This etext was prepared by Christopher Hapka, Sunnyvale, California.
LIBER AMORIS, OR, THE NEW PYGMALION
by WILLIAM HAZLITT
The circumstances, an outline of which is given in these pages, happened a very short time ago to a native of North Britain, who left his own country early in life, in consequence of political animosities and an ill-advised connection in marriage. It was some years after that he formed the fatal attachment which is the subject of the following narrative. The whole was transcribed very carefully with his own hand, a little before be set out for the Continent in hopes of benefiting by a change of scene, but he died soon after in the Netherlands–it is supposed, of disappointment preying on a sickly frame and morbid state of mind. It was his wish that what bad been his strongest feeling while living, should be preserved in this shape when he was no more.–It has been suggested to the friend, into whose hands the manuscript was entrusted, that many things (particularly in the Conversations in the First Part) either childish or redundant, might have been omitted; but a promise was given that not a word should be altered, and the pledge was held sacred. The names and circumstances are so far disguised, it is presumed, as to prevent any consequences resulting from the publication, farther than the amusement or sympathy of the reader.
H. Oh! is it you? I had something to shew you–I have got a picture here. Do you know any one it’s like?
S. No, Sir.
H. Don’t you think it like yourself?
S. No: it’s much handsomer than I can pretend to be.
H. That’s because you don’t see yourself with the same eyes that others do. I don’t think it handsomer, and the expression is hardly so fine as yours sometimes is.
S. Now you flatter me. Besides, the complexion is fair, and mine is dark.
H. Thine is pale and beautiful, my love, not dark! But if your colour were a little heightened, and you wore the same dress, and your hair were let down over your shoulders, as it is here, it might be taken for a picture of you. Look here, only see how like it is. The forehead is like, with that little obstinate protrusion in the middle; the eyebrows are like, and the eyes are just like yours, when you look up and say–“No–never!”
S. What then, do I always say–“No–never!” when I look up?
H. I don’t know about that–I never heard you say so but once; but that was once too often for my peace. It was when you told me, “you could never be mine.” Ah! if you are never to be mine, I shall not long be myself. I cannot go on as I am. My faculties leave me: I think of nothing, I have no feeling about any thing but thee: thy sweet image has taken possession of me, haunts me, and will drive me to distraction. Yet I could almost wish to go mad for thy sake: for then I might fancy that I had thy love in return, which I cannot live without!
S. Do not, I beg, talk in that manner, but tell me what this is a picture of.
H. I hardly know; but it is a very small and delicate copy (painted in oil on a gold ground) of some fine old Italian picture, Guido’s or Raphael’s, but I think Raphael’s. Some say it is a Madonna; others call it a Magdalen, and say you may distinguish the tear upon the cheek, though no tear is there. But it seems to me more like Raphael’s St. Cecilia, “with looks commercing with the skies,” than anything else.–See, Sarah, how beautiful it is! Ah! dear girl, these are the ideas I have cherished in my heart, and in my brain; and I never found any thing to realise them on earth till I met with thee, my love! While thou didst seem sensible of my kindness, I was but too happy: but now thou hast cruelly cast me off.
S. You have no reason to say so: you are the same to me as ever.
H. That is, nothing. You are to me everything, and I am nothing to you. Is it not too true?
H. Then kiss me, my sweetest. Oh! could you see your face now–your mouth full of suppressed sensibility, your downcast eyes, the soft blush upon that cheek, you would not say the picture is not like because it is too handsome, or because you want complexion. Thou art heavenly-fair, my love–like her from whom the picture was taken–the idol of the painter’s heart, as thou art of mine! Shall I make a drawing of it, altering the dress a little, to shew you how like it is?
S. As you please.–
H. But I am afraid I tire you with this prosing description of the French character and abuse of the English? You know there is but one subject on which I should ever wish to talk, if you would let me.
S. I must say, you don’t seem to have a very high opinion of this country.
H. Yes, it is the place that gave you birth.
S. Do you like the French women better than the English?
H. No: though they have finer eyes, talk better, and are better made. But they none of them look like you. I like the Italian women I have seen, much better than the French: they have darker eyes, darker hair, and the accents of their native tongue are much richer and more melodious. But I will give you a better account of them when I come back from Italy, if you would like to hear it.
S. I should much. It is for that I have sometimes had a wish for travelling abroad, to understand something of the manners and characters of different people.
H. My sweet girl! I will give you the best account I can–unless you would rather go and judge for yourself.
S. I cannot.
H. Yes, you shall go with me, and you shall go WITH HONOUR–you know what I mean
S. You know it is not in your power to take me so.
H. But it soon may: and if you would consent to bear me company, I would swear never to think of an Italian woman while I am abroad, nor of an English one after I return home. Thou art to me more than thy whole sex.
S. I require no such sacrifices.
H. Is that what you thought I meant by SACRIFICES last night? But sacrifices are no sacrifices when they are repaid a thousand fold.
S. I have no way of doing it.
H. You have not the will.–
S. I must go now.
H. Stay, and hear me a little. I shall soon be where I can no more hear thy voice, far distant from her I love, to see what change of climate and bright skies will do for a sad heart. I shall perhaps see thee no more, but I shall still think of thee the same as ever–I shall say to myself, “Where is she now?–what is she doing?” But I shall hardly wish you to think of me, unless you could do so more favourably than I am afraid you will. Ah! dearest creature, I shall be “far distant from you,” as you once said of another, but you will not think of me as of him, “with the sincerest affection.” The smallest share of thy tenderness would make me blest; but couldst thou ever love me as thou didst him, I should feel like a God! My face would change to a different expression: my whole form would undergo alteration. I was getting well, I was growing young in the sweet proofs of your friendship: you see how I droop and wither under your displeasure! Thou art divine, my love, and canst make me either more or less than mortal. Indeed I am thy creature, thy slave–I only wish to live for your sake–I would gladly die for you–
S. That would give me no pleasure. But indeed you greatly overrate my power.
H. Your power over me is that of sovereign grace and beauty. When I am near thee, nothing can harm me. Thou art an angel of light, shadowing me with thy softness. But when I let go thy hand, I stagger on a precipice: out of thy sight the world is dark to me and comfortless. There is no breathing out of this house: the air of Italy will stifle me. Go with me and lighten it. I can know no pleasure away from thee–
“But I will come again, my love, An’ it were ten thousand mile!”
S. Mrs. E—- has called for the book, Sir.
H. Oh! it is there. Let her wait a minute or two. I see this is a busy-day with you. How beautiful your arms look in those short sleeves!
S. I do not like to wear them.
H. Then that is because you are merciful, and would spare frail mortals who might die with gazing.
S. I have no power to kill.
H. You have, you have–Your charms are irresistible as your will is inexorable. I wish I could see you always thus. But I would have no one else see you so. I am jealous of all eyes but my own. I should almost like you to wear a veil, and to be muffled up from head to foot; but even if you were, and not a glimpse of you could be seen, it would be to no purpose–you would only have to move, and you would be admired as the most graceful creature in the world. You smile–Well, if you were to be won by fine speeches–
S. You could supply them!
H. It is however no laughing matter with me; thy beauty kills me daily, and I shall think of nothing but thy charms, till the last word trembles on my tongue, and that will be thy name, my love–the name of my Infelice! You will live by that name, you rogue, fifty years after you are dead. Don’t you thank me for that?
S. I have no such ambition, Sir. But Mrs. E—- is waiting.
H. She is not in love, like me. You look so handsome to-day, I cannot let you go. You have got a colour.
S. But you say I look best when I am pale.
H. When you are pale, I think so; but when you have a colour, I then think you still more beautiful. It is you that I admire; and whatever you are, I like best. I like you as Miss L—-, I should like you still more as Mrs. —-. I once thought you were half inclined to be a prude, and I admired you as a “pensive nun, devout and pure.” I now think you are more than half a coquet, and I like you for your roguery. The truth is, I am in love with you, my angel; and whatever you are, is to me the perfection of thy sex. I care not what thou art, while thou art still thyself. Smile but so, and turn my heart to what shape you please!
S. I am afraid, Sir, Mrs. E—- will think you have forgotten her.
H. I had, my charmer. But go, and make her a sweet apology, all graceful as thou art. One kiss! Ah! ought I not to think myself the happiest of men?
H. Where have you been, my love?
S. I have been down to see my aunt, Sir.
H. And I hope she has been giving you good advice.
S. I did not go to ask her opinion about any thing.
H. And yet you seem anxious and agitated. You appear pale and dejected, as if your refusal of me had touched your own breast with pity. Cruel girl! you look at this moment heavenly-soft, saint-like, or resemble some graceful marble statue, in the moon’s pale ray! Sadness only heightens the elegance of your features. How can I escape from you, when every new occasion, even your cruelty and scorn, brings out some new charm. Nay, your rejection of me, by the way in which you do it, is only a new link added to my chain. Raise those downcast eyes, bend as if an angel stooped, and kiss me. . . . Ah! enchanting little trembler! if such is thy sweetness where thou dost not love, what must thy love have been? I cannot think how any man, having the heart of one, could go and leave it.
S. No one did, that I know of.
H. Yes, you told me yourself he left you (though he liked you, and though he knew–Oh! gracious God! that you loved him) he left you because “the pride of birth would not permit a union.”–For myself, I would leave a throne to ascend to the heaven of thy charms. I live but for thee, here–I only wish to live again to pass all eternity with thee. But even in another world, I suppose you would turn from me to seek him out who scorned you here.
