent and helpless creaturebestowed on them by heaven, whom to bringup to good, and whosefuture lot it was in their hands to direct to happiness or misery,according as they fulfilled their duties towards me. With this deepconsciousness of what they owed towards the being to which they hadgiven life, added to the activespirit of tenderness that animatedboth, it may be imagined that while during every hour of my infantlife I received a lesson of patience, of charity, and ofself-control, I was so guided by asilken cord that all seemed butone train of enjoyment to me.For a long time I was their only care.My mother had much desired to have a daughter, but I continuedtheir single offspring. When I was about five years old, whilemaking an excursion beyond the frontiers of Italy, they passed aweek on the shores of theLake of Como. Their benevolent dispositionoften made them enter the cottages of the poor. This, to my mother,was more than a duty; it was a necessity, apassion—remembering what she had suffered, and how she hadbeen relieved—for her to act in her turnthe guardian angel tothe afflicted. During one of their walks a poor cot in the foldingsof a vale attracted their notice as being singularly disconsolate,while the number of half-clothed children gathered about it spokeof penury in its worst shape. Oneday, when my father had gone byhimself to Milan, my mother, accompanied by me, visited this abode.She found a peasant and his wife, hard working, bent down by careand labour, distributing a scanty meal to five hungry babes. Amongthese there was one which attracted my mother far above all therest. She appeared of a different stock. The four others weredark-eyed, hardy little vagrants; this child was thin and veryfair. Her hair was the brightest living gold, and despite thepoverty of her clothing, seemed to set a crown of distinction onher head. Her brow was clear and ample, her blue eyes cloudless,and her lips and the moulding of her face so expressive ofsensibility and sweetness that none could behold her withoutlooking on her as of a distinct species, a being heaven-sent, andbearing a celestial stamp in all her features. The peasant woman,perceiving that my mother fixed eyes of wonder and admiration onthis lovely girl, eagerly communicated her history. She was not herchild, but the daughterof a Milanese nobleman. Her mother was aGerman and had died on giving her birth. The infant had been placedwith these good people to nurse: they were better off then. Theyhad not been long married, and their eldest child was but justborn. The father oftheir charge was one of those Italians nursed inthe memory of the antique glory of Italy—one among theschiavi ognor frementi, who exerted himself to obtain the libertyof his country. He became the victim of its weakness. Whether hehad died or still lingered in the dungeons of Austria was notknown. His property was confiscated; his child became an orphan anda beggar. She continued with her foster parents and bloomed intheir rude abode, fairer than a garden rose among dark-leavedbrambles. When my father returned from Milan, he found playing withme in the hall of our villa a child fairer than picturedcherub—a creature who seemed to shed radiance from her looksand whose form and motions were lighter than the chamois of thehills. The apparition was soon explained. With his permission mymother prevailed on her rustic guardians to yield their charge toher. They were fond of the sweet orphan. Her presence had seemed ablessing to them, but it would be unfair to her to keep her inpoverty and want whenProvidence afforded her such powerfulprotection. They consulted their village priest, and the result wasthat Elizabeth Lavenza became the inmate of my parents'house—my more than sister—the beautiful and adoredcompanion of all my occupations and my pleasures.
Everyone loved Elizabeth. The passionate and almost reverentialattachment with which all regarded her became, while I shared it,my pride and my delight. On the evening previous to her beingbrought to my home, my mother had said playfully, "I havea prettypresent for my Victor—tomorrow he shall have it." And when,on the morrow, she presented Elizabeth to me as her promised gift,I, with childish seriousness, interpreted her words literally andlooked upon Elizabeth as mine—mine to protect, love,andcherish. All praises bestowed on her I received as made to apossession of my own. We called each other familiarly by the nameofcousin. No word, no expression could body forth the kind ofrelation in which she stood to me—my more than sister, sincetill death she was to be mine only.