Chap. V.

             ————

          

          To Charlotte.

 

“It is long since I heard from my sister: I, nevertheless, take up my pen to fulfil the request contained in her last letter, with an entire conviction, that her interest in our welfare and comfort is not less lively and sincere than when that request was made.

“Tell me (said my Charlotte) when settled in your new situation, whether your resignation in the change of your circumstances, and fortitude under that change, remain unabated?

[88] “If I feel any hesitation in replying to such an inquiry, it is from a suspicion that what I have experienced, since the life of my husband was no longer in danger, and do experience, can scarcely entitle me to claims so high. It requires but a small share of fortitude to submit to the privation of that on which a high value never was placed; and less resignation to acquiesce in a destiny better suited, perhaps, to my turn of mind and character than that for which it has been exchanged. Having therefore, no title to demand either your admiration or your sympathy, how shall I render interesting to my Charlotte, in the great and gay world of fashion and intellectual variety, the quiet narrative of simple occupation, uniform duties, and rural peace. 

“We left London, and all which it contains, on the last day of April; travelling westward by easy stages, rather more than two hundred miles. The weather brightening and softening as we proceeded, the [89] languid powers of my dear Neville appeared daily, I may say hourly renovated. The journey, as we managed it, far from fatigueing and exhausting, as I dreaded, seemed to give him strength. With reviving nature our hearts and our hopes revived; and when, at length, at the close of day, we reached the hamlet near which our wanderings were to terminate, nothing like the depression which exiles are supposed to feel clouded our spirits. 

“It was deep twilight when the chaise stopped before a small neat farm-house, the faint outline of which only was discernable. A clean elderly woman, the ruddiness of youth on her cheek, summoned to the rustic porch by the sound of the carriage wheels, met us, with a light in her hand, at the entrance: curiosity and respect were blended in the expression of her features, as dropping many a rustic curtsey, she conducted us into a parlour on the ground floor. Here we found a cheerful fire blazing on the [90] hearth, some showers having in the course of the day a little chilled the atmosphere; the tea equipage arranged in the exact order, and two candles burning on the table.

“As the good woman left the room, to assist in the removal of our baggage from the chaise, my eyes and those of my beloved husband, after glancing round the apartment, met each other, as by a spontaneous impulse, our arms extended in a mutual embrace. If at this moment, our tears mingled, there was in them more, infinitely more, of tenderness than of sorrow. Our children claiming a share in these caresses, were alternately pressed to our hearts, and a devout aspiration of grateful reverence, mutually and fervently breathed to that beneficent Providence, from which every good and perfect gift descendeth, raised for a moment our minds and our affections from earth.

“These blended and sweet emotions gradually [91] and gently subsiding, we gazed with encreasing satisfaction and confidence leisurely around. The room was of a moderate and convenient size; the furniture good, plain and appropriate. Every thing appeared clean and new, and all was arranged with precision. 

“My brother, doubtless, informed you that a portion of our property had been expended by my Neville in the purchase of a small farm, from a more wealthy friend, who engaged to prepare it for our reception and residence. 

“Behold us now then in our simple home, enjoying our tea by our fire-side. Small loaves mixed with milk, excellent fresh butter, sweet cakes of various shapes and forms for our little ones, new milk and cream spread our cheerful board. Never, at any table furnished with dainties, had I enjoyed so refreshing, so exquisite a meal. The looks interchanged between my husband [92] and myself, the pleasureable tears that moistened the eyes of each, needed not the aid of words to express what was passing in our thoughts. The silence of happiness, of sympathy, of confidence, is more eloquent than speech. The glee of the children on having escaped the confinement of the carriage, and on finding their limbs once more at liberty, was more loud and joyous.

“Several hours thus fled rapidly away, till a languor that stole over the softened features of my husband gave a signal for the removal of our darlings, whose eyes also began to show symptoms of heaviness, to their chamber. We followed at an early hour, but retired not to our rest, till after, kneeling on opposite sides of the bed in which our infants slumbered in the calm repose of health and innocence, we had, with hands extended and joined over them, offered up our united thanksgivings to that power, who like a parent at once tender and wise, had, even in the cup of [93] chastisement, mingled the sweetest consolations. Then, with arms affectionately entwined, and spirits calm as infancy, we entered our chamber, and, on our clean but homely bed sunk into a sleep more refreshingly profound than we had ever before, even on beds of down, and in the seasons of the most prosperous fortune, experienced.