S. If the proud scorn us here, in that place we shall all be equal.
H. Do not look so–do not talk so–unless you would drive me mad. I could worship you at this moment. Can I witness such perfection, and bear to think I have lost you for ever? Oh! let me hope! You see you can mould me as you like. You can lead me by the hand, like a little child; and with you my way would be like a little child’s:–you could strew flowers in my path, and pour new life and hope into me. I should then indeed hail the return of spring with joy, could I indulge the faintest hope–would you but let me try to please you!
S. Nothing can alter my resolution, Sir.
H. Will you go and leave me so?
S. It is late, and my father will be getting impatient at my stopping so long.
H. You know he has nothing to fear for you–it is poor I that am alone in danger. But I wanted to ask about buying you a flageolet. Could I see that which you have? If it is a pretty one, it would hardly be worth while; but if it isn’t, I thought of bespeaking an ivory one for you. Can’t you bring up your own to shew me?
S. Not to-night, Sir.
H. I wish you could.
S. I cannot–but I will in the morning.
H. Whatever you determine, I must submit to. Good night, and bless thee!
[The next morning, S. brought up the tea-kettle as usual; and looking towards the tea-tray, she said, “Oh! I see my sister has forgot the tea-pot.” It was not there, sure enough; and tripping down stairs, she came up in a minute, with the tea-pot in one hand, and the flageolet in the other, balanced so sweetly and gracefully. It would have been awkward to have brought up the flageolet in the tea-tray and she could not have well gone down again on purpose to fetch it. Something, therefore, was to be omitted as an excuse. Exquisite witch! But do I love her the less dearly for it? I cannot.]
H. You say you cannot love. Is there not a prior attachment in the case? Was there any one else that you did like?
S. Yes, there was another.
H. Ah! I thought as much. Is it long ago then?
S. It is two years, Sir.
H. And has time made no alteration? Or do you still see him sometimes?
S. No, Sir! But he is one to whom I feel the sincerest affection, and ever shall, though he is far distant.
H. And did he return your regard?
S. I had every reason to think so.
H. What then broke off your intimacy?
S. It was the pride of birth, Sir, that would not permit him to think of a union.
H. Was he a young man of rank, then?
S. His connections were high.
H. And did he never attempt to persuade you to any other step?
S. No–he had too great a regard for me.
H. Tell me, my angel, how was it? Was he so very handsome? Or was it the fineness of his manners?
S. It was more his manner: but I can’t tell how it was. It was chiefly my own fault. I was foolish to suppose he could ever think seriously of me. But he used to make me read with him–and I used to be with him a good deal, though not much neither–and I found my affections entangled before I was aware of it.
H. And did your mother and family know of it?
S. No–I have never told any one but you; nor I should not have mentioned it now, but I thought it might give you some satisfaction.
H. Why did he go at last?
S. We thought it better to part.
H. And do you correspond?
S. No, Sir. But perhaps I may see him again some time or other, though it will be only in the way of friendship.
H. My God! what a heart is thine, to live for years upon that bare hope!
S. I did not wish to live always, Sir–I wished to die for a long time after, till I thought it not right; and since then I have endeavoured to be as resigned as I can.
H. And do you think the impression will never wear out?
S. Not if I can judge from my feelings hitherto. It is now sometime since,–and I find no difference.
H. May God for ever bless you! How can I thank you for your condescension in letting me know your sweet sentiments? You have changed my esteem into adoration.–Never can I harbour a thought of ill in thee again.
S. Indeed, Sir, I wish for your good opinion and your friendship.
H. And can you return them?
H. And nothing more?
S. No, Sir.
H. You are an angel, and I will spend my life, if you will let me, in paying you the homage that my heart feels towards you.
H. You are angry with me?
S. Have I not reason?
H. I hope you have; for I would give the world to believe my suspicions unjust. But, oh! my God! after what I have thought of you and felt towards you, as little less than an angel, to have but a doubt cross my mind for an instant that you were what I dare not name–a common lodging-house decoy, a kissing convenience, that your lips were as common as the stairs–
S. Let me go, Sir!
H. Nay–prove to me that you are not so, and I will fall down and worship you. You were the only creature that ever seemed to love me; and to have my hopes, and all my fondness for you, thus turned to a mockery–it is too much! Tell me why you have deceived me, and singled me out as your victim?
S. I never have, Sir. I always said I could not love.
H. There is a difference between love and making me a laughing-stock. Yet what else could be the meaning of your little sister’s running out to you, and saying “He thought I did not see him!” when I had followed you into the other room? Is it a joke upon me that I make free with you? Or is not the joke against HER sister, unless you make my courtship of you a jest to the whole house? Indeed I do not well see how you can come and stay with me as you do, by the hour together, and day after day, as openly as you do, unless you give it some such turn with your family. Or do you deceive them as well as me?
S. I deceive no one, Sir. But my sister Betsey was always watching and listening when Mr. M—- was courting my eldest sister, till he was obliged to complain of it.
H. That I can understand, but not the other. You may remember, when your servant Maria looked in and found you sitting in my lap one day, and I was afraid she might tell your mother, you said “You did not care, for you had no secrets from your mother.” This seemed to me odd at the time, but I thought no more of it, till other things brought it to my mind. Am I to suppose, then, that you are acting a part, a vile part, all this time, and that you come up here, and stay as long as I like, that you sit on my knee and put your arms round my neck, and feed me with kisses, and let me take other liberties with you, and that for a year together; and that you do all this not out of love, or liking, or regard, but go through your regular task, like some young witch, without one natural feeling, to shew your cleverness, and get a few presents out of me, and go down into the kitchen to make a fine laugh of it? There is something monstrous in it, that I cannot believe of you.
S. Sir, you have no right to harass my feelings in the manner you do. I have never made a jest of you to anyone, but always felt and expressed the greatest esteem for you. You have no ground for complaint in my conduct; and I cannot help what Betsey or others do. I have always been consistent from the first. I told you my regard could amount to no more than friendship.
H. Nay, Sarah, it was more than half a year before I knew that there was an insurmountable obstacle in the way. You say your regard is merely friendship, and that you are sorry I have ever felt anything more for you. Yet the first time I ever asked you, you let me kiss you; the first time I ever saw you, as you went out of the room, you turned full round at the door, with that inimitable grace with which you do everything, and fixed your eyes full upon me, as much as to say, “Is he caught?”–that very week you sat upon my knee, twined your arms round me, caressed me with every mark of tenderness consistent with modesty; and I have not got much farther since. Now if you did all this with me, a perfect stranger to you, and without any particular liking to me, must I not conclude you do so as a matter of course with everyone?–Or, if you do not do so with others, it was because you took a liking to me for some reason or other.
S. It was gratitude, Sir, for different obligations.
H. If you mean by obligations the presents I made you, I had given you none the first day I came. You do not consider yourself OBLIGED to everyone who asks you for a kiss?
S. No, Sir.
H. I should not have thought anything of it in anyone but you. But you seemed so reserved and modest, so soft, so timid, you spoke so low, you looked so innocent–I thought it impossible you could deceive me. Whatever favors you granted must proceed from pure regard. No betrothed virgin ever gave the object of her choice kisses, caresses more modest or more bewitching than those you have given me a thousand and a thousand times. Could I have thought I should ever live to believe them an inhuman mockery of one who had the sincerest regard for you? Do you think they will not now turn to rank poison in my veins, and kill me, soul and body? You say it is friendship–but if this is friendship, I’ll forswear love. Ah! Sarah! it must be something more or less than friendship. If your caresses are sincere, they shew fondness–if they are not, I must be more than indifferent to you. Indeed you once let some words drop, as if I were out of the question in such matters, and you could trifle with me with impunity. Yet you complain at other times that no one ever took such liberties with you as I have done. I remember once in particular your saying, as you went out at the door in anger–“I had an attachment before, but that person never attempted anything of the kind.” Good God! How did I dwell on that word BEFORE, thinking it implied an attachment to me also; but you have since disclaimed any such meaning. You say you have never professed more than esteem. Yet once, when you were sitting in your old place, on my knee, embracing and fondly embraced, and I asked you if you could not love, you made answer, “I could easily say so, whether I did or not–YOU SHOULD JUDGE BY MY ACTIONS!” And another time, when you were in the same posture, and I reproached you with indifference, you replied in these words, “Do I SEEM INDIFFERENT?” Was I to blame after this to indulge my passion for the loveliest of her sex? Or what can I think?
S. I am no prude, Sir.
H. Yet you might be taken for one. So your mother said, “It was hard if you might not indulge in a little levity.” She has strange notions of levity. But levity, my dear, is quite out of character in you. Your ordinary walk is as if you were performing some religious ceremony: you come up to my table of a morning, when you merely bring in the tea-things, as if you were advancing to the altar. You move in minuet-time: you measure every step, as if you were afraid of offending in the smallest things. I never hear your approach on the stairs, but by a sort of hushed silence. When you enter the room, the Graces wait on you, and Love waves round your person in gentle undulations, breathing balm into the soul! By Heaven, you are an angel! You look like one at this instant! Do I not adore you–and have I merited this return?
S. I have repeatedly answered that question. You sit and fancy things out of your own head, and then lay them to my charge. There is not a word of truth in your suspicions.
H. Did I not overhear the conversation down-stairs last night, to which you were a party? Shall I repeat it?
S. I had rather not hear it!
H. Or what am I to think of this story of the footman?
S. It is false, Sir, I never did anything of the sort.
H. Nay, when I told your mother I wished she wouldn’t * * * * * * * * * (as I heard she did) she said “Oh, there’s nothing in that, for Sarah very often * * * * * *,” and your doing so before company, is only a trifling addition to the sport.
