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Paul and Virginia by Bernardin de Saint Pierre

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her sex, one who sacrificed her own interests to yours: who preferred
you to all that fortune could bestow, and considered you as the only
recompense worthy of her virtues.

"But might not this very object, from whom you expected the purest
happiness, have proved to you a source of the most cruel distress? She
had returned poor and disinherited; all you could henceforth have
partaken with her was your labour. Rendered more delicate by her
education, and more courageous by her misfortunes, you might have
beheld her every day sinking beneath her efforts to share and lighten
your fatigues. Had she brought you children, they would only have
served to increase her anxieties and your own, from the difficulty of
sustaining at once your aged parents and your infant family.

"Very likely you will tell me that the governor would have helped you;
but how do you know that in a colony where governors are so frequently
changed, you would have had others like Monsieur de la Bourdonnais?--
that one might not have been sent destitute of good feeling and of
morality?--that your young wife, in order, to procure some miserable
pittance, might not have been obliged to seek his favour? Had she been
weak you would have been to be pitied; and if she had remained
virtuous, you would have continued poor: forced even to consider
yourself fortunate if, on account of the beauty and virtue of your
wife, you had not to endure persecution from those who had promised
you protection.

"It would have remained to you, you may say, to have enjoyed a
pleasure independent of fortune,--that of protecting a loved being,
who, in proportion to her own helplessness, had more attached herself
to you. You may fancy that your pains and sufferings would have served
to endear you to each other, and that your passion would have gathered
strength from your mutual misfortunes. Undoubtedly virtuous love does
find consolation even in such melancholy retrospects. But Virginia is
no more; yet those persons still live, whom, next to yourself, she
held most dear; her mother, and your own: your inconsolable affliction
is bringing them both to the grave. Place your happiness, as she did
hers, in affording them succour. My son, beneficence is the happiness
of the virtuous: there is no greater or more certain enjoyment on the
earth. Schemes of pleasure, repose, luxuries, wealth, and glory are
not suited to man, weak, wandering, and transitory as he is. See how
rapidly one step towards the acquisition of fortune has precipitated
us all to the lowest abyss of misery! You were opposed to it, it is
true; but who would not have thought that Virginia's voyage would
terminate in her happiness and your own? an invitation from a rich and
aged relation, the advice of a wise governor, the approbation of the
whole colony, and the well-advised authority of her confessor, decided
the lot of Virginia. Thus do we run to our ruin, deceived even by the
prudence of those who watch over us: it would be better, no doubt, not
to believe them, nor even to listen to the voice or lean on the hopes
of a deceitful world. But all men,--those you see occupied in these
plains, those who go abroad to seek their fortunes, and those in
Europe who enjoy repose from the labours of others, are liable to
reverses! not one is secure from losing, at some period, all that he
most values,--greatness, wealth, wife, children, and friends. Most of
these would have their sorrow increased by the remembrance of their
own imprudence. But you have nothing with which you can reproach
yourself. You have been faithful in your love. In the bloom of youth,
by not departing from the dictates of nature, you evinced the wisdom
of a sage. Your views were just, because they were pure, simple, and
disinterested. You had, besides, on Virginia, sacred claims which
nothing could countervail. You have lost her: but it is neither your
own imprudence, nor your avarice, nor your false wisdom which has
occasioned this misfortune, but the will of God, who had employed the
passions of others to snatch from you the object of your love; God,
from whom you derive everything, who knows what is most fitting for
you, and whose wisdom has not left you any cause for the repentance
and despair which succeed the calamities that are brought upon us by
ourselves.

"Vainly, in your misfortunes, do you say to yourself, 'I have not
deserved them.' Is it then the calamity of Virginia--her death and her
present condition that you deplore? She has undergone the fate
allotted to all,--to high birth, to beauty, and even to empires
themselves. The life of man, with all his projects, may be compared to
a tower, at whose summit is death. When your Virginia was born, she
was condemned to die; happily for herself, she is released from life
before losing her mother, or yours, or you; saved, thus from
undergoing pangs worse than those of death itself.

