Chap. III

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Mr. Seymour, whose health had been long declining, survived not many months the preceding conversations; but, before his decease, he had the satisfaction of resigning his daughters, on the same day to the protection of the two gentlemen by whom their hands had been solicited.

His son, advertised by his elder sister of the situation of their only surviving parent, returned from the continent, by rapid journies, to be present at the nuptials of his sisters, and to receive the last paternal benediction. His manly and feeling heart, was deeply affected by these events, and his natural vivacity for a time over clouded. [43] The sensitive Ellen drooped longer, and shed in the bosom of conjugal affection the tears of filial tenderness. The grief of Charlotte was, though of less duration, sincere: but, taken by her admiring bridegroom, in a new and elegant travelling equipage, a tour round the Kentish and Sussex coasts, change of scene and of objects, combined with a gratified vanity, to chace from her brow every remaining cloud. 

Two years glided away without producing any important events, excepting that Ellen had, in this interval, become a happy mother, a circumstance, that, while it fully exercised, gratified at the same time, all the exquisite sensibilities of her nature.

The sisters met as frequently as their various engagements and occupations would admit; and notwithstanding the opposition of their characters, pursuits and enjoyments, the recollected sympathies and habits of early life still attracted their hearts towards [44] each other. Their brother, in whom the qualities of his sisters seemed blended, often visited both; shared with spirit in the amusements of Charlotte; and, with not less interest and animation, was a delighted witness of the more endearing happiness and placid satisfaction of Ellen. 

Charlotte made some efforts to draw her sister into parties, but could never prevail. Neither my fortunes nor my inclinations (Ellen would reply to her entreaties,) suit the mode of life of which you have made choice. Every hour of my day, always too short for its duties and enjoyments, has its appropriate occupation, which cannot with impunity be neglected. I am both a mother and a matron, remember. When you or my brother can spare an evening to enliven our happy fire-side, and share our domestic tranquility, we shall always feel both delighted and obliged: but, tempt me not to mingle in a circle, where you, and the desire of obliging you, would form my [45] only attraction, and for which I am, both by character and habit, equally unfitted. 

An affectionate embrace, a light answer, and a giddy laugh, were on these occasions the reply of Charlotte. In intervals of pleasure, or in hours of lassitude or mortification, and many such a life of dissipation prepares, suspicious would, nevertheless, sometimes force themselves upon her mind of the emptiness, real vapidness, and pernicious nature of her pursuits: but, drawn deeply into the vortex, and entangled in the chain of habit, she plunged into new excesses to stifle remorse for the past.

In the summer of the year 18 —, Charlotte escorted by her brother, made one of a gay party to the northern lakes. Commercial affairs detained her husband in London: their correspondence was not very frequent nor full, still less was it tender or confidential: but in one of Mr. Wycherly’s letters, even more brief than usual, he informed [46] his wife, that her sister Ellen was in great affliction and alarm: Mr. Neville, whose lungs had always been tender, having, while pleading, in the course of his profession, with zeal and energy, a cause he had much at heart, broken a blood vessel, from which a profuse hemmorrhage had taken place. Timely assistance had, however, removed the immediate peril, but melancholy consequences were still, with too much cause, to be apprehended.

This intelligence revived in the heart of Charlotte, sentiments and recollections that were becoming hourly weaker; and excusing herself from accompanying her party on an excursion, for which, when the post came in, they were preparing, she seized a pen, and dedicated the interval of their absence to the first and tenderest friend of her early youth. [47]

 

                                           From Charlotte.

“Dearest Ellen,

         “The intelligence I have but this moment received from Mr. Wycherly, (why should I call him my husband? our feelings have no sympathy, our minds no affinity,) has shocked and affected me more than I can express. The fatal prognostication of our dear lost father is but too well verified. Your husband, (your beloved, shall I term him?) to adopt your own tender language, your worthily beloved husband must not hesitate a moment between his profession and worldly interest, and his yet more, infinitely more, valuable existence. But what then will become more, valuable existence. But what then will become of my sister and her family, her encreasing family? Prudent, firm, and self-denying, though I know her to be, the interest of the scanty fortune that will remain to her and her’s, must, with her delicate habits, and still more delicate frame, and with the feeble health of her dear invalid, prove insufficient even for [48] necessary comforts. I am casting about in my mind what is to be done, and I can fix on nothing promising or even practicable. 