S. I’ll call my mother, Sir, and she shall contradict you.
H. Then she’ll contradict herself. But did not you boast you were “very persevering in your resistance to gay young men,” and had been “several times obliged to ring the bell?” Did you always ring it? Or did you get into these dilemmas that made it necessary, merely by the demureness of your looks and ways? Or had nothing else passed? Or have you two characters, one that you palm off upon me, and another, your natural one, that you resume when you get out of the room, like an actress who throws aside her artificial part behind the scenes? Did you not, when I was courting you on the staircase the first night Mr. C—- came, beg me to desist, for if the new lodger heard us, he’d take you for a light character? Was that all? Were you only afraid of being TAKEN for a light character? Oh! Sarah!
S. I’ll stay and hear this no longer.
H. Yes, one word more. Did you not love another?
S. Yes, and ever shall most sincerely.
H. Then, THAT is my only hope. If you could feel this sentiment for him, you cannot be what you seem to me of late. But there is another thing I had to say–be what you will, I love you to distraction! You are the only woman that ever made me think she loved me, and that feeling was so new to me, and so delicious, that it “will never from my heart.” Thou wert to me a little tender flower, blooming in the wilderness of my life; and though thou should’st turn out a weed, I’ll not fling thee from me, while I can help it. Wert thou all that I dread to think–wert thou a wretched wanderer in the street, covered with rags, disease, and infamy, I’d clasp thee to my bosom, and live and die with thee, my love. Kiss me, thou little sorceress!
H. Then go: but remember I cannot live without you–nor I will not.
H. I have then lost your friendship?
S. Nothing tends more to alienate friendship than insult.
H. The words I uttered hurt me more than they did you.
S. It was not words merely, but actions as well.
H. Nothing I can say or do can ever alter my fondness for you–Ah, Sarah! I am unworthy of your love: I hardly dare ask for your pity; but oh! save me–save me from your scorn: I cannot bear it–it withers me like lightning.
S. I bear no malice, Sir; but my brother, who would scorn to tell a lie for his sister, can bear witness for me that there was no truth in what you were told.
H. I believe it; or there is no truth in woman. It is enough for me to know that you do not return my regard; it would be too much for me to think that you did not deserve it. But cannot you forgive the agony of the moment?
S. I can forgive; but it is not easy to forget some things!
H. Nay, my sweet Sarah (frown if you will, I can bear your resentment for my ill behaviour, it is only your scorn and indifference that harrow up my soul)–but I was going to ask, if you had been engaged to be married to any one, and the day was fixed, and he had heard what I did, whether he could have felt any true regard for the character of his bride, his wife, if he had not been hurt and alarmed as I was?
S. I believe, actual contracts of marriage have sometimes been broken off by unjust suspicions.
H. Or had it been your old friend, what do you think he would have said in my case?
S. He would never have listened to anything of the sort.
H. He had greater reasons for confidence than I have. But it is your repeated cruel rejection of me that drives me almost to madness. Tell me, love, is there not, besides your attachment to him, a repugnance to me?
S. No, none whatever.
H. I fear there is an original dislike, which no efforts of mine can overcome.
S. It is not you–it is my feelings with respect to another, which are unalterable.
H. And yet you have no hope of ever being his? And yet you accuse me of being romantic in my sentiments.
S. I have indeed long ceased to hope; but yet I sometimes hope against hope.
H. My love! were it in my power, thy hopes should be fulfilled to-morrow. Next to my own, there is nothing that could give me so much satisfaction as to see thine realized! Do I not love thee, when I can feel such an interest in thy love for another? It was that which first wedded my very soul to you. I would give worlds for a share in a heart so rich in pure affection!
S. And yet I did not tell you of the circumstance to raise myself in your opinion.
H. You are a sublime little thing! And yet, as you have no prospects there, I cannot help thinking, the best thing would be to do as I have said.
S. I would never marry a man I did not love beyond all the world.
H. I should be satisfied with less than that–with the love, or regard, or whatever you call it, you have shown me before marriage, if that has only been sincere. You would hardly like me less afterwards.
S. Endearments would, I should think, increase regard, where there was love beforehand; but that is not exactly my case.
H. But I think you would be happier than you are at present. You take pleasure in my conversation, and you say you have an esteem for me; and it is upon this, after the honeymoon, that marriage chiefly turns.
S. Do you think there is no pleasure in a single life?
H. Do you mean on account of its liberty?
S. No, but I feel that forced duty is no duty. I have high ideas of the married state!
H. Higher than of the maiden state?
S. I understand you, Sir.
H. I meant nothing; but you have sometimes spoken of any serious attachment as a tie upon you. It is not that you prefer flirting with “gay young men” to becoming a mere dull domestic wife?
S. You have no right to throw out such insinuations: for though I am but a tradesman’s daughter, I have as nice a sense of honour as anyone can have.
H. Talk of a tradesman’s daughter! you would ennoble any family, thou glorious girl, by true nobility of mind.
S. Oh! Sir, you flatter me. I know my own inferiority to most.
H. To none; there is no one above thee, man nor woman either. You are above your situation, which is not fit for you.
S. I am contented with my lot, and do my duty as cheerfully as I can.
H. Have you not told me your spirits grow worse every year?
S. Not on that account: but some disappointments are hard to bear up against.
H. If you talk about that, you’ll unman me. But tell me, my love,–I have thought of it as something that might account for some circumstances; that is, as a mere possibility. But tell me, there was not a likeness between me and your old lover that struck you at first sight? Was there?
S. No, Sir, none.
H. Well, I didn’t think it likely there should.
S. But there was a likeness.
H. To whom?
S. To that little image! (looking intently on a small bronze figure of Buonaparte on the mantelpiece).
H. What, do you mean to Buonaparte?
S. Yes, all but the nose was just like.
H. And was his figure the same?
S. He was taller!
[I got up and gave her the image, and told her it was hers by every right that was sacred. She refused at first to take so valuable a curiosity, and said she would keep it for me. But I pressed it eagerly, and she look it. She immediately came and sat down, and put her arm round my neck, and kissed me, and I said, “Is it not plain we are the best friends in the world, since we are always so glad to make it up?” And then I added “How odd it was that the God of my idolatry should turn out to be like her Idol, and said it was no wonder that the same face which awed the world should conquer the sweetest creature in it!” How I loved her at that moment! Is it possible that the wretch who writes this could ever have been so blest! Heavenly delicious creature! Can I live without her? Oh! no–never–never.
“What is this world? What asken men to have, Now with his love, now in the cold grave, Alone, withouten any compagnie!”
Let me but see her again! She cannot hate the man who loves her as I do.]
LETTERS TO THE SAME
–You will scold me for this, and ask me if this is keeping my promise to mind my work. One half of it was to think of Sarah: and besides, I do not neglect my work either, I assure you. I regularly do ten pages a day, which mounts up to thirty guineas’ worth a week, so that you see I should grow rich at this rate, if I could keep on so; AND I COULD KEEP ON SO, if I had you with me to encourage me with your sweet smiles, and share my lot. The Berwick smacks sail twice a week, and the wind sits fair. When I think of the thousand endearing caresses that have passed between us, I do not wonder at the strong attachment that draws me to you; but I am sorry for my own want of power to please. I hear the wind sigh through the lattice, and keep repeating over and over to myself two lines of Lord Byron’s Tragedy–
“So shalt thou find me ever at thy side Here and hereafter, if the last may be.”–
applying them to thee, my love, and thinking whether I shall ever see thee again. Perhaps not–for some years at least–till both thou and I are old–and then, when all else have forsaken thee, I will creep to thee, and die in thine arms. You once made me believe I was not hated by her I loved; and for that sensation, so delicious was it, though but a mockery and a dream, I owe you more than I can ever pay. I thought to have dried up my tears for ever, the day I left you; but as I write this, they stream again. If they did not, I think my heart would burst. I walk out here of an afternoon, and hear the notes of the thrush, that come up from a sheltered valley below, welcome in the spring; but they do not melt my heart as they used: it is grown cold and dead. As you say, it will one day be colder.–Forgive what I have written above; I did not intend it: but you were once my little all, and I cannot bear the thought of having lost you for ever, I fear through my own fault. Has any one called? Do not send any letters that come. I should like you and your mother (if agreeable) to go and see Mr. Kean in Othello, and Miss Stephens in Love in a Village. If you will, I will write to Mr. T—-, to send you tickets. Has Mr. P—- called? I think I must send to him for the picture to kiss and talk to. Kiss me, my best beloved. Ah! if you can never be mine, still let me be your proud and happy slave.
