Chapter 4

The meeting between Mr. Seymour and his favorite sister was affecting. His kind offers of pecuniary assistance, pressed with earnestness and fervor, were, with gentle firmness, repelled.

“We know how to contract our wants, observed Ellen; we shall not therefore feel ourselves poorer than before.”

“But the sacrifices, my dear sister, that you must make!”

“Are, I believe, principally ideal. The necessaries, the decent comforts of life, [76] will be our’s; all beside is purely factitious, and depends upon opinion?”

“But may not habit render certain accommodations indispensable?”

“Habits are not, though strong, unconquerable to the determined mind: to the resolution which the breaking of them requires we feel ourselves not unequal.”

“Can you relinquish the charms of society, the pleasures which the metropolis affords?”

“Happiness and pleasure are distinct, bearing to each other but little resemblance. The former only have I been taught to value.”

“But can you contemn the advantages of polished society, you who are so fitted both to enjoy and to adorn it?”

“I do not contemn those advantages; on [75] the contrary, when the mere paltry gratification of vanity is not the only end sought, I consider them not less useful and instructive than agreeable.”

“Yet, you are content to resign them.”

“Who can enjoy all they desire? With so many blessings left, ought I to be so ungrateful to the Giver of all good as to repine? Is not the beloved husband and father spared to me and my children? Are we not still placed above want and dependence? and have we not, in our own affections, and in the duties we are called upon to perform, resources to compensate the privations of which you speak?”

“Tell me, Ellen, and tell me truly, whether the heroism you display has not its source in love, that inspirer of all that is noble and great? A passion less lively would, I am convinced, be inadequate to the effects I see produced.”[76]

“That I love my husband, I do not hesitate to confess, and that I love him tenderly. The love which I feel, however, is not a blind impulse, an imperious passion, but an affection founded upon a conviction of worth, and, may I be allowed to add? a sympathy or similarity of character. Had I not first esteemed my Neville, I had never loved him. I thought I perceived in him those principles and dispositions, those qualities of the heart and mind that would confirm and strengthen what was of any worth in my own. In my union with him I sought what I have uniformly found, a faithful, enlightened, affectionate friend, a worthy father for our mutual offspring, and a prudent manager of my own and their most momentous affairs.”

“Then, in your choice of him from among wealthier suitors, you were altogether cool and dispassionate.”

“I do not affirm that; I felt as a human [77] being, as a woman, as a young woman, whose sympathies, sentiments, tastes and affections, both natural and acquired, were blended.”

“You might have been deceived, or have deceived yourself.”

“Doubtless; who is infallible? least of all is it to be expected from inexperienced youth.”

“And had accident or time at length convinced you, that you had bestowed your heart on a libertine, a selfish and unprincipled profligate, whom your imagination had decked with every virtue, had adorned with every grace?”

“It would have proved to me most grievous and heavy of all afflictions. But, as I decided not rashly from a transient interview, or a few weeks acquaintance, and, as I also consulted the judgment of others, [78] less interested and more experienced than myself, that of my dear father especially, upon the character of the man to whom my heart inclined, I was less liable to be exposed to the misfortune of which you speak.”

“But had it happened, nevertheless?”

“The shock would have been great, the trial severe: in weaning my heart from its object I should, for a time, have suffered keenly; but that heart is, I feel, so constituted, that in it love could not long have survived esteem. A virtuous mind can hold no communion with what is vicious: to such a mind vice needs only to be seen to be abhorred. — Even, ‘though to adorn her every art contend.’”

“Had you been married before this discovery was made?”

“Oh! speak not of it. My mind shrinks from so terrible a supposition.” [79]

“But in its possibility?”

“Still, I should have duties to perform the worthlessness of another could not justify me to my own heart; or acquit me at a higher tribunal, for dereliction of those principles, the basis of which is immutable.”

“Pardon me, my sister, this trial of your heart: your’s is, I perceive, sterling virtue. With such a wife, I can give to Neville but little credit, and still less compassion. He must be a brute indeed whom such a woman made not all she wished.”

