Chapter 1

“There is something,” said Mr. Seymour to his younger daughter, who, her work in her hand rather than working, sat, with her aunt and her sister, by the couch on which their father was reclining in his library — “There is something both supplicating and deprecating in the glance of those eyes that so frequently stray from thy work to the face of my sister, as if to implore her aid in some project or purpose.”

“Why, the truth is, brother,” replied Mrs. Percy to this observation, “that Charlotte, [2] with, I am sorry to say, her usual improvidence, is again embarrassed in her finances; a circumstance which, as it has, I believe, occurred before more than once, she wants courage to reveal to you without my aid.”

“That her courage,” observed Mr. Seymour gravely, “should, on such an occasion, fail her, surprises me less, after what has before passed on the same subject, than does the occasion itself.”

“Dear brother, we must make some allowances for young people and giddy heads: Charlotte is, beside, an open-hearted generous girl: she will learn the value of money, doubt it not, as she grows older.”

“Perhaps when the knowledge is too late to avail her. My daughters, I hope, have not been so ill-taught, nor so ill-trained, as to plead youthful giddiness as an excuse for their faults, — more especially for [3] the repetition of faults. Charlotte is, you say, generous; I like to have words well defined, and things called by their right names. In what, I pray you, does her generosity consist?”

“She is free in making little presents to her young friends and acquaintance; and I have observed, on a variety of occasions with approbation of her magnificent spirit, that to our own domestics, and to the servants of others, from whom she receives any little services, she gives twice as much as do other young people of her age and rank in life.”

“This you term generosity, and I an idle and pernicious ostentation. In respect to making presents, it is a hacknied but good observation, that we should be just before we are generous, and of true generosity some self-denial must make a part: what vanity takes from avarice is but the mere exchange of one vice for another. By [4] a double payment of domestics for services which it is their duty to perform, and for which they are already sufficiently remunerated, we but encrease their cupidity; while, by rendering them dissatisfied with those who are less lavish (a word very distinct from generous), we seek, at their expense, to raise our own consequence. My daughters are not princesses, and have therefore no right to aim at being magnificent. I would have prudence temper their liberality. Generosity is a noble virtue; vanity the vice of little minds. Those who are the most lavish in all that concerns the indulgence of their own personal feelings and fancied importance, are uniformly the least generous; and for an obvious reason, because they can least afford to be so.”

“But, surely, brother, this is being too severe! Eighteen rarely defines and calculates. Relieve Charlotte this once from her difficulties, and I will answer for her future discretion[.]” [5]

“You will in so doing be very bold. But I should be glad to know why it is, that, while I give to each one of my daughters the same quarterly allowance, it is found insufficient by the younger only?”

“Dear sir,” exclaimed Charlotte, with a mortified air, “I know not that I am, though far less wise and good, more expensive than my sister; my wardrobe is neither more valuable not more various; and I certainly do not expend so much money upon books.”

“That is because you have not the same pleasure in reading, and profit likewise less by what you read; you take also less care of your clothes when purchased, of course your wardrobe requires to be more frequently replenished. I have often observed, and with pleasure, that Ellen, though never fine or over-dressed, is always perfectly near and ever elegant in her appearance; while Ellen’s sister is negligent or [6] dressed for parade and shew, alternately, in the contrary extreme. Those lesser ornaments, trinkets and trimmings, are multiplied, which, while they greatly enhance the expense and the labour of dress, add little or nothing to its general effect. The majority of persons who fall into pecuniary difficulties owe their ruin to small expenses frequently repeated. It is but this, and it is but that, say they; till trifles, by arithmetical progression, swell into a magnitude but little, in the first instance, anticipated. The true art of economy, like the true spirit of generosity, has its origin in self-denial; without it no fortune will prove sufficient, nor will there be any merit in bestowing. Charlotte is vain, profuse, self-indulgent, inconsiderate; therefore Charlotte cannot afford to be truly generous, and will always be embarrassed and exposed to mortification. But Ellen has acquired over herself a voluntary power; she knows how to refuse to herself what it would be imprudent to grant; she is neither [7] ostentatious not infirm of purpose; thus, when principle calls upon her and duty points, she is able to be generous to others and just to herself.”

