Part 1 out of 3
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The Wrongs of Woman
by MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT
After the edition of 1798
Preface by William S. Godwin
The Wrongs of Woman
THE PUBLIC are here presented with the last literary attempt
of an author, whose fame has been uncommonly extensive, and whose
talents have probably been most admired, by the persons by whom
talents are estimated with the greatest accuracy and discrimination.
There are few, to whom her writings could in any case have given
pleasure, that would have wished that this fragment should have
been suppressed, because it is a fragment. There is a sentiment,
very dear to minds of taste and imagination, that finds a melancholy
delight in contemplating these unfinished productions of genius,
these sketches of what, if they had been filled up in a manner
adequate to the writer's conception, would perhaps have given a
new impulse to the manners of a world.
The purpose and structure of the following work, had long
formed a favourite subject of meditation with its author, and she
judged them capable of producing an important effect. The composition
had been in progress for a period of twelve months. She was anxious
to do justice to her conception, and recommenced and revised the
manuscript several different times. So much of it as is here given
to the public, she was far from considering as finished, and,
in a letter to a friend directly written on this subject, she says,
"I am perfectly aware that some of the incidents ought to be
transposed, and heightened by more harmonious shading; and I wished
in some degree to avail myself of criticism, before I began to
adjust my events into a story, the outline of which I had sketched
in my mind."* The only friends to whom the author communicated her
manuscript, were Mr. Dyson, the translator of the Sorcerer,
and the present editor; and it was impossible for the most
inexperienced author to display a stronger desire of profiting
by the censures and sentiments that might be suggested.**
* A more copious extract of this letter is subjoined to the
** The part communicated consisted of the first fourteen chapters.
In revising these sheets for the press, it was necessary for
the editor, in some places, to connect the more finished parts with
the pages of an older copy, and a line or two in addition sometimes
appeared requisite for that purpose. Wherever such a liberty has
been taken, the additional phrases will be found inclosed in
brackets; it being the editor's most earnest desire to intrude
nothing of himself into the work, but to give to the public the
words, as well as ideas, of the real author.
What follows in the ensuing pages, is not a preface regularly
drawn out by the author, but merely hints for a preface, which,
though never filled up in the manner the writer intended,
appeared to be worth preserving.
THE WRONGS OF WOMAN, like the wrongs of the oppressed part of
mankind, may be deemed necessary by their oppressors: but surely
there are a few, who will dare to advance before the improvement
of the age, and grant that my sketches are not the abortion of a
distempered fancy, or the strong delineations of a wounded heart.
In writing this novel, I have rather endeavoured to pourtray
passions than manners.
In many instances I could have made the incidents more dramatic,
would I have sacrificed my main object, the desire of exhibiting
the misery and oppression, peculiar to women, that arise out of
the partial laws and customs of society.
In the invention of the story, this view restrained my fancy;
and the history ought rather to be considered, as of woman, than
of an individual.
The sentiments I have embodied.
In many works of this species, the hero is allowed to be
mortal, and to become wise and virtuous as well as happy, by a
train of events and circumstances. The heroines, on the contrary,
are to be born immaculate, and to act like goddesses of wisdom,
just come forth highly finished Minervas from the head of Jove.
[The following is an extract of a letter from the author to
a friend, to whom she communicated her manuscript.]
For my part, I cannot suppose any situation more distressing,
than for a woman of sensibility, with an improving mind, to be
bound to such a man as I have described for life; obliged to renounce
all the humanizing affections, and to avoid cultivating her taste,
lest her perception of grace and refinement of sentiment, should
sharpen to agony the pangs of disappointment. Love, in which the
imagination mingles its bewitching colouring, must be fostered by
delicacy. I should despise, or rather call her an ordinary woman,
who could endure such a husband as I have sketched.
These appear to me (matrimonial despotism of heart and conduct)
to be the peculiar Wrongs of Woman, because they degrade the mind.
What are termed great misfortunes, may more forcibly impress the
mind of common readers; they have more of what may justly be termed
stage-effect; but it is the delineation of finer sensations, which,
in my opinion, constitutes the merit of our best novels. This is
what I have in view; and to show the wrongs of different classes
of women, equally oppressive, though, from the difference of
education, necessarily various.
ABODES OF HORROR have frequently been described, and castles, filled
with spectres and chimeras, conjured up by the magic spell of genius
to harrow the soul, and absorb the wondering mind. But, formed of
such stuff as dreams are made of, what were they to the mansion of
despair, in one corner of which Maria sat, endeavouring to recall
her scattered thoughts!
Surprise, astonishment, that bordered on distraction, seemed
to have suspended her faculties, till, waking by degrees to a keen
sense of anguish, a whirlwind of rage and indignation roused her
torpid pulse. One recollection with frightful velocity following
another, threatened to fire her brain, and make her a fit companion
for the terrific inhabitants, whose groans and shrieks were no
unsubstantial sounds of whistling winds, or startled birds, modulated
by a romantic fancy, which amuse while they affright; but such
tones of misery as carry a dreadful certainty directly to the heart.
What effect must they then have produced on one, true to the touch
of sympathy, and tortured by maternal apprehension!
Her infant's image was continually floating on Maria's sight,
and the first smile of intelligence remembered, as none but a
mother, an unhappy mother, can conceive. She heard her half speaking
half cooing, and felt the little twinkling fingers on her burning
bosom--a bosom bursting with the nutriment for which this cherished
child might now be pining in vain. From a stranger she could indeed
receive the maternal aliment, Maria was grieved at the thought--
but who would watch her with a mother's tenderness, a mother's
The retreating shadows of former sorrows rushed back in a
gloomy train, and seemed to be pictured on the walls of her prison,
magnified by the state of mind in which they were viewed--Still
she mourned for her child, lamented she was a daughter, and
anticipated the aggravated ills of life that her sex rendered almost
inevitable, even while dreading she was no more. To think that
she was blotted out of existence was agony, when the imagination
had been long employed to expand her faculties; yet to suppose her
turned adrift on an unknown sea, was scarcely less afflicting.
After being two days the prey of impetuous, varying emotions,
Maria began to reflect more calmly on her present situation,
for she had actually been rendered incapable of sober reflection,
by the discovery of the act of atrocity of which she was the victim.
She could not have imagined, that, in all the fermentation of
civilized depravity, a similar plot could have entered a human
mind. She had been stunned by an unexpected blow; yet life, however
joyless, was not to be indolently resigned, or misery endured
without exertion, and proudly termed patience. She had hitherto
meditated only to point the dart of anguish, and suppressed the
heart heavings of indignant nature merely by the force of contempt.
Now she endeavoured to brace her mind to fortitude, and to ask
herself what was to be her employment in her dreary cell? Was it
not to effect her escape, to fly to the succour of her child,
and to baffle the selfish schemes of her tyrant--her husband?
These thoughts roused her sleeping spirit, and the
self-possession returned, that seemed to have abandoned her in the
infernal solitude into which she had been precipitated. The first
emotions of overwhelming impatience began to subside, and resentment
gave place to tenderness, and more tranquil meditation; though
anger once more stopt the calm current of reflection when she
attempted to move her manacled arms. But this was an outrage that
could only excite momentary feelings of scorn, which evaporated in
a faint smile; for Maria was far from thinking a personal insult
the most difficult to endure with magnanimous indifference.
She approached the small grated window of her chamber, and
for a considerable time only regarded the blue expanse; though it
commanded a view of a desolate garden, and of part of a huge pile
of buildings, that, after having been suffered, for half a century,
to fall to decay, had undergone some clumsy repairs, merely to
render it habitable. The ivy had been torn off the turrets, and
the stones not wanted to patch up the breaches of time, and exclude
the warring elements, left in heaps in the disordered court. Maria
contemplated this scene she knew not how long; or rather gazed on
the walls, and pondered on her situation. To the master of this
most horrid of prisons, she had, soon after her entrance, raved of
injustice, in accents that would have justified his treatment, had
not a malignant smile, when she appealed to his judgment, with a
dreadful conviction stifled her remonstrating complaints. By force,
or openly, what could be done? But surely some expedient might
occur to an active mind, without any other employment, and possessed
of sufficient resolution to put the risk of life into the balance
with the chance of freedom.
A woman entered in the midst of these reflections, with a
firm, deliberate step, strongly marked features, and large black
eyes, which she fixed steadily on Maria's, as if she designed to
intimidate her, saying at the same time "You had better sit down
and eat your dinner, than look at the clouds."
"I have no appetite," replied Maria, who had previously
determined to speak mildly; "why then should I eat?"
"But, in spite of that, you must and shall eat something.
I have had many ladies under my care, who have resolved to starve
themselves; but, soon or late, they gave up their intent, as they
recovered their senses."
"Do you really think me mad?" asked Maria, meeting the
searching glance of her eye.
"Not just now. But what does that prove?--Only that you must
be the more carefully watched, for appearing at times so reasonable.
You have not touched a morsel since you entered the house."--Maria
sighed intelligibly.--"Could any thing but madness produce such a
disgust for food?"
"Yes, grief; you would not ask the question if you knew what
it was." The attendant shook her head; and a ghastly smile of
desperate fortitude served as a forcible reply, and made Maria
pause, before she added--"Yet I will take some refreshment: I mean
not to die.--No; I will preserve my senses; and convince even you,
sooner than you are aware of, that my intellects have never been
disturbed, though the exertion of them may have been suspended by
some infernal drug."
Doubt gathered still thicker on the brow of her guard, as she
attempted to convict her of mistake.
"Have patience!" exclaimed Maria, with a solemnity that inspired
awe. "My God! how have I been schooled into the practice!"
A suffocation of voice betrayed the agonizing emotions she was
labouring to keep down; and conquering a qualm of disgust, she
calmly endeavoured to eat enough to prove her docility, perpetually
turning to the suspicious female, whose observation she courted,
while she was making the bed and adjusting the room.
"Come to me often," said Maria, with a tone of persuasion,
in consequence of a vague plan that she had hastily adopted, when,
after surveying this woman's form and features, she felt convinced
that she had an understanding above the common standard, "and
believe me mad, till you are obliged to acknowledge the contrary."
The woman was no fool, that is, she was superior to her class; nor
had misery quite petrified the life's-blood of humanity, to which
reflections on our own misfortunes only give a more orderly course.
The manner, rather than the expostulations, of Maria made a slight
suspicion dart into her mind with corresponding sympathy, which
various other avocations, and the habit of banishing compunction,
prevented her, for the present, from examining more minutely.
But when she was told that no person, excepting the physician
appointed by her family, was to be permitted to see the lady at
the end of the gallery, she opened her keen eyes still wider, and
uttered a--"hem!" before she enquired--"Why?" She was briefly told,
in reply, that the malady was hereditary, and the fits not occurring
but at very long and irregular intervals, she must be carefully
watched; for the length of these lucid periods only rendered her
more mischievous, when any vexation or caprice brought on the
paroxysm of phrensy.