TO THE SAME
–You will be glad to learn I have done my work–a volume in less than a month. This is one reason why I am better than when I came, and another is, I have had two letters from Sarah. I am pleased I have got through this job, as I was afraid I might lose reputation by it (which I can little afford to lose)–and besides, I am more anxious to do well now, as I wish you to hear me well spoken of. I walk out of an afternoon, and hear the birds sing as I told you, and think, if I had you hanging on my arm, and that for life, how happy I should be–happier than I ever hoped to be, or had any conception of till I knew you. “But that can never be”–I hear you answer in a soft, low murmur. Well, let me dream of it sometimes–I am not happy too often, except when that favourite note, the harbinger of spring, recalling the hopes of my youth, whispers thy name and peace together in my ear. I was reading something about Mr. Macready to-day, and this put me in mind of that delicious night, when I went with your mother and you to see Romeo and Juliet. Can I forget it for a moment–your sweet modest looks, your infinite propriety of behaviour, all your sweet winning ways–your hesitating about taking my arm as we came out till your mother did–your laughing about nearly losing your cloak–your stepping into the coach without my being able to make the slightest discovery–and oh! my sitting down beside you there, you whom I had loved so long, so well, and your assuring me I had not lessened your pleasure at the play by being with you, and giving me your dear hand to press in mine! I thought I was in heaven–that slender exquisitely-turned form contained my all of heaven upon earth; and as I folded you–yes, you, my own best Sarah, to my bosom, there was, as you say, A TIE BETWEEN US–you did seem to me, for those few short moments, to be mine in all truth and honour and sacredness–Oh! that we could be always so–Do not mock me, for I am a very child in love. I ought to beg pardon for behaving so ill afterwards, but I hope THE LITTLE IMAGE made it up between us, &c.
[To this letter I have received no answer, not a line. The rolling years of eternity will never fill up that blank. Where shall I be? What am I? Or where have I been?]
WRITTEN IN A BLANK LEAF OF ENDYMION
I want a hand to guide me, an eye to cheer me, a bosom to repose on; all which I shall never have, but shall stagger into my grave, old before my time, unloved and unlovely, unless S. L. keeps her faith with me.
* * * * * * * * * * *
–But by her dove’s eyes and serpent-shape, I think she does not hate me; by her smooth forehead and her crested hair, I own I love her; by her soft looks and queen-like grace (which men might fall down and worship) I swear to live and die for her!
A PROPOSAL OF LOVE
(Given to her in our early acquaintance)
“Oh! if I thought it could be in a woman (As, if it can, I will presume in you) To feed for aye her lamp and flames of love, To keep her constancy in plight and youth, Outliving beauties outward with a mind That doth renew swifter than blood decays: Or that persuasion could but thus convince me, That my integrity and truth to you Might be confronted with the match and weight Of such a winnowed purity in love– How were I then uplifted! But, alas, I am as true as truth’s simplicity, And simpler than the infancy of truth.”
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA.
LETTERS TO C. P—-, ESQ.
My good friend, Here I am in Scotland (and shall have been here three weeks, next Monday) as I may say, ON MY PROBATION. This is a lone inn, but on a great scale, thirty miles from Edinburgh. It is situated on a rising ground (a mark for all the winds, which blow here incessantly)–there is a woody hill opposite, with a winding valley below, and the London road stretches out on either side. You may guess which way I oftenest walk. I have written two letters to S. L. and got one cold, prudish answer, beginning SIR, and ending FROM YOURS TRULY, with BEST RESPECTS FROM HERSELF AND RELATIONS. I was going to give in, but have returned an answer, which I think is a touch-stone. I send it you on the other side to keep as a curiosity, in case she kills me by her exquisite rejoinder. I am convinced from the profound contemplations I have had on the subject here and coming along, that I am on a wrong scent. We had a famous parting-scene, a complete quarrel and then a reconciliation, in which she did beguile me of my tears, but the deuce a one did she shed. What do you think? She cajoled me out of my little Buonaparte as cleverly as possible, in manner and form following. She was shy the Saturday and Sunday (the day of my departure) so I got in dudgeon, and began to rip up grievances. I asked her how she came to admit me to such extreme familiarities, the first week I entered the house. “If she had no particular regard for me, she must do so (or more) with everyone: if she had a liking to me from the first, why refuse me with scorn and wilfulness?” If you had seen how she flounced, and looked, and went to the door, saying “She was obliged to me for letting her know the opinion I had always entertained of her”–then I said, “Sarah!” and she came back and took my hand, and fixed her eyes on the mantelpiece–(she must have been invoking her idol then–if I thought so, I could devour her, the darling–but I doubt her)–So I said “There is one thing that has occurred to me sometimes as possible, to account for your conduct to me at first–there wasn’t a likeness, was there, to your old friend?” She answered “No, none–but there was a likeness!” I asked, to what? She said “to that little image!” I said, “Do you mean Buonaparte?”–She said “Yes, all but the nose.”–“And the figure?”–“He was taller.”–I could not stand this. So I got up and took it, and gave it her, and after some reluctance, she consented to “keep it for me.” What will you bet me that it wasn’t all a trick? I’ll tell you why I suspect it, besides being fairly out of my wits about her. I had told her mother half an hour before, that I should take this image and leave it at Mrs. B.’s, for that I didn’t wish to leave anything behind me that must bring me back again. Then up she comes and starts a likeness to her lover: she knew I should give it her on the spot–“No, she would keep it for me!” So I must come back for it. Whether art or nature, it is sublime. I told her I should write and tell you so, and that I parted from her, confiding, adoring!–She is beyond me, that’s certain. Do go and see her, and desire her not to give my present address to a single soul, and learn if the lodging is let, and to whom. My letter to her is as follows. If she shews the least remorse at it, I’ll be hanged, though it might move a stone, I modestly think. (See before, Part I. first letter.)
N.B.–I have begun a book of our conversations (I mean mine and the statue’s) which I call LIBER AMORIS. I was detained at Stamford and found myself dull, and could hit upon no other way of employing my time so agreeably.
Dear P—-, Here, without loss of time, in order that I may have your opinion upon it, is little Yes and No’s answer to my last.
“Sir, I should not have disregarded your injunction not to send you any more letters that might come to you, had I not promised the Gentleman who left the enclosed to forward it the earliest opportunity, as he said it was of consequence. Mr. P—- called the day after you left town. My mother and myself are much obliged by your kind offer of tickets to the play, but must decline accepting it. My family send their best respects, in which they are joined by
The deuce a bit more is there of it. If you can make anything out of it (or any body else) I’ll be hanged. You are to understand, this comes in a frank, the second I have received from her, with a name I can’t make out, and she won’t tell me, though I asked her, where she got franks, as also whether the lodgings were let, to neither of which a word of answer. * * * * is the name on the frank: see if you can decypher it by a Red-book. I suspect her grievously of being an arrant jilt, to say no more–yet I love her dearly. Do you know I’m going to write to that sweet rogue presently, having a whole evening to myself in advance of my work? Now mark, before you set about your exposition of the new Apocalypse of the new Calypso, the only thing to be endured in the above letter is the date. It was written the very day after she received mine. By this she seems willing to lose no time in receiving these letters “of such sweet breath composed.” If I thought so–but I wait for your reply. After all, what is there in her but a pretty figure, and that you can’t get a word out of her? Hers is the Fabian method of making love and conquests. What do you suppose she said the night before I left her?
“H. Could you not come and live with me as a friend?
“S. I don’t know: and yet it would be of no use if I did, you would always be hankering after what could never be!”
I asked her if she would do so at once–the very next day? And what do you guess was her answer–“Do you think it would be prudent?” As I didn’t proceed to extremities on the spot, she began to look grave, and declare off. “Would she live with me in her own house–to be with me all day as dear friends, if nothing more, to sit and read and talk with me?”–“She would make no promises, but I should find her the same.”–“Would she go to the play with me sometimes, and let it be understood that I was paying my addresses to her?”–“She could not, as a habit–her father was rather strict, and would object.”–Now what am I to think of all this? Am I mad or a fool? Answer me to that, Master Brook! You are a philosopher.
Dear Friend, I ought to have written to you before; but since I received your letter, I have been in a sort of purgatory, and what is worse, I see no prospect of getting out of it. I would put an end to my torments at once; but I am as great a coward as I have been a dupe. Do you know I have not had a word of answer from her since! What can be the reason? Is she offended at my letting you know she wrote to me, or is it some new affair? I wrote to her in the tenderest, most respectful manner, poured my soul at her feet, and this is the return she makes me! Can you account for it, except on the admission of my worst doubts concerning her? Oh God! can I bear after all to think of her so, or that I am scorned and made a sport of by the creature to whom I had given my whole heart? Thus has it been with me all my life; and so will it be to the end of it!–If you should learn anything, good or bad, tell me, I conjure you: I can bear anything but this cruel suspense. If I knew she was a mere abandoned creature, I should try to forget her; but till I do know this, nothing can tear me from her, I have drank in poison from her lips too long–alas! mine do not poison again. I sit and indulge my grief by the hour together; my weakness grows upon me; and I have no hope left, unless I could lose my senses quite. Do you know I think I should like this? To forget, ah! to forget–there would be something in that–to change to an idiot for some few years, and then to wake up a poor wretched old man, to recollect my misery as past, and die! Yet, oh! with her, only a little while ago, I had different hopes, forfeited for nothing that I know of! * * * * * * If you can give me any consolation on the subject of my tormentor, pray do. The pain I suffer wears me out daily. I write this on the supposition that Mrs. —– may still come here, and that I may be detained some weeks longer. Direct to me at the Post-office; and if I return to town directly as I fear, I will leave word for them to forward the letter to me in London–not at my old lodgings. I will not go back there: yet how can I breathe away from her? Her hatred of me must be great, since my love of her could not overcome it! I have finished the book of my conversations with her, which I told you of: if I am not mistaken, you will think it very nice reading.
Have you read Sardanapalus? How like the little Greek slave, Myrrha, is to HER!
