A legend of the effects of the French Revolution among the Alps. A piece that is marked by that lofty, sometimes verbose eloquence, which we find in all that lady's writings.
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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Why is the mind of man so apt to be swayed by contraries? why does the imagination for ever paint the impossible in glittering tints, and the hearts of wayward mortals cling, with the greatest tenacity, to what, eel-like, is bent on escaping from their grasp? Why — to bring the matter home— is solitude abhorrent to me, now that I enjoy it in perfection? I have apostrophized the coy nymph in ball-rooms, when the bright lamps of heaven were shamed by brighter earth-stars, and lamented her absence at a picnic party, where the nightingale was silenced by the fiddle.
And now, solitude! I abjure thee, in thy fitting temple — in Switzerland — among cloud-piercing mountains, by the resounding waves of the isle-surrounding lake. I am beside the waters of Uri — where Tell lived — in Brunen, where the Swiss patriots swore to die for freedom. It rains — magic word to destroy the spell to which these words give rise — the clouds envelop the hills — the white mists veil the ravines — there is a roar and a splash in my ears — and now and then the vapors break and scatter themselves, and I see something dark between, which is the hoar side of a dark precipice, but which might as well be the turf stack or old wall that bounded Cumberland's view as he wrote the Wheel of Fortune.
The sole book that I possess is the Prisoner of Chillon.
I have read it through three times within an hour. Its noble author composed it to beguile weary hours like these when he remained rain-hound for three days in a little inn on the shores of the Lake of Geneva; and cannot I, following with unequal steps, so cheat the minutes in this dim spot? I never, by the by, could invent the commonest incident. As a man of honor, of course I never lie; but, as a nursery child and schoolboy, I never did; simply, as I remember, because I never could concoct one; — but a true tale was lately narrated to me by its very heroine, the incidents of which haunt my memory, adorned as they were by her animated looks and soft silvery accent. Let me try to record them, stripped though they must be of their greatest charm.
I was, but a week ago, travelling with my friend Ashburn in a couple, in the district of Soubiaco, in the ecclesiastical territory. "We were jolted along a rough ravine, through which the river Anio sped, and beetling mountains and shady trees, a distant convent and a picturesque cell on a hill, formed a view which so awoke the pictorial propensities of my friend, that he stopped the couple (though we were assured that we should never reach our inn by nightfall, and that the road was dangerous in the dark), took out his portfolio, and began to sketch. As he drew, I continued to speak in support of an argument we had entered upon before. I had been complaining of the commonplace and ennui of life. Ashburn insisted that our existence was only too full of variety and change — tragic variety and wondrous incredible change. " Even," said the painter, " as sky, and earth, and water seem for ever the same to the vulgar eye, and yet to the gifted one assume a thousand various guises and hues — now robed in purple — now shrouded in black — now resplendent with living gold — and anon sinking into sober and unobtrusive grey, so do our mortal lives change and vary. No living being among us but could tell a tale of soul-subduing joys and heart-consuming woes, worthy, had they their poet, of the imagination of Shakespeare or Goethe. The veriest weather-worn cabin is a study for coloring, and the meanest peasant will offer all the acts of a drama in the apparently dull routine of his humble life."
"This is pure romance," I replied; "put it to the test. Let us take, for example, yonder woman descending the mountain path."
" What a figure! " cried Ashburn; " oh that she would stay thus but one quarter of an hour! — she has come down to bathe her child — her upturned face — her dark hair — her picturesque costume — the little plump fellow bestriding her — the rude scenery around " — "And the romantic tale she has to tell." " I would wager a louis that hers has been no common fate. She steps a goddess — her attitude, her looks, are all filled with majesty."
I laughed at his enthusiasm, and accepted his bet. "We hurried to join our fair peasantess, and thus formed acquaintance with Fanny Chaumont. A sudden storm, as we were engaged conversing with her, came, driven down from the tempest-bearing hills, and she gave us a cordial invitation to her cottage.
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