The compliments paid to him on his promotion and marriage, the giving and receiving visits from all his kindred and friends, together with the duties of his post, so much engrossed him for the first two or three months, that he had not time to give any attention to his domestic affairs, and happy would it have been for his peace if he had always continued in a total negligence in this point, as the fatal inspection plunged him into such distractions, as required many long years to compose.
In fine, he now discovered such dispositions to gallantry in his wife, as inflamed him with jealousy, to such a degree as it would be impossible to describe;—not that he had ever been possessed of any extraordinary love or fondness on her account; but the injury which he imagined was offered to his honour, by the freedoms with which she entertained several of those young courtiers which frequented his house, made him in a short time become the most discontented man alive.
Utterly impossible was it for him to conceal his disquiets; though the fears he had of displeasing the minister made him attempt it, as much as possible, and conscious of his ill dissimulation that way, the little notice she took of a chagrin he knew she could not but observe, very much added to it, as it seemed a certain proof of her indifference for him; a behaviour so widely different from the amiable tenderness of his former wife, dissipated all the little affection he had for her, and it was not long before she became even hateful to him; his jealousy however abated not with his love, her dishonour was his own, her person was his property by marriage, and the thoughts of any encroachment on his right were insupportable to him.
Whether she was in fact as yet guilty of those violations of her duty, which his imagination incessantly suggested to him she was, neither himself, nor the world, were ever able to prove; but it is certain her conduct was such, in every shape towards him, as gave but too much room for suspicion in the least censorious, and which growing every day more disagreeable to him, he at length had not the power of feigning an inattention to it.—He remonstrated to her the value every woman, especially those in high life, ought to set on her reputation;—told her plainly, that the severest censures had been past upon her, and without seeming to believe them just himself, intreated her to act with more reserve for the future.
All this, though delivered in the most gentle terms he could invent, had no other effect than to set her into an immoderate laughter: nothing could be more provoking, than the contempt with which she treated his advice; and on his insisting at last, in terms which she might think were somewhat too strong, on her being less frequently seen with some persons he mentioned to her, she answered in the most disdainful tone, that when she came to his years, she might, perhaps, look on the pleasures of life with the same eyes he did; but while youth and good humour lasted, she should deny herself no innocent indulgencies, and was resolved, let him and the world say what they would, not to anticipate old age and wrinkles.
As Natura was not yet forty, in perfect health, and consequently not past the prime of manhood, this reflection cast upon his years, could not but add to his disgust of her that made it, and he replied with a spite which was very visible in his countenance, that whatever disparity there was between their ages, it would soon diminish by the course of life she followed, and which, if she persisted in, would, in a very little time, make her become an object below the voice of censure.
They must know little of the sex, that do not know no affront can be so stinging as one offered to their beauty, even tho' conscious of having no great share of it; but the wife of Natura had heard too many flatteries, not to inspire her with the highest idea of her charms, which the little respect he now testified to have for them, did not at all abate, and only served to make her despise his stupidity, as she termed it.
No measures after this were kept between them; she seemed to take a pleasure in every thing that gave him pain; she coquetted before his face with every handsome man that came in her way, and in fine gave herself such airs as the most patient husband could not have permitted her long to persist in. Making use of the authority the laws had given him, he, in a manner, forced her into the country, upwards of an hundred miles from London, though it was then in the depth of winter, and placed persons about her, with orders to prevent her from all means of returning, till he should judge it proper for her so to do.
On this she wrote to her uncle, complaining of the hard treatment she received, and beseeching him to take some measures to oblige her husband to restore her liberty. The minister, who had at that time much greater concerns upon his hands on his own account, did not care to give himself any trouble about private family affairs; he only just mentioned to Natura the letter she had sent to him, and the purport of it; and on his relating to him the reasons that had compelled him to put this restraint on her behaviour, told him, he should not interfere between them; so that Natura found he had nothing to apprehend for what he had done.
Finding this step had produced nothing for her purpose, she at last condescended to submit to her justly offended husband; and on her solemn and repeated promises of regulating her conduct for the future in such a manner as he should approve, he was prevailed upon by her seeming contrition, to consent to make trial how far her heart corresponded with her professions:—it was agreed, to prevent the town from inspecting too deeply on what had passed, that she should pretend her absence from town had been the effect of her own choice, and for giving the better colour, he went down himself, and brought her up.—They lived together, after this, much better than they had done for some months before their quarrel, and were now, in appearance, perfectly reconciled; I say, in appearance, for all was outward shew, neither of them had in their hearts the least true affection, nor could forgive the other for what had passed between them.
The excessive constraint which both put upon themselves, in order to conceal the real sentiments of their hearts from each other, as well as from the world, could not but be extremely painful:—Natura suffered her as little as possible out of his sight, though he could have wished a possibility of avoiding her for ever, and was obliged to do all he could, to make that pass for a fondness of her presence, which was indeed only the effect of his jealousy of her behaviour in absence:—she affected to think herself happy in his company, for no other reason, than to win him to an assurance of her reformation, as might render him less observant than he had been of what she did, even at the time (as was afterwards discovered) when she seemed most sorry and angry with herself for having given him any cause of suspicion since their marriage.
Both, in fine, endured all that could make marriage dreadful, especially Natura, who having with his former wife experienced all the felicity of that state, was the more wretched by the sad alternative; and as he could not sometimes forbear comparing the present with the past, fell frequently into perfect convulsions of grief and remorse, for having plunged himself into it.
A perpetual dissimulation is what human nature finds among the things which are impossible to perform;—and I am pretty certain, that the most artful person that ever breathed, could not, at all times, and in all circumstances, restrain so far his real inclinations, as to give no indications of them to an observing eye; and it is scarce probable, but that the very attempt in Natura and his wife, gave rise to as many reflections on their conduct in this point, as there was too much room to make on others.
It was indeed a kind of farce acted by this unhappy pair, in which both played their parts so aukwardly, that the real character would frequently peep out, and though each dissembled, yet neither was deceived; but as I said before, this could not last for ever; and the ice being once broke in some unguarded humour either on the one or the other side, I cannot pretend to affirm on which, the torrent of their mutual disgust burst out with the greater force, for having been so long pent up: it is hard to tell which testified the most virulence, or expressed themselves in the most bitter terms:—all that can be determined is, that those of Natura shewed most of rage, and those his wife made use of, most of hatred.
After having fully vented all that was in their souls against each other, both became more calm; and agreed in this, as the only resource for ease in their present unhappy situation, to banish for the future all deceit between them, and never more pretend the least kindness or good-will to each other when in private, to lie in separate beds, and to be as seldom as possible alone together; but for the sake of both their reputations to continue in the same house, and before company to behave with reciprocal politeness.
These terms rid Natura of a great part of that insupportable constraint he had been under, but gave not the least satisfaction, as to his jealousy of honour; he doubted not but she would be guilty of many things, injurious in the highest degree to their public character, and which yet it would not so well become him to exert his authority in opposing, and these reflections gave him the most terrible inquietude; which shews, that though jealousy is called the child of love, it is very possible to feel all the tortures of the one, without being sensible of any of the douceurs of the other passion.
How dearly now did Natura pay for the gratification of his ambition!—What availed his grandeur, the respect paid him by his equals, and the homage of the inferior world!—What the pride of having it in his power to confer favours, when he had himself a heart torn with the most fierce convulsions, and less capable of enjoying the goods of fortune, than the most abject of those indigent creatures, who petitioned for relief from him!—By day, by night, alone, or in company, he was haunted with ideas the most distracting to his peace.—A smile on the face of his wife, seemed to him to proceed from the joy of having made some new conquest; a grave or melancholly look, from a disappointment on the account of a favourite gallant: yet as her person was the least thing he was tenacious of, the behaviour of others gave him greater pain than any thing she could do herself;—whoever spoke handsomely of her, he imagined insulted him; and those who mentioned her not at all, he thought were sensible of her levity, and his misfortune:—every thing he saw or heard, seemed to him a sad memento of his dishonour; and though he could not assure himself she had in fact been guilty of a breach of her virtue, he was very certain she had been so of that reserve and modesty which is the most distinguishable characteristic of it, and took from him the power of vindicating her innocence, or his own honour even though he had believed them safe, as becomes a husband, whose wife is more cautious of her conduct in this point.
Too delicate of the censure of the world, it gave him the utmost anxiety how to carry himself, so as not to afford any room to have it said he was either a jealous, or a too credulous husband; yet in spite of all his care, he incurred both these characters:—those who had heard of his sending her into the country, without being acquainted with the motives for his so doing, looked on him as the former; and those who saw her manner of behaviour, and the seeming politeness of his treatment of her, imagined him the latter:—so difficult is it for any one, who only sees the outside of things, to judge what they are in reality; yet the vanity of having it believed they are let into secrets, makes a great many people invent circumstances, and then relate for matters of fact, what are indeed no more than the suggestions of imagination, or, what is yet worse, the coinage of their own brain, without believing themselves what they take upon them to report to others.