Had her master trusted her, it is probable that neither pity
nor curiosity would have made her swerve from the straight line of
her interest; for she had suffered too much in her intercourse with
mankind, not to determine to look for support, rather to humouring
their passions, than courting their approbation by the integrity
of her conduct. A deadly blight had met her at the very threshold
of existence; and the wretchedness of her mother seemed a heavy
weight fastened on her innocent neck, to drag her down to perdition.
She could not heroically determine to succour an unfortunate; but,
offended at the bare supposition that she could be deceived with
the same ease as a common servant, she no longer curbed her curiosity;
and, though she never seriously fathomed her own intentions, she
would sit, every moment she could steal from observation, listening
to the tale, which Maria was eager to relate with all the persuasive
eloquence of grief.
It is so cheering to see a human face, even if little of the
divinity of virtue beam in it, that Maria anxiously expected the
return of the attendant, as of a gleam of light to break the gloom
of idleness. Indulged sorrow, she perceived, must blunt or sharpen
the faculties to the two opposite extremes; producing stupidity,
the moping melancholy of indolence; or the restless activity of a
disturbed imagination. She sunk into one state, after being fatigued
by the other: till the want of occupation became even more painful
than the actual pressure or apprehension of sorrow; and the
confinement that froze her into a nook of existence, with an unvaried
prospect before her, the most insupportable of evils. The lamp of
life seemed to be spending itself to chase the vapours of a dungeon
which no art could dissipate.--And to what purpose did she rally
all her energy?--Was not the world a vast prison, and women born
Though she failed immediately to rouse a lively sense of
injustice in the mind of her guard, because it had been sophisticated
into misanthropy, she touched her heart. Jemima (she had only a
claim to a Christian name, which had not procured her any Christian
privileges) could patiently hear of Maria's confinement on false
pretences; she had felt the crushing hand of power, hardened by
the exercise of injustice, and ceased to wonder at the perversions
of the understanding, which systematize oppression; but, when told
that her child, only four months old, had been torn from her, even
while she was discharging the tenderest maternal office, the woman
awoke in a bosom long estranged from feminine emotions, and Jemima
determined to alleviate all in her power, without hazarding the
loss of her place, the sufferings of a wretched mother, apparently
injured, and certainly unhappy. A sense of right seems to result
from the simplest act of reason, and to preside over the faculties
of the mind, like the master-sense of feeling, to rectify the rest;
but (for the comparison may be carried still farther) how often is
the exquisite sensibility of both weakened or destroyed by the
vulgar occupations, and ignoble pleasures of life?
The preserving her situation was, indeed, an important object
to Jemima, who had been hunted from hole to hole, as if she had
been a beast of prey, or infected with a moral plague. The wages
she received, the greater part of which she hoarded, as her only
chance for independence, were much more considerable than she could
reckon on obtaining any where else, were it possible that she,
an outcast from society, could be permitted to earn a subsistence in
a reputable family. Hearing Maria perpetually complain of
listlessness, and the not being able to beguile grief by resuming
her customary pursuits, she was easily prevailed on, by compassion,
and that involuntary respect for abilities, which those who possess
them can never eradicate, to bring her some books and implements
for writing. Maria's conversation had amused and interested her,
and the natural consequence was a desire, scarcely observed by
herself, of obtaining the esteem of a person she admired. The
remembrance of better days was rendered more lively; and the
sentiments then acquired appearing less romantic than they had for
a long period, a spark of hope roused her mind to new activity.
How grateful was her attention to Maria! Oppressed by a dead
weight of existence, or preyed on by the gnawing worm of discontent,
with what eagerness did she endeavour to shorten the long days,
which left no traces behind! She seemed to be sailing on the vast
ocean of life, without seeing any land-mark to indicate the progress
of time; to find employment was then to find variety, the animating
principle of nature.
EARNESTLY as Maria endeavoured to soothe, by reading, the anguish
of her wounded mind, her thoughts would often wander from the
subject she was led to discuss, and tears of maternal tenderness
obscured the reasoning page. She descanted on "the ills which
flesh is heir to," with bitterness, when the recollection of her
babe was revived by a tale of fictitious woe, that bore any
resemblance to her own; and her imagination was continually employed,
to conjure up and embody the various phantoms of misery, which
folly and vice had let loose on the world. The loss of her babe
was the tender string; against other cruel remembrances she laboured
to steel her bosom; and even a ray of hope, in the midst of her
gloomy reveries, would sometimes gleam on the dark horizon of
futurity, while persuading herself that she ought to cease to hope,
since happiness was no where to be found.--But of her child,
debilitated by the grief with which its mother had been assailed
before it saw the light, she could not think without an impatient
"I, alone, by my active tenderness, could have saved,"
she would exclaim, "from an early blight, this sweet blossom;
and, cherishing it, I should have had something still to love."
In proportion as other expectations were torn from her,
this tender one had been fondly clung to, and knit into her heart.
The books she had obtained, were soon devoured, by one who
had no other resource to escape from sorrow, and the feverish dreams
of ideal wretchedness or felicity, which equally weaken the
intoxicated sensibility. Writing was then the only alternative,
and she wrote some rhapsodies descriptive of the state of her mind;
but the events of her past life pressing on her, she resolved
circumstantially to relate them, with the sentiments that experience,
and more matured reason, would naturally suggest. They might
perhaps instruct her daughter, and shield her from the misery,
the tyranny, her mother knew not how to avoid.
This thought gave life to her diction, her soul flowed into
it, and she soon found the task of recollecting almost obliterated
impressions very interesting. She lived again in the revived
emotions of youth, and forgot her present in the retrospect of
sorrows that had assumed an unalterable character.
Though this employment lightened the weight of time, yet,
never losing sight of her main object, Maria did not allow any
opportunity to slip of winning on the affections of Jemima; for
she discovered in her a strength of mind, that excited her esteem,
clouded as it was by the misanthropy of despair.
An insulated being, from the misfortune of her birth, she
despised and preyed on the society by which she had been oppressed,
and loved not her fellow-creatures, because she had never been
beloved. No mother had ever fondled her, no father or brother had
protected her from outrage; and the man who had plunged her into
infamy, and deserted her when she stood in greatest need of support,
deigned not to smooth with kindness the road to ruin. Thus degraded,
was she let loose on the world; and virtue, never nurtured by
affection, assumed the stern aspect of selfish independence.
This general view of her life, Maria gathered from her
exclamations and dry remarks. Jemima indeed displayed a strange
mixture of interest and suspicion; for she would listen to her with
earnestness, and then suddenly interrupt the conversation, as if
afraid of resigning, by giving way to her sympathy, her dear-bought
knowledge of the world.
Maria alluded to the possibility of an escape, and mentioned
a compensation, or reward; but the style in which she was repulsed
made her cautious, and determine not to renew the subject, till
she knew more of the character she had to work on. Jemima's
countenance, and dark hints, seemed to say, "You are an extraordinary
woman; but let me consider, this may only be one of your lucid
intervals." Nay, the very energy of Maria's character, made her
suspect that the extraordinary animation she perceived might be
the effect of madness. "Should her husband then substantiate his
charge, and get possession of her estate, from whence would come
the promised annuity, or more desired protection? Besides, might
not a woman, anxious to escape, conceal some of the circumstances
which made against her? Was truth to be expected from one who had
been entrapped, kidnapped, in the most fraudulent manner?"
In this train Jemima continued to argue, the moment after
compassion and respect seemed to make her swerve; and she still
resolved not to be wrought on to do more than soften the rigour of
confinement, till she could advance on surer ground.
Maria was not permitted to walk in the garden; but sometimes,
from her window, she turned her eyes from the gloomy walls,
in which she pined life away, on the poor wretches who strayed along
the walks, and contemplated the most terrific of ruins--that of a
human soul. What is the view of the fallen column, the mouldering
arch, of the most exquisite workmanship, when compared with this
living memento of the fragility, the instability, of reason, and
the wild luxuriancy of noxious passions? Enthusiasm turned adrift,
like some rich stream overflowing its banks, rushes forward with
destructive velocity, inspiring a sublime concentration of thought.
Thus thought Maria--These are the ravages over which humanity must
ever mournfully ponder, with a degree of anguish not excited by
crumbling marble, or cankering brass, unfaithful to the trust of
monumental fame. It is not over the decaying productions of the
mind, embodied with the happiest art, we grieve most bitterly.
The view of what has been done by man, produces a melancholy, yet
aggrandizing, sense of what remains to be achieved by human intellect;
but a mental convulsion, which, like the devastation of an earthquake,
throws all the elements of thought and imagination into confusion,
makes contemplation giddy, and we fearfully ask on what ground we
Melancholy and imbecility marked the features of the wretches
allowed to breathe at large; for the frantic, those who in a strong
imagination had lost a sense of woe, were closely confined. The
playful tricks and mischievous devices of their disturbed fancy,
that suddenly broke out, could not be guarded against, when they
were permitted to enjoy any portion of freedom; for, so active was
their imagination, that every new object which accidentally struck
their senses, awoke to phrenzy their restless passions; as Maria
learned from the burden of their incessant ravings.
Sometimes, with a strict injunction of silence, Jemima would
allow Maria, at the close of evening, to stray along the narrow
avenues that separated the dungeon-like apartments, leaning on her
arm. What a change of scene! Maria wished to pass the threshold
of her prison, yet, when by chance she met the eye of rage glaring
on her, yet unfaithful to its office, she shrunk back with more
horror and affright, than if she had stumbled over a mangled corpse.
Her busy fancy pictured the misery of a fond heart, watching over
a friend thus estranged, absent, though present--over a poor wretch
lost to reason and the social joys of existence; and losing all
consciousness of misery in its excess. What a task, to watch the
light of reason quivering in the eye, or with agonizing expectation
to catch the beam of recollection; tantalized by hope, only to feel
despair more keenly, at finding a much loved face or voice, suddenly
remembered, or pathetically implored, only to be immediately
forgotten, or viewed with indifference or abhorrence!
The heart-rending sigh of melancholy sunk into her soul;
and when she retired to rest, the petrified figures she had encountered,
the only human forms she was doomed to observe, haunting her dreams
with tales of mysterious wrongs, made her wish to sleep to dream
Day after day rolled away, and tedious as the present moment
appeared, they passed in such an unvaried tenor, Maria was surprised
to find that she had already been six weeks buried alive, and yet
had such faint hopes of effecting her enlargement. She was,
earnestly as she had sought for employment, now angry with herself
for having been amused by writing her narrative; and grieved to
think that she had for an instant thought of any thing,
but contriving to escape.
Jemima had evidently pleasure in her society: still, though
she often left her with a glow of kindness, she returned with the
same chilling air; and, when her heart appeared for a moment to
open, some suggestion of reason forcibly closed it, before she
could give utterance to the confidence Maria's conversation inspired.
Discouraged by these changes, Maria relapsed into despondency,
when she was cheered by the alacrity with which Jemima brought her
a fresh parcel of books; assuring her, that she had taken some
pains to obtain them from one of the keepers, who attended a
gentleman confined in the opposite corner of the gallery.
