No. V.


To Mrs. ———.

 

Elizabeth you inform me interests herself in the fate of Sempronia’s family, and wishes to know what became of Melville and Serena after the derangement of their affairs, and whether they were ever re-adjusted? I am gratified by the curiosity she expresses, and will endeavor to give her all the satisfaction in my power. 

Melville, after surrendering his effects to his creditors, and placing his wife under the protection of her parents, and his children (a little boy and girl) with his own relations, quitted England on the advice of his friends, and made a voyage of America, to inquire after some commercial concerns intrusted in the hands of an agent in New-York, who had for some years past failed in his accustomed remittances, and whole fidelity he had great reason to distrust. On his arrival he found his suspicions [43] but too well verified, and after discharging this unfaithful steward, took the management of his affairs into his own hands, and in five years, by industry and attention, was enabled to retrieve in a measure his shattered fortune, and to remit his creditors the remainder of what was due to them, both principal and interest, also to defray the expenses attending the maintenance of his wife and children, and to support himself in a decent but frugal manner. In the sixth year of his residence abroad, he received letters from London, containing an account of the death of Mrs. Melville, whose health had been for some years in a declining situation. His infelicity during a marriage life, had made him conceive an unreasonable aversion to the state, and he determined to devote the remainder of his days alternately to business and to letters, intending to continue in America, till his children were of an age to be introduced into the world, when he purposed returning to England, sending orders in the mean time for their being placed in proper seminaries of education. [44] 

In the course of his literary pursuits some deistical works accidentally came into his hands: he had never paid much attention to religion, and the little that he has seen of it, in the family of his wife, has been so grossly blended with fanaticism and superstition, as had ever excited his ridicule, rather than his reverence. His mind naturally ingenuous and fond of inquiry was dazzled with the wit and brilliant talents of Voltaire, and delighted with the genius, as well as shaken by the sophistry of Hume. He was unfurnished with arguments to bring in opposition to those which now assaulted him, and he became involved in a gloomy and restless state of scepticism. His youthful sensibility had been chilled by disappointment, and infidelity blighted its remaining blossoms; he looked backward with anguish, and forward without hope. A recent and glaring instance of chicanery and avarice which he had met with in his connexions with a trader who made ostentatious pretensions to an uncommon degree of sanctity, confirmed him in his new principles; but this confirmation afforded him [45] no pleasure, for loving virtue from taste, there were not any restraints from which he wished to be freed, and he resigned the soothing expectation of happiness beyond the grave, without receiving in return any compensation. 

Reclining one evening on a rustic seat which commanded one of those wild and romantic prospects which abound on the American continent, his heart softened as he gazed, and his eyes swam in tears, when suddenly started from the posture in which he had been fitting, he gave vent to the feelings which struggled in his soul, and exclaimed aloud, Glorious and beneficent Author of all things! is it possible to contemplate this luxuriant and glowing landscape, abounding in all that can sustain the body and dilate the heart with joy, without catching from the Divine Source of good emanations of benevolence and kindness! yet (continued he, folding his arms with a deep sigh, and pursuing his walk with dejected steps) have I not repeatedly experienced melancholy and convincing proofs, [46] that the contracted heart of man refuses to expand itself, and notwithstanding the plenty which Providence showers upon him, shuts his hand and his affections to his less fortunate brother, and is dead to the common calls of humanity. And shall such wretches, whom human nature blushes to acknowledge, shall such dignify themselves with the title of Christian, and pretend to be zealous defenders of revelation? “Be then the religion of nature mine!” As he uttered the last sentence in a raised and indignant voice, lifting his eyes from the ground, he saw advancing towards him, a man rather advanced in years, of a plain, but decent appearance, who regarded him with looks expressive of benignity and concern, and in a firm, yet mild manner, reproved him for an exclamation, which seemed rather the result of a transient emotion of passion, than dictated by a mind capable of those devotional and grateful sentiments, which has appeared to animate the former part of a soliloquy, which this benevolent stranger had been listening to with mingled pleasure and concern. [47] Melville blushed, when on observing the countenance of his friendly monitor, he recollected the features of a minister (whom he had occasionally heard) who preached to a plain, but numerous congregation, in a village, a few miles distant from New-York, and whole liberality, good-sense, and unaffected piety, had procured him universal love and respect.[1] Perhaps, Sir, said he, I may have been too hasty in my censures, at least, if I may believe that those virtues are derived from the gospel, which render your name so justly respected: the good man answered his compliment only by a slight inclination of his head, and wishing to enter into some further conversation, invited Melville to return to the seat he had just quitted, which was shaded by the spreading branches of a large walnut-tree from slanting rays of the setting sun. 