"Learn then, my son, that death is a benefit to all men: it is the
night of that restless day we call by the name of life. The diseases,
the griefs, the vexations, and the fears, which perpetually embitter
our life as long as we possess it, molest us no more in the sleep of
death. If you inquire into the history of those men who appear to have
been the happiest, you will find that they have bought their apparent
felicity very dear; public consideration, perhaps, by domestic evils;
fortune, by the loss of health; the rare happiness of being loved, by
continual sacrifices; and often, at the expiration of a life devoted
to the good of others, they see themselves surrounded only by false
friends, and ungrateful relations. But Virginia was happy to her very
last moment. When with us, she was happy in partaking of the gifts of
nature; when far from us, she found enjoyment in the practice of
virtue; and even at the terrible moment in which we saw her perish,
she still had cause for self-gratulation. For, whether she cast her
eyes on the assembled colony, made miserable by her expected loss, or
on you, my son, who, with so much intrepidity, were endeavouring to
save her, she must have seen how dear she was to all. Her mind was
fortified against the future by the remembrance of her innocent life;
and at that moment she received the reward which Heaven reserves for
virtue,--a courage superior to danger. She met death with a serene
countenance.

"My son! God gives all the trials of life to virtue, in order to show
that virtue alone can support them, and even find in them happiness
and glory. When he designs for it an illustrious reputation, he
exhibits it on a wide theatre, and contending with death. Then does
the courage of virtue shine forth as an example, and the misfortunes
to which it has been exposed receive for ever, from posterity, the
tribute of their tears. This is the immortal monument reserved for
virtue in a world where every thing else passes away, and where the
names, even of the greater number of kings themselves, are soon buried
in eternal oblivion.

"Meanwhile Virginia still exists. My son, you see that every thing
changes on this earth, but that nothing is ever lost. No art of man
can annihilate the smallest particle of matter; can, then, that which
has possessed reason, sensibility, affection, virtue, and religion be
supposed capable of destruction, when the very elements with which it
is clothed are imperishable? Ah! however happy Virginia may have been
with us, she is now much more so. There is a God, my son; it is
unnecessary for me to prove it to you, for the voice of all nature
loudly proclaims it. The wickedness of mankind leads them to deny the
existence of a Being, whose justice they fear. But your mind is fully
convinced of his existence, while his works are ever before your eyes.
Do you then believe that he would leave Virginia without recompense?
Do you think that the same Power which inclosed her noble soul in a
form so beautiful,--so like an emanation from itself, could not have
saved her from the waves?--that he who has ordained the happiness of
man here, by laws unknown to you, cannot prepare a still higher degree
of felicity for Virginia by other laws, of which you are equally
ignorant? Before we were born into this world, could we, do you
imagine, even if we were capable of thinking at all, have formed any
idea of our existence here? And now that we are in the middle of this
gloomy and transitory life, can we foresee what is beyond the tomb, or
in what manner we shall be emancipated from it? Does God, like man,
need this little globe, the earth, as a theatre for the display of his
intelligence and his goodness?--and can he only dispose of human life
in the territory of death? There is not, in the entire ocean, a single
drop of water which is not peopled with living beings appertaining to
man: and does there exist nothing for him in the heavens above his
head? What! is there no supreme intelligence, no divine goodness,
except on this little spot where we are placed? In those innumerable
glowing fires,--in those infinite fields of light which surround them,
and which neither storms nor darkness can extinguish, is there nothing
but empty space and an eternal void? If we, weak and ignorant as we
are, might dare to assign limits to that Power from whom we have
received every thing, we might possibly imagine that we were placed on
the very confines of his empire, where life is perpetually struggling
with death, and innocence for ever in danger from the power of
tyranny!

"Somewhere, then, without doubt, there is another world, where virtue
will receive its reward. Virginia is now happy. Ah! if from the abode
of angels she could hold communication with you, she would tell you,
as she did when she bade you her last adieus,--'O, Paul! life is but a
scene of trial. I have been obedient to the laws of nature, love, and
virtue. I crossed the seas to obey the will of my relations; I
sacrificed wealth in order to keep my faith; and I preferred the loss
of life to disobeying the dictates of modesty. Heaven found that I had
fulfilled my duties, and has snatched me for ever from all the
miseries I might have endured myself, and all I might have felt for
the miseries of others. I am placed far above the reach of all human
evils, and you pity me! I am become pure and unchangeable as a
particle of light, and you would recall me to the darkness of human
life! O, Paul! O, my beloved friend! recollect those days of
happiness, when in the morning we felt the delightful sensations
excited by the unfolding beauties of nature; when we seemed to rise
with the sun to the peaks of those rocks, and then to spread with his
rays over the bosom of the forests. We experienced a delight, the
cause of which we could not comprehend. In the innocence of our
desires, we wished to be all sight, to enjoy the rich colours of the
early dawn; all smell, to taste a thousand perfumes at once; all
hearing, to listen to the singing of our birds; and all heart, to be
capable of gratitude for those mingled blessings. Now, at the source
of the beauty whence flows all that is delightful upon earth, my soul
intuitively sees, hears, touches, what before she could only be made
sensible of through the medium of our weak organs. Ah! what language
can describe these shores of eternal bliss, which I inhabit for ever!
All that infinite power and heavenly goodness could create to console
the unhappy: all that the friendship of numberless beings, exulting in
the same felicity can impart, we enjoy in unmixed perfection. Support,
then, the trial which is now allotted to you, that you may heighten
the happiness of your Virginia by love which will know no termination,
--by a union which will be eternal. There I will calm your regrets, I
will wipe away your tears. Oh, my beloved friend! my youthful husband!
raise your thoughts towards the infinite, to enable you to support the
evils of a moment.' "