Maria took up the books with emotion. "They come," said she,
"perhaps, from a wretch condemned, like me, to reason on the nature
of madness, by having wrecked minds continually under his eye; and
almost to wish himself--as I do--mad, to escape from the contemplation
of it." Her heart throbbed with sympathetic alarm; and she turned
over the leaves with awe, as if they had become sacred from
passing through the hands of an unfortunate being,
oppressed by a similar fate.
Dryden's Fables, Milton's Paradise Lost, with several modern
productions, composed the collection. It was a mine of treasure.
Some marginal notes, in Dryden's Fables, caught her attention: they
were written with force and taste; and, in one of the modern
pamphlets, there was a fragment left, containing various observations
on the present state of society and government, with a comparative
view of the politics of Europe and America. These remarks were
written with a degree of generous warmth, when alluding to the
enslaved state of the labouring majority, perfectly in unison with
Maria's mode of thinking.
She read them over and over again; and fancy, treacherous
fancy, began to sketch a character, congenial with her own, from
these shadowy outlines.--"Was he mad?" She reperused the marginal
notes, and they seemed the production of an animated, but not of
a disturbed imagination. Confined to this speculation, every time
she re-read them, some fresh refinement of sentiment, or accuteness
of thought impressed her, which she was astonished at herself for
not having before observed.
What a creative power has an affectionate heart! There are
beings who cannot live without loving, as poets love; and who feel
the electric spark of genius, wherever it awakens sentiment or
grace. Maria had often thought, when disciplining her wayward
heart, "that to charm, was to be virtuous." "They who make me wish
to appear the most amiable and good in their eyes, must possess in
a degree," she would exclaim, "the graces and virtues they call
She took up a book on the powers of the human mind; but, her
attention strayed from cold arguments on the nature of what she
felt, while she was feeling, and she snapt the chain of the theory
to read Dryden's Guiscard and Sigismunda.
Maria, in the course of the ensuing day, returned some of the
books, with the hope of getting others--and more marginal notes.
Thus shut out from human intercourse, and compelled to view nothing
but the prison of vexed spirits, to meet a wretch in the same
situation, was more surely to find a friend, than to imagine a
countryman one, in a strange land, where the human voice conveys
no information to the eager ear.
"Did you ever see the unfortunate being to whom these books
belong?" asked Maria, when Jemima brought her slipper. "Yes. He
sometimes walks out, between five and six, before the family is
stirring, in the morning, with two keepers; but even then his hands
"What! is he so unruly?" enquired Maria,
with an accent of disappointment.
"No, not that I perceive," replied Jemima; "but he has an
untamed look, a vehemence of eye, that excites apprehension. Were
his hands free, he looks as if he could soon manage both his guards:
yet he appears tranquil."
"If he be so strong, he must be young," observed Maria.
"Three or four and thirty, I suppose; but there is no judging
of a person in his situation."
"Are you sure that he is mad?" interrupted Maria with eagerness.
Jemima quitted the room, without replying.
"No, no, he certainly is not!" exclaimed Maria, answering
herself; "the man who could write those observations was not
disordered in his intellects."
She sat musing, gazing at the moon, and watching its motion
as it seemed to glide under the clouds. Then, preparing for bed,
she thought, "Of what use could I be to him, or he to me, if it be
true that he is unjustly confined?--Could he aid me to escape, who
is himself more closely watched?--Still I should like to see him."
She went to bed, dreamed of her child, yet woke exactly at half
after five o'clock, and starting up, only wrapped a gown around
her, and ran to the window. The morning was chill, it was the latter
end of September; yet she did not retire to warm herself and think
in bed, till the sound of the servants, moving about the house,
convinced her that the unknown would not walk in the garden that
morning. She was ashamed at feeling disappointed; and began to
reflect, as an excuse to herself, on the little objects which
attract attention when there is nothing to divert the mind; and
how difficult it was for women to avoid growing romantic, who have
no active duties or pursuits.
At breakfast, Jemima enquired whether she understood French?
for, unless she did, the stranger's stock of books was exhausted.
Maria replied in the affirmative; but forbore to ask any more
questions respecting the person to whom they belonged. And Jemima
gave her a new subject for contemplation, by describing the person
of a lovely maniac, just brought into an adjoining chamber. She
was singing the pathetic ballad of old Rob* with the most
heart-melting falls and pauses. Jemima had half-opened the door,
when she distinguished her voice, and Maria stood close to it,
scarcely daring to respire, lest a modulation should escape her,
so exquisitely sweet, so passionately wild. She began with sympathy
to pourtray to herself another victim, when the lovely warbler
flew, as it were, from the spray, and a torrent of unconnected
exclamations and questions burst from her, interrupted by fits of
laughter, so horrid, that Maria shut the door, and, turning her
eyes up to heaven, exclaimed--"Gracious God!"
* A blank space about ten characters in length occurs here
in the original edition [Publisher's note].
Several minutes elapsed before Maria could enquire respecting
the rumour of the house (for this poor wretch was obviously not
confined without a cause); and then Jemima could only tell her,
that it was said, "she had been married, against her inclination,
to a rich old man, extremely jealous (no wonder, for she was a
charming creature); and that, in consequence of his treatment,
or something which hung on her mind, she had, during her first
lying-in, lost her senses."
What a subject of meditation--even to the very
confines of madness.
"Woman, fragile flower! why were you suffered to adorn a world
exposed to the inroad of such stormy elements?" thought Maria,
while the poor maniac's strain was still breathing on her ear,
and sinking into her very soul.
Towards the evening, Jemima brought her Rousseau's Heloise;
and she sat reading with eyes and heart, till the return of her
guard to extinguish the light. One instance of her kindness was,
the permitting Maria to have one, till her own hour of retiring to
rest. She had read this work long since; but now it seemed to open
a new world to her--the only one worth inhabiting. Sleep was not
to be wooed; yet, far from being fatigued by the restless rotation
of thought, she rose and opened her window, just as the thin watery
clouds of twilight made the long silent shadows visible. The air
swept across her face with a voluptuous freshness that thrilled to
her heart, awakening indefinable emotions; and the sound of a waving
branch, or the twittering of a startled bird, alone broke the
stillness of reposing nature. Absorbed by the sublime sensibility
which renders the consciousness of existence felicity, Maria was
happy, till an autumnal scent, wafted by the breeze of morn from
the fallen leaves of the adjacent wood, made her recollect that
the season had changed since her confinement; yet life afforded no
variety to solace an afflicted heart. She returned dispirited to
her couch, and thought of her child till the broad glare of day
again invited her to the window. She looked not for the unknown,
still how great was her vexation at perceiving the back of a man,
certainly he, with his two attendants, as he turned into a side-path
which led to the house! A confused recollection of having seen
somebody who resembled him, immediately occurred, to puzzle and
torment her with endless conjectures. Five minutes sooner, and
she should have seen his face, and been out of suspense--was ever
any thing so unlucky! His steady, bold step, and the whole air of
his person, bursting as it were from a cloud, pleased her, and gave
an outline to the imagination to sketch the individual form she
wished to recognize.
Feeling the disappointment more severely than she was willing
to believe, she flew to Rousseau, as her only refuge from the idea
of him, who might prove a friend, could she but find a way to
interest him in her fate; still the personification of Saint Preux,
or of an ideal lover far superior, was after this imperfect model,
of which merely a glance had been caught, even to the minutiae of
the coat and hat of the stranger. But if she lent St. Preux,
or the demi-god of her fancy, his form, she richly repaid him by the
donation of all St. Preux's sentiments and feelings, culled to
gratify her own, to which he seemed to have an undoubted right,
when she read on the margin of an impassioned letter, written in
the well-known hand--"Rousseau alone, the true Prometheus of
sentiment, possessed the fire of genius necessary to pourtray the
passion, the truth of which goes so directly to the heart."
Maria was again true to the hour, yet had finished Rousseau,
and begun to transcribe some selected passages; unable to quit
either the author or the window, before she had a glimpse of the
countenance she daily longed to see; and, when seen, it conveyed
no distinct idea to her mind where she had seen it before. He must
have been a transient acquaintance; but to discover an acquaintance
was fortunate, could she contrive to attract his attention,
and excite his sympathy.
Every glance afforded colouring for the picture she was
delineating on her heart; and once, when the window was half open,
the sound of his voice reached her. Conviction flashed on her;
she had certainly, in a moment of distress, heard the same accents.
They were manly, and characteristic of a noble mind; nay,
even sweet--or sweet they seemed to her attentive ear.
She started back, trembling, alarmed at the emotion a strange
coincidence of circumstances inspired, and wondering why she thought
so much of a stranger, obliged as she had been by his timely
interference; [for she recollected, by degrees all the circumstances
of their former meeting.] She found however that she could think
of nothing else; or, if she thought of her daughter, it was to wish
that she had a father whom her mother could respect and love.
WHEN PERUSING the first parcel of books, Maria had, with her pencil,
written in one of them a few exclamations, expressive of compassion
and sympathy, which she scarcely remembered, till turning over the
leaves of one of the volumes, lately brought to her, a slip of
paper dropped out, which Jemima hastily snatched up.
"Let me see it," demanded Maria impatiently, "You surely are
not afraid of trusting me with the effusions of a madman?" "I must
consider," replied Jemima; and withdrew, with the paper in her
In a life of such seclusion, the passions gain undue force;
Maria therefore felt a great degree of resentment and vexation,
which she had not time to subdue, before Jemima, returning, delivered
"Whoever you are, who partake of my fate,
accept my sincere commiseration--I would have said
protection; but the privilege of man is denied me.
"My own situation forces a dreadful suspicion on
my mind--I may not always languish in vain for freedom--
say are you--I cannot ask the question; yet I will
remember you when my remembrance can be of any use.
I will enquire, why you are so mysteriously detained--
and I will have an answer.
By the most pressing intreaties, Maria prevailed on Jemima to
permit her to write a reply to this note. Another and another
succeeded, in which explanations were not allowed relative to their
present situation; but Maria, with sufficient explicitness, alluded
to a former obligation; and they insensibly entered on an interchange
of sentiments on the most important subjects. To write these
letters was the business of the day, and to receive them the moment
of sunshine. By some means, Darnford having discovered Maria's
window, when she next appeared at it, he made her, behind his
keepers, a profound bow of respect and recognition.
Two or three weeks glided away in this kind of intercourse,
during which period Jemima, to whom Maria had given the necessary
information respecting her family, had evidently gained some
intelligence, which increased her desire of pleasing her charge,
though she could not yet determine to liberate her. Maria took
advantage of this favourable charge, without too minutely enquiring
into the cause; and such was her eagerness to hold human converse,
and to see her former protector, still a stranger to her, that she
incessantly requested her guard to gratify her more than curiosity.
Writing to Darnford, she was led from the sad objects before
her, and frequently rendered insensible to the horrid noises around
her, which previously had continually employed her feverish fancy.