This undoubtedly happened on the score of Natura and his wife, and occasioned not only many idle stories at tea-table conversation, but also many oblique hints to be sometimes given to himself, which, perhaps, there was not the least grounds for, but which greatly added to his disquiets; as when we think we have reason to believe part, we are ready to give credit to all we hear, especially in cases of this nature; it being the peculiar property of jealousy, to force the mind to grasp with eagerness, at every thing that tends to render it more afflicted and perplexed.
BOOK the Third.
Shews in what manner anger and revenge operate on the mind, and how ambition is capable of stifling both, in a remarkable instance, that private injuries, how great soever, may seem of no weight, when public grandeur requires they should be looked over.
Nothing is so violent as anger in its first emotions, it takes the faculties by surprize, and rushes upon the soul like an impetuous torrent, bearing down all before it: its strength, however, is owing to its suddenness; for being raised by some new and unexpected accident or provocation, reason has no warning of its approach, and consequently is off her guard, and without any immediate power of acting: the sweetest, and most gentle disposition, is not always a sufficient defence for the mind, against the attacks of this furious passion, and may be hurried by it to deeds the most opposite to its own nature; but then as it is fierce, it is transient also; should its force continue, it would lose its name, and be no longer anger, but revenge; which, though the worst and most fiend-like propensity of a vicious inclination, is sometimes excited by circumstances, that seem in a great measure to alleviate the blackness of it:—repeated and unprovoked insults, friendship and love abused, injuries in our person, our fortune, or reputation, will sour the softest temper, and are apt to make us imagine it is an injustice to our selves, not to retaliate in kind, the ill treatment we receive. Religion, indeed, forbids us to take our own parts thus far, and philosophy teaches, that it is nobler to forgive, than punish wrongs; but every one is not so happy as to have either of these helps; and I do not find but those who boast both of them in the most superlative degree, stand in need of something more, to enable them to restrain this prevailing impulse; and that it is not so much to the precepts they receive from others, as to some dictates from within, that many people are indebted for the reputation of patience and forbearance.
It is the peculiar providence of Heaven, as I took notice in the beginning of this work, that the more ignoble passions of human nature, are, generally speaking, opposites, and by that means serve as a curb to bridle the inordinancy of each other; so that, though one alone would be pernicious to society, and render the person possessed of it obnoxious to the world, many will prevent the hurt, and make the man himself tolerable.
The adventure I am now going to relate, will prove that Natura had the greatest excitements, and the greatest justification both for wrath and revenge that could possibly be offered to any one man: yet did another passion, not more excusable than either of these, suppress all the turbulent emotions of both, and quench the boiling flames within his soul, insomuch as to make him appear all calmness and contentedness.
But though I made use of the word passion to express the now prevailing propensity of Natura's soul, I do not think that ambition, strictly speaking, can come under that denomination:—to me it rather seems the effect of an assemblage of other passions, than a passion simple of itself, and natural to the mind of man; and I believe, whoever examines it to the fountain head, will find it takes its origin from pride and envy, and is nourished by self-love, nor ever appears in any great degree, where these do not abound.—Were it born with us, there would doubtless be some indications of it in childhood, but it is observable, that not till man arrives at maturity, and even not then, unless the sight of objects above himself excites it, he discovers the least sensation of any such emotion.—In fine, it is an inclination rarely known in youth, ordinarily declines in age, and never exerts itself with vigour, as in the middle stage of life, which I reckon to be from about five-and-twenty to fifty, or somewhat more, according to the strength of the natural stamina, or constitution.—But to go on with my history.
Since Natura had been in what they call a settled state in the world, it had always been his custom to distinguish the anniversary of that day which gave him birth, by providing a polite entertainment for his friends and kindred: he had now attained to his fortieth year, and though it had been that in which he had known more poignant disquiets, than in any one of his whole life before; yet thinking that to neglect the observation of it now, would give occasion for remarks on his reasons for so doing, he resolved to treat it with the usual ceremony.
It was in that delightful season of the year, when nature, adorned with all her charms, invites the senses to taste that regale in the open air, which the most elegant and best concerted entertainments within doors cannot atone for the want of. After dinner was over, the whole company which was pretty numerous, adjourned from the table to the garden, a small, but well ordered spot of ground, at the lower end of which was a green-house, furnished with many curious exotic plants. While Natura was shewing this collection to those of his guests, who had a taste that way, others were diverting themselves with walking in the alleys, or set down in arbors, according as their different fancies inclined, as it is common for people to divide themselves into little parties, when there are too many for all to share in a general conversation.
As they were thus employed, the minister, who though he had not thought it beneath the dignity of his character to do honour to the birth-day of the husband of his neice, yet had his mind taken up with other things than the amusements of the place, took Natura aside on a sudden, and asked him if he had not a paper in his custody, which he had some time before put into his hands; to which the other answering in the affirmative, 'There are some things in it I do not well remember,' said the great man; 'and a thought just now occurs to me, in which they may be of use':—Natura then offered to fetch it; 'No,' replied the other, 'I will go with you, and we will examine it together.'
There was no need of making any apology to the company, they being, as I have already said, dispersed in several parts of the garden; but had they not been so, the statesman was absolute master wherever he came, and no one would have taken umbrage at Natura's following him.
They went hastily up stairs together, and the door of a room, thro' which they were to pass to Natura's study, being shut, he gave a push against it with his foot, and it being but slightly fastened, immediately flew open, and discovered a sight no less unexpected than shocking to both;—the wife, and own brother of Natura, on a couch, and in a posture which could leave no room to doubt of the motive which had induced them to take the opportunity of the company separating themselves, to retire, without being missed, which, but for this accident, they probably would not have been.
It is easy to conceive what a husband must feel in so alarming a circumstance, nor will any one wonder that Natura behaved in the manner he did, in the first emotions of a rage, which might very well be justified by the cause that excited it.—Not having a sword on, he flew to the chimney, on each side of which hung a pistol; he snatched one off the hook, and was going to revenge the injury he had received on one or both the guilty persons, when the minister, stepping between, beat down that arm which held the instrument of death, crying at the same time, 'What, are you a madman!—would you to punish them expose yourself!'—The passion with which Natura was overwhelmed was too mighty for his breast; it stopped the passage of his words, and all he could bring out was 'villain!'—'whore'—while those he called so, made their escape from his fury, by running out of the room. In attempting to follow them he was still with-held; and the minister having with much ado got the pistol from him, began to expostulate with him, in order to disarm his mind from pursuing any future revenge, as he had done his hand from executing the present.
'Consider,' said the statesman, 'that these are but slips of nature, that there are in this town a thousand husbands in the same situation:—indeed the affair happening with your own brother, very much enhances the crime and the provocation; but as the thing is done, and there is no remedy, it will but add to your disgrace to make it public.'
Little would it have been in the power of all the arguments in the world, if made use of by any other person, to have given a check to that just indignation Natura was inflamed with: but as patience and moderation were prescribed him by one to whom he was indebted for all the grandeur he enjoyed, and by whose favour alone he could hope for the continuance, of it, he submitted to the task, difficult as it was, and consented to make no noise of the affair. The minister assured him he would oblige his brother to exchange the commission he was at present possessed of, for one in a regiment that was going to Gibraltar, 'which,' said he, 'will be a sufficient punishment for his crime, and at the same time rid you of the sight of a person who cannot but be now detestable to you;—as to your wife, I expect you will permit her to continue in your house, in consideration of her relation to me, but shall not interfere with the manner of your living together;—that shall be at your own discretion.'
As neither of them imagined the lady, after what had happened, would have courage enough to go down to the company, it was agreed between them to make her excuse, by saying, a sudden disorder in her head had obliged her to absent herself.
Natura cleared up his brow as much as it was possible for him to do in such a circumstance, and returned with the minister to his guests, among whom, as he supposed, he found neither his wife nor brother; as for the latter, much notice was not taken of his absence, but the ladies, by this time, were full of enquiries after her; on which he immediately made the pretence above-mentioned; but unluckily, one of the company having been bred to physic, urged permission to see her, in order to prescribe some recipe for her ailment.—Natura was now extremely at a loss what to do, till the minister, who never wanted an expedient, relieved him, by telling the doctor, that his neice had been accustomed to these kind of fits from her infancy, that it was only silence and repose which recovered her, which being now gone to take, any interruption would be of more prejudice than benefit.
This passed very well, and no farther mention was made of her; but the accident occasioned the company to take leave much sooner than otherwise they would have done, very much to the ease of Natura, who had been in the most intolerable constraint, to behave so as to conceal the truth, and longed to be alone, to give a loose to the distracting passions of his soul.