My own emotion choked my utterance. Paul, looking at me steadfastly,
cried,--"She is no more! she is no more!" and a long fainting fit
succeeded these words of woe. When restored to himself, he said,
"Since death is good, and since Virginia is happy, I will die too, and
be united to Virginia." Thus the motives of consolation I had offered,
only served to nourish his despair. I was in the situation of a man
who attempts to save a friend sinking in the midst of a flood, and who
obstinately refuses to swim. Sorrow had completely overwhelmed his
soul. Alas! the trials of early years prepare man for the afflictions
of after-life; but Paul had never experienced any.

I took him back to his own dwelling, where I found his mother and
Madame de la Tour in a state of increased languor and exhaustion, but
Margaret seemed to droop the most. Lively characters, upon whom petty
troubles have but little effect, sink the soonest under great
calamities.

"O my good friend," said Margaret, "I thought last night I saw
Virginia, dressed in white, in the midst of groves and delicious
gardens. She said to me, 'I enjoy the most perfect happiness:' and
then approaching Paul with a smiling air, she bore him away with her.
While I was struggling to retain my son, I felt that I myself too was
quitting the earth, and that I followed with inexpressible delight. I
then wished to bid my friend farewell, when I saw that she was
hastening after me, accompanied by Mary and Domingo. But the strangest
circumstance remains yet to be told; Madame de la Tour has this very
night had a dream exactly like mine in every possible respect."

"My dear friend," I replied, "nothing, I firmly believe, happens in
this world without the permission of God. Future events, too, are
sometimes revealed in dreams."

Madame de la Tour then related to me her dream which was exactly the
same as Margaret's in every particular; and as I had never observed in
either of these ladies any propensity to superstition, I was struck
with the singular coincidence of their dreams, and I felt convinced
that they would soon be realized. The belief that future events are
sometimes revealed to us during sleep, is one that is widely diffused
among the nations of the earth. The greatest men of antiquity have had
faith in it; among whom may be mentioned Alexander the Great, Julius
Caesar, the Scipios, the two Catos, and Brutus, none of whom were
weak-minded persons. Both the Old and the New Testament furnish us
with numerous instances of dreams that came to pass. As for myself, I
need only, on this subject, appeal to my experience, as I have more
than once had good reason to believe that superior intelligences, who
interest themselves in our welfare, communicate with us in these
visions of the night. Things which surpass the light of human reason
cannot be proved by arguments derived from that reason; but still, if
the mind of man is an image of that of God, since man can make known
his will to the ends of the earth by secret missives, may not the
Supreme Intelligence which governs the universe employ similar means
to attain a like end? One friend consoles another by a letter, which,
after passing through many kingdoms, and being in the hands of various
individuals at enmity with each other, brings at last joy and hope to
the breast of a single human being. May not in like manner the
Sovereign Protector of innocence come in some secret way, to the help
of a virtuous soul, which puts its trust in Him alone? Has He occasion
to employ visible means to effect His purpose in this, whose ways are
hidden in all His ordinary works?

Why should we doubt the evidence of dreams? for what is our life,
occupied as it is with vain and fleeting imaginations, other than a
prolonged vision of the night?

Whatever may be thought of this in general, on the present occasion
the dreams of my friends were soon realized. Paul expired two months
after the death of his Virginia, whose name dwelt on his lips in his
expiring moments. About a week after the death of her son, Margaret
saw her last hour approach with that serenity which virtue only can
feel. She bade Madame de la Tour a most tender farewell, "in the
certain hope," she said, "of a delightful and eternal re-union. Death
is the greatest of blessings to us," added she, "and we ought to
desire it. If life be a punishment, we should wish for its
termination; if it be a trial, we should be thankful that it is
short."

The governor took care of Domingo and Mary, who were no longer able to
labour, and who survived their mistresses but a short time. As for
poor Fidele, he pined to death, soon after he had lost his master.