Thinking it selfish to dwell on her own sufferings, when in the
midst of wretches, who had not only lost all that endears life,
but their very selves, her imagination was occupied with melancholy
earnestness to trace the mazes of misery, through which so many
wretches must have passed to this gloomy receptacle of disjointed
souls, to the grand source of human corruption. Often at midnight
was she waked by the dismal shrieks of demoniac rage, or of
excruciating despair, uttered in such wild tones of indescribable
anguish as proved the total absence of reason, and roused phantoms
of horror in her mind, far more terrific than all that dreaming
superstition ever drew. Besides, there was frequently something
so inconceivably picturesque in the varying gestures of unrestrained
passion, so irresistibly comic in their sallies, or so
heart-piercingly pathetic in the little airs they would sing,
frequently bursting out after an awful silence, as to fascinate
the attention, and amuse the fancy, while torturing the soul. It
was the uproar of the passions which she was compelled to observe;
and to mark the lucid beam of reason, like a light trembling in a
socket, or like the flash which divides the threatening clouds of
angry heaven only to display the horrors which darkness shrouded.
Jemima would labour to beguile the tedious evenings, by
describing the persons and manners of the unfortunate beings, whose
figures or voices awoke sympathetic sorrow in Maria's bosom; and
the stories she told were the more interesting, for perpetually
leaving room to conjecture something extraordinary. Still Maria,
accustomed to generalize her observations, was led to conclude from
all she heard, that it was a vulgar error to suppose that people
of abilities were the most apt to lose the command of reason. On
the contrary, from most of the instances she could investigate,
she thought it resulted, that the passions only appeared strong
and disproportioned, because the judgment was weak and unexercised;
and that they gained strength by the decay of reason, as the shadows
lengthen during the sun's decline.
Maria impatiently wished to see her fellow-sufferer; but
Darnford was still more earnest to obtain an interview. Accustomed
to submit to every impulse of passion, and never taught, like women,
to restrain the most natural, and acquire, instead of the bewitching
frankness of nature, a factitious propriety of behaviour,
every desire became a torrent that bore down all opposition.
His travelling trunk, which contained the books lent to Maria,
had been sent to him, and with a part of its contents he bribed
his principal keeper; who, after receiving the most solemn promise
that he would return to his apartment without attempting to explore
any part of the house, conducted him, in the dusk of the evening,
to Maria's room.
Jemima had apprized her charge of the visit, and she expected
with trembling impatience, inspired by a vague hope that he might
again prove her deliverer, to see a man who had before rescued her
from oppression. He entered with an animation of countenance,
formed to captivate an enthusiast; and, hastily turned his eyes
from her to the apartment, which he surveyed with apparent emotions
of compassionate indignation. Sympathy illuminated his eye, and,
taking her hand, he respectfully bowed on it, exclaiming--"This is
extraordinary!--again to meet you, and in such circumstances!"
Still, impressive as was the coincidence of events which brought
them once more together, their full hearts did not overflow.--*
* The copy which had received the author's last corrections
breaks off in this place, and the pages which follow, to the end
of Chap. IV, are printed from a copy in a less finished state.
[And though, after this first visit, they were permitted
frequently to repeat their interviews, they were for some time
employed in] a reserved conversation, to which all the world might
have listened; excepting, when discussing some literary subject,
flashes of sentiment, inforced by each relaxing feature, seemed to
remind them that their minds were already acquainted.
[By degrees, Darnford entered into the particulars of his
story.] In a few words, he informed her that he had been a
thoughtless, extravagant young man; yet, as he described his faults,
they appeared to be the generous luxuriancy of a noble mind.
Nothing like meanness tarnished the lustre of his youth, nor had
the worm of selfishness lurked in the unfolding bud, even while he
had been the dupe of others. Yet he tardily acquired the experience
necessary to guard him against future imposition.
"I shall weary you," continued he, "by my egotism; and did
not powerful emotions draw me to you,"--his eyes glistened as he
spoke, and a trembling seemed to run through his manly frame,--
"I would not waste these precious moments in talking of myself.
"My father and mother were people of fashion; married by their
parents. He was fond of the turf, she of the card-table. I, and
two or three other children since dead, were kept at home till we
became intolerable. My father and mother had a visible dislike to
each other, continually displayed; the servants were of the depraved
kind usually found in the houses of people of fortune. My brothers
and parents all dying, I was left to the care of guardians; and
sent to Eton. I never knew the sweets of domestic affection, but
I felt the want of indulgence and frivolous respect at school.
I will not disgust you with a recital of the vices of my youth,
which can scarcely be comprehended by female delicacy. I was taught
to love by a creature I am ashamed to mention; and the other women
with whom I afterwards became intimate, were of a class of which
you can have no knowledge. I formed my acquaintance with them at
the theaters; and, when vivacity danced in their eyes, I was not
easily disgusted by the vulgarity which flowed from their lips.
Having spent, a few years after I was of age, [the whole of] a
considerable patrimony, excepting a few hundreds, I had no resource
but to purchase a commission in a new-raised regiment, destined to
subjugate America. The regret I felt to renounce a life of pleasure,
was counter-balanced by the curiosity I had to see America, or
rather to travel; [nor had any of those circumstances occurred to
my youth, which might have been calculated] to bind my country to
my heart. I shall not trouble you with the details of a military
life. My blood was still kept in motion; till, towards the close
of the contest, I was wounded and taken prisoner.
"Confined to my bed, or chair, by a lingering cure, my only
refuge from the preying activity of my mind, was books, which I
read with great avidity, profiting by the conversation of my host,
a man of sound understanding. My political sentiments now underwent
a total change; and, dazzled by the hospitality of the Americans,
I determined to take up my abode with freedom. I, therefore, with
my usual impetuosity, sold my commission, and travelled into the
interior parts of the country, to lay out my money to advantage.
Added to this, I did not much like the puritanical manners of the
large towns. Inequality of condition was there most disgustingly
galling. The only pleasure wealth afforded, was to make an
ostentatious display of it; for the cultivation of the fine arts,
or literature, had not introduced into the first circles that polish
of manners which renders the rich so essentially superior to the
poor in Europe. Added to this, an influx of vices had been let in
by the Revolution, and the most rigid principles of religion shaken
to the centre, before the understanding could be gradually emancipated
from the prejudices which led their ancestors undauntedly to seek
an inhospitable clime and unbroken soil. The resolution, that led
them, in pursuit of independence, to embark on rivers like seas,
to search for unknown shores, and to sleep under the hovering mists
of endless forests, whose baleful damps agued their limbs, was now
turned into commercial speculations, till the national character
exhibited a phenomenon in the history of the human mind--a head
enthusiastically enterprising, with cold selfishness of heart.
And woman, lovely woman!--they charm everywhere--still there is a
degree of prudery, and a want of taste and ease in the manners of
the American women, that renders them, in spite of their roses and
lilies, far inferior to our European charmers. In the country,
they have often a bewitching simplicity of character; but, in the
cities, they have all the airs and ignorance of the ladies who give
the tone to the circles of the large trading towns in England.
They are fond of their ornaments, merely because they are good,
and not because they embellish their persons; and are more gratified
to inspire the women with jealousy of these exterior advantages,
than the men with love. All the frivolity which often (excuse me,
Madam) renders the society of modest women so stupid in England,
here seemed to throw still more leaden fetters on their charms.
Not being an adept in gallantry, I found that I could only keep
myself awake in their company by making downright love to them.
"But, not to intrude on your patience, I retired to the track
of land which I had purchased in the country, and my time passed
pleasantly enough while I cut down the trees, built my house, and
planted my different crops. But winter and idleness came, and I
longed for more elegant society, to hear what was passing in the
world, and to do something better than vegetate with the animals
that made a very considerable part of my household. Consequently,
I determined to travel. Motion was a substitute for variety of
objects; and, passing over immense tracks of country, I exhausted
my exuberant spirits, without obtaining much experience. I every
where saw industry the fore-runner and not the consequence, of
luxury; but this country, everything being on an ample scale, did
not afford those picturesque views, which a certain degree of
cultivation is necessary gradually to produce. The eye wandered
without an object to fix upon over immeasureable plains, and lakes
that seemed replenished by the ocean, whilst eternal forests of
small clustering trees, obstructed the circulation of air, and
embarrassed the path, without gratifying the eye of taste. No
cottage smiling in the waste, no travellers hailed us, to give life
to silent nature; or, if perchance we saw the print of a footstep
in our path, it was a dreadful warning to turn aside; and the head
ached as if assailed by the scalping knife. The Indians who hovered
on the skirts of the European settlements had only learned of their
neighbours to plunder, and they stole their guns from them to
do it with more safety.
"From the woods and back settlements, I returned to the towns,
and learned to eat and drink most valiantly; but without entering
into commerce (and I detested commerce) I found I could not live
there; and, growing heartily weary of the land of liberty and vulgar
aristocracy, seated on her bags of dollars, I resolved once more
to visit Europe. I wrote to a distant relation in England, with
whom I had been educated, mentioning the vessel in which I intended
to sail. Arriving in London, my senses were intoxicated. I ran
from street to street, from theater to theater, and the women of
the town (again I must beg pardon for my habitual frankness)
appeared to me like angels.
"A week was spent in this thoughtless manner, when, returning
very late to the hotel in which I had lodged ever since my arrival,
I was knocked down in a private street, and hurried, in a state of
insensibility, into a coach, which brought me hither, and I only
recovered my senses to be treated like one who had lost them. My
keepers are deaf to my remonstrances and enquiries, yet assure me
that my confinement shall not last long. Still I cannot guess,
though I weary myself with conjectures, why I am confined, or in
what part of England this house is situated. I imagine sometimes
that I hear the sea roar, and wished myself again on the Atlantic,
till I had a glimpse of you."*
A few moments were only allowed to Maria to comment on this
narrative, when Darnford left her to her own thoughts, to the "never
ending, still beginning," task of weighing his words, recollecting
his tones of voice, and feeling them reverberate on her heart.
* The introduction of Darnford as the deliverer of Maria
in a former instance, appears to have been an after-thought
of the author. This has occasioned the omission of any
allusion to that circumstance in the preceding narration.
EDITOR. [Godwin's note]
PITY, and the forlorn seriousness of adversity, have both been
considered as dispositions favourable to love, while satirical
writers have attributed the propensity to the relaxing effect of
idleness; what chance then had Maria of escaping, when pity, sorrow,
and solitude all conspired to soften her mind, and nourish romantic
wishes, and, from a natural progress, romantic expectations?