         Tell me, dearest Ellen, how I can aid you. My brother is, at present, absent from our party: he would, were he here, fly, I am certain instantly to you, to share your anxieties and to offer all assistance in his power — aye, and more than in his power, — for, on every subject that touches him, and few circumstances would touch him so nearly as the distress of our Ellen and her husband, his warm heart and glowing feelings, overleap every barrier that fortune or even necessity would oppose. Alas! with so many high qualities as he possesses, romantic, in every finer sentiment, in every amiable affection, even as Ellen herself, how much to be lamented are the failings that, not merely cast a shade over his virtues, but too frequently render them both inefficient and pernicious. In the character of his mind are strangely [49] blended those of both his sisters, more impassioned than Ellen, and with all her melting tenderness, he has the vivacity, the inconsiderateness, the profuse and improvident habits of the less estimable Charlotte: and, to him, they will prove, perhaps, still more injurious, since his sex, his uncontrouled situation, and the ardour of his passions will afford to their operations a greater scope and a wider sphere.

         Already is he, with all the headlong fervor of his disposition, entangling himself in a connection, that, to speak of it in the mildest terms, is likely to encrease the derangement of his disordered affairs. A young and accomplished beauty has fallen in his way, brought up in expense and affluence, and thrown, a destitute orphan, by the imprudence and death of her parents upon a relative whose character is calculated to make her suffer all the bitterness and mortification of her unhappy circumstances. [50] 

 

‘’Tis but the kindred sounds to move, 

For pity melts the soul to love.’

 

         “So has it proved with our sensitive and generous, but inconsiderate brother. To oppose him, where his feelings and his passions are interested, would be like buffeting the storm: and were I to preach prudence and deliberation to this true brother of mine, the preachment, how oracular soever, would be delivered, I doubt, and received also with a very ill grace. Yet, I know his heart. If any thing could lead him to sacrifice it’s feelings and reflect, it would be your calamity, and the claims which that calamity would give you upon it. 

         “But, leaving him to act, when the melancholy tidings shall reach him, as his own fraternal feelings shall suggest, tell me, my sister, in what I can serve or be useful to you; and instantly when I receive your reply, I will be prompt to obey any summons or direction which it may contain. [51] Mr. Wycherly (I hate, as applied in my own case, the odious title of husband,) esteems and respects the sister, of whom he was not worthy, of her to whom he has given his detestable name. How often has he reproached my foolish good nature, simpleton that I was! for trying to console him for the failure of his presumptuous views on my more meritorious relation; as if — ridiculous being that he is, and was, to dare to aspire to an excellence so surpassing as your’s — as if I had really robbed you of him, and supplanted in you a willing bride. I have no patience with an absurdity, equalled, was I about to say? exceeded only by my own. 

         “And who shall pity me? Alas! dear and eloquent monitress and prophetess, destined, like the Trojan Cassandra, not to be heeded till the chastisement due to incredulity falls on its victim! is it to thee that I dare complain?[52] 

“But, to return from this rambling digression to the point at which it aimed. Though, in aught that concerned myself, merely and personally, my influence would be powerless; yet, if, in their present circumstances, my Ellen and her husband require, as surely they must, pecuniary assistance, a word, a hint, would — I think, I may say with certainty — unlock in their, or rather in my sister’s behalf, the coffers of a man, who, if he ever felt a sentiment that bore a resemblance to the tender and the glowing, it was called into being, and as mercilessly extinguished, by that sister. Some sparks of the flame may, however, yet be elicited by the potent enchantress who, in a region so chill, had once the power to kindle it. 

         “Hasten to me, sweet Ellen, the tidings for which I languish: tell me, at least, that all terror for a life so dear to you, so justly dear, is at end. All other evils you have, I know, firmness to encounter.

                             “Charlotte.” [53] 

 

From Ellen.

 

“A thousand thanks to you, dear Charlotte, for your friendly, your sisterly concern on my account. So sincere does that kind concern and sympathy appear, that I should deem myself inexcusable not to snatch, from a multitude of occupations and cures, the first few moments in my power to command, to relieve in part your affectionate solicitude. 

         “And at first, let me devoutly express my gratitude to the Almighty Disposer of events, for sparing me that heaviest of all afflictions, the only affliction, I trust, that I want fortitude even steadily to contemplate, and under which, I greatly fear, my powers both of mind and of body would utterly fail. Yes! congratulate me, rejoice with me, my sister, that the life most precious to my affections is, I am assured by our medical friends, no longer in danger. The ruptured vessel seems kindly healing, and [54] all things going on better than we, at first, had cause to apprehend. The courage, the calmness, the kind concern for those around him, displayed by my dear Neville on this occasion has, for my attachment is no light and capricious fondness, by heightening my respect for his character, and esteem for the qualities of his mind, endeared him if possible, more than ever to my heart.