The more he ruminated on the wrongs he had sustained, the more difficult he found it to preserve that moderation the minister had enjoined, and he had promised: he had long but too much reason to believe his wife was false; but the thought that she had entered into a criminal conversation with his own brother, rendered the guilt doubly odious in them both.—Had not his own eyes convinced him of the horrid truth, he could have given credit to no other testimony, that a brother, whom he had always treated with the utmost affection, and whose fortune it had been his care to promote, should have dared to harbour even the most distant wish of dishonouring his wife. He seemed, in his eyes, the most culpable of the two, and thought the banishment intended for him much too small a punishment for so atrocious a crime. It is certain that this young gentleman had not only broke through the bands of duty, honour, gratitude, and every social obligation, but had also sinned against nature itself, by adding incest to adultery.—Natura could not indeed consider him as any thing but a monster, and that as such he ought to be cut off from the face of the earth; and neither reason nor humanity, could alledge any thing against the dictates of a revenge, which by the most unconcerned and disinterested person could not be called unjust.—Strongly did its emotions work within his soul, and he was more than once on the point of going in search of him, in order to satiate its most impatient thirst, but was as often restrained, by reflecting on the consequences.—'Suppose,' said he to himself, 'I should escape that death the law inflicts for murder, in consideration of the provocation, I cannot hope to preserve my employments.—I must retire from the world, live an obscure life the whole remainder of my days, and the whole shameful adventure being divulged, will render me the common topic of table conversation, and entail dishonour and contempt upon my son.'
Thus did ambition get the better of resentment;—thus did the love of grandeur extirpate all regard of true honour, and the shame of private contempt from the world lie stifled in the pride of public homage.
The minister in the mean time kept his word; he let the offending brother know it was his pleasure he should dispose of his commission in the guards, and purchase one in a regiment he named to him, which was very speedily to embark for Gibraltar: the young gentleman obeyed the injunction, and doubtless was not sorry to quit a place, where some accident or other, in spite of all the care he had resolved to take, might possibly bring him to the sight of a brother he had so greatly injured, the thoughts of whose just reproaches were more terrible to him, than any thing else that could befal him.
The wife of Natura being also privately admonished by her uncle how to behave, kept her chamber for some days, not only to give the better colour to the pretence had been made of her indisposition, but also to avoid the presence of her husband, till the first emotions of his fury should be a little abated;—he, on the other hand, profited by this absence, to bring himself to a resolution how to behave, when the shock of seeing her should arrive:—as her crime was past recal, reproaches and remonstrances would be in vain to retrieve her honour, or his peace; and if they even should work her into penitence, what would it avail? unless to soften him into a pity, which would only serve to render him more uneasy, as there was now no possibility of living with her as a wife.—Having, therefore, well weighed and considered all these things, it seemed best to him to say nothing to her of what had happened, and indeed to avoid speaking to her at all, except in public.
What she thought of a behaviour she had so little reason to expect, and what effect it produced on her future conduct, shall hereafter be related: I shall only say at present, that Natura gave himself no pain to consider what might be her sentiments on the occasion, as long as he found her uncle was perfectly satisfied with his manner of acting in this point, which he had no reason to doubt of, not only by the assurances he gave him in words of his being so, but by a more convincing and substantial proof, which was this; an envoy extraordinary being about to be sent to a foreign court, on a very important negociation, he had the honour of being recommended, as a gentleman every way qualified for the duties of that post.—The minister's choice of him was approved by the king and council, and he set out on his embassy, with an equipage and state, which, joined to the attention he gave to what he was employed in, greatly dissipated the chagrin of his private affairs, and he seemed to have forgot, for a time, not only the injuries he had received, but also even the persons from whom he had received them.
Shews at what age men are most liable to the passion of grief: the impatience of human nature under affliction, and the necessity there is of exerting reason, to restrain the excesses it would otherwise occasion.
There are certain periods of time, in which the passions take the deepest root within us; what at one age makes but a slight impression, and is easily dissipated by different ideas, at another engrosses all the faculties, and becomes so much a part of the soul, as to require the utmost exertion of reason, and all the aids of philosophy and religion to eradicate.—Grief, for example, is one of those passions which, in extreme youth, we know little of, and even when we grow nearer to maturity, has rarely any great dominion, let the cause which excites it be never so interesting, or justifiable: it may indeed be poignant for a time, and drive us to all the excesses imputed to that passion; but then it is of short continuance, it dwells not on the mind, and the least appearance of a new object of satisfaction, banishes it entirely; we dry our tears, and remember no more what so lately we lamented, perhaps with the most noisy exclamations:—but it is not so when riper years give a solidity and firmness to the judgment;—then as we are less apt to grieve without a cause, so we are less able to refrain from grieving, when we have a real cause.—Grief may therefore be called a reasonable passion, tho' it becomes not a reasonable man to give way to it;—this, at first sight, may seem a paradox to many people, but may easily be solved, in my opinion, on a very little consideration;—as thus,—because to be sensible of our loss in the value of the thing for which we mourn, is a proof of our judgment, as to refrain that mourning for what is past retrieving, within the bounds of moderation, is the greatest proof we can give of our reason:—a dull insensibility is not a testimony, either of wisdom or virtue; we are not to bear afflictions like statues, but like men; that is, we are allowed to feel, but not to repine, or be impatient under them:—few there are, however, who have the power of preserving this happy medium, as I before observed, tho' they are such as have the assistance both of precept and experience.
In a word, all that can be expected from the best of men, when pressed with any heavy calamity, is to struggle with all his might to bear up beneath the weight with decency and resignation; and as grief never seizes strongly on the mind, till a sufficient number of years gives reason strength to combat with it, that consideration furnishes matter for praise and adoration of the all-wise and all-beneficent Author of our being, who has bestowed on us a certain comfort for all ills, if we neglect not to make use of it; so that no man can be unhappy, unless he will be so.
Motives for grief which happen on a sudden merit excuse for the extravagancies they sometimes occasion, because they surprize us unawares, reason is off her guard, and it cannot be expected we should be armed against what we had no apprehensions of;—presence of mind is an excellent, but rare quality, and we shall see very few, even among the wisest men, who are such examples of it, as to behave in the first shock of some unforeseen misfortune, with the same moderation and calmness of temper, as they would have done, had they had previous warning of what was to befal them.
Much, however, are the effects of this, as of all other passions, owing to constitution:—the robust and sanguine nature soon kindles, and is soon extinguished; whereas the phlegmatic is slow to be moved, and when so not easily settled into a calm: and tho' the difference of age makes a wide difference in our way of thinking, yet as there are old men at twenty, and boys at three-score, that rule is not without some exceptions. But to take nature in the general, and allowing for the different habits of body and complexion, we may be truly said to be most prone to particular passions at particular ages:—as in youth, love, hope, and joy;—in maturity, ambition, pride, and its attendant ostentation;—when more advanced in years, grief, fear, and despair;—and in old age, avarice, and a kind of very churlish dislike of every thing presented to us.
But to return to Natura, from whose adventures I have digressed; but I hope forgiveness for it, as it was not only the history of the man I took upon me to relate, but also to point out, in his example, the various progress of the passions in a human mind.
He acquitted himself of the important trust had been reposed in him, with all the diligence and discretion could be expected from him; and returned honoured with many rich presents from the prince to whom he had been sent, as a testimony of the sense he had of his abilities.
But scarce had he time to receive the felicitations of his friends on this score, before an accident happened to him, which demanded a much more than equal share of condolance from them.—His son, his only son, the darling of his heart, was seized with a distemper in his head, which in a very few days baffled the art of medicine, and snatched him from the world.—What now availed his honours, his wealth, his every requisite for grandeur, or for pleasure?—He, for whose sake chiefly he had laboured to acquire them, was no more!—no second self remained to enjoy what he must one day leave behind him.—All of him was now collected in his own being, and with that being must end.—Melancholly reflection!—yet not the worst that this unhappy incident inflicted:—his estate, all at least that had descended to him by inheritance, with the vast improvements he had made on it, must now devolve on a brother he had so much cause to hate, and whose very name but mentioned struck horror to his heart.
The motives for his grief were great, it must be allowed, and such as demanded the utmost fortitude to sustain;—he certainly exerted all he was master of on this occasion; but, in spite of his efforts, nature got the upper hand, and rendered him inconsolable:—he burst not into any violent exclamations, but the silent sorrow preyed on his vitals, and reduced him, in a short time, almost to the shadow of what he had been.
One of the most dangerous effects of melancholy is, the gloomy pleasure it gives to every thing that serves to indulge it:—darkness and solitude are its delight and nourishment, and the person possessed of it, naturally shuns and hates whatever might alleviate it;—the sight of his best friends now became irksome to him;—he not only loathed, but grew incapable of all business;—he shut himself in his closet, shunned conversation, was scarce prevailed on to take the necessary supports of nature, and seemed as if his soul was buried in the tomb of his son, and only a kind of vegetative life remained within him.