“Oh, my dear sir,” said Ellen, whole a modest blush overspread her cheek, “you give me too much credit, and do me too much honour. Precious as your approbation is to me, I am pained to receive it at my sister’s expence: I am her elder, and various circumstances have combined to force upon me more serious reflection than ought to be expected from her younger and more lively temper. If I possess any just principles or modes of thinking, I am, and I own it with grateful pleasure, indebted to you as their source.”

“You are a good girl, and I will not distress your delicacy even by giving you that commendation which is justly your due. But, my children, the present situation of my health, in addition to my various infirmities, [8] assures me that my life will not be long, or rather that it is drawing towards its close. My estate will be your brother’s; it is not large, and very inadequate to the really generous and magnificent spirit which he possesses; a spirit which is not, I fear, with all his high and noble qualities, sufficiently balanced by discretion, or a calculation of consequences. Three thousand pounds each, is all that I can bequeath to my daughters; a fortune that, with the utmost prudence, will, unmarried, be but barely sufficient to their independence; and that will scarcely entitle them to form very splendid alliances. My sister must shortly return to her own house and family, and I would fain, if practicable, see you both married and under good protection, before I die. Why that sigh, that blush, Ellen?”

“I was not conscious of either, sir.”

“When you say so, you are not, I suspect, quite sincere. But to return to my [9] subject. I have had a proposal made for you, my girl, that, should it meet with your approbation, will enlarge the boundaries of that economy of which you are so admirable a mistress, and enable you to indulge the kind propensity of your nature in doing good to others.”

“I have no ambition, sir. Wealth does not enter into my scheme of happiness.”

“Will you, Charlotte, say as much?”

“No, indeed, sir; I frankly confess that affluence has for me great charms.”

“You are right, my dear,” observed Mrs. Percy, “quite right. Young as you are, I perceive, and perhaps you have to thank me for it, that you know something of the world, in which every thing worth having is to be purchased?”

I am not, sister, entirely of your opinion; [10] though, I suspect, less romantic upon the subject than my daughter Ellen, who discovers but little curiosity respecting her wealthy suitor.”

“If I am not curious, (replied Ellen, with a smile) it is because I have a presentiment that his suit will be vain, and I should feel no pleasure in inflicting mortification. What a pity, that he should make so unlucky a choice.”

“Do not decide too precipitately; that will not become your character of prudence. If riches are not to you a recommendation, neither I presume, would they form an objection; you are too wise to affect to despise the power of benefiting yourself and others.”

“Most certainly! Yet I should almost fear to encounter the temptations and the responsibility of great wealth.”

“This lover, however, is not a Crœsus, [11] nor yet an Indian nabob; though he inherited from his family a handsome property, which he is reported to have more than quadrupled by extensive mercantile concerns. He is a bachelor of some standing, gay for a commercial man, and of a fair and honourable character. He has a fancy for a wife not quite half his own age, and my Ellen is the fortunate damsel who has attracted his attention.”

“Alas, sir, I have no heart to bestow; and if I had, this man, as you describe him, would not be likely to win its affections.”

“For the modest the prudent Ellen, this I confess (said the aunt of the young ladies) is rather an explicit declaration. I wish my little Charlotte had charmed the fancy of this antiquated swain. Let me tell you, niece, that, to a woman of sense, difference of years, where a tempting fortune offers, would for no such formidable objection. The chance of being a young, rich, and independent [12] widow, is what few women would despise.”

Pardon me, madam; but God forbid that I should be so profligate as to contemplate the death of a man to whom I solemnly promised to devote my own life.”

“The rebuke is just, sister, and ought not to offend you. But tell me, Ellen, do you indeed believe, that, with an inequality of age, happiness in a married life is not compatible?”