(Written in the Winter)
My good Friend, I received your letter this morning, and I kiss the rod not only with submission, but gratitude. Your reproofs of me and your defences of her are the only things that save my soul from perdition. She is my heart’s idol; and believe me those words of yours applied to the dear saint–“To lip a chaste one and suppose her wanton”–were balm and rapture to me. I have LIPPED HER, God knows how often, and oh! is it even possible that she is chaste, and that she has bestowed her loved “endearments” on me (her own sweet word) out of true regard? That thought, out of the lowest depths of despair, would at any time make me strike my forehead against the stars. Could I but think the love “honest,” I am proof against all hazards. She by her silence makes my dark hour; and you by your encouragements dissipate it for twenty-four hours. Another thing has brought me to life. Mrs. —– is actually on her way here about the divorce. Should this unpleasant business (which has been so long talked of) succeed, and I should become free, do you think S. L. will agree to change her name to —–? If she WILL, she SHALL; and to call her so to you, or to hear her called so by others, would be music to my ears, such as they never drank in. Do you think if she knew how I love her, my depressions and my altitudes, my wanderings and my constancy, it would not move her? She knows it all; and if she is not an INCORRIGIBLE, she loves me, or regards me with a feeling next to love. I don’t believe that any woman was ever courted more passionately than she has been by me. As Rousseau said of Madame d’Houptot (forgive the allusion) my heart has found a tongue in speaking to her, and I have talked to her the divine language of love. Yet she says, she is insensible to it. Am I to believe her or you? You–for I wish it and wish it to madness, now that I am like to be free, and to have it in my power to say to her without a possibility of suspicion, “Sarah, will you be mine?” When I sometimes think of the time I first saw the sweet apparition, August 16, 1820, and that possibly she may be my bride before that day two years, it makes me dizzy with incredible joy and love of her. Write soon.
My dear Friend, I read your answer this morning with gratitude. I have felt somewhat easier since. It shewed your interest in my vexations, and also that you know nothing worse than I do. I cannot describe the weakness of mind to which she has reduced me. This state of suspense is like hanging in the air by a single thread that exhausts all your strength to keep hold of it; and yet if that fails you, you have nothing in the world else left to trust to. I am come back to Edinburgh about this cursed business, and Mrs. —– is coming from Montrose next week. How it will end, I can’t say; and don’t care, except as it regards the other affair. I should, I confess, like to have it in my power to make her the offer direct and unequivocal, to see how she’d receive it. It would be worth something at any rate to see her superfine airs upon the occasion; and if she should take it into her head to turn round her sweet neck, drop her eye-lids, and say–“Yes, I will be yours!”–why then, “treason domestic, foreign levy, nothing could touch me further.” By Heaven! I doat on her. The truth is, I never had any pleasure, like love, with any one but her. Then how can I bear to part with her? Do you know I like to think of her best in her morning-gown and mob-cap–it is so she has oftenest come into my room and enchanted me! She was once ill, pale, and had lost all her freshness. I only adored her the more for it, and fell in love with the decay of her beauty. I could devour the little witch. If she had a plague-spot on her, I could touch the infection: if she was in a burning fever, I could kiss her, and drink death as I have drank life from her lips. When I press her hand, I enjoy perfect happiness and contentment of soul. It is not what she says or what she does–it is herself that I love. To be with her is to be at peace. I have no other wish or desire. The air about her is serene, blissful; and he who breathes it is like one of the Gods! So that I can but have her with me always, I care for nothing more. I never could tire of her sweetness; I feel that I could grow to her, body and soul? My heart, my heart is hers.
(Written in May)
Dear P—-, What have I suffered since I parted with you! A raging fire is in my heart and in my brain, that never quits me. The steam-boat (which I foolishly ventured on board) seems a prison-house, a sort of spectre-ship, moving on through an infernal lake, without wind or tide, by some necromantic power–the splashing of the waves, the noise of the engine gives me no rest, night or day–no tree, no natural object varies the scene–but the abyss is before me, and all my peace lies weltering in it! I feel the eternity of punishment in this life; for I see no end of my woes. The people about me are ill, uncomfortable, wretched enough, many of them–but to-morrow or next day, they reach the place of their destination, and all will be new and delightful. To me it will be the same. I can neither escape from her, nor from myself. All is endurable where there is a limit: but I have nothing but the blackness and the fiendishness of scorn around me–mocked by her (the false one) in whom I placed my hope, and who hardens herself against me!–I believe you thought me quite gay, vain, insolent, half mad, the night I left the house–no tongue can tell the heaviness of heart I felt at that moment. No footsteps ever fell more slow, more sad than mine; for every step bore me farther from her, with whom my soul and every thought lingered. I had parted with her in anger, and each had spoken words of high disdain, not soon to be forgiven. Should I ever behold her again? Where go to live and die far from her? In her sight there was Elysium; her smile was heaven; her voice was enchantment; the air of love waved round her, breathing balm into my heart: for a little while I had sat with the Gods at their golden tables, I had tasted of all earth’s bliss, “both living and loving!” But now Paradise barred its doors against me; I was driven from her presence, where rosy blushes and delicious sighs and all soft wishes dwelt, the outcast of nature and the scoff of love! I thought of the time when I was a little happy careless child, of my father’s house, of my early lessons, of my brother’s picture of me when a boy, of all that had since happened to me, and of the waste of years to come–I stopped, faultered, and was going to turn back once more to make a longer truce with wretchedness and patch up a hollow league with love, when the recollection of her words–“I always told you I had no affection for you”–steeled my resolution, and I determined to proceed. You see by this she always hated me, and only played with my credulity till she could find some one to supply the place of her unalterable attachment to THE LITTLE IMAGE. * * * * * I am a little, a very little better to-day. Would it were quietly over; and that this misshapen form (made to be mocked) were hid out of the sight of cold, sullen eyes! The people about me even take notice of my dumb despair, and pity me. What is to be done? I cannot forget HER; and I can find no other like what SHE SEEMED. I should wish you to call, if you can make an excuse, and see whether or no she is quite marble–whether I may go back again at my return, and whether she will see me and talk to me sometimes as an old friend. Suppose you were to call on M—- from me, and ask him what his impression is that I ought to do. But do as you think best. Pardon, pardon.
P.S.–I send this from Scarborough, where the vessel stops for a few minutes. I scarcely know what I should have done, but for this relief to my feelings.
My dear Friend, The important step is taken, and I am virtually a free man. * * * What had I better do in these circumstances? I dare not write to her, I dare not write to her father, or else I would. She has shot me through with poisoned arrows, and I think another “winged wound ” would finish me. It is a pleasant sort of balm (as you express it) she has left in my heart! One thing I agree with you in, it will remain there for ever; but yet not very long. It festers, and consumes me. If it were not for my little boy, whose face I see struck blank at the news, looking through the world for pity and meeting with contempt instead, I should soon, I fear, settle the question by my death. That recollection is the only thought that brings my wandering reason to an anchor; that stirs the smallest interest in me; or gives me fortitude to bear up against what I am doomed to feel for the ungrateful. Otherwise, I am dead to every thing but the sense of what I have lost. She was my life–it is gone from me, and I am grown spectral! If I find myself in a place I am acquainted with, it reminds me of her, of the way in which I thought of her,
–“and carved on every tree The soft, the fair, the inexpressive she!”
If it is a place that is new to me, it is desolate, barren of all interest; for nothing touches me but what has a reference to her. If the clock strikes, the sound jars me; a million of hours will not bring back peace to my breast. The light startles me; the darkness terrifies me. I seem falling into a pit, without a hand to help me. She has deceived me, and the earth fails from under my feet; no object in nature is substantial, real, but false and hollow, like her faith on which I built my trust. She came (I knew not how) and sat by my side and was folded in my arms, a vision of love and joy, as if she had dropped from the Heavens to bless me by some especial dispensation of a favouring Providence, and make me amends for all; and now without any fault of mine but too much fondness, she has vanished from me, and I am left to perish. My heart is torn out of me, with every feeling for which I wished to live. The whole is like a dream, an effect of enchantment; it torments me, and it drives me mad. I lie down with it; I rise up with it; and see no chance of repose. I grasp at a shadow, I try to undo the past, and weep with rage and pity over my own weakness and misery. I spared her again and again (fool that I was) thinking what she allowed from me was love, friendship, sweetness, not wantonness. How could I doubt it, looking in her face, and hearing her words, like sighs breathed from the gentlest of all bosoms? I had hopes, I had prospects to come, the flattery of something like fame, a pleasure in writing, health even would have come back with her smile–she has blighted all, turned all to poison and childish tears. Yet the barbed arrow is in my heart–I can neither endure it, nor draw it out; for with it flows my life’s-blood. I had conversed too long with abstracted truth to trust myself with the immortal thoughts of love. THAT S. L. MIGHT HAVE BEEN MINE, AND NOW NEVER CAN–these are the two sole propositions that for ever stare me in the face, and look ghastly in at my poor brain. I am in some sense proud that I can feel this dreadful passion–it gives me a kind of rank in the kingdom of love–but I could have wished it had been for an object that at least could have understood its value and pitied its excess. You say her not coming to the door when you went is a proof–yes, that her complement is at present full! That is the reason she doesn’t want me there, lest I should discover the new affair–wretch that I am! Another has possession of her, oh Hell! I’m satisfied of it from her manner, which had a wanton insolence in it. Well might I run wild when I received no letters from her. I foresaw, I felt my fate. The gates of Paradise were once open to me too, and I blushed to enter but with the golden keys of love! I would die; but her lover–my love of her–ought not to die. When I am dead, who will love her as I have done? If she should be in misfortune, who will comfort her? when she is old, who will look in her face, and bless her? Would there be any harm in calling upon M—-, to know confidentially if he thinks it worth my while to make her an offer the instant it is in my power? Let me have an answer, and save me, if possible, FOR her and FROM myself.