His sister, who loved him very affectionately, and for whom he had always preserved the tenderest amity, being informed of his disconsolate condition, came to town, flattering herself with being able to dissipate, at least some part of his chagrin. To this end she brought with her all her children, some of whom he had never seen, and had frequently expressed by letter, the desire he had of embracing them, and the regret he had that the great affairs he was always constantly engaged in, would not permit him time to take a journey into the country where she lived.
But how greatly did she deceive herself;—he was too far sunk in the lethargy of grief, to be roused out of it by all her kind endeavours;—on the contrary, the sight of those near and dear relatives she presented to him only added to his affliction, by reminding him in a more lively manner of his own loss; and the sad effect she found their presence had on him, obliged her to remove them immediately from his eyes.
She could not, however, think of quitting him in a state so truly deplorable, and so unbecoming of his circumstances and character:—she remained in his house, would pursue him wherever he retired, and as she was a woman of excellent sense, as well as good-nature, invented a thousand little stratagems to divert his thoughts from the melancholly theme which had too much engrossed them, but had not the satisfaction to perceive that any thing she could say or do, occasioned the least movement of that fixed sullenness, which, by a long habit, appeared like a second nature in him.
This poor lady found also other matters of surprize and discontent, on her staying in town, besides the sad situation of her brother's health:—as she had never been informed of the disunion between him and his wife, much less of the occasion of it, the behaviour of that lady filled her with the utmost astonishment:—to perceive she took no pains to alleviate his sorrows, never came into the room where he was, or even sent her woman with those common compliments, which he received from all who had the least acquaintance with him, would have afforded sufficient occasion for the speculation of a sister; yet was this manifest disregard, this failure in all the duties of a wife, a friend, a neighbour, little worthy of consideration, when put in comparison with her conduct in other points.
After the adventure of her detection, finding the minister was resolved to support her, and that her husband durst not come to any open breach with her, she immediately began to throw aside all regard for decorum;—she seemed utterly to despise all sense of shame, and even to glory in a life of continual dissolution;—the company she kept of both sexes, were, for the most part, persons of abandoned characters: whether she indulged herself in a plurality of amours, is uncertain, though it was said she did so; but there was one man to whom she was most particularly attached;—this was a person who had formerly enjoyed a post under the government, but was turned out on the score of misbehaviour, and had now no other support than what he received from her:—with him she frequently passed whole nights, and took so little care in concealing the place of their meeting, that the sister of Natura easily found it out.
On relating the discovery she had made to some of their relations, they advised her to tell her brother, imagining this glaring insult on his honour would effectually rouse him out of the stupidity he languished under:—she was of the same opinion, and took the first opportunity of letting Natura into the whole infamous affair, not without some apprehensions, that an excess of rage on hearing it, might hurry him into a contrary extreme; but her terrors on this head were presently dissipated, when having repeated many circumstances to corroborate the truth of what she said, there appeared not the least emotion in his countenance; and on her urging him to take some measures to do himself justice, or at least to put a stop to this licentiousness of a person whose dishonour was his own; all she could get from him was, that he had neither regard enough for her to take any pains for the reclaiming her, nor for the censure of the world on himself, and desired she would not trouble him any farther on this point.
This strange insensibility afforded cause to fear his faculties were all too deeply absorbed in melancholy, for him ever to become a man of the world again, and as she truly loved him, gave both her, and all his other friends, an infinite concern.
The struggles which different passions occasion in the human breast, are here exemplified; and that there is no one among them so strong, but may be extirpated by another, excepting revenge, which knows no period, but by gratification.
Though it must be acknowledged, that the passions, generally speaking, operate according to the constitution, and seem, in a manner, wholly directed by it, yet there is one, above all, which actuates alike in all, and when once entertained, is scarce ever extinguished:—it may indeed lie dormant, for a time, but then it easily revives on the least occasion, and blazes out with greater violence than ever. I believe every one will understand I mean revenge, since there is no other emotion of the soul, but has its antedote: grief and joy alternately succeed each other;—hope has its period in possession;—fear ceases, either by the cause being removed, or by a fatal certainty of some dreaded evil;—ambition dies within us, on a just sense of the folly of pursuing it;—hate is often vanquished by good offices;—even greedy avarice may be glutted; and love is, for the most part, fluctuating, and may be terminated by a thousand accidents.—Revenge alone is implacable and eternal, not to be banished by any other passion whatsoever;—the effects of it are the same, invariable in every constitution; and whether the man be phlegmatic or sanguine, there will be no difference in his way of thinking in this point. The principles of religion and morality indeed may, and frequently do, hinder a man from putting into action what this cruel passion suggests, but neither of them can restrain him who has revenge in his heart, from wishing it were lawful for him to indulge it.
This being so fixed a passion, it hardly ever gains entrance on the mind, till a sufficient number of years have given a solidity to the thoughts, and made us know for what we wish, and why we wish.—Every one, however, does not experience its force, and happy may those be accounted who are free from it, since it is not only the most unjustifiable and dangerous, but also the most restless and self-tormenting emotion of the soul.
There are, notwithstanding, some kind of provocations, which it is scarce possible, nor indeed consistent with the justice we owe to ourselves, to bury wholly in oblivion; and likewise there are some kinds of revenge, which may deserve to be excused; of these, that which Natura put in practice, as shall presently be shewn, may be reckoned of the number.
I doubt not, but my readers, as well as all those who were acquainted with him at that time, will believe, that in the situation I have described, he was for ever lost to the sense of any other passion, than that which so powerfully engrossed him, and from which all the endeavours hitherto made use of, had been ineffectual to rouse him. But it often happens, that what we least expect, comes most suddenly upon us, and proves that all human efforts are in vain, without the interposition of some supernatural power.
I have already said, that the bad conduct of his wife had been repeated over and over to him without his discovering the least emotion at it; yet would not his sister cease urging him to resent it as became a man sensible of his dishonour, that is, to rid himself, by such ways as the law puts it in the power of a husband so injured, to get rid of her; and imagining that an ocular demonstration of her crime, would make a greater impression on him, than any report could do, she set about contriving some way to bring him where his own eyes might convince him of the truth of what he had been so often told:—but how to prevail on him to go out of his house, which he had not now seen the outside of for some months, was a difficulty not easily surmounted:—the obstinacy of grief disappointed all the little plots they laid for their purpose, and they were beginning to give over all thoughts of any future attempts, when chance accomplished the so-much desired work.
He had ordered a monument to be erected over the grave of his beloved son; which, being finished, and he told that it was so, 'I will see,' said he, 'if it be done according to my directions.' Two or three of his kindred were present when he took this resolution, and one of them immediately recollecting, how they might make it of advantage to their design, said many things in praise of the structure; but added, that the scaffolding and rubbish the workmen had left, not being yet removed, he would have him defer seeing it, till it was cleaned. To this he having readily agreed, spies were placed, to observe the time and place, where the lady and her favourite lover had the next rendezvous. As neither of them had any great caution in their amour, a full account was soon brought to the sister of Natura, who, with several of their relations, came into his chamber, and told him that the tomb was now fit to be seen in all its beauty.
On this he presently suffered himself to be dressed, and went with them; but they managed so well that, under pretence of calling on another friend, who, they said, had desired to be of their company in this melancholly entertainment, they led him to the house where his wife and enamorato were yet in bed. The sister of Natura having, by a large bribe, secured the woman of the house to her interest, they were all conducted to the very scene of guilt, and this much injured husband had a second testimony of the perfidy of his wife; but alas! the first had made too deep an impression on him to leave room for any great surprize; he only cooly turned away, and said to those who had brought him there, that they needed not have taken all this pains to make him a witness of what he was convinced of long before.
His wife, however, was frighted, if not ashamed, and hid herself under the bedcloaths, while her gallant jumped, naked as he was, out of the window; but though Natura discovered very little emotion at all this, yet whether it was owing to the arguments of his friends, or that the air, after having been so long shut up from it, had an effect on him, they could not determine, but had the satisfaction to find that he consented an action in his name should be awarded against the lover, and proper means used for obtaining a bill of divorce from his wife.
The real motive of this change in him none of them, however, could penetrate:—grief had for a while obliterated the thoughts of the injustice and ingratitude of his brother, but what he had now beheld reminding him of that shocking scene related in the first chapter of this book, all his long stifled wishes for revenge returned with greater force than ever; and thinking he could no way so fully gratify them, as by disappointing him of the estate he must enjoy at his decease, in case he died without issue, a divorce therefore would give him liberty to marry again; and as he was no more than three-and-forty years of age, had no reason to despair of having an heir, to cut entirely off the claim of so wicked a brother. Having once began to stir in the affair, it was soon brought to a conclusion.—The fact was incontestable, and proved by witnesses, whose credit left no room for cavil; a bill of divorce was granted on very easy terms, and the gallant fined in so large a penalty, that he was obliged to quit the kingdom, to avoid imprisonment for life.