“Between six and seven in the ensuing morning our slumbers were dissipated by the rays of a bright sun, that, beaming through the opening of the window shutters, played on the white coverlid of the bed. The sound of infantine voices, as in renovated spirits, reached, at the same instant, our ears:

         

‘The spirits pure, the slumbers light, 

                 That fly the approach of morn.’

 

“I would not allow my husband so early to quit his couch, lest the dews of the morning should not yet be exhaled; but, [94] remembering that I was no longer a fine lady, (though I had never indulged much in that most pernicious of all luxuries morning dozes) I sprang from my bed, passing into a dressing closet by its side, threw open the casement and, with delight, inhaled the fresh and balmy morning air. My eyes dwelt for some time with joy on the rural scenery which spread itself beneath my windows. The vivid green of the meadows, the budding trees, the expanding blossoms, all bespoke the presence and the progress of the lovely vernal season, when, as in the youth of life, every thing is full of promise and of hope. 

“Having dressed, and administered to the dear invalid a cup of new milk, I assisted the maid in preparing my little ones for their breakfast, and afterwards in making ready our own.

“Be not shocked, dear Charlotte, and believe, that, in these domestic offices, however [95] new to me, and perhaps from that very circumstance, for novelty communicates to most things a charm, I rather experienced a pleasure than felt a humiliation. Action is to me always pleasurable, and what to me are now fastidious and artificial distinctions?

“Yet, had I been wicked or weak enough to murmur, a delightful discovery and consolation came to my aid. We had passed the preceding evening in a room at the front of the house, and had postponed till a future opportunity all farther examination; but, in search of something I wanted, just before my Neville came from his chamber, I accidentally opened the door of a back apartment, to which a short passage led. At the prospect which presented itself, I stood for a few moments in a kind of transport for which I want a name. 

“The room was larger than that in which we had supped the preceding evening. The [96] cieling, however, was, like that, somewhat low. A moss pattern paper covered both the ceiling and the walls, and the carpet of the same colours and pattern spread the floor. The front of the room, which faced the south, was entirely of casement, in the centre of which a door stood open. A rustic viranda, which ran along the outside casement, was supported by the trunks of small trees, round which, and through the lattice work of the viranda, was entwined a rich profusion of Chinese roses, in every progressive state of bud and bloom; their stems sprung from between small round pebbles, of different colours, which formed under the viranda a mosaic pavement. Before the windows was a small but beautous lawn, sparkling with a few dew-drops, which appeared as if of emerald green. In the centre of the lawn was a cluster of flowering shrubs, consisting of the almond tree, the snowy florica, the double hawthorn, peach and cherry blossoms; the white and the pink Siberian crab, the [97] purple lilac, and the labernum’s showering gold, &c. A border of rich mould passing round the lawn, planted with a variety of the choicest flowers which a forward spring afforded. High hedges, mingled with forest trees, sheltered, on the eastern side, this lovely spot, as did the house on the north; while, on the south and west, a sunken fence concealed the termination, and led the eye over meadows covered with sheep, which, sloping downwards, and then again rising, in gentle undulation, presented a rich, a lovely and variegated prospect. Neither wood nor water were wanting to complete the scene, over which a brilliant sun spread all its glories. Such was the view without!

“Within, a simple and tasteful elegance was displayed. The furniture consisted of two small couches (or lounges) constructed of bamboo and cane, provided with cushions, pillows, &c. of white dimity fringed. The chairs, tables, and window curtains [98] were of similar materials, the latter hung and arranged with peculiar taste. Over the chimney was a glass, let into the paper, and surrounded with a wreath of flowers, exquisitely painted. On two sides of the room, from the floor to the ceiling,[1] were bamboo shelves for books: on the third was a small upright grand piano, which we had sent before us. The casement filled the fourth. Over a large table that stood near the windows was spread a green cloth, and on it were implements for drawing and writing. A celestial and terrestrial globe, handsomely mounted, occupied the corners on each side the casements.

“The muses and the graces needed not to have disdained such a temple as the benevolent and liberal taste of our friend had thus provided for us. Yet, were its decorations simple and unexpensive, suited at once to our fortunes and to the turn of our characters and minds.

[99] “Have you not already anticipated the delight with which I ordered our breakfast into this elysium, and conducted my husband to the double regale thus prepared? His pleasure, his gratification, were not inferior to my own, and sweet was the love, the confidence, the pure and unmingled joy, that presided over our repast. It seemed as if we had, for the first time in our lives, taken possession of a home. What magic is there in that little word! If happiness is ever to be found — and He who implanted the craving in our breast has surely for this, as for every other natural and laudable desire, provided its gratification — if happiness is ever to be found, it must be sought, not in great cities and among the works of art, but in the real solid pleasures of nature and virtuous affection:

 

         ‘Alas! when mingling souls forget to blend,

         Time hath but little left him to destroy.’