         “Alas! my poor sister; what a picture in thy last, on more than one account, affecting letter, dost thou draw of thy unhappy lot. Yet, remember, that lot chosen, deliberately chosen, by thyself, exempts thee not from the duties, however irksome their performance, which it imposes. But with this intimation, let me be silent on a subject, upon which I dare not, and since the evil is without a remedy, ought not, perhaps, to dwell. Happy those young people who will learn wisdom by the experience of others: and deeply I again repent, are the circumstances ever to be regretted, that, [55] at the most important period of susceptible youth, removed my Charlotte from the paternal roof, from the precepts, and from the example of true wisdom, and placed her amidst artificial and sophisticated society, amidst the contagion of what is falsely, because partially, called the world. But, withheld by true sisterly commiseration, I forbear. 

         “You judge rightly, my Charlotte, in believing, that after what has taken place, the valuable life of my husband must not again be put to hazard; and that an immediate relinquishment of his profession, and removal from the enfeebling atmosphere of a great and crowded city, are become indispensable. But, on this account, be not too generously concerned for us. After the evil I have escaped, how cheerfully can I submit to any other privation which circumstances may require. The wants of my heart only were ever absolute and imperious. While not exposed to physical [56] necessity, to galling dependence or sordid poverty, think you, that with my Neville and my infant children I will allow myself to complain?

         “It is true, that I have felt, and still acknowledge, the value of affluence, from the power which is united with it, a power of great worth when rightly used and improved. I take also a pleasure in elegance as connected with refinement and taste. But what happy lot ever comprehended all that is desirable and good? While my heart is spared where it most exquisitely feels, it will cost me no great effort of philosophy to encounter, and to brave trials so much inferior: and even were I inclined to repine, I should be shamed by the example before me. 

         “Men are every where more exposed than are women to the assaults of ambition, and to the temptations of pecuniary accumulation. While my husband, in the spring tide [57] and summer of life, with talents and pretensions that justified the most aspiring views, shows himself superior to the accidents of fortune, shall I prove myself incapable of admiring his magnanimity, of sharing his principles, and unworthy of the distinction of his love? My habits, also, thanks to my excellent father, are simple and unexpensive? and shall I add (I believe I am too proud to be vain,) the value I have for myself is founded — next to the pride I have in being the chosen and bosom companion of a man of sense and virtue, — upon what essentially and intrinsically belongs to myself. It affords me pleasure to be esteemed by others, and the esteem of the worthy, I shall, I trust, never wilfully forfeit: but those who regard for me rises and falls with the external advantages or disadvantages, with the accidents of my situation, can never inflict upon me either mortification or pain. Their comments and remarks will never reach my ear, or they will pass over it unheeded. The region I move in is, allow [58] me to say, too high to be obscured by the smoke and vapour of theirs. 

“From this egotism you will at least gather, that we have happily no occasion to make application, even were that application likely to succeed, for assistance by the acceptance of which we could not but feel ourselves humbled if not degraded. Much less would we embarrass a brother, a kind and affectionate brother with all his faults, by our difficulties: when, alas! it appears but too probable, he will have still severer trials of his own.”

“The small fortune with which we began our married life is not greatly lessened by those expences which necessarily attend the first outset in the world; and the formation, however frugal, of a domestic establishment: thatmuchshould, in so brief a period, be added to our original store cannot be expected. A capital, however, of seven thousand pounds remain; this, while [59] we determine and contrive to expend only the interest, will be a provision for our children, to educate whom in frugal and industrious habits will be at once our duty and our care. 

“Neither inclination nor prudence will allow of our remaining in London; but an active friend of my Neville’s has already undertaken to look out for a neat dwelling, suited to our views, in some cheap, mild, and salubrious situation in the western or southern parts of England or Wales. Thither, when our affairs are settled, and my husband’s renovated strength admits of his removal, we shall repair, either by water if practical, or by some other easy mode of conveyance. 

“You may perceive then, dear Charlotte, that we have but little cause to repine; we look forward, on the contrary with cheerful hope. Our new situation will find us occupation so constant, that we shall [60] scarcely have time to regret those social advantages which are in the metropolis to be enjoyed, and which the learning, the knowledge, the talents of my husband so admirably fitted him to relish. That knowledge, however, those talents, will afford him resources in retirement; and, in the education of his children, will prove invaluable. 