Maria was six-and-twenty. But, such was the native soundness
of her constitution, that time had only given to her countenance
the character of her mind. Revolving thought, and exercised
affections had banished some of the playful graces of innocence,
producing insensibly that irregularity of features which the
struggles of the understanding to trace or govern the strong emotions
of the heart, are wont to imprint on the yielding mass. Grief and
care had mellowed, without obscuring, the bright tints of youth,
and the thoughtfulness which resided on her brow did not take from
the feminine softness of her features; nay, such was the sensibility
which often mantled over it, that she frequently appeared, like a
large proportion of her sex, only born to feel; and the activity
of her well-proportioned, and even almost voluptuous figure, inspired
the idea of strength of mind, rather than of body. There was a
simplicity sometimes indeed in her manner, which bordered on
infantine ingenuousness, that led people of common discernment to
underrate her talents, and smile at the flights of her imagination.
But those who could not comprehend the delicacy of her sentiments,
were attached by her unfailing sympathy, so that she was very
generally beloved by characters of very different descriptions;
still, she was too much under the influence of an ardent imagination
to adhere to common rules.
There are mistakes of conduct which at five-and-twenty prove
the strength of the mind, that, ten or fifteen years after, would
demonstrate its weakness, its incapacity to acquire a sane judgment.
The youths who are satisfied with the ordinary pleasures of life,
and do not sigh after ideal phantoms of love and friendship, will
never arrive at great maturity of understanding; but if these
reveries are cherished, as is too frequently the case with women,
when experience ought to have taught them in what human happiness
consists, they become as useless as they are wretched. Besides,
their pains and pleasures are so dependent on outward circumstances,
on the objects of their affections, that they seldom act from the
impulse of a nerved mind, able to choose its own pursuit.
Having had to struggle incessantly with the vices of mankind,
Maria's imagination found repose in pourtraying the possible virtues
the world might contain. Pygmalion formed an ivory maid, and longed
for an informing soul. She, on the contrary, combined all the
qualities of a hero's mind, and fate presented a statue in which
she might enshrine them.
We mean not to trace the progress of this passion, or recount
how often Darnford and Maria were obliged to part in the midst of
an interesting conversation. Jemima ever watched on the tip-toe
of fear, and frequently separated them on a false alarm, when they
would have given worlds to remain a little longer together.
A magic lamp now seemed to be suspended in Maria's prison,
and fairy landscapes flitted round the gloomy walls, late so blank.
Rushing from the depth of despair, on the seraph wing of hope,
she found herself happy.--She was beloved, and every emotion
To Darnford she had not shown a decided affection; the fear
of outrunning his, a sure proof of love, made her often assume a
coldness and indifference foreign from her character; and, even
when giving way to the playful emotions of a heart just loosened
from the frozen bond of grief, there was a delicacy in her manner
of expressing her sensibility, which made him doubt whether it was
the effect of love.
One evening, when Jemima left them, to listen to the sound of
a distant footstep, which seemed cautiously to approach, he seized
Maria's hand--it was not withdrawn. They conversed with earnestness
of their situation; and, during the conversation, he once or twice
gently drew her towards him. He felt the fragrance of her breath,
and longed, yet feared, to touch the lips from which it issued;
spirits of purity seemed to guard them, while all the enchanting
graces of love sported on her cheeks, and languished in her eyes.
Jemima entering, he reflected on his diffidence with poignant
regret, and, she once more taking alarm, he ventured, as Maria
stood near his chair, to approach her lips with a declaration of
love. She drew back with solemnity, he hung down his head abashed;
but lifting his eyes timidly, they met her's; she had determined,
during that instant, and suffered their rays to mingle. He took,
with more ardour, reassured, a half-consenting, half-reluctant
kiss, reluctant only from modesty; and there was a sacredness in
her dignified manner of reclining her glowing face on his shoulder,
that powerfully impressed him. Desire was lost in more ineffable
emotions, and to protect her from insult and sorrow--to make her
happy, seemed not only the first wish of his heart, but the most
noble duty of his life. Such angelic confidence demanded the
fidelity of honour; but could he, feeling her in every pulsation,
could he ever change, could he be a villain? The emotion with which
she, for a moment, allowed herself to be pressed to his bosom, the
tear of rapturous sympathy, mingled with a soft melancholy sentiment
of recollected disappointment, said--more of truth and faithfulness,
than the tongue could have given utterance to in hours! They were
silent--yet discoursed, how eloquently? till, after a moment's
reflection, Maria drew her chair by the side of his, and, with a
composed sweetness of voice, and supernatural benignity of
countenance, said, "I must open my whole heart to you; you must be
told who I am, why I am here, and why, telling you I am a wife,
I blush not to"--the blush spoke the rest.
Jemima was again at her elbow, and the restraint of her presence
did not prevent an animated conversation, in which love, sly urchin,
was ever at bo-peep.
So much of heaven did they enjoy, that paradise bloomed around
them; or they, by a powerful spell, had been transported into
Armida's garden. Love, the grand enchanter, "lapt them in Elysium,"
and every sense was harmonized to joy and social extacy.
So animated, indeed, were their accents of tenderness, in discussing
what, in other circumstances, would have been commonplace subjects,
that Jemima felt, with surprise, a tear of pleasure trickling down
her rugged cheeks. She wiped it away, half ashamed; and when Maria
kindly enquired the cause, with all the eager solicitude of a happy
being wishing to impart to all nature its overflowing felicity,
Jemima owned that it was the first tear that social enjoyment had
ever drawn from her. She seemed indeed to breathe more freely;
the cloud of suspicion cleared away from her brow; she felt herself,
for once in her life, treated like a fellow-creature.
Imagination! who can paint thy power; or reflect the evanescent
tints of hope fostered by thee? A despondent gloom had long obscured
Maria's horizon--now the sun broke forth, the rainbow appeared,
and every prospect was fair. Horror still reigned in the darkened
cells, suspicion lurked in the passages, and whispered along the
walls. The yells of men possessed, sometimes, made them pause,
and wonder that they felt so happy, in a tomb of living death.
They even chid themselves for such apparent insensibility; still
the world contained not three happier beings. And Jemima, after
again patrolling the passage, was so softened by the air of confidence
which breathed around her, that she voluntarily began an account
"MY FATHER," said Jemima, "seduced my mother, a pretty girl, with
whom he lived fellow-servant; and she no sooner perceived the
natural, the dreaded consequence, than the terrible conviction
flashed on her--that she was ruined. Honesty, and a regard for her
reputation, had been the only principles inculcated by her mother;
and they had been so forcibly impressed, that she feared shame,
more than the poverty to which it would lead. Her incessant
importunities to prevail upon my father to screen her from reproach
by marrying her, as he had promised in the fervour of seduction,
estranged him from her so completely, that her very person became
distasteful to him; and he began to hate, as well as despise me,
before I was born.
"My mother, grieved to the soul by his neglect, and unkind
treatment, actually resolved to famish herself; and injured her
health by the attempt; though she had not sufficient resolution to
adhere to her project, or renounce it entirely. Death came not at
her call; yet sorrow, and the methods she adopted to conceal her
condition, still doing the work of a house-maid, had such an effect
on her constitution, that she died in the wretched garret, where
her virtuous mistress had forced her to take refuge in the very
pangs of labour, though my father, after a slight reproof, was
allowed to remain in his place--allowed by the mother of six
children, who, scarcely permitting a footstep to be heard,
during her month's indulgence, felt no sympathy for the
poor wretch, denied every comfort required by her situation.
"The day my mother, died, the ninth after my birth, I was
consigned to the care of the cheapest nurse my father could find;
who suckled her own child at the same time, and lodged as many more
as she could get, in two cellar-like apartments.
"Poverty, and the habit of seeing children die off her hands,
had so hardened her heart, that the office of a mother did not
awaken the tenderness of a woman; nor were the feminine caresses
which seem a part of the rearing of a child, ever bestowed on me.
The chicken has a wing to shelter under; but I had no bosom to
nestle in, no kindred warmth to foster me. Left in dirt, to cry
with cold and hunger till I was weary, and sleep without ever being
prepared by exercise, or lulled by kindness to rest; could I be
expected to become any thing but a weak and rickety babe? Still,
in spite of neglect, I continued to exist, to learn to curse
existence, [her countenance grew ferocious as she spoke,] and the
treatment that rendered me miserable, seemed to sharpen my wits.
Confined then in a damp hovel, to rock the cradle of the succeeding
tribe, I looked like a little old woman, or a hag shrivelling into
nothing. The furrows of reflection and care contracted the youthful
cheek, and gave a sort of supernatural wildness to the ever watchful
eye. During this period, my father had married another
fellow-servant, who loved him less, and knew better how to manage
his passion, than my mother. She likewise proving with child, they
agreed to keep a shop: my step-mother, if, being an illegitimate
offspring, I may venture thus to characterize her, having obtained
a sum of a rich relation, for that purpose.
"Soon after her lying-in, she prevailed on my father to take
me home, to save the expense of maintaining me, and of hiring a
girl to assist her in the care of the child. I was young, it was
true, but appeared a knowing little thing, and might be made handy.
Accordingly I was brought to her house; but not to a home--for a
home I never knew. Of this child, a daughter, she was extravagantly
fond; and it was a part of my employment, to assist to spoil her,
by humouring all her whims, and bearing all her caprices. Feeling
her own consequence, before she could speak, she had learned the
art of tormenting me, and if I ever dared to resist, I received
blows, laid on with no compunctious hand, or was sent to bed
dinnerless, as well as supperless. I said that it was a part of
my daily labour to attend this child, with the servility of a slave;
still it was but a part. I was sent out in all seasons, and from
place to place, to carry burdens far above my strength, without
being allowed to draw near the fire, or ever being cheered by
encouragement or kindness. No wonder then, treated like a creature
of another species, that I began to envy, and at length to hate,
the darling of the house. Yet, I perfectly remember, that it was
the caresses, and kind expressions of my step-mother, which first
excited my jealous discontent. Once, I cannot forget it, when she
was calling in vain her wayward child to kiss her, I ran to her,
saying, 'I will kiss you, ma'am!' and how did my heart, which was
in my mouth, sink, what was my debasement of soul, when pushed away
with--'I do not want you, pert thing!' Another day, when a new gown
had excited the highest good humour, and she uttered the appropriate
dear, addressed unexpectedly to me, I thought I could never do
enough to please her; I was all alacrity, and rose proportionably
in my own estimation.
"As her daughter grew up, she was pampered with cakes and
fruit, while I was, literally speaking, fed with the refuse of the
table, with her leavings. A liquorish tooth is, I believe, common
to children, and I used to steal any thing sweet, that I could
catch up with a chance of concealment. When detected, she was not
content to chastize me herself at the moment, but, on my father's
return in the evening (he was a shopman), the principal discourse
was to recount my faults, and attribute them to the wicked disposition
which I had brought into the world with me, inherited from my
mother. He did not fail to leave the marks of his resentment on my
body, and then solaced himself by playing with my sister.--I could
have murdered her at those moments. To save myself from these
unmerciful corrections, I resorted to falshood, and the untruths
which I sturdily maintained, were brought in judgment against me,
to support my tyrant's inhuman charge of my natural propensity to
vice. Seeing me treated with contempt, and always being fed and
dressed better, my sister conceived a contemptuous opinion of me,
that proved an obstacle to all affection; and my father, hearing
continually of my faults, began to consider me as a curse entailed
on him for his sins: he was therefore easily prevailed on to bind
me apprentice to one of my step-mother's friends, who kept a
slop-shop in Wapping. I was represented (as it was said) in my
true colours; but she, 'warranted,' snapping her fingers,
'that she should break my spirit or heart.'