 

         “When the breakfast table was removed [100] we walked out on the lawn, made the tour of our little domain, and joined with the matin song of the ascending lark the soft breathings of thanksgiving and praise. Already the long faded colour dawned on the wan cheek of my love; every vestige of remaining languor had vanished; and his active mind and character seemed at once to have regained their native energy and powers. I left him, seated in a rustic chair, shaded by a young acacia, on a rising ground that overlooked the farm, consulting with his bailiff on their future agricultural operations, and returned to the house to arrange my domestic affairs.

         “On this subject you will, I believe, scarcely require detailed particulars; suffice it to say, that, with the aid of two female servants, I have brought my little household into excellent order. The woman who received us on our arrival does the business of the kitchen and dairy, of the latter it is, however, my intention to take [101] the superintendance: our house maid, a clean, hale, rosy cheek damsel, is daughter to the cook, whose husband is bailiff to the farm. The whole family stood in need of some teaching and disciplining, but, thanks to my wise and worthy father, the ornamental, though it was not entirely neglected, formed but a subordinate part of my early training: to a knowledge of the useful, I was taught, the first and the longest attendance was due. 

         “My girls (said this dear parent) will not have commanding fortunes; should their merits or their attractions raise them to rank, they shall be so formed and instructed as not to disgrace it; should their station fall below their merits, though it may humble it shall not degrade them. While we hope for good fortune, it is prudent to prepare to ill: a mind alike fitted for prosperous and for adverse circumstances will dignify both; since it is in itself, and not in what is accidental and adventitious[2] [102], that its resources and real respectability will be found. The world, however capricious or undistinguishing it may be deemed, never despises those who respect themselves. He who unaffectedly places himself in his proper situation will provoke no one to push him lower. The seat of genuine refinement is in the mind. True polish, which solid materials only will admit, will beam unobscured even in a cottage: more varnish can rarely be so artfully spread, that the coarse and flimsy material beneath shall not appear. 

         “Unpardonable, my sister, should I have been, whom no untoward accident or event ever separated from this good parent and prudent monitor, had I utterly failed to improve the invaluable opportunities I enjoyed. 

         “But it is time to relieve your attention from domestic and rural affairs. In connection with the former subject, I will only [103] observe, that, by the union of firmness and kindness, more may be done with servants than is generally imagined. Imperfect, like ourselves, or, from fewer opportunities of knowing the right and the proper, still more so, we must practice with them patience and forbearance. If, incapable of governing our own passions, we outrage their feelings, by expressions of contempt and bitterness, we fail at once in engaging either their attachment or their respect; and they become in consequence hardened in wrong. The character of those superiors is ever suspicious who are continually reviling their domestics. Servitude, at best, is a hard lot; perhaps it has also some tendency to degrade the being, since all masters and mistresses do not abstain from abusing the power which it gives to them: it is therefore our duty to make allowances, and in this, as in all cases, put in practice the christian maxim, of doing unto others as, were we in their circumstances, we would they should do unto us. The [104] management of servants and of children has in it this in common, that example is of more importance than precept: by tyranny, caprice, or intemperate language towards either, we lower ourselves to their level. If we have not our passions and tempers under controul, how can we expect, how dare we exact it of those whose advantages have been so inferior to our own. With these general reflections I dismiss an important subject; a subject involving more moral responsibility than the majority of masters and mistresses appear to suppose: by entering farther into the detail I should be liable to fall into the error of those, who, by perpetual discussions of the failings or merits of their domestics, disgust or weary such as by propinquity or complaisance are compelled to listen to their harangues. 

         “I turn then to pleasanter themes, to such as, I trust, will be to you, to whom the happiness of your Ellen is dear, more interesting [105]. The health of my beloved husband daily improves, as does his perfect contentment. His mornings are devoted to agricultural studies, for which he ever had a predilection. Breakfasting early, we dine early also: in the afternoon, education and our children, theory and practice, claim our united attention; at six o’clock we take tea or coffee in our elysium, study, or library, I know not which term is more appropriate, our retreat of recreation, improvement and delight.