I afforded an asylum in my dwelling to Madame de la Tour, who bore up
under her calamities with incredible elevation of mind. She had
endeavoured to console Paul and Margaret till their last moments, as
if she herself had no misfortunes of her own to bear. When they were
not more, she used to talk to me every day of them as of beloved
friends, who were still living near her. She survived them however,
but one month. Far from reproaching her aunt for the afflictions she
had caused, her benign spirit prayed to God to pardon her, and to
appease that remorse which we heard began to torment her, as soon as
she had sent Virginia away with so much inhumanity.

Conscience, that certain punishment of the guilty, visited with all
its terrors the mind of this unnatural relation. So great was her
torment, that life and death became equally insupportable to her.
Sometimes she reproached herself with the untimely fate of her lovely
niece, and with the death of her mother, which had immediately
followed it. At other times she congratulated herself for having
repulsed far from her two wretched creatures, who, she said, had both
dishonoured their family by their grovelling inclinations. Sometimes,
at the sight of the many miserable objects with which Paris abounds,
she would fly into a rage, and exclaim,--"Why are not these idle
people sent off to the colonies?" As for the notions of humanity,
virtue and religion, adopted by all nations, she said, they were only
the inventions of their rulers, to serve political purposes. Then,
flying all at once to the other extreme, she abandoned herself to
superstitious terrors, which filled her with mortal fears. She would
then give abundant alms to the wealthy ecclesiastics who governed her,
beseeching them to appease the wrath of God by the sacrifice of her
fortune,--as if the offering to Him of the wealth she had withheld
from the miserable could please her Heavenly Father! In her
imagination she often beheld fields of fire, with burning mountains,
wherein hideous spectres wandered about, loudly calling on her by
name. She threw herself at her confessor's feet, imagining every
description of agony and torture; for Heaven--just Heaven, always
sends to the cruel the most frightful views of religion and a future
state.

Atheist, thus, and fanatic in turn, holding both life and death in
equal horror, she lived on for several years. But what completed the
torments of her miserable existence, was that very object to which she
had sacrificed every natural affection. She was deeply annoyed at
perceiving that her fortune must go, at her death, to relations whom
she hated, and she determined to alienate as much of it as she could.
They, however, taking advantage of her frequent attacks of low
spirits, caused her to be secluded as a lunatic, and her affairs to be
put into the hands of trustees. Her wealth, thus completed her ruin;
and, as the possession of it had hardened her own heart, so did its
anticipation corrupt the hearts of those who coveted it from her. At
length she died; and, to crown her misery, she retained enough reason
at last to be sensible that she was plundered and despised by the very
persons whose opinions had been her rule of conduct during her whole
life.

On the same spot, and at the foot of the same shrubs as his Virginia,
was deposited the body of Paul; and round about them lie the remains
of their tender mothers and their faithful servants. No marble marks
the spot of their humble graves, no inscription records their virtues;
but their memory is engraven upon the hearts of those whom they have
befriended, in indelible characters. Their spirits have no need of the
pomp, which they shunned during their life; but if they still take an
interest in what passes upon earth, they no doubt love to wander
beneath the roofs of these humble dwellings, inhabited by industrious
virtue, to console poverty discontented with its lot, to cherish in
the hearts of lovers the sacred flame of fidelity, and to inspire a
taste for the blessings of nature, a love of honest labour, and a
dread of the allurements of riches.

The voice of the people, which is often silent with regard to the
monuments raised to kings, has given to some parts of this island
names which will immortalize the loss of Virginia. Near the isle of
Amber, in the midst of sandbanks, is a spot called The Pass of the
Saint-Geran, from the name of the vessel which was there lost. The
extremity of that point of land which you see yonder, three leagues
off, half covered with water, and which the Saint-Geran could not
double the night before the hurricane, is called the Cape of
Misfortune; and before us, at the end of the valley, is the Bay of the
Tomb, where Virginia was found buried in the sand; as if the waves had
sought to restore her corpse to her family, that they might render it
the last sad duties on those shores where so many years of her
innocent life had been passed.

Joined thus in death, ye faithful lovers, who were so tenderly united!
unfortunate mothers! beloved family! these woods which sheltered you
with their foliage,--these fountains which flowed for you,--these
hill-sides upon which you reposed, still deplore your loss! No one has
since presumed to cultivate that desolate spot of land, or to rebuild
those humble cottages. Your goats are become wild: your orchards are
destroyed; your birds are all fled, and nothing is heard but the cry
of the sparrow-hawk, as it skims in quest of prey around this rocky
basin. As for myself, since I have ceased to behold you, I have felt
friendless and alone, like a father bereft of his children, or a
traveller who wanders by himself over the face of the earth.

Ending with these words, the good old man retired, bathed in tears;
and my own, too, had flowed more than once during this melancholy
recital.

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