My dear Friend, Your letter raised me for a moment from the depths of despair; but not hearing from you yesterday or to-day (as I hoped) I have had a relapse. You say I want to get rid of her. I hope you are more right in your conjectures about her than in this about me. Oh no! believe it, I love her as I do my own soul; my very heart is wedded to her (be she what she may) and I would not hesitate a moment between her and “an angel from Heaven.” I grant all you say about my self-tormenting folly: but has it been without cause? Has she not refused me again and again with a mixture of scorn and resentment, after going the utmost lengths with a man for whom she now disclaims all affection; and what security can I have for her reserve with others, who will not be restrained by feelings of delicacy towards her, and whom she has probably preferred to me for their want of it. “SHE CAN MAKE NO MORE CONFIDENCES”–these words ring for ever in my ears, and will be my death-watch. They can have but one meaning, be sure of it–she always expressed herself with the exactest propriety. That was one of the things for which I loved her–shall I live to hate her for it? My poor fond heart, that brooded over her and the remains of her affections as my only hope of comfort upon earth, cannot brook this new degradation. Who is there so low as me? Who is there besides (I ask) after the homage I have paid her and the caresses she has lavished on me, so vile, so abhorrent to love, to whom such an indignity could have happened? When I think of this (and I think of nothing else) it stifles me. I am pent up in burning, fruitless desires, which can find no vent or object. Am I not hated, repulsed, derided by her whom alone I love or ever did love? I cannot stay in any place, and seek in vain for relief from the sense of her contempt and her ingratitude. I can settle to nothing: what is the use of all I have done? Is it not that very circumstance (my thinking beyond my strength, my feeling more than I need about so many things) that has withered me up, and made me a thing for Love to shrink from and wonder at? Who could ever feel that peace from the touch of her dear hand that I have done; and is it not torn from me for ever? My state is this, that I shall never lie down again at night nor rise up in the morning in peace, nor ever behold my little boy’s face with pleasure while I live–unless I am restored to her favour. Instead of that delicious feeling I had when she was heavenly-kind to me, and my heart softened and melted in its own tenderness and her sweetness, I am now inclosed in a dungeon of despair. The sky is marble to my thoughts; nature is dead around me, as hope is within me; no object can give me one gleam of satisfaction now, nor the prospect of it in time to come. I wander by the sea-side; and the eternal ocean and lasting despair and her face are before me. Slighted by her, on whom my heart by its last fibre hung, where shall I turn? I wake with her by my side, not as my sweet bedfellow, but as the corpse of my love, without a heart in her bosom, cold, insensible, or struggling from me; and the worm gnaws me, and the sting of unrequited love, and the canker of a hopeless, endless sorrow. I have lost the taste of my food by feverish anxiety; and my favourite beverage, which used to refresh me when I got up, has no moisture in it. Oh! cold, solitary, sepulchral breakfasts, compared with those which I promised myself with her; or which I made when she had been standing an hour by my side, my guardian-angel, my wife, my sister, my sweet friend, my Eve, my all; and had blest me with her seraph kisses! Ah! what I suffer at present only shews what I have enjoyed. But “the girl is a good girl, if there is goodness in human nature.” I thank you for those words; and I will fall down and worship you, if you can prove them true: and I would not do much less for him that proves her a demon. She is one or the other, that’s certain; but I fear the worst. Do let me know if anything has passed: suspense is my greatest punishment. I am going into the country to see if I can work a little in the three weeks I have yet to stay here. Write on the receipt of this, and believe me ever your unspeakably obliged friend.
–“Stony-hearted” Edinburgh! What art thou to me? The dust of thy streets mingles with my tears and blinds me. City of palaces, or of tombs–a quarry, rather than the habitation of men! Art thou like London, that populous hive, with its sunburnt, well-baked, brick-built houses–its public edifices, its theatres, its bridges, its squares, its ladies, and its pomp, its throng of wealth, its outstretched magnitude, and its mighty heart that never lies still? Thy cold grey walls reflect back the leaden melancholy of the soul. The square, hard-edged, unyielding faces of thy inhabitants have no sympathy to impart. What is it to me that I look along the level line of thy tenantless streets, and meet perhaps a lawyer like a grasshopper chirping and skipping, or the daughter of a Highland laird, haughty, fair, and freckled? Or why should I look down your boasted Prince’s Street, with the beetle-browed Castle on one side, and the Calton Hill with its proud monument at the further end, and the ridgy steep of Salisbury Crag, cut off abruptly by Nature’s boldest hand, and Arthur’s Seat overlooking all, like a lioness watching her cubs? Or shall I turn to the far-off Pentland Hills, with Craig-Crook nestling beneath them, where lives the prince of critics and the king of men? Or cast my eye unsated over the Frith of Forth, that from my window of an evening (as I read of AMY and her love) glitters like a broad golden mirror in the sun, and kisses the winding shores of kingly Fife? Oh no! But to thee, to thee I turn, North Berwick-Law, with thy blue cone rising out of summer seas; for thou art the beacon of my banished thoughts, and dost point my way to her, who is my heart’s true home. The air is too thin for me, that has not the breath of Love in it; that is not embalmed by her sighs!
I am not mad, but my heart is so; and raves within me, fierce and untameable, like a panther in its den, and tries to get loose to its lost mate, and fawn on her hand, and bend lowly at her feet.
Oh! thou dumb heart, lonely, sad, shut up in the prison-house of this rude form, that hast never found a fellow but for an instant, and in very mockery of thy misery, speak, find bleeding words to express thy thoughts, break thy dungeon-gloom, or die pronouncing thy Infelice’s name!
Within my heart is lurking suspicion, and base fear, and shame and hate; but above all, tyrannous love sits throned, crowned with her graces, silent and in tears.
My dear P—-, You have been very kind to me in this business; but I fear even your indulgence for my infirmities is beginning to fail. To what a state am I reduced, and for what? For fancying a little artful vixen to be an angel and a saint, because she affected to look like one, to hide her rank thoughts and deadly purposes. Has she not murdered me under the mask of the tenderest friendship? And why? Because I have loved her with unutterable love, and sought to make her my wife. You say it is my own “outrageous conduct” that has estranged her: nay, I have been TOO GENTLE with her. I ask you first in candour whether the ambiguity of her behaviour with respect to me, sitting and fondling a man (circumstanced as I was) sometimes for half a day together, and then declaring she had no love for him beyond common regard, and professing never to marry, was not enough to excite my suspicions, which the different exposures from the conversations below-stairs were not calculated to allay? I ask you what you yourself would have felt or done, if loving her as I did, you had heard what I did, time after time? Did not her mother own to one of the grossest charges (which I shall not repeat)–and is such indelicacy to be reconciled with her pretended character (that character with which I fell in love, and to which I MADE LOVE) without supposing her to be the greatest hypocrite in the world? My unpardonable offence has been that I took her at her word, and was willing to believe her the precise little puritanical person she set up for. After exciting her wayward desires by the fondest embraces and the purest kisses, as if she had been “made my wedded wife yestreen,” or was to become so to-morrow (for that was always my feeling with respect to her)–I did not proceed to gratify them, or to follow up my advantage by any action which should declare, “I think you a common adventurer, and will see whether you are so or not!” Yet any one but a credulous fool like me would have made the experiment, with whatever violence to himself, as a matter of life and death; for I had every reason to distrust appearances. Her conduct has been of a piece from the beginning. In the midst of her closest and falsest endearments, she has always (with one or two exceptions) disclaimed the natural inference to be drawn from them, and made a verbal reservation, by which she might lead me on in a Fool’s Paradise, and make me the tool of her levity, her avarice, and her love of intrigue as long as she liked, and dismiss me whenever it suited her. This, you see, she has done, because my intentions grew serious, and if complied with, would deprive her of THE PLEASURES OF A SINGLE LIFE! Offer marriage to this “tradesman’s daughter, who has as nice a sense of honour as any one can have;” and like Lady Bellaston in Tom Jones, she CUTS you immediately in a fit of abhorrence and alarm. Yet she seemed to be of a different mind formerly, when struggling from me in the height of our first intimacy, she exclaimed–“However I might agree to my own ruin, I never will consent to bring disgrace upon my family!” That I should have spared the traitress after expressions like this, astonishes me when I look back upon it. Yet if it were all to do over again, I know I should act just the same part. Such is her power over me! I cannot run the least risk of offending her–I love her so. When I look in her face, I cannot doubt her truth! Wretched being that I am! I have thrown away my heart and soul upon an unfeeling girl; and my life (that might have been so happy, had she been what I thought her) will soon follow either voluntarily, or by the force of grief, remorse, and disappointment. I cannot get rid of the reflection for an instant, nor even seek relief from its galling pressure. Ah! what a heart she has lost! All the love and affection of my whole life were centred in her, who alone, I thought, of all women had found out my true character, and knew how to value my tenderness. Alas! alas! that this, the only hope, joy, or comfort I ever had, should turn to a mockery, and hang like an ugly film over the remainder of my days!–I was at Roslin Castle yesterday. It lies low in a rude, but sheltered valley, hid from the vulgar gaze, and powerfully reminds one of the old song. The straggling fragments of the russet ruins, suspended smiling and graceful in the air as if they would linger out another century to please the curious beholder, the green larch-trees trembling between with the blue sky and white silver clouds, the wild mountain plants starting out here and there, the date of the year on an old low door-way, but still more, the beds of flowers in orderly decay, that seem to have no hand to tend them, but keep up a sort of traditional remembrance of civilization in former ages, present altogether a delightful and amiable subject for contemplation. The exquisite beauty of the scene, with the thought of what I should feel, should I ever be restored to her, and have to lead her through such places as my adored, my angelwife, almost drove me beside myself. For this picture, this ecstatic vision, what have I of late instead as the image of the reality? Demoniacal possessions. I see the young witch seated in another’s lap, twining her serpent arms round him, her eye glancing and her cheeks on fire–why does not the hideous thought choke me? Or why do I not go and find out the truth at once? The moonlight streams over the silver waters: the bark is in the bay that might waft me to her, almost with a wish. The mountain-breeze sighs out her name: old ocean with a world of tears murmurs back my woes! Does not my heart yearn to be with her; and shall I not follow its bidding? No, I must wait till I am free; and then I will take my Freedom (a glad prize) and lay it at her feet and tell her my proud love of her that would not brook a rival in her dishonour, and that would have her all or none, and gain her or lose myself for ever!–
You see by this letter the way I am in, and I hope you will excuse it as the picture of a half-disordered mind. The least respite from my uneasiness (such as I had yesterday) only brings the contrary reflection back upon me, like a flood; and by letting me see the happiness I have lost, makes me feel, by contrast, more acutely what I am doomed to bear.