“I do not absolutely assert its utter incompatibility, since there can be no rule that admits not of exception; but certainly, when that inequality is great, happiness ought not to be expected. Domestication is, I have heard, and I believe, a great trial; a trial perhaps which but few characters can abide; and, to give it a chance of success in a married life, it appears to me, that a certain parity of tastes, of principle, [13] of feeling, of inclination, and of habits, is necessary; which parity is rarely to be found, and ought never to be calculated upon, between persons at very different periods of life. I am not so romantic as my aunt chuses to believe me. That delightful sentiment, or rather combination of sentiments, which is termed love in youth, appears to me principally valuable as a preparation for that tender, indulgent, more endearing species of friendship, which, arising out of a sympathy of character and a community of interests, alone can render marriage a desirable state. Respect, esteem, approbation must precede and accompany that affection, which I should consider it as indispensable to feel for the man whom I should make my husband, and the arbiter, if I may so speak, of my destiny. I am myself imperfect, and therefore perfection I should not require; but to distrust the principles, the honour, the morals of him to whom I entrusted my own, would render me either guilty or miserable. To respect and to confide in his [14] judgement and his understanding would also, I confess, be to me necessary. To a mind of any powers, feeling or delicacy, I know of few punishments more severe than the struggle between duty and contempt; than to be confined to the society of those with whom you have scarcely an idea in common, and by whom you can be as little appreciated as understood. Such a connexion would be that of the living with the dead; or, worse, the constant jarring of opposing elements.”

“And yet, (observed Mr. Seymour,) it has been said by a man* [St. Pierre, Studies of Nature] both eloquent and wise, and frequently repeated, ‘that the strongest affections have been founded on contrasts.’”

“Does not this observation, dear sir, require to be distinguished and explained? Contrast and opposition of character may stimulate the caprices of the passions; but [15] surely you would not, as Dr. Watts in his charming poem* [Indian Philosopher] expresses it, ‘join the gentle to the rude!’”

“But, in the same ingenious composition, two violent persons are compared to ‘Sampson’s young foxes, with fire-brands tied between.’”

“Yes, (said Ellen, gravely,) but the violent and outrageous should, I believe, always live alone; or, at least, remain unmarried, for woe to those who are subjected to their rage. I will not however, deny, that some contrast in temper and character may be favourable to domestication. A temper on one side too flexible and soft may be sustained by more vigour and firmness on the other; and the sallies of a lively imagination may serve to cheer the intervals of relaxation from profounder studies and pursuits.” [16]

“Then you justify a man of sense and learning in making choice of a merely lively and agreeable — shall I say — common-place woman;”

“Indeed I do not. Such a woman, as I before observed, will never understand nor know his value; she will be incapable of sympathising in his pursuits; nor, as the mistress of his house, the mother of his children, the manager of his affairs, can he have any confidence in her. No friendship, properly so called, can exist between them; and marriage, it has been justly observed, if not a state of the highest and most endearing friendship, is something foolish or vicious.”

“I perceive, that the suit of my rich merchant must prove vain; he is certainly not the maid’s husband, as described by my romantic Ellen.”

“But why romantic dear sir? Is it not [17] from your own instructions, your own observations on life and character, that my principles and opinions are derived? and if so, is there, let me ask, any thing in them so very impracticable and absurd?”

“It is not, my dear girl, to your principles or to your opinions that I object; but rather to what I suspect to be their secret application.”

“If you, my kind, my indulgent father, really object, I shall, while thus immature in experience and age, certainly think myself bound to yield to your objections; and even in future, to give to them, with an attentive examination, their due weight.”

“That is spoken like the daughter in whom I have ever delighted, and in whose duty and discretion I fully confide. At the same time, I owe it to the merit of Mr. Neville to declare; that, did I see any probability of his securing by his profession that competence which I consider as necessary [18] to the honourable and liberal support of a family, I know no man on whom I would so cheerfully bestow the hand of my Ellen, and a precious boon I should consider such a gift.”

“But why should he not, sir? May not talent, probity, and perseverance, command success? In the mean time we can wait. We are both young.”