         “In this our books are now all regularly arranged, and of these no small number treat on rural and agricultural topics. I do not, as formerly, allow my Neville to read to me, from the dread of injuring his lungs, so delicate yet so happily healed and restored; but I take upon myself the office of reader, and find in every subject that engages him the same interest and delight. Thus, while strengthening the sympathy that unites us, I am improving myself for [106] the task of future preceptress to our offspring. It appears to me as if, till now, I never knew the extent of the acquirements and the resources of my husband’s ever active mind. My respect for him encreases with that knowledge in so great a degree, that it requires all the endearing confidence which has so long subsisted between us to enable me to continue the sweet familiarity, that has, for hearts capable of affection, so exquisite a charm. Ah! how I pity the votaries and the victims of vanity; for weak indeed are those among it votarieswho do not sooner or later become its victims!

 

                                             ——— “The seasons thus,

                  As ceaseless round a jarring world they roll,

                  Will find us happy! till evening comes at last,

                  Serene and mild, ————

                  When, after the long vernal day of life, 

                  Enamoured more, as more remembrance swells, 

                  With many a proof of recollected love, 

                  Together down we sink in social sleep

                  Together free’d, our grateful spirits fly,

                  To scenes where bliss and love immortal reign.”


         [107] “Forgive this egotism; prudence and my household cures tear me from a subject on which I could for ever expatiate.

         “When enumerating our sources of recreation I should have told you, that for the double purpose of exploring the lovely scenery around us, and extending our botanical researches, we have a low open carriage, upon two wheels, a sort of domestic non-descript, safe and easy, and requiring but one horse to draw it: we can thus, when the weather shall become more fervent, avail ourselves of the benefit of gentle motion and the free air, without fatigue or exhaustion.

         “It is not them, you may perceive, for fortitude and for resignation that I now offer up my prayers; but for sobriety of mind and feeling, for a heart prepared, amidst its grateful emotions, to acquiesce in those trials or vicissitudes that may yet await it, [108] and capable, amidst its gratifications, of expanding its sympathies.

“Ellen.”

 

    ———

     

     From Charlotte.

 

“Happy, thrice happy, yet romantic Ellen! for fanaticism, Proteus like, takes many shifting forms; and a visionary and a fanatic, with the substitution of earthly and human love for spiritual fervors and devotion, you surely are. 

“Do you not perceive, my sister, that your sensibility, your sentiments, your tender enthusiasm, the lot which you have drawn in the lottery of life, are altogether uniqueand appropriate?

“Where is another woman to be found, in talent, in feeling, in modes of thinking, and habits of acting, altogether like yourself? Where another man like the husband of whom you have made an idol? Or, admitting, that other such individuals may exist, [109] how rare must the chances that bring them together in union! Your’s is, I will contend, a singular character and destiny, affording no model, no criterion for others.

“Could I consider it in any other light, self-condemned and most humbled indeed should I be: but to one is given ten talents, to another five: various circumstances, physical and moral, produce characters and beings infinitely modified, and all fulfilling their several destinations — rays, diverging from a common centre; and, in a common circumference, forming an harmonious whole. Thus conceiving, I raise my tearful eyes from your eloquent and affecting descriptions, and cast them around me into the world. Then I begin to breathe again; to throw off the load that pressed so heavily on my heart; and, by less painful, less abasing comparisons, than those which your letter suggested to me, regain, in a degree, that self estimation the loss of which is of all calamities the direst. 

[110] “If all, like Ellen, shunning the world, were formed only for tender retreat, civilization itself would be arrested in its progress. Great cities, men in crowds, numerous associations, call forth and stimulate the mental powers: arts and sciences, from which so many conveniences, so many pleasures flow, are the result of combined intellect, stimulated by vicinity and competition, the offspring of luxury and dissipation. Even the position of Mandeville, in his celebrated Fable of the Bees, that private vices become public benefits, however alarming it may sound, it would be difficult to disprove. 

“Having thus, in some degree, settled the matter with my pride, for what mind can sustain itself under its own condemnation? let me assure my sister, that envy at her higher, more favoured destiny, has no power to lessen my admiration of her qualities, my respect for her principles, or my sincere gratification in their reward. Long, long, without a cloud to obscure for a moment its beams, may the sunshine of joy and [111] peace irradiate her retreat, and realize around her the fabled golden age. 

“A severer warfare is, in the mean time, my lot, full of peril and ill omen, and over which victory, I sometimes fear, is more than dubious. A derangement in the affairs of Mr. Wycherly, of the extent of which I am ignorant, threatens to arrest my career of pleasure, or of vanity shall I call it? midway in the race.