Melville listened with attention to his mild instructor, who was also an Englishman, and who had early in life been a clergyman in the Established Church, but becoming an Unitarian Christian, had [48] resigned a valuable living, and retired with a widowed sister, and a small patrimony, to New-York, where he cultivated a little farm, and on a Sunday explained to a serious, but simple auditory, the pure doctrines of the gospel, and enforced its precepts. During their conversation, he discovered a profound erudition, and a clear and forcible method of reasoning, that filled Melville with equal surprise and pleasure; and divesting Christianity of the corruptions of scholastic jargon on the one side, and fanatic mysticism on the other, he represented the important truths it taught, its analogy with the conclusions of right reason, and the pure and social morality it inculcated, the sublime character of its founder, the disinterestedness of its first promulgators, the harmony of their narrations, the accomplishments of prophecies, the accumulation of historical testimonies, the difficulties which impede its progress, the spirituality of its nature, the exalted hopes afforded by it, — the various and incontrovertible evidences of its truth, both internal and external, — in a manner so perspicuous, energetic, [49] and affecting, as could not but make a deep impression on the mind of his auditor; and he besought the continuance of his council and friendship with earnestness and frankness, that inspired with this truly good man with similar sentiments of sympathy and esteem. The time glided away almost imperceptibly, and night came upon them before they thought of separating. Melville promised at parting, to make an early visit to his new and respectable friend; and, in the interval, to reflect seriously on what has passed. 

In the course of these reflections, he felt his mind softened and relieved; the bright beams of truth irradiated the gloom, and cordial friendship meliorated its asperity. A few days later, he determined to fulfil the promise he has made, and to make a visit to the farm of Theron. As he advanced towards the habitation of his friend, the air of cultivation and plenty, which appeared in every thing around him (for it was near the time of harvest) the cheerfulness and health that animated the features [50] of the rustics, the alacrity and satisfaction with which they seemed to exert themselves in their several departments, filled the benevolent heart of Melville with hilarity and pleasure. He saw in industry charms, which he has never before observed, and which recalled to his remembrance the first ages of mankind, before luxury and avarice had corrupted the human race. The nearer he drew to the house of Theron, he fancied the scene grew more interesting; the amiable mind of the owner of the fields seemed to pervade every object, and the air to breathe virtue. On the left side of the house, at the end of the green lawn, in the bosom of a thick shrubbery, he perceived a small gothic hermitage, at a little distance from which a cascade poured down a steep irregular descent, into a sort of bason (from whence it dispersed in different streams through the grounds, carrying fertility as it flowed) and by its dashing murmuring sound, disposed the soul to that pensive, tender melancholy, that is calculated “to soften, not to wound the heart,” [51] and which at once refines and amends it. The entrance to this charming solitude commanded a rich and extensive prospect: villages surrounded with fruitful meadows, interspersed with elegant seats, cultivated gardens, and ever verdant plains, terminated by forests of mingled fir and cedar, and lofty mountains on whose summits the clouds rested. It was impossible for Melville not to turn aside to examine nearer a retreat so suitable to the wild and romantic turn of his mind. He advanced towards it, full of the enthusiasm which the contemplation of the sublime and beautiful in nature never fails to inspire in sensible and uncorrupted minds. 

 

“Almighty! thine this universal frame, 

Thus wondrous fair, thyself how wondrous then!”


let the formalist approach his Creator by human rites and ceremonies, and the cold-hearted ridicule, as fanatical, emotions, which his apathy incapacitates him for feeling! Those who can survey unmoved, “the form of beauty that smiles at the heart,” even of the untutored rustic, are religious [52] merely from superstition and prejudice, are incapable of the devotion, that arises out of conviction and love. 

         As Melville drew nearer the hermitage, he heard some person reading aloud. He stopt and listened. The accent was feminine, and the tone of voice was peculiarly sweet and flexible. The subject, which engaged the attention of this fair recluse, was Dr. Beattie’s Minstrel, from which she repeated, with particular propriety and pathos, the following lines.