“Ah, my love! you can yet scarcely understand the misery, where the feelings are deeply interested, of a protracted engagement; that suspense, those alternations of fear and of hope, that fret the mind, wear the health, sicken the heart, and like a deadly canker, blast the blossom and promise of youth. I will tell you why I doubt the success of our friend. In the first place, though his talents and acquirements are of a superior order, and though he is both active and capable of application, he is too modest, too sensitive, too delicately scrupulous, to be calculated for success at the bar. [19] He is unfit to brow-beat witnesses; he would undertake no cause which he did not believe to be just; he would not use his ingenuity to colour oppression or fraud, or to ‘make the worse appear the better reason.’”

“Ah! dear sir, what an affecting eulogium.”

“Hear me out. And, in the next place, were his character and abilities of a different order, his physical constitution, notwithstanding his profound legal knowledge, and the elegance and justness of his taste, unfits him for exertions of eloquence. To the talents of Cicero he should add the lungs of Demosthenes, and his are, I had almost said, alarmingly defective.”

“You terrify and distress me, sir: I must and I will hope better things. But of one circumstance, but just come to my knowledge, allow me to inform you. A distant relative of Mr. Neville’s who died a few days since, has, from the estimation in which [20] he held his character, bequeathed to him the sum of five thousand pounds. Now this, my dear sir, with the three thousand which you have had the goodness to allot as the portion of your daughter, will, should your sad prediction, which heaven avert! be realized, secure to us a decent competence; with which, not only comfort, but happiness, should life be spared, will, I trust, prove very compatible. At least it will set us above sordid want, and preserve us from the misery of dependence and obligation.”

“This, I confess, alters, in some respect, the question. But four hundred per annum, the interest of eight thousand pounds, for on the principal, I presume, you would not think it right to break, will afford but a scanty income to a young couple educated in affluence and in the lap of indulgence, and possessing a cultivated delicacy of taste.”

“But, recollect sir, Mr. Neville is a [21] younger branch of his family, and I am a younger daughter of mine; on neither side therefore are we entitled to form expectations of wealth. Allow me also to say, that thanks to your kind instructions, I shall have, I hope and trust, sufficient fortitude and piety, good sense and good principle, more especially when aided and stimulated by a worthy example, to render me content with the situation in which Providence may think fit to place me: and to enable me to chasten my inclinations, and circumscribe my expenditure, within the limits of my circumstances.”

“All for love, or the world well lost!” observed Mrs. Percy with a sarcastic smile.

The cheek of Ellen flushed.

“No, madam, I am not so giddy a creature; I would not dare to encounter hazards, and incur privations, to which I deemed my strength and resolution inadequate. Still [22] less would I be the means of entailing failure and calamity on the man whom I love and esteem.”

“But are you sure that in future, he may not reflect upon an early and imprudent marriage as having enchained him through life, and bound him down to a station mortifying to those aspiring hopes and anticipations by which every man, more especially when possessing talents, is animated and buoyed up on his entrance into life?”

“I have, indeed, been greatly deceived in the character of Mr. Neville, if it is of the description which you seem to suppose.”

“But, that on these occasions, young ladies should be deceived, or should assist in deceiving themselves, is not, you will allow, very uncommon or extraordinary.”

“Most certainly. But as the acquaintance between the gentleman in question [23] and myself, has been of long standing; and as our attachment, if I may so express myself, has been a preference, not founded on mere external advantages, fortune or showy accomplishments, but growing out of mutual sympathy and esteem, I have a title to hope, and to believe also, that it is something more than mere illusion; and that the sentiments and views from which it took its rise, are likely to render it equally permanent and sincere.”

“I give you full credit, my Ellen;” said her father, with a look of affectionate approbation; “and though I am persuaded, that absolute want of decent comforts of life, uncertainty of the sustenance of to-morrow, or dependance upon others for support, are among the heaviest evils of life—yet, am I equally convinced that the luxuries, or the ostentation of wealth, are little connected with the happiness of a rational, virtuous, and well principled mind. Such I believe [24] both your’s and Mr. Neville’s to be; and I shall have joy in placing my darling, the comfort of my declining years and still more declining constitution; before I close my eyes upon this world, under the affectionate protection of a wise, a worthy, and virtuous man.”

“Ah! dear sir; let my tears thank you, I cannot speak; and may I add with the Poet, ‘If I could; words were not made to vent such thoughts as mine.’ Allow me to retire.”

