No. VIII. 


To Mrs. ———. 


My dear Madam, 

The following little narrative, will, I conceive, in some measure, exemplify the observations in my last. 

Henrietta was the only daughter of Mr. L. a country gentleman of moderate fortune, who farmed his own estate, in a remote country in the North of England. She had lost her mother, an excellent and amiable woman, when she was too young to be sensible of her misfortune. Mr. L. whose time was divided between the business of agriculture, and the sports of the field, placed his daughter at a neighboring boarding-school, to receive the education customary for young ladies of her rank, from whence at fourteen years of age, she was recalled to superintend the domestic œconomy of her father’s house. Henrietta [102] possessed from nature a lively fancy, and a tender heart, and these dispositions were fostered by a wrong course of early reading; loving books with ardor from the time she knew her letters, and seeking in them (as is natural in early youth) only that sort of information which amuses, and those images, which by exciting vivid emotions, delight a glowing imagination; she perused with avidity all of the novels, romances, and poetry, which a circulating library in an adjacent country town afforded. But, though she loved the marvellous, and the sublime; and dissolved into tears at the beautiful and the melancholy, heroic virtue was her passion; and she turned with disgust from pictures of vice, however glossed over by refinement, or painted in alluring colors by genius. Her father had recommended to her when at school, to pay particular attention to the French, and Italian languages; but the application which the learning of a language required, suited not with her natural vivacity; and she could never be prevailed on to attend to them, unless to translate a story from Marmontel, or the Diable de Boiteaux. This [103] want of early application, she had frequent occasion afterwards to regret, as it subjected her though life to many inconveniencies, and mortifications. Music accorded with her disposition: during the short time she received instruction in this sweet and elegant science, her proficiency excited the approbation of her master, and as she was ever solicitous to attain excellence, and fond of praise, his approbation stimulated her emulation. Insolent and arbitrary control her mind revolted at: coercive measures could not have induced her even to follow her inclinations; but to reason and affections, her heart was always accessible; for to be treated as a reasonable being, flattered her ambitions; while wanton or unjust severity irritated, instead of reclaiming her. This sensibility, the teachers under whose care she had been placed while at school, had too often amused themselves by sporting with; and by that means rendered a naturally quick temper, still more impetuous. 

She applied to music as to other pursuits, merely from taste and sentiment; and could [103] never be persuaded to attempt pieces of difficult execution, but delighted to make it the vehicle of her feelings in Scotch, and other plain and simple ballads; sometimes gay and sprightly; but more frequently tender and plaintive — 

 

“A solemn sweet, and mingled air; 

’Twas sad by turns, by fits ’twas wild.” 

 

Warm animated minds resemble a rich soil; cultivate them with care, and they will yield the noblest fruits; but without unremitting attention they are liable from their luxuriance to be over-run with weeds. Happy are those who acquire wisdom by the experience of others, and, by do doing, avoid those perilous enterprizes, in which the price of discretion is paid from the wreck of happiness.

         Like Mrs. Lennox’s female Quixotte, Henrietta entered the world, flushed with fallacious hope, and viewing every object through a false and dazzling medium. She drew all her ideas of life from the overcharged pictures in her favourite books; [105] susceptible from nature of lively impressions, her heart “still throbbed responsive to the poets call!”

 

         “This temper of the soul is sweet, and wild; 

         It sobs and smiles, as sudden as a child; 

         To woes imagined, tears unfeigned gives,

         And in the poet’s world of fancy lives.” 

 

Nothing particular intervened to interrupt the uniformity of Henrietta’s domestic avocations, till her seventeenth year; she had for some time sighed to become the heroine of a romance, and vainly sought to find a lover, and a friend resembling the portraits coloured by her vivid imagination. A concurrence of circumstances brought into that part of the country a youth a few years older than herself, with a mind equally uncorrupted by a commerce with the world, a fancy equally lively, and a heart not less sensible and tender; with a form and countenance distinguished for symmetry, and manly beauty.

 

         “A mutual flame was quickly caught.

Was quickly too reveal’d; 

For neither bosom lodg’d a thought,

Which virtue keeps conceal’d.” [106]

 

* “Suppose a young person in the first ardor of affection deifies the beloved object! What harm can arise from this mistaken enthusiastic attachment? Perhaps it is necessary for virtue first to appear in a human form, to impress youthful hearts; the ideal model, which a more matured and exalted mind looks up to, and shapes for itself, would elude their sight. It is natural for youth to adorn the first object of its tenderness with every good quality; and the emulation, produced by inexperience, brings forward the mind, capable of forming such an affection.” 