Thus did revenge produce an effect, which neither the precepts of religion, philosophy, or morality, joined with the most tender and pressing remonstrances of his nearest and dearest friends, could ever have brought about;—and this instance, in my judgment, proves to a demonstration, that it is so ordered by the all-wise Creator, that all the pernicious passions are at continual enmity, and, like counter-poisons, destroy the force of each other: and tho' it is certain, a man may be possessed of many passions at once, and those also may be of different natures, and tend to different aims, yet will there be a struggle, as it were, between them in the breast, and which ever happens to get predominance, will drive out the others in time, and reign alone sole master of the mind.
Contains a further definition of revenge, its force, effects, and the chasm it leaves on the mind when once it ceases. The tranquility of being entirely devoid of all passions; and the impossibility for the soul to remain in that state of inactivity is also shewn; with some remarks on human nature in general, when left to itself.
I have already shewn, in the example of Natura, how not only resentment for injuries, but even the extremest and most justifiable rage, may be subjected to ambition, and afterwards how that ambition may be quelled and totally extinguished by grief; and also that grief itself, how violent soever it appears, may subside at the emotions of revenge.—This last and worst passion alone finds nothing capable of overcoming it, while the object remains in being. It is true, that we frequently in the hurry of resentment, threaten, and sometimes act every thing in our power, against the person who has offended us, yet on his submission and appearing sorry for what he has done, we not only forgive, but also forget all has past, and no longer bear him the least ill will; but then, this passion, by which we have been actuated, is not properly revenge, but anger, of which I have already sufficiently spoke, and, I flatter myself, proved how wide the difference is between these two emotions.
Natura had no sooner taken it into his head to revenge himself in the manner above related, on his transgressing brother, than he resumed great part of his former chearfulness, conversed again in the world as he had been accustomed; nor, though he perceived his interest with the minister fall off ever since he had been divorced from his neice, and easily foresaw, that he would, from his friend, become in time his greatest enemy, yet it gave him little or no concern, so wholly were his thoughts and desires taken up with accomplishing what he had resolved.
He was, however, for some time deliberating within himself to whom he should direct his addresses on this score; the general acquaintance he had in the world, brought many ladies into his mind, who seemed suitable matches for him; but then, as they were of equal birth and fortunes with himself, he reflected, that a long formal courtship would be expected, and he was now grown too indolent to take that trouble, as he was not excited by inclination to any of them, and had determined to enter a third time into the bonds of matrimony, meerly through the hope of depriving his brother of the estate.
Besides, the accidents which had lately happened to him, had very much altered his way of thinking, and though he had shaken off great part of the chagrin they had occasioned, yet there still remained a certain languor and inactivity of mind, which destroyed all the relish he formerly had of the noisy pleasures of life:—he began now to despise that farce of grandeur he once testified so high a value for, and to look on things as they really deserved;—he found his interest with those at the helm of public affairs, was very much sunk, and he was so far from taking any steps to retrieve it, that he seldom went even to pay that court to them, which his station demanded from him;—he grew so weary of the post which he had, with the utmost eagerness, sought after, and thought himself happy in enjoying, that he never rested till he had disposed of it, which he did for a much less consideration than it was really worth, meerly because he would be in a state of perfect independency, and at full liberty to speak and act, according to the dictates of his conscience, or his inclination.
He was no sooner eased of his attendance at court by this means, than he retired to his country seat, in which he now thought he found more satisfaction, than the town, with all its hurrying pleasures could afford; there he intended to pass the greatest part of the remainder of his days, with some woman of prudence and good nature, which were the two chief requisites he now wished to find in a wife.—There were several well-jointured widows in the county where he resided, and also young ladies of family and fortune, but he never made the least overtures to any of them, and behaved with that indifference to the sex, that it was the opinion of all who conversed with him, that he never designed to marry again, when at the same time, he thought of nothing more than to find a partner in that state, such as promised to prove what he desired.
To this end he watched attentively the behaviour of all those he came in company with, and as he was master of a good deal of penetration, and also no small experience in the sex, and besides was not suspected to have any views that way, it is certain he had a good chance not to be deceived.
It was not among the fine ladies, the celebrated beauties, nor the great fortunes, he sought himself a wife; but among those of a middling rank; he only wished to have one who might bring him children, and be addicted to no vice, or caprice, that should either scandalize him abroad, or render him uneasy at home, and in all his inspection, he found none who seemed so likely to answer his desires in every respect as a young maid called Laetitia; she was the daughter of a neighbouring yeoman, not disagreeable in her person, or behaviour, yet possessed of no accomplishments, but those which nature had bestowed: her father was an honest plain man, he had four sons and two daughters, who had been married some time, and had several children; Laetitia was his youngest, and promised to be no less fruitful than her sisters; and this last was the chief inducement which made Natura fix his choice upon her.
Having resolved to seek no farther, he frequently went to the old man's house, pretending he took delight in country affairs, would walk with him about his grounds, and into his barns, and see the men who were at work in them. One day he took an opportunity of going when he knew he was abroad, designing to break his mind to the young Laetitia, who, being her father's housekeeper, he did not doubt finding at home: accordingly she was so; and, after some previous discourse, a little boy of one of her sisters, being playing about the room, 'This it a fine child,' said he; 'when do you design to marry, pretty Mrs. Laetitia?'—'Should you not like to be a mother of such diverting little pratlers?'—'It is time enough, sir,' replied she modestly, 'for me to think of any such thing.'—'If you get a good husband,' resumed he, 'it cannot be too soon':—'Nor, if a bad one, too late,' cried she, 'as there are great odds on that side.'—'That is true,' said he, 'but I believe there are many ill husbands, who owe their being such, to the ill conduct of their wives':—'now I fancy,' continued he, 'whoever is so happy as to have you, will have no such excuse; for I firmly believe you have in you all the requisites to make the marriage state agreeable.' To this she only made a curtesy, and thanked him for his good opinion: 'I do assure you,' resumed he, 'it is so sincere, that I should be glad to prove it, by making you my wife. What say you,' pursued he, 'could you be willing to accept of my addresses on that score?' With these words he took hold of her hand, and pressing it with a great deal of warmth, occasioned her to blush excessively.—The inability she was in of speaking, through the shame this question had excited in her, gave him an opportunity of prosecuting what he had begun, and saying many tender things, to convince her he was in earnest; but when at last she gave him an answer, it was only such as made him see she gave little credit to his professions.—Some people coming in on business to her father, and saying they would wait till he came home, obliged Natura to take his leave for that time, well satisfied in his mind, that he had declared himself, and not much doubting, but that in spite of this first shyness, she would easily be prevailed upon to correspond with his desires, when his perseverance in them, should have assured her of their sincerity.
He was, notwithstanding, a good deal surprized, when, going several times after to the house, he could scarce see her, and never be able to exchange a word with her in private, so industriously did she avoid coming into his presence.—Such a behaviour, he thought, could proceed only from one of these two motives, either thro' an extraordinary dislike to his person, or through the fears of giving any indulgence to an inclination, which the disparity between them might make her mistake for a dishonourable one. Sometimes he was tempted to think the one, sometimes the other; but not being of a humour to endure suspense, he resolved to take effectual measures for coming at the certainty.
He went one day about noon, and told the yeoman he was come to take a dinner with him, on which the other replied, that he did him a great deal of honour; but should have been glad to have been previously acquainted with it, in order to have been prepared to receive a gentleman of his condition.—'No,' said Natura, 'I chose to come upon you unawares, not only to prevent you from giving yourself any superfluous trouble on my account, but also because I would use a freedom, which should authorize you to treat me with the same;—we are neighbours,' continued he, 'and neighbours should be friends, and love one another.'
Some other little chat on trivial affairs passed away the short time between the coming of Natura, and dinner being brought in; on which, the yeoman intreated him to sit down, and partake of such homely food as he found there.—'That I shall gladly do,' answered Natura, 'but I waited for your fair daughter; I hope we shall have her company. I do not know,' said the yeoman, 'I think they told me she was not very well, had got the head-ach, or some such ailment;—go, however,' pursued he, to a servant, 'and see if Laetitia can come down.'—'But, sir,' cried he, perceiving his guest discovered no inclination to place himself at the table, 'do not let us wait for her.'
Natura on this sat down, and they both began to eat, when the person who had been sent to call Laetitia returned, and said, she begged to be excused, being very much indisposed, and unfit to be seen.—The old man seemed to take no notice, but pressed Natura to eat, and somewhat embarrassed him with the many apologies he made for the coarseness of his entertainment; to all which he gave but short answers, till the cloth was taken away, and they were alone.—Then, 'I could not wish to dine more to my satisfaction,' said he, 'if the sweetness of your meat had not been imbittered by your daughter's absence';—'to be plain,' continued he, 'I fear I am the disease which occasions her retirement.'—'You, sir!' cried the father, affecting a surprize, which he was not so well skilled in the art of dissimulation, to make appear so natural, but that Natura easily saw into the feint, and told him with a smile, that he found the country had its arts as well as the court:—'but let us deal sincerely with each other,' pursued he, 'I am very certain, it is from no other motive, than my being here, that your daughter refused to come to table; and I also faithfully believe you are no stranger to that motive:—be therefore free with me; and to encourage you to be so, I shall acquaint you, that I have made some overtures to Mrs. Laetitia,—that I like her, and that my frequent visits to you have been entirely on her account:—now, be as sincere with me, and let me know, whether the offers I made her will be approved.'