“Having no turn for business, I never troubled myself with the affairs of my husband, nor indeed did he shew any disposition to place confidence in my judgement. Our marriage, I take shame in acknowledging, was a barter of selfish and sordid passions: no sympathy produced, and none could follow it: scorning to play the hypocrite, the mingled disgust and contempt betrayed on one side, soon excited on the other hatred and disgust. Yet, incapable of actual crime, and haughty in unsullied fame, rumour [112] itself had never dared to throw a stain on my name.

“But I believed myself justified in using the advantages for which I had so dearly sacrificed; and I sought, in amusement, admiration, distinction abroad, a compensation for the privation of all that could endear a name. I took no warning from the earnest remonstrances of my Ellen, both before and after my marriage, so fatally prophetic of what has been, what is, what yet may be my fate: having never beheld the object that could call them forth, I believed myself incapable of the sentiment that has decided her happier lot. And I still believe this: — my heart is warm, my propensities social, but love, affection in its devoted, exclusive sense, I certainly never knew. I perceive in the persons around me a mixture of good and ill, blended in different proportions and degrees, but no one ever appeared to me so perfect, or so faultless, as to be entitled to the entire devotion of my soul.[113] 

“With this character of mind I thought I had reason to be content, for, if I attained not the heights, so I also missed the depths to which more sensitive natures are exposed. For example, sweet as are my sister’s present feelings, what, had the recent accident, now merely altering her external circumstances, and thereby but varying her mode of enjoyment — what, had it proved fatal to the life in which her own being is entwined, had been the misery thus inflicted? but to image it makes me shudder, and will blanche the cheek of my Ellen as she reads. 

“Be persuaded, my dear, that happiness which is dependant upon another is a fearful and precarious possession. Not to insist on the subjugation it imposes, the various causalities to which it is liable, its destruction may follow a momentary caprice. In opposition to this uncertain blessing, this thirty thousand pounds prize in the lottery of life, of which so few have the smallest [114] chance, I conceived I made a wise choice in accepting the substantial goods, the power, the enjoyments which wealth bestows. Thus, under the wing of philosophy, my vanity, you, who call things by their right names, will tell me, took shelter. 

“Do not ask me, I pray you do not, whether in its gratifications I have found the promised good? I believe, even in their highest zest, they exhausted without filling my mind and my heart. The cup seemed sparkling and brilliant to the eye, luscious and sweet to the taste, but the dregs were vapid or bitter, yet now when it appears about to pass from me, I wonder I prized it not more dearly. How full of contradiction and inconsistency is that most curious machine of the human mind! But to return from this philosophising, in which I seek to beguile my anxieties, to common fact and life. [115] 

“My husband, alas! must I call him? is, I am assured, perplexed with many affairs, and declining rapidly in health and life. Six months have elapsed since we met; for why should persons, who are to each other a mutual mortification and plague, persist in the self-inflicted penance of becoming each other’s punishment? In such circumstances, it is surely wiser to live asunder. This we have pretty much contrived to do, without incurring the discredit of an open and formal separation. It is, however, at present intimated to me, that policy, if not duty, demands my return to my home— let me not say, for home is the resort “where polished friends and dear relations meet and mingle into bliss;” — but to the residence of Mr. Wycherly I am preparing to go; reluctantly, I own, and with a heavy foreboding mind.

“Tenderness may endear a sick chamber, and even mingle a delicious sentiment with poignant apprehension; but, in forced duty [116] or heartless decorum, how repulsive is its gloom!

“Write to me, and let the picture of your happiness cheer me into forgetfulness of self, or rouse me by the chastisement you doubtless think I deserve. Call me in any way from my own thoughts and sensations. I begin to suspect that thoughtless folly may border close on crime.

But, before I dismiss my pen, let me inform you, that your brother has taken his Dulcinea to wife. They were married with great pomp and parade on Thursday last; and in a new and shewy equipage, drawn by four horses, and attended by two outriders in gay liveries, and with enormous white favours, immediately set out on a tour to the north, by the lakes of the Westmoreland and Cumberland, through Scotland, its Highlands and islands.

“Peace go with them, or prudence, I would rather say, had they not evidently [117] manifested a determination to leave it behind. Thus concludes the preacher; and preaching and practice, though I by no means intend to insinuate that they never meet, require, you cannot but be aware, different talents.

                                                                                                        “Charlotte.” [118]



[1]cieling] 1817 text

[2]adventitions] 1817 text