Dear Friend, Here I am at St. Bees once more, amid the scenes which I greeted in their barrenness in winter; but which have now put on their full green attire that shews luxuriant to the eye, but speaks a tale of sadness to this heart widowed of its last, its dearest, its only hope! Oh! lovely Bees-Inn! here I composed a volume of law-cases, here I wrote my enamoured follies to her, thinking her human, and that “all below was not the fiend’s”–here I got two cold, sullen answers from the little witch, and here I was —– and I was damned. I thought the revisiting the old haunts would have soothed me for a time, but it only brings back the sense of what I have suffered for her and of her unkindness the more strongly, till I cannot endure the recollection. I eye the Heavens in dumb despair, or vent my sorrows in the desart air. “To the winds, to the waves, to the rocks I complain”–you may suppose with what effect! I fear I shall be obliged to return. I am tossed about (backwards and forwards) by my passion, so as to become ridiculous. I can now understand how it is that mad people never remain in the same place–they are moving on for ever, FROM THEMSELVES!
Do you know, you would have been delighted with the effect of the Northern twilight on this romantic country as I rode along last night? The hills and groves and herds of cattle were seen reposing in the grey dawn of midnight, as in a moonlight without shadow. The whole wide canopy of Heaven shed its reflex light upon them, like a pure crystal mirror. No sharp points, no petty details, no hard contrasts–every object was seen softened yet distinct, in its simple outline and natural tones, transparent with an inward light, breathing its own mild lustre. The landscape altogether was like an airy piece of mosaic-work, or like one of Poussin’s broad massy landscapes or Titian’s lovely pastoral scenes. Is it not so, that poets see nature, veiled to the sight, but revealed to the soul in visionary grace and grandeur! I confess the sight touched me; and might have removed all sadness except mine. So (I thought) the light of her celestial face once shone into my soul, and wrapt me in a heavenly trance. The sense I have of beauty raises me for a moment above myself, but depresses me the more afterwards, when I recollect how it is thrown away in vain admiration, and that it only makes me more susceptible of pain from the mortifications I meet with. Would I had never seen her! I might then not indeed have been happy, but at least I might have passed my life in peace, and have sunk into forgetfulness without a pang.–The noble scenery in this country mixes with my passion, and refines, but does not relieve it. I was at Stirling Castle not long ago. It gave me no pleasure. The declivity seemed to me abrupt, not sublime; for in truth I did not shrink back from it with terror. The weather-beaten towers were stiff and formal: the air was damp and chill: the river winded its dull, slimy way like a snake along the marshy grounds: and the dim misty tops of Ben Leddi, and the lovely Highlands (woven fantastically of thin air) mocked my embraces and tempted my longing eyes like her, the sole queen and mistress of my thoughts! I never found my contemplations on this subject so subtilised and at the same time so desponding as on that occasion. I wept myself almost blind, and I gazed at the broad golden sunset through my tears that fell in showers. As I trod the green mountain turf, oh! how I wished to be laid beneath it–in one grave with her–that I might sleep with her in that cold bed, my hand in hers, and my heart for ever still–while worms should taste her sweet body, that I had never tasted! There was a time when I could bear solitude; but it is too much for me at present. Now I am no sooner left to myself than I am lost in infinite space, and look round me in vain for suppose or comfort. She was my stay, my hope: without her hand to cling to, I stagger like an infant on the edge of a precipice. The universe without her is one wide, hollow abyss, in which my harassed thoughts can find no resting-place. I must break off here; for the hysterica passio comes upon me, and threatens to unhinge my reason.
My dear and good Friend, I am afraid I trouble you with my querulous epistles, but this is probably the last. To-morrow or the next day decides my fate with respect to the divorce, when I expect to be a free man. In vain! Was it not for her and to lay my freedom at her feet, that I consented to this step which has cost me infinite perplexity, and now to be discarded for the first pretender that came in her way! If so, I hardly think I can survive it. You who have been a favourite with women, do not know what it is to be deprived of one’s only hope, and to have it turned to shame and disappointment. There is nothing in the world left that can afford me one drop of comfort–THIS I feel more and more. Everything is to me a mockery of pleasure, like her love. The breeze does not cool me: the blue sky does not cheer me. I gaze only on her face averted from me–alas! the only face that ever was turned fondly to me! And why am I thus treated? Because I wanted her to be mine for ever in love or friendship, and did not push my gross familiarities as far as I might. “Why can you not go on as we have done, and say nothing about the word, FOREVER?” Was it not plain from this that she even then meditated an escape from me to some less sentimental lover? “Do you allow anyone else to do so?” I said to her once, as I was toying with her. “No, not now!” was her answer; that is, because there was nobody else in the house to take freedoms with her. I was very well as a stopgap, but I was to be nothing more. While the coast was clear, I had it all my own way: but the instant C—- came, she flung herself at his head in the most barefaced way, ran breathless up stairs before him, blushed when his foot was heard, watched for him in the passage, and was sure to be in close conference with him when he went down again. It was then my mad proceedings commenced. No wonder. Had I not reason to be jealous of every appearance of familiarity with others, knowing how easy she had been with me at first, and that she only grew shy when I did not take farther liberties? What has her character to rest upon but her attachment to me, which she now denies, not modestly, but impudently? Will you yourself say that if she had all along no particular regard for me, she will not do as much or more with other more likely men? “She has had,” she says, “enough of my conversation,” so it could not be that! Ah! my friend, it was not to be supposed I should ever meet even with the outward demonstrations of regard from any woman but a common trader in the endearments of love! I have tasted the sweets of the well practiced illusion, and now feel the bitterness of knowing what a bliss I am deprived of, and must ever be deprived of. Intolerable conviction! Yet I might, I believe, have won her by other methods; but some demon held my hand. How indeed could I offer her the least insult when I worshipped her very footsteps; and even now pay her divine honours from my inmost heart, whenever I think of her, abased and brutalised as I have been by that Circean cup of kisses, of enchantments, of which I have drunk! I am choked, withered, dried up with chagrin, remorse, despair, from which I have not a moment’s respite, day or night. I have always some horrid dream about her, and wake wondering what is the matter that “she is no longer the same to me as ever?” I thought at least we should always remain dear friends, if nothing more–did she not talk of coming to live with me only the day before I left her in the winter? But “she’s gone, I am abused, and my revenge must be to LOVE her!”–Yet she knows that one line, one word would save me, the cruel, heartless destroyer! I see nothing for it but madness, unless Friday brings a change, or unless she is willing to let me go back. You must know I wrote to her to that purpose, but it was a very quiet, sober letter, begging pardon, and professing reform for the future, and all that. What effect it will have, I know not. I was forced to get out of the way of her answer, till Friday came.
TO S. L.
My dear Miss L—-, EVIL TO THEM THAT EVIL THINK, is an old saying; and I have found it a true one. I have ruined myself by my unjust suspicions of you. Your sweet friendship was the balm of my life; and I have lost it, I fear for ever, by one fault and folly after another. What would I give to be restored to the place in your esteem, which, you assured me, I held only a few months ago! Yet I was not contented, but did all I could to torment myself and harass you by endless doubts and jealousy. Can you not forget and forgive the past, and judge of me by my conduct in future? Can you not take all my follies in the lump, and say like a good, generous girl, “Well, I’ll think no more of them?” In a word, may I come back, and try to behave better? A line to say so would be an additional favour to so many already received by
Your obliged friend,
And sincere well-wisher.
LETTER XII. TO C. P—-
I have no answer from her. I’m mad. I wish you to call on M—- in confidence, to say I intend to make her an offer of my hand, and that I will write to her father to that effect the instant I am free, and ask him whether he thinks it will be to any purpose, and what he would advise me to do.
“Love is not love that alteration finds: Oh no! it is an ever-fixed mark, That looks on tempests and is never shaken.”