“We are mutually indebted to each other. In the intimacies of married and domestic life, if virtues are not reciprocal their foundation is insecure. The constant dropping of water may at length wear away marble. Who can touch pitch and not be defiled?

“Why sighs my brother?” [80]

“I can scarcely say: Charlotte, who is not gifted with secresy, has, doubtless, informed you of my present situation.”

“She has told me that you are about to take a wife.”

“And what says she of the object of my choice?”

“But little.”

“I understand you: Charlotte is often severe, without a right to be so.”

“She has not in the present case deserved to be called severe: she has spoken no ill of the lady in question.”

“Nor any good, I presume!”

“But, why presume so; is there then no good to be spoken?” [81]

“I should be very unjust if I said so. Clara is young; she has not been fortunately circumstanced; she has, by thoughtless parents, been educated above her fortunes, and is at present an unhappy, an almost heart-broken dependent upon the bounty of a female relation, a woman of a narrow mind, sordid principles and ungoverned temper. What heart can be unmoved by innocence and beauty in distress, and Clara is eminently beautiful. The commiseration and tenderness with which her situation has inspired me, appear to have procured for me a lively interest in her affections; she looks up to me as her friend and delivery: when I appear, smiles, like the sun bursting all radiant from a cloud, light up her lovely countenance. Can I disappoint her hopes? It is true, I have made her no direct offer of my hand, but is a man of honour bound only by what he swears or says? Will he not deem equally sacred an expectation given, in what ever manner? [82] Such an expectation I feel I have excited, and it shall be fulfilled.”

“Alas! for my brother.”

“And why is that alas? No unfavorable impression has Clara yet given of her character; circumstances only are against her?”

“And they are strong.”

“But, at her age, is she not still yielding as wax?”

“I fear not.”

“But I will not fear: the influence of the man they love, is, with your sex, all powerful.”

“Admitting this my brother.”

“Is Ellen sarcastic?” [83]

“No; but she cannot flatter. Many high and noble qualities does my brother possess: but one more humble, not less useful, is wanting; and without which every other may become not merely worthless but pernicious.”

“Name it.”

“Sober self-controul.”

“It is true; but can I, in a wife, expect to find a substitute for this — or, indeed, can I, does any man, wish it?”

“Why not?”

“Because it implies qualities scarcely consistent with feminine softness; or a strength of character which the generality of women, whether from nature or education I shall not say, do not possess.” [84]

“Yet some do, and without being deficient in true feminine gentleness.”

“I grant it: Ellen, for example; and Clara shall be schooled by my sister.”

“Oh, no; excuse me; that is what I dare not undertake.”

“Well, well; I will think of all this; fore-warned is said to be fore-armed. I have been thoughtless and extravagant, but my heart is tender and warm. For the wife of my bosom, the mother of my children, surely I shall be able to make great efforts.”

“I hope so; yet, before taking the important step you meditate, would it not be advisable to examine and arrange your affairs, to mark out some steady plan of conduct, and to endeavour to put it out of your own power to be otherwise than equitable and just?” [85]

“Do you then believe me capable of injustice?”

“I believe all your feelings to be honorable and good; but feelings are at once imperious masters and dangerous guides. The conqueror of the world would be weak could he not govern himself. With a voluntary power over ourselves virtue is intimately connected: without such a power it can scarcely exist.”

“All this may be, and is, very good and very true. But, in the mean time, while I am waiting to be wise, my lovely girl will be suffering martyrdom, from that most odious of all tyrannies, the tyranny of an outrageous temper, that, with a disgusting and detestable species of selfishness, makes its splenetic gratification out of the wounded feelings of its helpless victims whose hatred and contempt it at once provokes.”

“For hatred substitute compassion.” [86]

“And why? Does not the daily influence of a bad temper injure as well as torture those upon whom it operates? He who is compelled to suffer injustice, to be a slave, will, when his turn shall come, be prepared to inflict it, to play the tyrant. All the vices are, like the virtues, contagious: painful and resentful feelings, too frequently called into exercise, will, in time, stifle the benevolent affections. I must first snatch Clara from the evils that surround her; and then we will mutually project our future plans.” [87]