“When settled in our new plan of life, and the interval I will trust will not be long, my Charlotte shall, if they will interest her, receive the details. Till then I shall not have time to write another line; for to relieve my husband, in his present circumstances, as far as in me lies, from every exertion and every care is, not merely my duty, but my highest gratification.”

“Let me, nevertheless, before I depart, hear again from my sister; and more of the affairs of our brother, respecting whom I have serious anxieties.

Ellen.” [61]

 

From Charlotte.

 

“Ah, yes! you are, you were always right, wise, amiable, and respectable. But, as you justly observe, you soar in a region too lofty for us poor mundane creatures, entangled in the flowery, (or rather silken) fetters of terrestrial usages, fashions and pursuits, to look up to you without aching eyes. How the sage our father, with the good lady our mother, contrived to introduce into the world, creatures so varying in temperament and character as their three descendants have proved, is a problem too puzzling for my poor brain to solve. It is true, as you intimate, some variety existed in our mode of training; or, as the philosophers would say, in the circumstances that formed our moral atmosphere. But, beside this, I am greatly inclined to suspect, and, at some extenuation for my follies, very willing to believe, that an original germ of difference may have existed, whether seated [62] in the organs of the brain, or resulting from the system of the nerves.

“Yet, with whatever levity I may appear to treat this by no means light subject, far be from me the envious meanness of depreciating the admirable qualities to which I cannot aspire. And why cannot? asks my Ellen, with her usual mild and tender earnestness, when her heart is in the question. Is not reformation the next step to conviction? What merit can there be in acknowledging faults which we are determined not to relinquish? Why first, dear girl, if you have looked into society and character with a discerning eye, you may have discovered, that there are, generally speaking, only two causes, whether operating separately or combined, that can lead to people to the confession of their defects: one is a secret consciousness, that the endeavour to conceal them would be vain; the other a determination never to attempt their subjugation. Nevertheless, to disguise from themselves [63] the feebleness or the odious selfishness which is thus implied, they spread before their mental eyes, the gauze veil of spurious candour: that is, they add to being unprincipled and unamiable, the effrontery of defying all decency, and glorying in their shame. The hypocrite is surely to be preferred to the daring profligate; the former, at least, shews a respect for virtue, the latter a contempt; and that which is at first merely affected, may, by repetition and habit, become at length genuine and sincere. Acknowledging folly, therefore, and acknowledging guilt, are sure almost to become inveterate. Take at his word, and avoid him who has for his own character no respect. 

“How severe, in the preceding observations, do I seem to myself; for follies surely, great follies, I have and attempt not to deny: whether guilt can be imputed to me, is, I hope more questionable. Know you not, my Ellen, by theory at least, the fatal progress of error? One wrong step, one [64] abuse of reason or dereliction of principle, how does it entangle us, in what an inextricable labyrynth may it involve us! I have taken that step, as you tell me, with open eyes. Respectable and venerable as are the higher sources of morals, they are also surely much connected with taste. Man, we are likewise told by an eloquent French writer, is a bundle of habits; and it is true. My tastes and my habits were then, as you say, unfortunately and early perverted. The circle of fashion, narrow and factitious as is that circle, I falsely and foolishly considered as the world; I perceived not how illusive were its phantasmagoria; its imposing tone awed my reason, its insolent pretences imposed on my unwary mind. Its fool’s paradise was spread out before me, and tempted my inexperienced feet: glitter and foil appeared to me as the solid ore; I became dazzled, intoxicated, and wilfully deceived. I perceived not the distinction between pleasure and happiness, the admiration of fools and the respect of my own [65] mind. I felt not, buoyed up by the light spirits of youth, how exhausting were tumult and crowds, how empty the gratifications they afforded, nor how vapid the state that succeeded. 

“Thus I made my choice, and I must now abide by the result. But, by that choice, you say, however ill or mistaken, duties are imposed upon me. It may be so; but I cannot fulfil them. I neither love nor respect the man to whom I have given the title of husband, how then can I perform the duties of a wife? And does he deserve that I should perform them? What were his motives in taking for a bride one whose youth, whose gaiety, whose character, forbade all ideas of sympathy, all expectations of friendship, of tender confidence? Even, in what had the semblance of a wiser choice, when he directed the artillery of his antient gallantry towards my graver and more meritorious sister, her youth and personal graces were his principal [66], if not his sole attractions. Gross on one side, then, I fear, and venal on the other were the motives of our nuptial contract. He demanded not my esteem and respect; and to give him my affection was impossible. 

