No. X (from Letters and Essays, 1793)
Cleora, or the Misery attending unsuitable Connections
Among the various sources of infelicity in human life, no cause has been more productive of complicated wretchedness, than the union of persons whose minds and dispositions are dissimilar: “sympathy is the charm of life:” – and no exterior circumstance, or adventitious advantage can procure happiness, where domestic harmony is wanting.
Frances and Cleora experienced the misfortune of losing a very excellent father during their early childhood. Mrs. L. their mother, an amiable and accomplished woman, when the first transports of grief had subsided into calm resignation, though still young, and peculiarly qualified to appear with advantage in public life, retired on the small fortune left her by her husband; and in a village many miles from London, devoted her time and faculties to the education of her beloved daughters. The improvement of the young ladies, both in person, and mind, was answerable to a mother’s fondest wishes: – health glowed in their cheeks, and vivacity sparkled in their eyes, while natural good sense, directed by virtuous principle, added dignity to the graces which youth and innocence bestow.
At twenty years of age, Frances became acquainted with Hilario, the son of a neighbouring farmer. This young man was possessed of a noble and ingenuous mind, heightened by a good, though not a learned education, situated far from the temptations which great cities present, his heart was uncorrupted by vice, and his notions unsophisticated by prejudice, or fashion: – the hours that could be spared from agriculture, he devoted to books; and blessed with health, virtue, and competence, he wanted only a female friend to participate, and complete his happiness. In Frances L. he found this friend: – the sympathy was mutual: – for congeniality of taste and sentiment soon produced, on both sides, a sincere and animated attachment: – no obstacle intervened to obstruct their union. Frances had no fortune: – but Hilario, whose soul disdained all sordid, and mercenary considerations, and whose choice was dictated by nobler views, esteemed her a fortune of herself: her heart was to him a more valuable treasure than millions of gold. Time, instead of weakening, gave strength to their reciprocal affection, for their love was founded on the firm basis of reason and virtue; and a family of fine children cemented their esteem by still dearer ties.
Cleora, who was some years younger than her sister, contemplated their felicity with the most heart-felt satisfaction. – But while her fancy strayed to future periods, in which she hoped to realize the same domestic scenes of happiness, the tear of sensibility would glisten in her eye, while fearful doubt, and soft anxiety, agitated her youthful bosom, and obscured for a moment, the sun-shine of hilarity, with which her countenance was generally illumined. – Thus time rolled on, and Cleora attained her five and twentieth year, but met not with another Hilario. About this period a gentleman from London came on a visit to the house of her brother-in-law. Mercutio, for so I shall call him, had acquired a considerable fortune on the stock-exchange; – his general character was fair; – for he had ever punctually fulfilled his engagements in the alley, and had neither decreased his wealth, nor impaired his constitution, by any of those vices, and follies, by which so many young men, consume, and shorten their days. But riches had not liberalized the heart, that early associations had rendered narrow; and beyond himself, he never knew a generous care. – His person was tall, and thin, he might be reckoned handsome, at least he thought so, and when adjusting his cravat to the nicest minutia of fashion, would frequently contemplate his own figure with no small degree of self-complacency.
The rural scenery, the effect of which was heightened by novelty, – the innocent cheerfulness of Hilario’s family, – and above all, the animated features, unaffected manners, and modest dignity of Cleora, (so unlike the town ladies, whom he had had the honour of gallanting to a play, or dancing with at a city ball) awakened in his soul all the little energy, and native sensibility, that for many years had lain dormant, or had been absorbed in the grand pursuit of acquiring money: these new and tender sensations, made him for a while forget even his compting-house, and venture to trust his business to the management of his clerks; these days of vacation, he devoted to the fair nymph, whom from the first hour in which he beheld her, he determined to make his wife.