"My mother replied, with a whine, 'that if any body could make
me better, it was such a clever woman as herself; though, for her
own part, she had tried in vain; but good-nature was her fault.'
"I shudder with horror, when I recollect the treatment I had
now to endure. Not only under the lash of my task-mistress, but
the drudge of the maid, apprentices and children, I never had a
taste of human kindness to soften the rigour of perpetual labour.
I had been introduced as an object of abhorrence into the family;
as a creature of whom my step-mother, though she had been kind
enough to let me live in the house with her own child, could make
nothing. I was described as a wretch, whose nose must be kept to
the grinding stone--and it was held there with an iron grasp. It
seemed indeed the privilege of their superior nature to kick me
about, like the dog or cat. If I were attentive, I was called
fawning, if refractory, an obstinate mule, and like a mule I received
their censure on my loaded back. Often has my mistress, for some
instance of forgetfulness, thrown me from one side of the kitchen
to the other, knocked my head against the wall, spit in my face,
with various refinements on barbarity that I forbear to enumerate,
though they were all acted over again by the servant, with additional
insults, to which the appellation of bastard, was commonly added,
with taunts or sneers. But I will not attempt to give you
an adequate idea of my situation, lest you, who probably have
never been drenched with the dregs of human misery,
should think I exaggerate.
"I stole now, from absolute necessity,--bread; yet whatever
else was taken, which I had it not in my power to take, was ascribed
to me. I was the filching cat, the ravenous dog, the dumb brute,
who must bear all; for if I endeavoured to exculpate myself, I was
silenced, without any enquiries being made, with 'Hold your tongue,
you never tell truth.' Even the very air I breathed was tainted
with scorn; for I was sent to the neighbouring shops with Glutton,
Liar, or Thief, written on my forehead. This was, at first, the
most bitter punishment; but sullen pride, or a kind of stupid
desperation, made me, at length, almost regardless of the contempt,
which had wrung from me so many solitary tears at the only moments
when I was allowed to rest.
"Thus was I the mark of cruelty till my sixteenth year; and
then I have only to point out a change of misery; for a period I
never knew. Allow me first to make one observation. Now I look
back, I cannot help attributing the greater part of my misery, to
the misfortune of having been thrown into the world without the
grand support of life--a mother's affection. I had no one to love
me; or to make me respected, to enable me to acquire respect.
I was an egg dropped on the sand; a pauper by nature, hunted from
family to family, who belonged to nobody--and nobody cared for me.
I was despised from my birth, and denied the chance of obtaining
a footing for myself in society. Yes; I had not even the chance
of being considered as a fellow-creature--yet all the people with
whom I lived, brutalized as they were by the low cunning of trade,
and the despicable shifts of poverty, were not without bowels,
though they never yearned for me. I was, in fact, born a slave,
and chained by infamy to slavery during the whole of existence,
without having any companions to alleviate it by sympathy, or teach
me how to rise above it by their example. But, to resume the thread
of my tale--
"At sixteen, I suddenly grew tall, and something like comeliness
appeared on a Sunday, when I had time to wash my face, and put on
clean clothes. My master had once or twice caught hold of me in
the passage; but I instinctively avoided his disgusting caresses.
One day however, when the family were at a methodist meeting, he
contrived to be alone in the house with me, and by blows--yes;
blows and menaces, compelled me to submit to his ferocious desire;
and, to avoid my mistress's fury, I was obliged in future to comply,
and skulk to my loft at his command, in spite of increasing loathing.
"The anguish which was now pent up in my bosom, seemed to open
a new world to me: I began to extend my thoughts beyond myself,
and grieve for human misery, till I discovered, with horror--ah!
what horror!--that I was with child. I know not why I felt a mixed
sensation of despair and tenderness, excepting that, ever called
a bastard, a bastard appeared to me an object of the greatest
compassion in creation.
"I communicated this dreadful circumstance to my master, who
was almost equally alarmed at the intelligence; for he feared his
wife, and public censure at the meeting. After some weeks of
deliberation had elapsed, I in continual fear that my altered shape
would be noticed, my master gave me a medicine in a phial, which
he desired me to take, telling me, without any circumlocution, for
what purpose it was designed. I burst into tears, I thought it
was killing myself--yet was such a self as I worth preserving?
He cursed me for a fool, and left me to my own reflections.
I could not resolve to take this infernal potion; but I
wrapped it up in an old gown, and hid it in a corner of my box.
"Nobody yet suspected me, because they had been accustomed to
view me as a creature of another species. But the threatening
storm at last broke over my devoted head--never shall I forget it!
One Sunday evening when I was left, as usual, to take care of the
house, my master came home intoxicated, and I became the prey of
his brutal appetite. His extreme intoxication made him forget his
customary caution, and my mistress entered and found us in a
situation that could not have been more hateful to her than me.
Her husband was 'pot-valiant,' he feared her not at the moment,
nor had he then much reason, for she instantly turned the whole
force of her anger another way. She tore off my cap, scratched,
kicked, and buffetted me, till she had exhausted her strength,
declaring, as she rested her arm, 'that I had wheedled her husband
from her.--But, could any thing better be expected from a wretch,
whom she had taken into her house out of pure charity?' What a
torrent of abuse rushed out? till, almost breathless, she concluded
with saying, 'that I was born a strumpet; it ran in my blood,
and nothing good could come to those who harboured me.'
"My situation was, of course, discovered, and she declared
that I should not stay another night under the same roof with an
honest family. I was therefore pushed out of doors, and my trumpery
thrown after me, when it had been contemptuously examined in the
passage, lest I should have stolen any thing.
"Behold me then in the street, utterly destitute! Whither
could I creep for shelter? To my father's roof I had no claim, when
not pursued by shame--now I shrunk back as from death, from my
mother's cruel reproaches, my father's execrations. I could not
endure to hear him curse the day I was born, though life had been
a curse to me. Of death I thought, but with a confused emotion of
terror, as I stood leaning my head on a post, and starting at every
footstep, lest it should be my mistress coming to tear my heart
out. One of the boys of the shop passing by, heard my tale, and
immediately repaired to his master, to give him a description of
my situation; and he touched the right key--the scandal it would
give rise to, if I were left to repeat my tale to every enquirer.
This plea came home to his reason, who had been sobered by his
wife's rage, the fury of which fell on him when I was out of her
reach, and he sent the boy to me with half-a-guinea, desiring him
to conduct me to a house, where beggars, and other wretches,
the refuse of society, nightly lodged.
This night was spent in a state of stupefaction, or desperation.
I detested mankind, and abhorred myself.
"In the morning I ventured out, to throw myself in my master's
way, at his usual hour of going abroad. I approached him, he
'damned me for a b----, declared I had disturbed the peace of the
family, and that he had sworn to his wife, never to take any more
notice of me.' He left me; but, instantly returning, he told me
that he should speak to his friend, a parish-officer, to get a
nurse for the brat I laid to him; and advised me, if I wished to
keep out of the house of correction, not to make free with his
"I hurried back to my hole, and, rage giving place to despair,
sought for the potion that was to procure abortion, and swallowed
it, with a wish that it might destroy me, at the same time that it
stopped the sensations of new-born life, which I felt with
indescribable emotion. My head turned round, my heart grew sick,
and in the horrors of approaching dissolution, mental anguish was
swallowed up. The effect of the medicine was violent, and I was
confined to my bed several days; but, youth and a strong constitution
prevailing, I once more crawled out, to ask myself the cruel
question, 'Whither I should go?' I had but two shillings left in
my pocket, the rest had been expended, by a poor woman who slept
in the same room, to pay for my lodging, and purchase the necessaries
of which she partook.
"With this wretch I went into the neighbouring streets to beg,
and my disconsolate appearance drew a few pence from the idle,
enabling me still to command a bed; till, recovering from my illness,
and taught to put on my rags to the best advantage, I was accosted
from different motives, and yielded to the desire of the brutes I
met, with the same detestation that I had felt for my still more
brutal master. I have since read in novels of the blandishments
of seduction, but I had not even the pleasure of being enticed
"I shall not," interrupted Jemima, "lead your imagination into
all the scenes of wretchedness and depravity, which I was condemned
to view; or mark the different stages of my debasing misery. Fate
dragged me through the very kennels of society: I was still a slave,
a bastard, a common property. Become familiar with vice, for I wish
to conceal nothing from you, I picked the pockets of the drunkards
who abused me; and proved by my conduct, that I deserved the
epithets, with which they loaded me at moments when distrust
ought to cease.
"Detesting my nightly occupation, though valuing, if I may so
use the word, my independence, which only consisted in choosing
the street in which I should wander, or the roof, when I had money,
in which I should hide my head, I was some time before I could
prevail on myself to accept of a place in a house of ill fame, to
which a girl, with whom I had accidentally conversed in the street,
had recommended me. I had been hunted almost into a fever, by the
watchmen of the quarter of the town I frequented; one, whom I had
unwittingly offended, giving the word to the whole pack. You can
scarcely conceive the tyranny exercised by these wretches: considering
themselves as the instruments of the very laws they violate, the
pretext which steels their conscience, hardens their heart. Not
content with receiving from us, outlaws of society (let other women
talk of favours) a brutal gratification gratuitously as a privilege
of office, they extort a tithe of prostitution, and harrass with
threats the poor creatures whose occupation affords not the means
to silence the growl of avarice. To escape from this persecution,
I once more entered into servitude.
"A life of comparative regularity restored my health; and--
do not start--my manners were improved, in a situation where vice
sought to render itself alluring, and taste was cultivated to
fashion the person, if not to refine the mind. Besides, the common
civility of speech, contrasted with the gross vulgarity to which
I had been accustomed, was something like the polish of civilization.
I was not shut out from all intercourse of humanity. Still I was
galled by the yoke of service, and my mistress often flying into
violent fits of passion, made me dread a sudden dismission, which
I understood was always the case. I was therefore prevailed on,
though I felt a horror of men, to accept the offer of a gentleman,
rather in the decline of years, to keep his house, pleasantly
situated in a little village near Hampstead.
"He was a man of great talents, and of brilliant wit; but, a
worn-out votary of voluptuousness, his desires became fastidious
in proportion as they grew weak, and the native tenderness of his
heart was undermined by a vitiated imagination. A thoughtless
carreer of libertinism and social enjoyment, had injured his health
to such a degree, that, whatever pleasure his conversation afforded
me (and my esteem was ensured by proofs of the generous humanity
of his disposition), the being his mistress was purchasing it at
a very dear rate. With such a keen perception of the delicacies
of sentiment, with an imagination invigorated by the exercise of
genius, how could he sink into the grossness of sensuality!