The yeoman was a little dashed on Natura's speaking in this manner, and was some moments before he could recollect himself sufficiently to make any reply; and, when at last he had, all he could bring out was, 'Sir, my girl is honest, and I hope will always continue so.'
'I am far from doubting her virtue in the least,' answered Natura hastily, 'but I think I cannot give a greater testimony of the good opinion I have of her, than by offering to make her my wife.'—'Ah, sir,' cried the yeoman, interrupting him, 'you must excuse me, if I cannot flatter myself you have any thoughts of doing us that honour.—I am a mean man, of no parentage, and it is well known have brought up a large family by the sweat of my brow.'—'Laetitia is a poor country maid;—it is true, the girl is well enough, but has nothing,—nothing at all, alas! in her to balance for that vast disparity of birth and fortune between you.'
'Talk no more of that,' said Natura, taking him by the hand, 'such as she is, I like her; and I once more assure you, that I never had any dishonourable intentions on her, but am ready to prove the contrary, by marrying her, as soon as she approves of me, and you agree to it.'
The old man looked very earnestly on him all the while he was speaking, and knew not well whether he ought to give credit to what he said, or not,—Natura, perceiving his diffidence, continued, by sparing neither arguments, nor the most solemn imprecations, to remove it, till he was at last assured of a good fortune, which, as he said, he had thought too extraordinary to happen in his family. He then told Natura he would acquaint his daughter with the happiness he intended for her, and dispose her to receive it with that respect and gratitude that became her. On which Natura took his leave till the next day, when he found Laetitia did not make any excuse to avoid his presence, as she had lately done.—He addressed himself to her not in the same manner he would have done to a woman of condition, but yet in very tender and affectionate terms:—her behaviour to him was humble, modest, and obliging; and though she was not mistress of the politest expressions, yet what she said discovered she wanted not a fund of good sense and understanding, which, if cultivated by education, would have appeared very bright. He easily perceived, she took a great deal of pains to disguise the joy she conceived at this prospect of raising her fortune, but was too little accustomed to dissimulation, to do it effectually, and both the one and the other gave him much satisfaction.
Circumstances being in the manner I related, it is not natural to suppose any long sollicitation was required.—Laetitia affected not an indifference she was free from, and Natura pressing for the speedy consummation of his wishes, a day was appointed for the celebration of the nuptials, and both the intended bride and bridegroom set themselves about making the necessary preparations usual in such cases.
But see, how capable are our finest resolutions of being shaken by accidents!—the most assured of men may be compared to the leaf of a tree, which veers with every blast of wind, and is never long in one position.—Had any one told Natura he had taken all this pains for nothing, and that he would be more anxious to get off his promise of marrying Laetitia, than ever he had been to engage one from her for that purpose; he would have thought himself highly injured, and that the person who said this of him was utterly a stranger to his sentiments or character; yet so it happened, and the poor Letitia found all her hopes of grandeur vanish into air, when they seemed just on the point of being accomplished.—The occasion of this strange and sudden transition was as follows:
Two days before that prefixed for his marriage, Natura received a packet from Gibralter, which brought him an account of the death of his brother.—That unfortunate young gentleman, being convinced by his sufferings, and perhaps too by his own remorse, and stings of conscience of the foulness of the crime he had been guilty of, fell into a languishing disorder, soon after his arrival in that country, which left those about him no expectations of his ever getting the better of.—Finding his dissolution near, he wrote a letter to Natura, full of contrition, and intreaties for forgiveness. This epistle accompanied that which related his death, and both together plunged Natura into very melancholly thoughts.—The offence his brother had been guilty of, was indeed great; but, when he remembered that he had repented, and was now no more, all resentment, all revenge, against him ceased with his existence, and a tender pity supplied their place:—what, while living, he never would have forgave, when dead lost great part of its atrocity, and he bewailed the fate of the transgressor, with unfeigned tears and lamentations.
This event putting an end to the motive which had induced Natura to think of marriage, put an end also to his desires that way;—he was sorry he had gone so far with Laetitia, was loth to appear a deceiver in her eyes, or in those of her father; but thought it would be the extremest madness in him to prosecute his intent, as his beloved sister had a son, who would now be his heir, and only had desired to be the father of one himself to hinder him from being so, whose crimes had rendered him unworthy of it.
The emotions of this revenge having entirely subsided, he now had leisure to consider how oddly the world would think and talk of him, if he perpetrated a marriage with a girl such as Laetitia;—he almost wondered at himself, that the just displeasure he had conceived against his brother, should have transported him so far as to make him forgetful of what was owing to his own character; and when he reflected on the miseries, vexations, and infamy, his last marriage had involved him in, he trembled to think how near he had been to entering into a state, which tho' he had a very good opinion of Laetitia's virtue, might yet possibly, some way or other, have given him many uneasinesses.
He was, however, very much embarrassed how to break with her handsomely; and it must be confessed, that after what had passed, this was no very easy matter to accomplish.—Make what pretence he would, he could not expect to escape the censure of an unstable fluctuating man.—This is indeed a character, which all men are willing, nay industrious, to avoid, yet what there are few men, but some time or other in their lives, give just reason to incur.—Natura very well knew, that to court a woman for marriage, and afterwards break his engagements with her, was a thing pretty common in the world; but then, it was thing he had always condemned in his own mind, and looked upon as most ungenerous and base:—besides, though he had made his addresses to Laetitia, meerly because he imagined she would prove a virtuous, obedient, and fruitful wife, and was not inflamed with any of those sentiments for her which are called love; yet, designing to marry her, he had set himself as much as possible to love her, and had really excited in his heart a kind of a tenderness, which made him unable to resolve on giving her the mortification of being forsaken, without feeling great part of the pain he was about to inflict on her.
All he now wished was, that she might be possessed of as little warmth of inclination for him as he had known for her, and that the disparity of years between them, might have made her consent to the proposed marriage, intirely on the motive of interest, without any mixture of love, in order that the disappointment she was going to receive, might seem the less severe: as the regard he had for her made him earnestly wish this might be the case, he carefully recollected all the passages of her behaviour, her looks, her words, nay, the very accents of her voice, were re-examined, in hope to find some tokens of that happy indifference, which alone could make him easy in this affair; but all this retrospect afforded him no more than uncertain conjectures, and imaginations which frequently contradicted each other, and indeed served only to increase his doubts, and add to his disquiets.
The mourning for his brother was, however, a very plausible pretence for delaying the marriage; and as he was willing the disappointment should come on by degrees, thinking by that means to soften the asperity of it, he contrived to let both father and daughter have room to guess the event before hand.—He seldom went to their house, and when he did, made very short visits, talked as if the necessity of his affairs would oblige him to leave the country, and settle again entirely in town:—rather avoided, than sought any opportunity of speaking to Laetitia in private, and in all his words and actions, discovered a coldness which could not but be very surprizing to them both, though they took not the least notice that they were so before him, but behaved towards him in the same manner, as when he appeared the most full of affection.
This was a piece of prudence Natura had not expected from persons of their low education and way of life:—he had imagined, that either the one or the other of them would have upbraided this change in him, and by avowing a suspicion, that he had repented him of his promises, given him an opportunity either of seeming to resent it, or by some other method, of breaking off: but this way of proceeding frustrated his measures in that point, and he found himself under a necessity of speaking first, on a subject no less disagreeable to himself, than he knew it would be to those to whom his discourse should be directed.
However, as there was no remedy, and he considered, that the longer to keep them in suspense, would only be adding to the cruelty of the disappointment; he sent one morning for the yeoman to come to his house, and after ushering in what he was about to say, with some reflections on the instability of human affairs, told him that some accidents had happened, which rendered it highly inconvenient for him to think of marrying;—that he had the utmost respect and good will for Laetitia, and that if there were not indissoluble impediments to hinder him from taking a wife, she should be still his choice, above any woman he knew in the world;—that he wished her happy with any other man, and to contribute to making her so, as also by way of atonement for his enforced leaving her, he would give her five hundred pounds, as an addition to her fortune.
This was the substance of what he said; but though he delivered it in the softest terms he could possibly make use of, he could find it was not well received by the old man; his countenance, however, a little cleared up at the closure of it:—the five hundred pounds was somewhat of a sweetener to the bitter pill; and after expatiating, according to his way, on the ungenerosity of engaging a young maid's affection, and afterwards forsaking her, he threw in some shrewd hints, that as accidents had happened to change his mind as to marriage, others might also happen, which would have the same effect, in relation to the present he now seemed to intend for her.