Cleora, though possessed of an excellent understanding, and enthusiastic love of virtue, – was not devoid of vanity. Mercutio’s obsequious attentions gratified this foible. It is true, her first impressions were not of the most favourable cast; but when she heard the public testimony of his good character, and in conversation found him assent to every observation that she made, and echo back the sentiments which she uttered, she willingly retracted her too hasty judgment. Accustomed to observation, and priding herself on her penetration, she determined to scrutinize his disposition attentively. But, alas! the man was disguised in the lover, and self-love threw a veil before her sight; her own temper frank, and unguarded, the friends with whom she had been accustomed to converse, the same, she could form no proper estimate of the artificial manners, acquired by an intercourse with the world. – That the man had taste she was convinced: he had shown it, by distinguishing her; – and in offering to marry her without a fortune, he proved the disinterestedness, and sincerity of his attachment.
In short, after a few journeys, and a few letters, the style of which (though much studied) did not entirely meet with her approbation, Cleora became the wife of Mercutio. Various were the sensations, that agitated her mind, as she bade farewell to the beloved shades of F. and the still dearer friends, and companions of her youth. But when her mother bestowed the maternal blessing, and parting embrace, her emotions were too violent to be restrained. Mercutio, the fond bridegroom, though unused to the melting mood, could not behold the tender scene unmoved, and when in the postchaise, endeavoured with unremitting attention, to soothe her grief, and restore her cheerfulness. Cleora, whose feelings were regulated by principle, and whose heart was ever awake to kindness and gratitude, smiled upon her husband, and in accents softened by sensibility, assured him of her affection. But, though she endeavoured to conceal, she could not entirely dissipate the gloom, that hung over her mind, and which their entrance into London, on a sultry evening in the month of August, by no means tended to remove.
Cleora, though a child of nature, accommodated herself to her new situation: she had no relish for the pleasures of the town: but she loved society, the want of which (when in the country) she had often regretted, and which she now flattered herself she should be able to enjoy. She employed herself also in the regulation of her household, and her leisure hours, as had ever been her custom, she intended to devote to reading. Romantic in her ideas of conjugal felicity, in her husband she expected to find a faithful, and affectionate friend: but, alas! these sound expectations were succeeded by cruel, and mortifying disappointment, and her schemes of rational happiness, “melted into thin air.”
Mercutio unfortunately had no ideas of a wife, beyond a mistress, and a house-keeper; and even as such his notions were sordid, and degrading. The superior talents, and cultivated understanding of his lady, created in his mind a narrow jealousy, while the elevation of her sentiments, and the fervent piety of her heart, he now treated with derision, or looked on with contempt: and though she studiously endeavoured to conceal the disgust, which this behaviour excited, and tried to regulate her conduct by motives of duty and virtue, he yet felt that she did not love him. For he was conscious that he did not deserve her affection, and this consciousness joined to some disappointments in considerable speculations, gave additional acrimony to a temper, which before was far from placid. He knew, that Cleora took pleasure in the conversation of sensible, and liberal minded people. With such therefore he was determined to break off all acquaintance, and keep no company, but what his business absolutely required. In her domestic concerns, though conducted with prudence, and economy, he was ever interfering: never satisfied, and always suspecting himself to be defrauded, he was continually obliging her to change her servants, and was constantly ringing in her ears little groveling maxims, that her soul abhorred, and rose superior to. Nor would he even permit her to enjoy her literary pursuits unmolested, but seized every opportunity of uttering sarcasms against reading ladies, and insinuating that his interest was neglected, while she sat wasting her hours in the library.
Dejected, mortified, and wretched, she proposed visiting the loved retreat, in which she had passed her youthful days of happiness, and innocence, and wished to spend a part of the ensuing summer with her mother, and sister. To this Mercutio at first reluctantly consented, but afterwards peremptorily refused his consent, urging, that he had no idea of his wife’s spending money, and taking her pleasure, while he was confined in London, and fatiguing himself to maintain her in luxury, and idleness.