"But, to pass over a subject which I recollect with pain,
I must remark to you, as an answer to your often-repeated question,
'Why my sentiments and language were superior to my station?' that
I now began to read, to beguile the tediousness of solitude, and
to gratify an inquisitive, active mind. I had often, in my childhood,
followed a ballad-singer, to hear the sequel of a dismal story,
though sure of being severely punished for delaying to return with
whatever I was sent to purchase. I could just spell and put a
sentence together, and I listened to the various arguments, though
often mingled with obscenity, which occurred at the table where I
was allowed to preside: for a literary friend or two frequently
came home with my master, to dine and pass the night. Having lost
the privileged respect of my sex, my presence, instead of restraining,
perhaps gave the reins to their tongues; still I had the advantage
of hearing discussions, from which, in the common course of life,
women are excluded.
"You may easily imagine, that it was only by degrees that I
could comprehend some of the subjects they investigated, or acquire
from their reasoning what might be termed a moral sense. But my
fondness of reading increasing, and my master occasionally shutting
himself up in this retreat, for weeks together, to write, I had
many opportunities of improvement. At first, considering money (I
was right!" exclaimed Jemima, altering her tone of voice) "as the
only means, after my loss of reputation, of obtaining respect, or
even the toleration of humanity, I had not the least scruple to
secrete a part of the sums intrusted to me, and to screen myself
from detection by a system of falshood. But, acquiring new
principles, I began to have the ambition of returning to the
respectable part of society, and was weak enough to suppose it
possible. The attention of my unassuming instructor, who, without
being ignorant of his own powers, possessed great simplicity of
manners, strengthened the illusion. Having sometimes caught up
hints for thought, from my untutored remarks, he often led me to
discuss the subjects he was treating, and would read to me his
productions, previous to their publication, wishing to profit by
the criticism of unsophisticated feeling. The aim of his writings
was to touch the simple springs of the heart; for he despised the
would-be oracles, the self-elected philosophers, who fright away
fancy, while sifting each grain of thought to prove that slowness
of comprehension is wisdom.
"I should have distinguished this as a moment of sunshine, a
happy period in my life, had not the repugnance the disgusting
libertinism of my protector inspired, daily become more painful.--And,
indeed, I soon did recollect it as such with agony, when his sudden
death (for he had recourse to the most exhilarating cordials to
keep up the convivial tone of his spirits) again threw me into the
desert of human society. Had he had any time for reflection, I am
certain he would have left the little property in his power to me:
but, attacked by the fatal apoplexy in town, his heir, a man of
rigid morals, brought his wife with him to take possession of the
house and effects, before I was even informed of his death,--
'to prevent,' as she took care indirectly to tell me, 'such a creature
as she supposed me to be, from purloining any of them, had I been
apprized of the event in time.'
"The grief I felt at the sudden shock the information gave
me, which at first had nothing selfish in it, was treated with
contempt, and I was ordered to pack up my clothes; and a few trinkets
and books, given me by the generous deceased, were contested, while
they piously hoped, with a reprobating shake of the head, 'that
God would have mercy on his sinful soul!' With some difficulty,
I obtained my arrears of wages; but asking--such is the spirit-grinding
consequence of poverty and infamy--for a character for honesty and
economy, which God knows I merited, I was told by this--why must
I call her woman?--'that it would go against her conscience to
recommend a kept mistress.' Tears started in my eyes, burning tears;
for there are situations in which a wretch is humbled by the contempt
they are conscious they do not deserve.
"I returned to the metropolis; but the solitude of a poor
lodging was inconceivably dreary, after the society I had enjoyed.
To be cut off from human converse, now I had been taught to relish
it, was to wander a ghost among the living. Besides, I foresaw, to
aggravate the severity of my fate, that my little pittance would
soon melt away. I endeavoured to obtain needlework; but, not having
been taught early, and my hands being rendered clumsy by hard work,
I did not sufficiently excel to be employed by the ready-made linen
shops, when so many women, better qualified, were suing for it.
The want of a character prevented my getting a place; for, irksome
as servitude would have been to me, I should have made another
trial, had it been feasible. Not that I disliked employment,
but the inequality of condition to which I must have submitted.
I had acquired a taste for literature, during the five years
I had lived with a literary man, occasionally conversing with
men of the first abilities of the age; and now to descend
to the lowest vulgarity, was a degree of wretchedness
not to be imagined unfelt. I had not, it is true, tasted
the charms of affection, but I had been familiar with
the graces of humanity.
"One of the gentlemen, whom I had frequently dined in company
with, while I was treated like a companion, met me in the street,
and enquired after my health. I seized the occasion, and began to
describe my situation; but he was in haste to join, at dinner, a
select party of choice spirits; therefore, without waiting to hear
me, he impatiently put a guinea into my hand, saying, 'It was a
pity such a sensible woman should be in distress--he wished me well
from his soul.'
"To another I wrote, stating my case, and requesting advice.
He was an advocate for unequivocal sincerity; and had often, in my
presence, descanted on the evils which arise in society from the
despotism of rank and riches.
"In reply, I received a long essay on the energy of the human
mind, with continual allusions to his own force of character. He
added, 'That the woman who could write such a letter as I had sent
him, could never be in want of resources, were she to look into
herself, and exert her powers; misery was the consequence of
indolence, and, as to my being shut out from society, it was the
lot of man to submit to certain privations.'
"How often have I heard," said Jemima, interrupting her
narrative, "in conversation, and read in books, that every person
willing to work may find employment? It is the vague assertion,
I believe, of insensible indolence, when it relates to men; but,
with respect to women, I am sure of its fallacy, unless they will
submit to the most menial bodily labour; and even to be employed
at hard labour is out of the reach of many, whose reputation
misfortune or folly has tainted.
"How writers, professing to be friends to freedom, and the
improvement of morals, can assert that poverty is no evil, I cannot
"No more can I," interrupted Maria, "yet they even expatiate
on the peculiar happiness of indigence, though in what it can
consist, excepting in brutal rest, when a man can barely earn a
subsistence, I cannot imagine. The mind is necessarily imprisoned
in its own little tenement; and, fully occupied by keeping it in
repair, has not time to rove abroad for improvement. The book of
knowledge is closely clasped, against those who must fulfil their
daily task of severe manual labour or die; and curiosity, rarely
excited by thought or information, seldom moves on the stagnate
lake of ignorance."
"As far as I have been able to observe," replied Jemima,
"prejudices, caught up by chance, are obstinately maintained
by the poor, to the exclusion of improvement; they have not time
to reason or reflect to any extent, or minds sufficiently exercised
to adopt the principles of action, which form perhaps the only
basis of contentment in every station."*
* The copy which appears to have received the author's
last corrections, ends at this place. [Godwin's note]
"And independence," said Darnford, "they are necessarily
strangers to, even the independence of despising their persecutors.
If the poor are happy, or can be happy, _things_ _are_ _very_ _well_
_as_ _they_ _are_. And I cannot conceive on what principle those
writers contend for a change of system, who support this opinion.
The authors on the other side of the question are much more
consistent, who grant the fact; yet, insisting that it is the lot
of the majority to be oppressed in this life, kindly turn them over
to another, to rectify the false weights and measures of this, as
the only way to justify the dispensations of Providence. I have
not," continued Darnford, "an opinion more firmly fixed by observation
in my mind, than that, though riches may fail to produce proportionate
happiness, poverty most commonly excludes it, by shutting up all
the avenues to improvement."
"And as for the affections," added Maria, with a sigh, "how
gross, and even tormenting do they become, unless regulated by an
improving mind! The culture of the heart ever, I believe, keeps
pace with that of the mind. But pray go on," addressing Jemima,
"though your narrative gives rise to the most painful reflections
on the present state of society."
"Not to trouble you," continued she, "with a detailed description
of all the painful feelings of unavailing exertion, I have only to
tell you, that at last I got recommended to wash in a few families,
who did me the favour to admit me into their houses, without the
most strict enquiry, to wash from one in the morning till eight at
night, for eighteen or twenty-pence a day. On the happiness to be
enjoyed over a washing-tub I need not comment; yet you will allow
me to observe, that this was a wretchedness of situation peculiar
to my sex. A man with half my industry, and, I may say, abilities,
could have procured a decent livelihood, and discharged some of
the duties which knit mankind together; whilst I, who had acquired
a taste for the rational, nay, in honest pride let me assert it,
the virtuous enjoyments of life, was cast aside as the filth of
society. Condemned to labour, like a machine, only to earn bread,
and scarcely that, I became melancholy and desperate.
"I have now to mention a circumstance which fills me with
remorse, and fear it will entirely deprive me of your esteem. A
tradesman became attached to me, and visited me frequently,--and
I at last obtained such a power over him, that he offered to take
me home to his house.--Consider, dear madam, I was famishing: wonder
not that I became a wolf!.--The only reason for not taking me home
immediately, was the having a girl in the house, with child by him--
and this girl--I advised him--yes, I did! would I could forget it!--
to turn out of doors: and one night he determined to follow
my advice. Poor wretch! She fell upon her knees, reminded him that
he had promised to marry her, that her parents were honest!--
What did it avail?--She was turned out.
"She approached her father's door, in the skirts of London,
--listened at the shutters,--but could not knock. A watchman had
observed her go and return several times--Poor wretch!--[The remorse
Jemima spoke of, seemed to be stinging her to the soul, as she
"She left it, and, approaching a tub where horses were watered,
she sat down in it, and, with desperate resolution, remained in
that attitude--till resolution was no longer necessary!
"I happened that morning to be going out to wash, anticipating
the moment when I should escape from such hard labour. I passed
by, just as some men, going to work, drew out the stiff, cold
corpse--Let me not recal the horrid moment!--I recognized her pale
visage; I listened to the tale told by the spectators, and my heart
did not burst. I thought of my own state, and wondered how I could
be such a monster!--I worked hard; and, returning home, I was
attacked by a fever. I suffered both in body and mind. I determined
not to live with the wretch. But he did not try me; he left the
neighbourhood. I once more returned to the wash-tub.
"Still this state, miserable as it was, admitted of aggravation.
Lifting one day a heavy load, a tub fell against my shin, and gave
me great pain. I did not pay much attention to the hurt, till it
became a serious wound; being obliged to work as usual, or starve.
But, finding myself at length unable to stand for any time,
I thought of getting into an hospital. Hospitals, it should seem
(for they are comfortless abodes for the sick) were expressly
endowed for the reception of the friendless; yet I, who had on that
plea a right to assistance, wanted the recommendation of the rich
and respectable, and was several weeks languishing for admittance;
fees were demanded on entering; and, what was still more unreasonable,
security for burying me, that expence not coming into the letter
of the charity. A guinea was the stipulated sum--I could as soon
have raised a million; and I was afraid to apply to the parish for
an order, lest they should have passed me, I knew not whither.