*Mrs. Wollstonecraft’s Rights of Women

 

         This amiable, and ingenuous youth, in whose attachment she now thought all her fairy visions realized, though a favourite of nature, had been treated by fortune like a step-mother. But these were trifling obstacles to a heart like Henrietta’s; nor could she believe, that when her affections were gratified, she could possibly feel any anxiety from considerations, which appeared to her [107] so sordid and inferior. Her lover (whom I shall call Edwin) had received the rudiments of a classical education at a grammar school; expecting to have been qualified by a removal to the university, for one of the learned professions; for the church he seemed more particularly fitted, by a serious turn of the mind, and an ardent love of literature. But the sudden death of his father, who had left his family in narrow circumstances, precluded every hope of this nature; and after revolving in his mind various plans for his future establishment in life, he determined to solicit a relation who had interest in the India-House, to be appointed a writer in the service of the East-India-Company. During the difficulties and delays, which attended this negotiation, he was prevailed on by a friend to accompany him in a Northern tour, to spend a few weeks in the sporting season, at the house of Mr. L. Henrietta’s father, with whom his friend had in early youth been in habits of particular intimacy. It was during this visit, that the heart of the young Henrietta became tenderly attached to this [108] amiable and accomplished stranger. While Mr. L. and his friend were engaged in the chace, or in convivial meetings with the neighbouring gentlemen, Henrietta and Edwin rambled over the hills, and valleys; visited the lakes, and the fells, the forests, and the caverns, with which this wild and romantic part of the country abounds. Their taste, and their feelings were ever in union: solitude is the nurse of tender sentiments. While Henrietta employed herself with a needle, Edwin read to her; when she sung to her harpsichord, he would hang over her with breathless attention: he chose the flowers, which she imitated in crayons. He offered to instruct her in the French language, and she no longer thought the application, which it required, disgusting. Week after week passed on, without their perceiving the flight of time; when they were roused from this delirium, by the preparation of Edwin’s friend for their departure to London. 

         In the absence of Edwin, Henrietta no longer found amusement in her walks, [109] her pencil, or her books; the face of nature in her apprehension was overspread with a sickly gloom; her vivacity was clouded, and her temper became yet more unequal. She saw the approach of winter with a melancholy before unfelt; she avoided the society of the young people in the village; and delighted to trace alone the untrodden snows, to listen to the howling of the Northern blast, and to treasure in her memory every past scene and conversation that had flattered her affection, or tended to cherish her hopes. 

         Edwin, who was to sail from England in the ensuing spring, determined to make one more Northern journey, to take a last leave of his beloved Henrietta. In the tender moment of parting, they forgot the dictates of duty and discretion, and Henrietta consented, after being privately united to her lover, to embark with him, and to follow his fortune to the Indies. The delicacy of her education, and constitution, made her experience many inconveniencies during the long voyage; but her enthusiastic [110] tenderness enabled her to support them. On their arrival at Madras, Edwin sickened with a fever, common to Europeans from the fervor of a tropical climate, and in a few days expired in the arms of his wife. — Over the sensations of the unfortunate Henrietta permit me to draw a veil; to sensible hearts, such descriptions are unnecessary, to the cold and dissipated, they would be inconceivable. By the pale light of the moon — alone — in agonizing sorrow, — on the cold earth, that covered the remains of her husband, — she would frequently kneel, — lost to the world, — to hope, — almost to reason. Her misfortunes, and her sensibility procured her the humane attentions of the factory; and the widow lady who was about to return to England, prevailed on Henrietta to accompany her. During their passage home, she attended her with the most affectionate assiduity, and on their arrival, accompanied her to the house of Mr. L. her father, who, affected by the fading languor, and deep dejection, which appeared in the countenance of the inn-fated Henrietta, received her with tenderness, without recrimination, [111] and endeavoured by every method in his power, to dissipate her apprehensions, and alleviate her distress. Tears of gratitude and duty streamed from her eyes, and overcome by the struggle of contending passions, she felt an intense pain dart through her temples, attended with cold shiverings, succeeded by a delirium and burning fever. For three weeks her life was despaired of, on the fourth she began to revive; but her nerves seemed to be shattered, her recovery was slow, and she sunk into lassitude and melancholy. Her father concerted various plans for her amusement, but in vain; she besought him to leave a wretch unworthy of his tenderness, to suffer the consequences of her indiscretions, and wear out the remainder of her life in sorrow and regret. 