'To prevent that,' cried Natura hastily, 'you shall take it home with you'; and with these words turned to a cabinet, and took out the sum he had mentioned; after counting it over, he put it into a bag, and delivered it to the yeoman, saying at the same time, that though it might not be so proper to come to his house, yet if he would send to him in any exigence, he should find him ready to assist him; 'for you may depend,' added he, 'that though I cannot be your son, I shall always be your friend.'
These words, and the money together, rendered the yeoman more content than Natura had expected he would be; and by that he hoped he knew his daughter had not imbibed any passion for him, which she would find much difficulty in getting rid of, and that this augmentation to her portion, would very well compensate for the loss of a husband, of more than twice her years.
A small time evinced, that Natura had not been altogether mistaken in his conjectures.—Laetitia became the bride of a young wealthy grazier in a neighbouring town, with whom she removed soon after her marriage; and this event, so much desired by Natura, destroyed all the remains of disquiet, his nicety of honour, and love of justice, had occasioned in him.
Being now wholly extricated from an adventure, which had given him much pain, and no less free from the emotions of any turbulent passion, he passed his days and nights in a most perfect and undisturbed tranquility; a situation of mind to which, for a long series of years, he had been an utter stranger.
To desire, or pursue any thing with too much eagerness, is undoubtedly the greatest cruelty we can practise on ourselves; yet how impossible is it to avoid doing so, while the passions have any kind of dominion over us:—to acquire, and to preserve, make the sole business of our lives, and leave no leisure to enjoy the goods of fortune:—still tost on the billows of passion, hurried from care to care the whole time of our existence here, is one continued scene of restlessness and variated disquiet.—Strange propensity in man!—even nature in us seems contradictory to herself!—we wish long life, yet shorten it by our own anxieties;—nothing is so dreadful as death, yet we hasten his approach by our intemperance and irregularity, and, what is more, we know all this, yet still run on in the same heady course.
Natura had now, however, an interval, a happy chasm, between the extremes of pleasure and of pain;—contented with his lot, and neither aiming at more than he possessed, nor fearful of being deprived of what he had. He, for a time, seemed in a condition such as all wise men would wish to attain, tho' so few take proper methods for that purpose, that those who we see in it, may be said to owe their felicity rather to chance, than to any right endeavours of their own.
Contains a remarkable proof, that tho' the passions may operate with greater velocity and vehemence in youth, yet they are infinitely more strong and permanent, when the person is arrived at maturity, and are then scarce ever eradicated. Love and friendship are then, and not till then, truly worthy of the names they bear; and that the one between those of different sexes, is always the consequence of the other.
The inclination we have, and the pleasure it gives us to think well of our abilities, leads us frequently into the most gross mistakes, concerning the springs of action in our breasts. We are apt to ascribe to the strength of our reason, what is in reality the effect of one or other of the passions, sometimes even those of the worst kind, and which a sound judgment would most condemn, and endeavour to extirpate.—Man is a stranger to nothing, more than to himself;—the recesses of his own heart, are no less impenetrable to him, than the worlds beyond the moon;—he is blinded by vanity, and agitated by desires he knows not he is possessed of.
It was not reason but revenge, which dissipated the immoderate grief of Natura on the death of his son;—it was not reason but pride, which made him see the inconveniences of marrying with Laetitia;—and yet doubtless he gave the praise of these events to the strength of his prudence: to that too he also ascribed the resolution he now took of living single during the remainder of his life; whereas it was in truth only owing to his being at present acquainted with no object capable of inspiring him with the tender passion.
As he was now entirely free from all business, or avocation of any kind whatsoever, it came into his head to go and pass some part of the summer season with his sister:—he accordingly crossed the country to her seat, and was received with all imaginable demonstrations of joy, both by herself and husband.
He found their family increased by the addition of a lady, who preferring a country to a town life, had desired to board with them, which was readily granted by the sister of Natura, not only as she was a relation of her husband, but also for the sake of having a companion so perfectly agreeable as this lady was in every respect.
Charlotte, for so she was called, had been left a widow within three months after her marriage, and had never entertained any thoughts of entering into a second engagement, though her person, jointure, and accomplishments, had attracted many sollicitations on that score. She was about thirty years of age when Natura found her at his sister's; and through the chearfulness of her temper, and the goodness of her constitution, had preserved in her countenance all the bloom of fifteen.—The charms of her person, however, made no impression on Natura at his first acquaintance with her; he thought her a fine woman, as every one did who saw her, but her charms reached not his heart, nor gave him any emotions, either of pain or pleasure.
But it was not for any longtime he remained in this state of insensibility.—Charlotte had graces which could not fail of conquest, sooner or later:—where those of her eyes wanted the power to move, her tongue came in to their assistance, and was sure of gaining the day:—there was something so resistless in her wit, and manner of conversation, that none but those by nature, or want of proper education, were too dull and stupid to understand, but must have felt an infinity of satisfaction in it.
Besides all this, there was a sympathy of humour between this lady and Natura, which greatly contributed to make them pleased with each other:—both were virtuous by nature, by disposition gay and chearful:—both were equally lovers of reading; had a smattering of philosophy, were perfectly acquainted with the world, and knew what in it was truly worthy of being praised or contemned; and what rendered them still more conformable, was the aversion which each testified to marriage.—Natura's treatment from his wife, had made him speak with some bitterness against a state, which had involved him in so many perplexities; and Charlotte, though so short a time a wife, having been married against her inclination, and to a man who, it seems, knew not her real value, had found in it the beginning of disquiets, which prognosticated worse mischiefs, had not his death relieved her from them, and made her too thankful for the deliverance, to endure the thoughts of venturing a second time to give up her freedom.
This parity of sentiments, inclinations, and dispositions, it was which, by degrees, endeared them to each other, without knowing they were so.
Natura became at last impatient out of the company of Charlotte, and Charlotte found a restlessness in herself whenever Natura was absent; but this indeed happened but seldom:—the mutual desire they had of being together, made each of them industriously avoid all those parties of pleasure, in which both could not have a share:—Natura excused himself from accompanying his brother-in-law in any of those diversions where women were not admitted; and Charlotte always had some pretence for staying at home when the sister of Natura made her visits to the ladies of the country;—yet was this managed on both sides with such great decency and precaution, that neither the one nor the other perceived the motive which occasioned their being so rarely separated; much less had the family any notion of it.
It is certain, that never any two persons were possessed of a more true and delicate passion for each other:—the flame which warmed their breasts, was meerly spiritual, and platonic;—the difference of sex was never considered:—Natura adored Charlotte, not because she was a lovely woman, but because he imagined somewhat angelic in her mind; and Charlotte loved Natura not because he had an agreeable person, but because she thought she discovered more charms in his soul, than in that of any other man or woman.
The acquaintance between them soon grew into an intimacy, and that intimacy, by degrees, ripened into a friendship, which is the height and very essence of love, though neither of them would allow themselves to think it so: they made no scruple, however, of assuring each other, of their mutual esteem, and promised all the good offices in the power of either, with a freedom which they would not have done (especially Charlotte, who was naturally very reserved) had they been sensible to what lengths their present attachment might in time proceed.
Winter now drew on, but Natura was too much rivetted to think of departing, and would doubtless have made some pretext for living altogether with his sister, had not an accident happened, which made his going a greater proof of the regard he had for Charlotte, than his staying could have done, and perhaps made him know the real sentiments he was possessed of on her account, much sooner than he should without it.
That lady had some law-affairs, which required either herself, or some very faithful and diligent friend to attend. Term was approaching, and the brother-in-law of Natura had promised to take a journey to London for that purpose; but he unfortunately had been thrown from his horse in a hunting match, and broke his leg, and Charlotte seemed in a good deal of anxiety, who she should write to, in order to entrust with the care of her business, which she justly feared would suffer much, if left wholly to the lawyer's own management.
Natura on this offered his service, and told her, if she would favour him with her confidence in this point, he would go directly to London, where she might depend on his diligence and fidelity in the forwarding her business:—as she had not the least doubt of either, she accepted this testimony of his friendship, with no other reluctance, than what the being long deprived of his conversation occasioned.—Her good sense, notwithstanding, got the better of that consideration, which she looked upon only at an indulgence to herself, and committed to his care all the papers necessary to be produced, in case he succeeded so well for her, as to bring the suit to a trial.
The manner of their taking leave was only such as might be expected between two persons, who professed a friendly regard for each other; but Natura had no sooner set out on his journey, than he felt a heaviness at his heart, for having left the adorable Charlotte, which nothing but the consideration that he was employed on her business, and going to serve her could have asswaged.