Perhaps the truth was, he had not forgotten the tears she shed at bidding them adieu; and though he was convinced that her affections were not his, he could not bear the thought, that she should love any one better. For, notwithstanding the various methods which he made use of, to render her life miserable, he was still at times, what is commonly termed fond of her. To invite her friends to London, was a proposition, which she dared not make. He already thought too high of the favour he had conferred, in marrying her without a fortune. She wished not therefore to increase the stock of obligation. Beside a mingled sensation of pride and duty, made her willing to conceal the horrors of her situation from those friends who believed her happy, and rejoiced in her prosperity.
Cleora, in becoming a mother, found for a while some mitigation of her sorrow: her affections had now an object, on which to rest. To her nursery, therefore, she devoted her whole attention: and while she saw Mercutio delighted with his son and heir caress the smiling infant, she felt emotions of pleasure, to which her heart had been for a long time a stranger. Awakened from the fond dreams of youthful enthusiasm, and habituated to the capricious humour of her husband, her understanding exerted its force. The little happiness, which it might still be in her power to obtain, she determined to secure, and as the fairy vision vanished from her sight, she gradually accommodated herself to the situation, in which, however uncongenial, there was no alternative.
The bloom faded from her cheeks, and vivacity no longer sparkled in her eye. But her countenance still shone with intelligence; her features were often illumined by maternal tenderness, and the serene smile of conscious virtue; her increasing family enlarged her occupations, and engrossed her cares, and all concern for herself was quickly absorbed in the welfare of her beloved children: but new sources of disquiet soon arose. Cleora and Mercutio, whose ideas on almost every subject were entirely unlike, differed materially in their notions concerning education. Of course, in all their operations they were constantly counteracting each other. The faults, which Cleora thought deserving of punishment, Mercutio would encourage, and the precepts that she inculcated with the most earnest seriousness, with him were frequently the subjects of derision. On the other hand, when out of humour, which was too often the case, he would vent his passion on the children, and for trifling misdemeanors threaten chastisements, which he never intended to inflict. The master, to whose care Cleora wished to intrust the instruction of her boys, Mercutio capriciously objected to; though he could assign no rational cause for so doing, and placed them under a pedagogue of narrow abilities, and superficial learning. The girls, whom she intended educating herself, he insisted on being sent to a cheap boarding-school, many miles distant from the metropolis, kept by a relation of his own, of whose talents and economy he entertained a very high opinion.
Cleora, disappointed in all her favourite plans, enervated by confinement, and long languishing in an unfriendly soil, had not sufficient spirit to dispute his authority; indeed her declining health in a measure incapacitated her for the task that lay nearest her heart, the education of her daughters. She attended her children, therefore, to their respective seminaries, and, while she gave them lessons for their future conduct, endeavoured to conceal the deep melancholy, which in secret preyed upon her heart. On her return, the malady with which she had been long struggling became more violent; a nervous fever shook her whole frame; advice was called in, the air changed, and every art made use of, but all in vain; perpetual conflict had exhausted the vital powers, and Cleora expired in the arms of her mother, recommending to her care the dear children, for whose sake alone she could have wished to have lived a few years longer.
Let this simple narrative be a caution to women, respecting the connections they form for life. As society is at present organized, the most sensible and best educated, if they have not fortunes, can scarcely form a plan for a future advancement, nay, maintenance, unconnected with matrimony. This, joined to the various tender images which float in the youthful fancy, is the cause why we see many women, who deserve a better fate, united to men unworthy of their affections, through a desire of securing an establishment. The first man who pays them serious attentions, they are willing to believe possest of all the good qualities and virtues, which they deem necessary in a companion for life. Misled by the flattery of the lover, and deceived still more by their own hearts, they find not their mistake, till experience convinces them when too late, that neither riches, beauty, nor talents, can secure happiness, when suitability is wanting, which alone can give permanency to friendship, and prove the source of domestic felicity and social bliss.
1 Letters and Essays, Moral, and Miscellaneous, 124-38.