“Yes, I cannot conceal from myself, that I bartered my youth for glitter and show: dearly would they have been purchased, even though the expectation of them had been less imperfectly fulfilled. But, with encreasing years and infirmities, accelerated perhaps prematurely by the excesses of a gay youth, infirmities from which my feelings revolt disgusted, and which I cannot solace, this husband of mine becomes more exacting, more querulous, more sordid, and less endurable to me in any light, least of all in that to which I have given him a title. 

“How venerable and how lovely, after a [67] life well spent, consistent and improved, is a wise and virtuous old age! How odious at such a period the imbecile faults of childhood, the corrupt remains of the habits of profligate youth! Home, in its best sense, ‘Where polished friends, and dear dear relations, meet, and mingle into bliss’ — I feel, I have none. If then, upon the wing, I seek pleasure or forgetfulness, can I do otherwise; must I be severely blamed? The powers, the remorses of my heart, are surely my sufficient chastisement, and may prove an expiation. Ah, suffer me at least to believe this. 

“On casting back my eye through what I have been scribbling, I am both surprised and shocked. In no hands but in those of my Ellen would I entrust such dark reflections. But I dare not at present proceed. The cloud, I trust, sombre and threatening as is its aspect, is composed only of vapours [68] and will pass away. I close then this sheet, and wait a brighter moment. 

 

*    *   *    *    *   * 

         “In a mood more like myself, I resume my pen. The sun shines gloriously, and the breeze, which my open windows admit, wafts a thousand balmy sweets. I am half tempted to burn what, in a day of heavy rain, with the wind due east, was written yesterday. How atmospherical influence subdues the liveliest spirits!

         “But I must now talk to you of this brother of our’s, who is just returned to us, and half distracted between his penchant for his pretty mistress, and his sympathy in his fortunes of our Ellen and her worthy Neville. Your letter, which I put into his hand, breathing so much patient and even cheerful resignation, has been scarcely sufficient to soften his alarm. 

         [69] “Dear creature! (he exclaimed) admirable woman! so fitted to shed lustre over the humblest; to grace and to adorn the highest situation. How proud am I of my sister! But I will not suffer her to sink so low, my fortunes shall be shared with her. 

         “Are those fortunes so ample? asked his younger sister, of whom, I suspect, he is not quite so vain. Has no improvidence lessened their original amount; and will they more than suffice, unshared, and without farther diminution, to the present plans of my romantic brother, and the little captive princess whose deliverance he meditates. 

         “We will take for our example the heroic Ellen, seek a cottage in her neighbourhood, and emulate her virtues and her happiness.

         “In theorya very pretty scheme truly; but not quite so well suited to the practical characters of those for whose use it is projected. [70] La principessa is no heroine, no philosopher, no saint: the world, the fashionable, fascinating, wicked world, has, or I am greatly mistaken, charms irresistible for the fair one; and, as for the lover, when was his magnanimous and chivalrous soul ever debased by the petty cares, or bowed down to the sordid calculations, which a rigid balance between expenditure and its sources requires?

         “For these impertinent questions you may guess how the worldly-minded and unheroic Charlotte was reviled. In vain did I, to this dear thoughtless brother of our’s, endeavour to distinguish between the principles of a sound and elevated mind; the sensibilities of a pure, unpractised, tender heart, and those frothy ebullitions of the imagination, and transient impressions on the senses, which are so often confounded. A celestial angel differs not more from an earthly gnome, than virtuous affection from its base counterfeit. A first-sight impression [71] from skin-deep beauty, and a studied manner, was made on the heart, the fancy, I should rather say, of our brother, who, setting out on no mathematical principle, his eye gratified by externals, took all that was not visible for granted. Not that I know of his dulcinea any positive ill: she is a handsome, accomplished, common-place young woman of fashion; and, added to these circumstances, her present situation, humiliating and oppressive as it certainly is, has awakened the quixotism of her lover, who is sworn to deliver her from durance vile. The great evil of the business is, that she possesses not the qualities in which he is deficient; and that the ruin which that deficiency threatens will, probably, be thus accelerated. 

         “Of this letter he will be the bearer; try then your influence over his wayward feelings. You can preach prudence with a grace and weight, that the example of the preacher always gives to his precepts. [72] 

“We are about to set off for the races at York, the weather continues propitious, and the carriages are in preparation. I have just received a tolerably liberal remittance from my churlish caro sposo, my spirits are again buoyant, vive la bagatelle!

Your’s,

Charlotte.” [73]