This was, indeed, a sweet consolation to him, and on his arrival in town, set himself to enquire into the causes of that delay she had complained of, with so much assiduity, that he easily found out she had not been well treated by her lawyers, and that one of them had even gone so far as to take fees from her adversary;—he therefore put the affair into other hands, and ordered matters so, that the trial could not, by any means, be put off till another time.
Yet, in spite of all this diligence, it was the opinion of the council, that there was an absolute necessity for the lady to appear herself:—it is hard to say, whether Natura was more vexed or pleased at this intelligence; he was sorry that he could not, of himself, accomplish what he came about, and spare her the trouble of a journey he had found was very disagreeable to her, not only on account of her aversion to the town, and the ill season of the year for travelling, but also because the person she contended with was a near relation, and she was very sensible would engage many of their kindred to disswade her from doing herself that justice she was resolute to persist in her attempts for procuring.—The thoughts of the perplexity this would give her, it was that filled him with a good deal of trouble; but then the reflection, that he should have the happiness of seeing her again, on this account, much sooner than he could otherwise have done, gave him at least an equal share of satisfaction.
The gentlemen of the long robe employed in her cause, and whose veracity and judgment he was well assured of, insisting she must come, put an end to his suspense, and he wrote to her for that purpose: the next post brought him an answer which, to his great surprize, expressed not the least uneasiness on the score of this journey, only acquainted him, that she had taken a place in the stage, should set out next morning, and in three days be in London; against which time, she begged he would be so good to provide her a commodious lodging, she being determined to go to none of her kindred, for the reason abovementioned.
Being animated with exactly the same sentiments Natura was, that inclination which led him to wish her coming, influenced her also to be pleased with it, and rendered the fatigue of the journey, and those others she expected to find on her arrival, of no consequence, when balanced against the happiness she proposed, in re-enjoying the conversation of her aimable and worthy friend.
But all this Natura was ignorant of; nor did his vanity suggest to him the least part of what passed in his favour in the bosom of his lovely Charlotte; but he needed no more than the knowledge she was coming to a place where he should have her company, with less interruption than he had hitherto the opportunity of, to make him the most transported man alive. As he had no house of his own in town to accommodate her with, he provided lodgings, and every thing necessary for her reception, with an alacrity worthy of his love, and the confidence she reposed in him; and went in his own coach to take her from the stage some miles on the road. She testified her gratitude for the care he took of her affairs, in the most obliging and polite acknowledgments; and he returned the thanks she gave him, with the sincerest assurances, that the thoughts of having it in his power to do her any little service, afforded him the most elevated pleasure he had ever known in his whole life.
What they said to each other, however, on this score, was taken by each, more as the effects of gallantry and good breeding, than the real motives from which the expressions they both made use of, had their source:—equal was their tenderness, equal also was their diffidence, it being the peculiar property of a true and perfect love, always to fear, and never to hope too much.
Natura had taken care to chuse her an apartment very near the place where he lodged himself, which luckily happened to be in an extreme airy and genteel part of the town; so that he had the pleasure of seeing her, not only every day, but almost every hour in the day, on one pretext or other, which his industrious passion dictated; and this almost continual being together, and, for the most part, without any other company, very much increased the freedom between them, though that freedom never went farther, even in a wish, on either side, for a long time at least, than that of a brother and sister.
Though all imaginable diligence was used to bring the law-suit to an issue, those with whom Charlotte contested, found means to put it off for yet one more term, she was obliged to stay that time; but neither felt in herself, nor pretended to do so, any repugnance at it:—Natura had enough to do to conceal his joy on this occasion; and when he affected a concern for her being detained in a place she had so often declared an aversion for, he did it so awkwardly, that had she not been too much taken up with endeavouring to disguise her own sentiments on this account, she could not but have seen into his.
As neither of them seemed now to take any delight in balls, plays, operas, masquerades, cards, or any of the town diversions, they passed all their evenings together, and, for the most part, alone, as I before observed;—their conversation was chiefly on serious topics, and such as might have been improving to the hearers, had any been permitted; and when they fell on matters which required a more gay and sprightly turn, their good humour never went beyond an innocent chearfulness, nor in the least transgressed the bounds of the strictest morality and modesty.
How long this platonic intercourse would have continued, is uncertain; but the second term was near elapsed, the suit determined in favour of Charlotte, and her stay in town necessary but a very days before either of them entertained any other ideas, than such as I have mentioned. Natura then began to regret the diminution of the happiness he now enjoyed, and indeed of the total loss of it; for though he knew it would not be wondered at, that his complaisance should induce him to attend Charlotte in her journey to his sister's, yet he was at a loss for a pretence to remain there for any long time.—Charlotte, on the other hand, considered on the separation which, in all appearance, must shortly be between them, with a great deal of anxiety, and was even sorry the completion of her business had left her no excuse for staying in town, since she could not expect it either suited with his inclinations, or situation of affairs, to live always in the country.
These cogitations rendered both very uneasy in their minds, yet neither of them took any steps to remedy a misfortune equally terrible to each; and the event had doubtless proved as they imagined, had not the latent fires which glowed in both their breasts, been kindled into a flame by foreign means, and not the least owing to themselves.
One of those gentlemen who had been council for Charlotte, and had behaved with extraordinary zeal in her behalf, had been instigated thereto, more by the charms of her person, than the fees he received from her;—in fine, he was in love with her; but his passion was not of that delicate nature, which fills the mind with a thousand timid apprehensions, and chuses rather to endure the pains of a long smothered flame, than run the hazard of offending the adored object, by disclosing it.
He had enquired into her family and fortune, and finding there was nothing of disparity between them, he declared his passion to her, and declared it in terms which seemed not to savour of any great fears of being rejected.—He was in his prime of life, had an agreeable person, and a good estate, the consciousness of which, together with his being accustomed to plead with success at the bar, made him not much doubt, but his eloquence and assurance would have the same effect on his mistress, as it frequently had on the judges: but the good opinion he had of himself, greatly deceived him in this point; he met with a rebuff from Charlotte, which might have deterred some men from prosecuting a courtship she seemed determined never to encourage: but though he was a little alarmed at it, he could not bring himself to think she was enough in earnest to make him desist: in every visit he paid her, he interlarded his discourse on business with professions of love, which at length so much teized her, that she told him plainly, she would sooner suffer her cause to be lost, than suffer herself to be continually persecuted with sollicitations, which she had ever avoided since her widowhood, and ever should do so.
Natura came in one day just as the counsellor was going out of her apartment; he observed a great confusion in his face, and some emotions in her's, which shewed her mind a little ruffled from that happy composure he was accustomed to find it in. On his testifying the notice he took of this change in her countenance, 'It is strange thing,' said she, 'that people will believe nothing in their own disfavour!—I have told this man twenty times, that if I were disposed to think of a second marriage, which I do not believe I ever shall, the present sentiments I am possessed of, would never be reversed by any offer he could make me; yet will he still persist in his impertinent declarations.'
There needed no more to convince Natura he had a rival; nor, as he knew Charlotte had nothing of coquetry in her humour, to make him also know she was not pleased with having attracted the affections of this new admirer: this gave him an inexpressible satisfaction; for tho', as yet, he had never once thought of making any addresses to her on the score of love, death was not half so terrible to him, as the idea of her encouraging them from any other man.
'Then, madam,' cried he, looking on her in a manner she had never seen him do before, 'the councellor has declared a passion for you, and you have rejected him?'—'is it possible?'—'Possible!' interrupted she, 'can you believe it possible I should not do so, knowing, as you do, the fixed aversion I have to entering into any second engagement!'—'but were it less so,' continued she, after a pause, 'his sollicitations would be never the more agreeable to me.'
Natura asked pardon for testifying any surprize, which he assured her was totally owing, either to this proof of the effect of her charms, 'which,' said he, 'are capable of far greater conquests; or to your refusal of the councellor's offer, after the declarations you have made against a second marriage, but was excited in me meerly by the novelty of the thing, having heard nothing of it before.'
'This had not been among the number of the few things I conceal from you,' answered she, 'if I had thought the repetition worthy of taking up any part of that time which I always pass with you on subjects more agreeable';—'besides,' continued she, 'it was always my opinion, that those women, who talk of the addresses made to them, are secretly pleased with them in their hearts, and like the love, tho' they may even despise the lover. For my part, I can feel no manner of satisfaction in relating to others, what I had rather be totally ignorant of myself.'
Natura had here a very good opportunity of complimenting her on the excellency of her understanding, which set her above the vanities of the generality of her sex; and indeed he expressed himself with so much warmth on this occasion, that it even shocked her modesty, and she was obliged to desire him to change the conversation, and speak no more of a behaviour, which was not to be imputed to her good sense, but to her disposition.
Never had Natura found it more difficult to obey her than now;—he could have expatiated for ever on the many and peculiar perfections both of her mind and person; but he perceived, that to indulge the darling theme, would be displeasing to her, and therefore forced himself to put a stop to the utterance of those dictates, with which his heart was now charged, even to an overflowing.