Shall I not love her for herself alone, in spite of fickleness and folly? To love her for her regard to me, is not to love her, but myself. She has robbed me of herself: shall she also rob me of my love of her? Did I not live on her smile? Is it less sweet because it is withdrawn from me? Did I not adore her every grace? Does she bend less enchantingly, because she has turned from me to another? Is my love then in the power of fortune, or of her caprice? No, I will have it lasting as it is pure; and I will make a Goddess of her, and build a temple to her in my heart, and worship her on indestructible altars, and raise statues to her: and my homage shall be unblemished as her unrivalled symmetry of form; and when that fails, the memory of it shall survive; and my bosom shall be proof to scorn, as hers has been to pity; and I will pursue her with an unrelenting love, and sue to be her slave, and tend her steps without notice and without reward; and serve her living, and mourn for her when dead. And thus my love will have shewn itself superior to her hate; and I shall triumph and then die. This is my idea of the only true and heroic love! Such is mine for her.
Perfect love has this advantage in it, that it leaves the possessor of it nothing farther to desire. There is one object (at least) in which the soul finds absolute content, for which it seeks to live, or dares to die. The heart has as it were filled up the moulds of the imagination. The truth of passion keeps pace with and outvies the extravagance of mere language. There are no words so fine, no flattery so soft, that there is not a sentiment beyond them, that it is impossible to express, at the bottom of the heart where true love is. What idle sounds the common phrases, adorable creature, angel, divinity, are? What a proud reflection it is to have a feeling answering to all these, rooted in the breast, unalterable, unutterable, to which all other feelings are light and vain! Perfect love reposes on the object of its choice, like the halcyon on the wave; and the air of heaven is around it.
FROM C. P., ESQ.
London, July 4th, I822.
I have seen M—-! Now, my dear H—-, let me entreat and adjure you to take what I have to tell you, FOR WHAT IT IS WORTH–neither for less, nor more. In the first place, I have learned nothing decisive from him. This, as you will at once see, is, as far as it goes, good. I am either to hear from him, or see him again in a day or two; but I thought you would like to know what passed inconclusive as it was–so I write without delay, and in great haste to save a post. I found him frank, and even friendly in his manner to me, and in his views respecting you. I think that he is sincerely sorry for your situation; and he feels that the person who has placed you in that situation is not much less awkwardly situated herself; and he professes that he would willingly do what he can for the good of both. But he sees great difficulties attending the affair–which he frankly professes to consider as an altogether unfortunate one. With respect to the marriage, he seems to see the most formidable objections to it, on both sides; but yet he by no means decidedly says that it cannot, or that it ought not to take place. These, mind you, are his own feelings on the subject: but the most important point I learn from him is this, that he is not prepared to use his influence either way–that the rest of the family are of the same way of feeling; and that, in fact, the thing must and does entirely rest with herself. To learn this was, as you see, gaining a great point.–When I then endeavoured to ascertain whether he knew anything decisive as to what are her views on the subject, I found that he did not. He has an opinion on the subject, and he didn’t scruple to tell me what it was; but he has no positive knowledge. In short, he believes, from what he learns from herself (and he had purposely seen her on the subject, in consequence of my application to him) that she is at present indisposed to the marriage; but he is not prepared to say positively that she will not consent to it. Now all this, coming from him in the most frank and unaffected manner, and without any appearance of cant, caution, or reserve, I take to be most important as it respects your views, whatever they may be; and certainly much more favourable to them (I confess it) than I was prepared to expect, supposing them to remain as they were. In fact as I said before, the affair rests entirely with herself. They are none of them disposed either to further the marriage, or throw any insurmountable obstacles in the way of it; and what is more important than all, they are evidently by no means CERTAIN that SHE may not, at some future period, consent to it; or they would, for her sake as well as their own, let you know as much flatly, and put an end to the affair at once.
Seeing in how frank and straitforward a manner he received what I had to say to him, and replied to it, I proceeded to ask him what were HIS views, and what were likely to be HERS (in case she did not consent) as to whether you should return to live in the house;–but I added, without waiting for his answer, that if she intended to persist in treating you as she had done for some time past, it would be worse than madness for you to think of returning. I added that, in case you did return, all you would expect from her would be that she would treat you with civility and kindness–that she would continue to evince that friendly feeling towards you, that she had done for a great length of time, &c. To this, he said, he could really give no decisive reply, but that he should be most happy if, by any intervention of his, he could conduce to your comfort; but he seemed to think that for you to return on any express understanding that she should behave to you in any particular manner, would be to place her in a most awkward situation. He went somewhat at length into this point, and talked very reasonably about it; the result, however, was that he would not throw any obstacles in the way of your return, or of her treating you as a friend, &c., nor did it appear that he believed she would refuse to do so. And, finally, we parted on the understanding that he would see them on the subject, and ascertain what could be done for the comfort of all parties: though he was of opinion that if you could make up your mind to break off the acquaintance altogether, it would be the best plan of all. I am to hear from him again in a day or two.–Well, what do you say to all this? Can you turn it to any thing but good–comparative good? If you would know what _I_ say to it, it is this:–She is still to be won by wise and prudent conduct on your part; she was always to have been won by such;–and if she is lost, it has been (not, as you sometimes suppose, because you have not carried that unwise, may I not say UNWORTHY? conduct still farther, but because you gave way to it at all. Of course I use the terms “wise” and “prudent” with reference to your object. Whether the pursuit of that object is wise, only yourself can judge. I say she has all along been to be won, and she still is to be won; and all that stands in the way of your views at this moment is your past conduct. They are all of them, every soul, frightened at you; they have SEEN enough of you to make them so; and they have doubtless heard ten times more than they have seen, or than anyone else has seen. They are all of them including M—- (and particularly she herself) frightened out of their wits, as to what might be your treatment of her if she were yours; and they dare not trust you–they will not trust you, at present. I do not say that they will trust you, or rather that SHE will, for it all depends on her, when you have gone through a probation, but I am sure that she will not trust you till you have. You will, I hope, not be angry with me when I say that she would be a fool if she did. If she were to accept you at present, and without knowing more of you, even I should begin to suspect that she had an unworthy motive for doing it. Let me not forget to mention what is perhaps as important a point as any, as it regards the marriage. I of course stated to M—- that when you are free, you are prepared to make her a formal offer of your hand; but I begged him, if he was certain that such an offer would be refused, to tell me so plainly at once, that I might endeavour, in that case, to dissuade you from subjecting yourself to the pain of such a refusal. HE WOULD NOT TELL ME THAT HE WAS CERTAIN. He said his opinion was that she would not accept your offer, but still he seemed to think that there would be no harm in making it!—One word more, and a very important one. He once, and without my referring in the slightest manner to that part of the subject, spoke of her as a GOOD GIRL, and LIKELY TO MAKE ANY MAN AN EXCELLENT WIFE! Do you think if she were a bad girl (and if she were, he must know her to be so) he would have dared to do this, under these circumstances?–And once, in speaking of HIS not being a fit person to set his face against “marrying for love,” he added “I did so myself, and out of that house; and I have had reason to rejoice at it ever since.” And mind (for I anticipate your cursed suspicions) I’m certain, at least, if manner can entitle one to be certain of any thing, that he said all this spontaneously, and without any understood motive; and I’m certain, too, that he knows you to be a person that it would not do to play any tricks of this kind with. I believe–(and all this would never have entered my thoughts, but that I know it will enter yours) I believe that even if they thought (as you have sometimes supposed they do) that she needs whitewashing, or making an honest woman of, YOU would be the last person they would think of using for such a purpose, for they know (as well as I do) that you couldn’t fail to find out the trick in a month, and would turn her into the street the next moment, though she were twenty times your wife–and that, as to the consequences of doing so, you would laugh at them, even if you couldn’t escape from them.–I shall lose the post if I say more.
Ever truly your friend,
My dear P—-, You have saved my life. If I do not keep friends with her now, I deserve to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. She is an angel from Heaven, and you cannot pretend I ever said a word to the contrary! The little rogue must have liked me from the first, or she never could have stood all these hurricanes without slipping her cable. What could she find in me? “I have mistook my person all this while,” &c. Do you know I saw a picture, the very pattern of her, the other day, at Dalkeith Palace (Hope finding Fortune in the Sea), just before this blessed news came, and the resemblance drove me almost out of my senses. Such delicacy, such fulness, such perfect softness, such buoyancy, such grace! If it is not the very image of her, I am no judge.–You have the face to doubt my making the best husband in the world; you might as well doubt it if I was married to one of the Houris of Paradise. She is a saint, an angel, a love. If she deceives me again, she kills me. But I will have such a kiss when I get back, as shall last me twenty years. May God bless her for not utterly disowning and destroying me! What an exquisite little creature it is, and how she holds out to the last in her system of consistent contradictions! Since I wrote to you about making a formal proposal, I have had her face constantly before me, looking so like some faultless marble statue, as cold, as fixed and graceful as ever statue did; the expression (nothing was ever like THAT!) seemed to say–“I wish I could love you better than I do, but still I will be yours.” No, I’ll never believe again that she will not be mine; for I think she was made on purpose for me. If there’s anyone else that understands that turn of her head as I do, I’ll give her up without scruple. I have made up my mind to this, never to dream of another woman, while she even thinks it worth her while to REFUSE TO HAVE ME. You see I am not hard to please, after all. Did M—- know of the intimacy that had subsisted between us? Or did you hint at it? I think it would be a CLENCHER, if he did. How ought I to behave when I go back? Advise a fool, who had nearly lost a Goddess by his folly. The thing was, I could not think it possible she would ever like ME. Her taste is singular, but not the worse for that. I’d rather have her love, or liking (call it what you will) than empires. I deserve to call