“Excellent girl! image and representative of thy lost and ever lamented mother! Your sister, Charlotte, has given you a noble lesson.”

“Yes, sir; and I both love and respect my sister; but her example is, I will own, beyond my soaring.”

“This, my dear, I have not now to learn.”

[25] “True, sir; but though I shall never reach my sister’s heights, for all have not the same vocation, I shall, I hope and trust never disgrace you, sir.”

“I hope not; but to be in debt; and, when our expenditure exceeds our receipts, we cannot easily avoid debts, is, I should think, for a young lady, who, under a parent’s roof can have no real want unsupplied, a situation, if not absolutely disgraceful, somewhat discreditable.”

“Alas, my dear sir, I never in my life could learn arithmetic. In obedience to your commands, and in emulation of my sister, I attempted to keep a regular account of my expenses; but, somehow or other, I never could make a balance; and at length, wearied with puzzling my brains in useless endeavours, I was provoked to throw my book into the fire. And, then, every time I went out, so many pretty things fell in my way, and so many temptations [26] assailed me, that all my good and economical resolutions, and indeed I made many, melted away before them.”

“This statement may, by you, be considered as very amusing and very witty; but pray let me ask you, how, on these occasions, you would act, or how extricate yourself from the embarrassments into which your light and inconsiderate disposition had plunged you, had you not a father’s purse to apply to?”

“Oh! if that unhappy period should ever arrive — and most grievous, notwithstanding my seeming lightness would it be to me — I hope I should have a husband’spurse to which to apply; for, I do assure you, sir, if Ellen’s old beau, in the sad disappointment of his ill-fated love, would be so good as to turn his eyes towards my charms, which my glass tells me are not less captivating than those of my sister, I feel by no means ill-disposed to console him for his mortification [27], and to save him from hanging or drowning.”

“Perhaps so; but this point appears doubtful. I do not know, indeed, whether I ought to wish it: a marriage on such principles is as indefensible as perilous: yet, light and thoughtless as you are, I believe you would shrink from actual vice, at least what is so deemed by the world; and a prudent man, or a man of moderate fortune, you would ruin or disgust. I have never ceased to regret, and to reproach myself also, that I should, by any circumstances, have been induced to allow you to pass so large a period of your childhood and youth at a distance from me.”

“That reflection, brother (said Mrs. Percy, colouring) more than glances at me; and I think, I ought to resent it.”

“No, pray do not; it is too late now, and all was kindly meant.”

[28] “It was so; and I trust, my niece’s destiny in life will not prove the worse for it. You and Ellen may be very wise and good personages; but not over-well calculated for this world, or the existing state of things. My little Charlotte is a girl for whom no parent need blush; and, should she have the misfortune to lose you, or should she miss of a wealthy husband, to whose rank and station she would give so much grace, she shall find an asylum under my roof. She is innocent though gayhearted, and with a taste for the gratifications suited to her sense and age. I have for her conduct no fears: and, while Ellen retires to a cottage and love, her sister will in the world, be more in her element.”

“I believe so; and I thank you for the protection you offer her, and of which she may soon stand in need. I trust, she will herself, feel properly grateful. In the mean time, I will once more relieve her from her pecuniary difficulties but it shall be, and [29] indeed I feel it will be, the last time. Mark the counsel of a dying father, Charlotte; and, be assured, that liberty, independence, respectability of character and dignity of mind, are all inseparably connected with a wise economy. He who exceeds his income one year will be still more embarrassed in the next; to embarrassment, distress will succeed; and ruin and disgrace will terminate the scene.”

“Ah! dear sir, you are very good; I am sorry for the concern I occasion you. I repent, I will (smiling through the tears that ran down her cheek) — I will make a new account book; I will try to imitate my sister in every thing but in falling in love with a man of poverty and honour, and this for his sake rather than for my own.”

Mr. Seymour signified a wish for silence and repose. The conference broke up. Mrs. Percy left the room with some appearance of displeasure. [30] Charlotte remained a moment behind her, half bent her knees, kissed her father’s hand affectionately, and softly withdrew.