The poor woman at whose house I lodged, compassionating my state,
got me into the hospital; and the family where I received the hurt,
sent me five shillings, three and six-pence of which I gave at my
admittance--I know not for what.
"My leg grew quickly better; but I was dismissed before my
cure was completed, because I could not afford to have my linen
washed to appear decently, as the virago of a nurse said, when the
gentlemen (the surgeons) came. I cannot give you an adequate idea
of the wretchedness of an hospital; every thing is left to the care
of people intent on gain. The attendants seem to have lost all
feeling of compassion in the bustling discharge of their offices;
death is so familiar to them, that they are not anxious to ward it
off. Every thing appeared to be conducted for the accommodation
of the medical men and their pupils, who came to make experiments
on the poor, for the benefit of the rich. One of the physicians,
I must not forget to mention, gave me half-a-crown, and ordered me
some wine, when I was at the lowest ebb. I thought of making my
case known to the lady-like matron; but her forbidding countenance
prevented me. She condescended to look on the patients, and make
general enquiries, two or three times a week; but the nurses knew
the hour when the visit of ceremony would commence, and every thing
was as it should be.
"After my dismission, I was more at a loss than ever for a
subsistence, and, not to weary you with a repetition of the same
unavailing attempts, unable to stand at the washing-tub, I began
to consider the rich and poor as natural enemies, and became a
thief from principle. I could not now cease to reason, but I hated
mankind. I despised myself, yet I justified my conduct. I was
taken, tried, and condemned to six months' imprisonment in a house
of correction. My soul recoils with horror from the remembrance
of the insults I had to endure, till, branded with shame, I was
turned loose in the street, pennyless. I wandered from street to
street, till, exhausted by hunger and fatigue, I sunk down senseless
at a door, where I had vainly demanded a morsel of bread. I was
sent by the inhabitant to the work-house, to which he had surlily
bid me go, saying, he 'paid enough in conscience to the poor,'
when, with parched tongue, I implored his charity. If those
well-meaning people who exclaim against beggars, were acquainted
with the treatment the poor receive in many of these wretched
asylums, they would not stifle so easily involuntary sympathy, by
saying that they have all parishes to go to, or wonder that the
poor dread to enter the gloomy walls. What are the common run of
workhouses, but prisons, in which many respectable old people, worn
out by immoderate labour, sink into the grave in sorrow,
to which they are carried like dogs!"
Alarmed by some indistinct noise, Jemima rose hastily to
listen, and Maria, turning to Darnford, said, "I have indeed been
shocked beyond expression when I have met a pauper's funeral.
A coffin carried on the shoulders of three or four ill-looking
wretches, whom the imagination might easily convert into a band of
assassins, hastening to conceal the corpse, and quarrelling about
the prey on their way. I know it is of little consequence how we
are consigned to the earth; but I am led by this brutal insensibility,
to what even the animal creation appears forcibly to feel, to advert
to the wretched, deserted manner in which they died."
"True," rejoined Darnford, "and, till the rich will give more
than a part of their wealth, till they will give time and attention
to the wants of the distressed, never let them boast of charity.
Let them open their hearts, and not their purses, and employ their
minds in the service, if they are really actuated by humanity;
or charitable institutions will always be the prey of
the lowest order of knaves."
Jemima returning, seemed in haste to finish her tale. "The
overseer farmed the poor of different parishes, and out of the
bowels of poverty was wrung the money with which he purchased this
dwelling, as a private receptacle for madness. He had been a keeper
at a house of the same description, and conceived that he could
make money much more readily in his old occupation. He is a
shrewd--shall I say it?--villain. He observed something resolute
in my manner, and offered to take me with him, and instruct me how
to treat the disturbed minds he meant to intrust to my care. The
offer of forty pounds a year, and to quit a workhouse, was not to
be despised, though the condition of shutting my eyes and hardening
my heart was annexed to it.
"I agreed to accompany him; and four years have I been attendant
on many wretches, and"--she lowered her voice,--"the witness of
many enormities. In solitude my mind seemed to recover its force,
and many of the sentiments which I imbibed in the only tolerable
period of my life, returned with their full force. Still what
should induce me to be the champion for suffering humanity?--Who
ever risked any thing for me?--Who ever acknowledged me to be a
Maria took her hand, and Jemima, more overcome by kindness
than she had ever been by cruelty, hastened out of the room to
conceal her emotions.
Darnford soon after heard his summons, and, taking leave of
him, Maria promised to gratify his curiosity, with respect to
herself, the first opportunity.
ACTIVE as love was in the heart of Maria, the story she had just
heard made her thoughts take a wider range. The opening buds of
hope closed, as if they had put forth too early, and the the happiest
day of her life was overcast by the most melancholy reflections.
Thinking of Jemima's peculiar fate and her own, she was led to
consider the oppressed state of women, and to lament that she had
given birth to a daughter. Sleep fled from her eyelids, while she
dwelt on the wretchedness of unprotected infancy, till sympathy
with Jemima changed to agony, when it seemed probable that her own
babe might even now be in the very state she so forcibly described.
Maria thought, and thought again. Jemima's humanity had rather
been benumbed than killed, by the keen frost she had to brave at
her entrance into life; an appeal then to her feelings, on this
tender point, surely would not be fruitless; and Maria began to
anticipate the delight it would afford her to gain intelligence of
her child. This project was now the only subject of reflection;
and she watched impatiently for the dawn of day, with that determinate
purpose which generally insures success.
At the usual hour, Jemima brought her breakfast, and a tender
note from Darnford. She ran her eye hastily over it, and her heart
calmly hoarded up the rapture a fresh assurance of affection,
affection such as she wished to inspire, gave her, without diverting
her mind a moment from its design. While Jemima waited to take
away the breakfast, Maria alluded to the reflections, that had
haunted her during the night to the exclusion of sleep. She spoke
with energy of Jemima's unmerited sufferings, and of the fate of
a number of deserted females, placed within the sweep of a whirlwind,
from which it was next to impossible to escape. Perceiving the
effect her conversation produced on the countenance of her guard,
she grasped the arm of Jemima with that irresistible warmth which
defies repulse, exclaiming--"With your heart, and such dreadful
experience, can you lend your aid to deprive my babe of a mother's
tenderness, a mother's care? In the name of God, assist me to snatch
her from destruction! Let me but give her an education--let me but
prepare her body and mind to encounter the ills which await her
sex, and I will teach her to consider you as her second mother,
and herself as the prop of your age. Yes, Jemima, look at me--
observe me closely, and read my very soul; you merit a better fate;"
she held out her hand with a firm gesture of assurance;
"and I will procure it for you, as a testimony of my esteem,
as well as of my gratitude."
Jemima had not power to resist this persuasive torrent; and,
owning that the house in which she was confined, was situated on
the banks of the Thames, only a few miles from London, and not on
the sea-coast, as Darnford had supposed, she promised to invent
some excuse for her absence, and go herself to trace the situation,
and enquire concerning the health, of this abandoned daughter.
Her manner implied an intention to do something more, but she seemed
unwilling to impart her design; and Maria, glad to have obtained
the main point, thought it best to leave her to the workings of
her own mind; convinced that she had the power of interesting her
still more in favour of herself and child,
by a simple recital of facts.
In the evening, Jemima informed the impatient mother, that on
the morrow she should hasten to town before the family hour of
rising, and received all the information necessary, as a clue to
her search. The "Good night!" Maria uttered was peculiarly solemn
and affectionate. Glad expectation sparkled in her eye; and, for
the first time since her detention, she pronounced the name of her
child with pleasureable fondness; and, with all the garrulity of
a nurse, described her first smile when she recognized her mother.
Recollecting herself, a still kinder "Adieu!" with a "God bless
you!"--that seemed to include a maternal benediction,
The dreary solitude of the ensuing day, lengthened by impatiently
dwelling on the same idea, was intolerably wearisome. She listened
for the sound of a particular clock, which some directions of the
wind allowed her to hear distinctly. She marked the shadow gaining
on the wall; and, twilight thickening into darkness, her breath
seemed oppressed while she anxiously counted nine.--The last sound
was a stroke of despair on her heart; for she expected every moment,
without seeing Jemima, to have her light extinguished by the savage
female who supplied her place. She was even obliged to prepare
for bed, restless as she was, not to disoblige her new attendant.
She had been cautioned not to speak too freely to her; but the
caution was needless, her countenance would still more emphatically
have made her shrink back. Such was the ferocity of manner,
conspicuous in every word and gesture of this hag, that Maria was
afraid to enquire, why Jemima, who had faithfully promised to see
her before her door was shut for the night, came not?--
and, when the key turned in the lock, to consign her to
a night of suspence, she felt a degree of anguish which
the circumstances scarcely justified.
Continually on the watch, the shutting of a door, or the sound
of a foot-step, made her start and tremble with apprehension,
something like what she felt, when, at her entrance, dragged along
the gallery, she began to doubt whether she were not surrounded
Fatigued by an endless rotation of thought and wild alarms,
she looked like a spectre, when Jemima entered in the morning;
especially as her eyes darted out of her head, to read in Jemima's
countenance, almost as pallid, the intelligence she dared not trust
her tongue to demand. Jemima put down the tea-things, and appeared
very busy in arranging the table. Maria took up a cup with trembling
hand, then forcibly recovering her fortitude, and restraining the
convulsive movement which agitated the muscles of her mouth, she
said, "Spare yourself the pain of preparing me for your information,
I adjure you!--My child is dead!" Jemima solemnly answered, "Yes;"
with a look expressive of compassion and angry emotions.
"Leave me," added Maria, making a fresh effort to govern her
feelings, and hiding her face in her handkerchief, to conceal her
anguish--"It is enough--I know that my babe is no more--I will
hear the particulars when I am"--calmer, she could not utter; and
Jemima, without importuning her by idle attempts to console her,
left the room.
Plunged in the deepest melancholy, she would not admit Darnford's
visits; and such is the force of early associations even on strong
minds, that, for a while, she indulged the superstitious notion
that she was justly punished by the death of her child, for having
for an instant ceased to regret her loss. Two or three letters from
Darnford, full of soothing, manly tenderness, only added poignancy
to these accusing emotions; yet the passionate style in which he
expressed, what he termed the first and fondest wish of his heart,
"that his affection might make her some amends for the cruelty and
injustice she had endured," inspired a sentiment of gratitude to
heaven; and her eyes filled with delicious tears, when, at the
conclusion of his letter, wishing to supply the place of her unworthy
relations, whose want of principle he execrated, he assured her,
calling her his dearest girl, "that it should henceforth be the
business of his life to make her happy."
He begged, in a note sent the following morning, to be permitted
to see her, when his presence would be no intrusion on her grief,
and so earnestly intreated to be allowed, according to promise, to
beguile the tedious moments of absence, by dwelling on the events
of her past life, that she sent him the memoirs which had been
written for her daughter, promising Jemima the perusal as soon as
he returned them.
"ADDRESSING these memoirs to you, my child, uncertain whether I