 

“Hail awful shades that sooth the troubled breast!

And woo the weary to profound repose!

Can passions wildest tumult lull to rest,

And whisper comfort to the man of woes.

Here innocence may wander safe from foes,

And contemplation soar on seraph wings;

Oh solitude! the wretch who thee foregoes, 

When lucre lures him, or ambition stings,

Shall never know the source whence real grandeur Springs.” 

 

She sighed deeply, and was silent; her accents still vibrated on the ear of Melville, and touched the string that called up [53] associations, that had long lain dormant. He hesitated whether to go back, or proceed, when he was roused by the voice of Theron. You must, my dear Cecilia, endeavour to be cheerful; your dutiful regret has endeared you to me, yet let reason and religion prescribe its bounds. Why should we incessantly weep for the dead? our tears cannot recall them, and — we shall meet again. Alas! replied Cecilia, who will supply to me the loss of maternal delicacy and tenderness? Forgive me, my respected friend, I have an entire confidence in your goodness and friendship; allow a little longer time for the feelings of nature: I do not forget that I am a Christian; and virtuous sorrow chastens and rectifies the heart. Theron was about to reply, but Melville suddenly recollecting himself, appeared at the entrance of the grotto. He was received by her friend with cordiality and pleasure, and presented by him to his niece (Cecilia) who had already excited some little emotion in the bosom of Melville, and his sensibility was still more awakened by her appearance. She was by no means [54] beautiful, — but grace and expression irradiated her features, and, to the discerning observer, compensated for the want of exact regularity; penetration and intelligence beamed in her eyes, and her looks varied with every sentiment of her heart. She was of the middle height, inclining to tall, and her figure was light and elegant. She appeared to be about seven and twenty; and if time had faded the first bloom of youth, the mature graces and dignity of womanhood rendered her not less interesting; at least Melville thought so; for moral sentiment entered into his ideas of beauty. Her manners were frank and elegant, full of spirit, delicacy and good sense; mixed with some degree of pride, or rather elevation, as conscious of her own worth. She was in deep mourning for her mother, the sister of Theron; and affliction had clouded her natural vivacity, and, as Sterne expresses it, “tempered her countenance with something that was scares earthly.” Her uncle had paid particular attention to her education, and her improvement in every liberal science has amply rewarded [55] his cares. She had never been introduced into gay circles, and was unacquainted with the fashionable varnish generally inculcated on the sex, through which you never see the real woman, and which destroys all individuality of character: untinctured with affection, unconscious of an idea inconsistent with cleanliness of mind, she had been accustomed to look and speak her heart; and her expressions answered to the liveliness of her conceptions.

         Those emotions which we feel at the first sight of an object that pleases us, cannot perhaps with propriety be called love. This is an idea that has generally been ridiculed as romantic and absurd, and not without reason: for how very unworthy are those transient sensations of passion, which are sometimes excited in the giddy of both sexes, from the bloom of a cheek, or the sparkling of an eye, or the other advantages equally adventitious of the sacred name of love! “Virtue (says Mrs. Brooke, the author of Julia Mandeville) may command esteem, understanding and talents admiration, [56] beauty a transient desire; but it is sensibility alone can inspire love.” It is certain there is in some minds a certain attraction, a congeniality — were I not materialist, I should say, a recognition of souls, which glows in the features, and moves the heart with a sort of electrical sympathy. Many I believe will not understand me: but this I cannot help. The feelings of Melville were of the kind I have been endeavouring to describe. While gazing on Cecilia, and listening to a conversation at which our modern beaus would have yawned, time glided away imperceptibly, and the village clock struck ten. Melville started and looked round him. Grey mists had veiled the mountains; he felt it would be improper to prolong his visit, and he signed at the conviction. The past scene appeared a vision, and he thought it scarce a moment since he first entered a society, so congenial to his mind. The hilarity which had brightened his aspect, instantly faded, and he silently withdrew, after Theron has given him a hospitable and general invitation to his farm; and the charming Cecilia [57] complacently smiling, looked her wishes for his compliance with her uncle’s request. As he returned home, the moon rose in unclouded majesty, and “walking in her brightness” —

 

         “Shadowy set off the face of things.” 