         For six years she indulged in a luxury of tender melancholy, at length the perpetual recurrence of the same ideas, brought on a species of mental alienation, attended with hypochondriac symptoms that alarmed her. When she attempted to take up a book, her senses seemed confused, and she read [112] without comprehending; she felt a perpetual terror on her spirits, for which she could assign no cause; she started at every sound, and shuddered at her own imaginations. She now began to feel that she had been dignifying with the name of virtue, a criminal weakness, — that 

 

         “All gracious Providence is good and wise,

         Alike in what it gives, and what it denies:” —

 

that his world is a state of discipline, in which we are placed for duty, for usefulness, and for action; and that in willfully injuring our own health, and consuming our faculties, we are guilty of the most unpardonable, because the most deliberate suicide. She determined to collect the little remaining strength she possessed, and force herself into a situation where she would be obliged to exert herself, and endeavor to shake off the torpor, which seemed stealing upon every faculty. She recollected having received repeated invitations to London, from the lady who had accompanied her from India, and resolved to avail herself of them; and with the approbation of her father, make a visit to the metropolis. [113]

Mrs. F. received her with cordiality and pleasure; possessing an excellent understanding, and as excellent a heart, she devoted herself to amuse and cheer her melancholy guest; varied her conversation a thousand ways, to engage, to sooth, to entertain her. The affectionate heart of Henrietta glowed with emotions of the most lively and grateful esteem. Mrs. F. introduced her into a respectable circle of intelligent and literary friends: at once delighted, and humbled by their conversation, Henrietta found her ardor for improvement and knowledge revive; she regretted that she had hitherto been the wayward child of feeling, — that she had suffered so much time to elapse unimproved. She tried to collect her thoughts, and fortify her mind; the first step to which, she properly judged would be by exercise, regularity, and attention to re-establish her health, and strengthen her nerves. She now awoke as from a troublesome dream: the dark cloud which had so long rested on her prospects, opened its silver lining, and appeared to be dispersing. She directed all the energy of her [114] nature into the pursuit of moral and religious truth: tranquility and cheerfulness returned, as her mind gradually expanded, and she repeated with enthusiasm, —

 

“How charming is divine philosophy;

Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose; 

But musical, as is Apollo’s lyre.” 

 

Though still at times, — “the form of beauty dimly seen,” would hover over her imagination, — when she wept, and remembered the gay illusions of youth, — yet, resignation mingled in the tide of sorrow; while the impressions, as rendered fainter by distance, became at length the remembrance of remembrances; and if they betrayed her into some little whimsicality of character, the deviations were such, as to the humane and philosophic eye, tracing back effects to causes, rendered her more dear and interesting. 

         By the preceding little history, my friend, I wish to allay your anxiety respecting your Elizabeth’s taste for works of fancy; she will not, like Henrietta, be left without a [115] guide to her wayward destiny; the sensibility of her nature will render her as wax in your hands, and you may with proper attention, impress the stamp of every virtue of her young and ductile mind. For though “the exertion of our own faculties may be the blessed fruit of disappointed hope,” a good parent would with to guard the children of her affection from those rude shocks, which however salutary, are never unattended with danger. Yet, I have sometimes doubted, whether the acute sensibility arising from an organization peculiarly delicate, may not bring the happiness of the possessor, upon an average, to nearly the same medium with that of others, whose nerves being of a less flexible texture, feel no vibration from the thousand tremulous touches that convulse the tender and impassioned heart. So that, perhaps, taking in the whole circle of intellectual pains and pleasures, our satisfactions may be less unequally distributed than they appear to be; — “for when the mind’s free, the body’s delicate.” But however this must be, those who have the care of young people, should [116] be particularly watchful over those, whose dispositions are of this ardent cast, and endeavor to lead them gently (for constraint will only increase the danger)  to more just and sober conclusions: not by exaggerated and disgusted representations of the crimes, and the follies of mankind, lest the generous glow of uncorrupted youth should be chilled by unnecessary and sordid habits of suspicion, and “like the rose-bud unblown, present nothing to the beholder, but thorns and prickles.” But they should be brought into society, and (while their taste and judgement are directed, and assisted by a sensible friend) be taught in some measure to read men, as well as books. 

                                                                        I am, &c.