 

The air was perfectly still, and the softened soul of Melville dissolved in tender melancholy. Something devotional chastened his feelings; he was enamoured with virtue, and he raised his thoughts to the Being, whose essence is love, and “poured his soul in transport,”

 

         “Which the sire of love approving heard,

         And call’d it good.”

 

Nor had the marked attentions of Melville been unobserved by Cecilia. She had retired to rest, with a heart more serene than usual; and though she slept not till towards morning, her visions were light and airy; and indistinct, though soothing hopes cheered her depressed spirits. She arose early and hailed the returning sun with grateful pleasure; she quitted her chamber to court the [58] cooling breeze of the morning, and inhale the early fragrance. She marked the vivid glow that impurpled the East, the soft dews that that glittered on the spray, the golden grain that waved in the valley: and she bent in reverence and adoration. Unconscious of her path, she wandered towards the hermitage, and listened in a pensive attitude to the murmuring of the waters that flowed at her feet. She recollected the conversation of the preceding evening, and again saw in idea the ingenuous and sensible countenance of Melville, and remembered, that while gazing on her, his features became more animated, — and his accents more tender. She blushed, and the consciousness of doing so, deepened the suffusion. She endeavoured to check the rising emotion, and recalling her scattered thoughts, returned to the house, with a full determination to subject, for the future, a too lively imagination to the sober control of reason. 

         On the next Sunday, being a day of leisure from business, Melville again directed his steps to the hospitable mansion of Theron. [59] He arrived at the village, just as the cottagers, in their best array, were proceeding to a plain neat building, on the brow of a bill, to attend to the exhortations of their venerable teacher. Melville mixed in the throng, unobserved by Theron, who had chosen for the subject of the morning’s discourse, the answer of Agrippa to Paul, — “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Melville listened attentively: he felt himself interested in the subject; Christianity had never before appeared to him so amiable; the simple and affecting eloquence of the speaker, the rural, yet decent appearance, and composed behaviour of the hearers, exhibited a picture of patriarchal simplicity; he shed tears, but they were tears of ineffable delight. He wished to be convinced, and to shake off the painful scepticism, that still harassed his mind. His presence and agitation were not unnoticed by Cecilia, and she involuntarily raised her eyes to heaven, and addressed a fervent petition in his behalf. This perhaps may be enthusiasm, but people of ardent tempers do not always stop critically to analyze[2] their [60] feelings. After the service, Cecilia touched the organ, and accompanied the grateful aspirations of a happy people, rendered virtuous by the benevolent exertions of their excellent pastor. On the conclusion of the hymn, Melville joined his friends: his heart was full, and his eyes glistened; they took no notice of the emotions, but accompanied him in a walk round the village. Every eye sparkled at their approach, and every voice blessed them. Cecilia had instituted a school, and decreed various little rewards for industry and docility; her pupils crowded to salute her as she passed, and presented her with the fairest flowers of their gardens. The heart of Melville, to whom these scenes were equally novel and affecting, throbbed tumultuously; the tenderness he felt for this amiable woman had something of religious reverence in it; he attempted not to speak, his sensations were — “for the words too delicate.” 

         Every interval of commerce he now spent at the farm of Theron, and his affection for [61] Cecilia grew every hour more pure and animated; at length he determined to overcome the timidity, that at the moment of utterance, had a thousand times repressed the avowal of his feelings. One day finding Theron alone, he Ventured to disclose to him the sentiments he had long delighted to cherish. You are right, my friend, replied Theron, Cecilia is an invaluable treasure, and you are the only man whom I know that is deserving of her; I heartily wish you success, and will introduce you to her; but I can do no more; in a point so momentous I dare not influence her. Saying which, he took him by the hand, and led him to the library of his niece, Cecilia (said he, as he entered) I have brought you a friend, whom you know my sentiments: — he loves you, —a nd you are worthy of his affection; — consult your own heart, and behave to him with your accustomed frankness. Theron turned, and was about to quit the room. Stop, Sir; (replied his niece, while a faint lush overspread her face) your absence cannot be necessary; I am incapable of causing a moment’s suspence that [62] I do not feel: she hesitated — and turning to Melville, I do not pretend, said she, to deny that the judgement of my dear paternal friend has ever all the influence over me, which it so truly deserves; but the favorable sentiments I have for some time past entertained for you, — you owe only to your own merits. Melville seized with transport the hand she offered him, and a flood of tears relieved his overcharged heart. 

The venerable Theron rejoiced in the felicity of his children; and their union waited only the adjusting of some preliminary affairs, interesting to all parties. During this interval, the bankruptcy of a house, which involved the greater part of Melville’s property, overwhelmed him in confusion and anguish, the cup of joy seemed again dashed from his lips, and he gave himself up to despair. He had absented himself for more than a fortnight from the farm, when a servant arrived in breathless disorder, and informed him that the good Theron was at the point of death, and wished earnestly to speak with him before he expired. My God! [63] (exclaimed Melville in an agony) let us lose no time, —let us fly this moment! As he passed through the village, an air of consternation sat on every face, all employments were suspended, and every one wept as for a beloved parent. Theron, in endeavouring to save a child that had fallen into the river, had plunged after it down the stream, and remaining too long in the water, had on his coming out been seized with cold shiverings, followed by an acute pain in the stomach that terminated in an inflammation, and a mortification had now taken place. — All medical aid was vain. On entering the chamber, Melville found his friend supported on a couch: Cecilia knelt beside him, and wiped the damps of death from his forehead, — her hair was dishevelled, — her dress negligent, — and her countenance pale and fixed. Theron held in one hand a New Testament, and the other grasped that of his niece. Come hither, my friend (said he, on seeing Melville) and learn how a Christian dies. A faint, but sweet smile beamed in his features, — he went on in a languid, but tranquil tone of voice. — [64] Why have you staid from us so long? The failure in your affairs was a trifle, the wants of nature are but few; with œconomy and industry, we have sufficient to satisfy them; but I perceive the delicacy of your love, though I do not approve it. Cecilia looked on Melville with more severity than he had ever before seen in her countenance. — Delicacy, said she, my father, is too soft a term — the pride of Melville has been injurious to our tenderness. We will not now recriminate, said Theron, I see in the ingenuous features of my friend, contrition and sorrow. In this solemn moment receive from me, while I have the power of bestowing the two most valuable treasures I ever possessed: — This dear girl has been the comfort of my declining years; may she be the ornament and solace of your future life! and this book had taught me how to live, — and how to die, — “I have finished my course, and henceforth is laid up for me in a crown of righteousness.” — He was silent. Melville took with one hand that of Cecilia, and with the other the New Testament, and held them alternately to his [65] bosom. Exerting his last remaining strength, Theron clasped them both to his heart, — raised his eyes, — ejaculated a prayer, — blessed them, — and expired. Cecilia fainted. — Melville bending over the remains of his friends, repeated with fervor, “May I die the death of the righteous.” 

The villagers crowded to the funeral of their benefactor, and watered the clods of the valley with pious and grateful tears. The solemnity of the past scenes deeply affected the sensible heart of Melville, he settled his mercantile affairs, resigned his business, and after his union with Cecilia, applied himself to the cultivation of their farm, and devoted his leisure hours to the study of the Scriptures. The good sense and genuine piety of Cecilia, greatly assisted his researches, and he became a Christian on form and rational convictions, and determined to take up the ministerial character after the example of his departed friend. On the next Sunday he put in practice this intention, to the great satisfaction of an affectionate and grateful people. [66]

A gentle peace now dawned upon his mind, — his heart expanded with joy, — the business of agriculture, the offices of benevolence, and the pursuits of literature, engaged his whole time; — all which his beloved Cecelia participated and heightened. At her request he sent for his children from England, and she delighted to form their young and ductile minds. As their family increased, they saw with pleasure — 

 

“Every day, soft as it roll’d along,

Shew some new charm;

The fathers lustre, and the mothers bloom.”

 

Sitting under the shade of their plantations, while their children sported around them, — the dignity of conscious rectitude, and the ineffable thrill of virtuous tenderness irradiated their features, and elevated their hearts to the source of all felicity, — who had led them “in green pastures, beside the still waters,” — and “conducted them in paths of pleasantness and peace.”

         Adieu, my friend. My letter is already of immoderate length; I am fatigued, and will add no more, but that I remain, &c. [67] 

 



[1]Theron is clearly patterned after Hays’s previous friend, correspondent, and mentor, the Rev. Robert Robinson (1735-90), Baptist minister at St. Andrew’s Street, Cambridge. 

[2]anylize] original text