Maria or The Wrongs of Woman
by Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)
After the edition of 1798
The Wrongs of Woman
THE PUBLIC are here presented with the last literary attempt
of an author, whose fame has been uncommonly extensive, and whose
talents have probably been most admired, by the persons by whom
talents are estimated with the greatest accuracy and discrimination.
There are few, to whom her writings could in any case have given
pleasure, that would have wished that this fragment should have
been suppressed, because it is a fragment. There is a sentiment,
very dear to minds of taste and imagination, that finds a melancholy
delight in contemplating these unfinished productions of genius,
these sketches of what, if they had been filled up in a manner
adequate to the writer's conception, would perhaps have given a
new impulse to the manners of a world.
The purpose and structure of the following work, had long
formed a favourite subject of meditation with its author, and she
judged them capable of producing an important effect. The composition
had been in progress for a period of twelve months. She was anxious
to do justice to her conception, and recommenced and revised the
manuscript several different times. So much of it as is here given
to the public, she was far from considering as finished, and,
in a letter to a friend directly written on this subject, she says,
"I am perfectly aware that some of the incidents ought to be
transposed, and heightened by more harmonious shading; and I wished
in some degree to avail myself of criticism, before I began to
adjust my events into a story, the outline of which I had sketched
in my mind."* The only friends to whom the author communicated her
manuscript, were Mr. Dyson, the translator of the Sorcerer,
and the present editor; and it was impossible for the most
inexperienced author to display a stronger desire of profiting
by the censures and sentiments that might be suggested.**
* A more copious extract of this letter is subjoined to the
** The part communicated consisted of the first fourteen chapters.
In revising these sheets for the press, it was necessary for
the editor, in some places, to connect the more finished parts with
the pages of an older copy, and a line or two in addition sometimes
appeared requisite for that purpose. Wherever such a liberty has
been taken, the additional phrases will be found inclosed in
brackets; it being the editor's most earnest desire to intrude
nothing of himself into the work, but to give to the public the
words, as well as ideas, of the real author.
What follows in the ensuing pages, is not a preface regularly
drawn out by the author, but merely hints for a preface, which,
though never filled up in the manner the writer intended,
appeared to be worth preserving.
THE WRONGS OF WOMAN, like the wrongs of the oppressed part of
mankind, may be deemed necessary by their oppressors: but surely
there are a few, who will dare to advance before the improvement
of the age, and grant that my sketches are not the abortion of a
distempered fancy, or the strong delineations of a wounded heart.
In writing this novel, I have rather endeavoured to pourtray
passions than manners.
In many instances I could have made the incidents more dramatic,
would I have sacrificed my main object, the desire of exhibiting
the misery and oppression, peculiar to women, that arise out of
the partial laws and customs of society.
In the invention of the story, this view restrained my fancy;
and the history ought rather to be considered, as of woman, than
of an individual.
The sentiments I have embodied.
In many works of this species, the hero is allowed to be
mortal, and to become wise and virtuous as well as happy, by a
train of events and circumstances. The heroines, on the contrary,
are to be born immaculate, and to act like goddesses of wisdom,
just come forth highly finished Minervas from the head of Jove.
[The following is an extract of a letter from the author to
a friend, to whom she communicated her manuscript.]
For my part, I cannot suppose any situation more distressing,
than for a woman of sensibility, with an improving mind, to be
bound to such a man as I have described for life; obliged to renounce
all the humanizing affections, and to avoid cultivating her taste,
lest her perception of grace and refinement of sentiment, should
sharpen to agony the pangs of disappointment. Love, in which the
imagination mingles its bewitching colouring, must be fostered by
delicacy. I should despise, or rather call her an ordinary woman,
who could endure such a husband as I have sketched.
These appear to me (matrimonial despotism of heart and conduct)
to be the peculiar Wrongs of Woman, because they degrade the mind.
What are termed great misfortunes, may more forcibly impress the
mind of common readers; they have more of what may justly be termed
stage-effect; but it is the delineation of finer sensations, which,
in my opinion, constitutes the merit of our best novels. This is
what I have in view; and to show the wrongs of different classes
of women, equally oppressive, though, from the difference of
education, necessarily various.
ABODES OF HORROR have frequently been described, and castles, filled
with spectres and chimeras, conjured up by the magic spell of genius
to harrow the soul, and absorb the wondering mind. But, formed of
such stuff as dreams are made of, what were they to the mansion of
despair, in one corner of which Maria sat, endeavouring to recall
her scattered thoughts!
Surprise, astonishment, that bordered on distraction, seemed
to have suspended her faculties, till, waking by degrees to a keen
sense of anguish, a whirlwind of rage and indignation roused her
torpid pulse. One recollection with frightful velocity following
another, threatened to fire her brain, and make her a fit companion
for the terrific inhabitants, whose groans and shrieks were no
unsubstantial sounds of whistling winds, or startled birds, modulated
by a romantic fancy, which amuse while they affright; but such
tones of misery as carry a dreadful certainty directly to the heart.
What effect must they then have produced on one, true to the touch
of sympathy, and tortured by maternal apprehension!
Her infant's image was continually floating on Maria's sight,
and the first smile of intelligence remembered, as none but a
mother, an unhappy mother, can conceive. She heard her half speaking
half cooing, and felt the little twinkling fingers on her burning
bosom--a bosom bursting with the nutriment for which this cherished
child might now be pining in vain. From a stranger she could indeed
receive the maternal aliment, Maria was grieved at the thought--
but who would watch her with a mother's tenderness, a mother's
The retreating shadows of former sorrows rushed back in a
gloomy train, and seemed to be pictured on the walls of her prison,
magnified by the state of mind in which they were viewed--Still
she mourned for her child, lamented she was a daughter, and
anticipated the aggravated ills of life that her sex rendered almost
inevitable, even while dreading she was no more. To think that
she was blotted out of existence was agony, when the imagination
had been long employed to expand her faculties; yet to suppose her
turned adrift on an unknown sea, was scarcely less afflicting.
After being two days the prey of impetuous, varying emotions,
Maria began to reflect more calmly on her present situation,
for she had actually been rendered incapable of sober reflection,
by the discovery of the act of atrocity of which she was the victim.
She could not have imagined, that, in all the fermentation of
civilized depravity, a similar plot could have entered a human
mind. She had been stunned by an unexpected blow; yet life, however
joyless, was not to be indolently resigned, or misery endured
without exertion, and proudly termed patience. She had hitherto
meditated only to point the dart of anguish, and suppressed the
heart heavings of indignant nature merely by the force of contempt.
Now she endeavoured to brace her mind to fortitude, and to ask
herself what was to be her employment in her dreary cell? Was it
not to effect her escape, to fly to the succour of her child,
and to baffle the selfish schemes of her tyrant--her husband?
These thoughts roused her sleeping spirit, and the
self-possession returned, that seemed to have abandoned her in the
infernal solitude into which she had been precipitated. The first
emotions of overwhelming impatience began to subside, and resentment
gave place to tenderness, and more tranquil meditation; though
anger once more stopt the calm current of reflection when she
attempted to move her manacled arms. But this was an outrage that
could only excite momentary feelings of scorn, which evaporated in
a faint smile; for Maria was far from thinking a personal insult
the most difficult to endure with magnanimous indifference.
She approached the small grated window of her chamber, and
for a considerable time only regarded the blue expanse; though it
commanded a view of a desolate garden, and of part of a huge pile
of buildings, that, after having been suffered, for half a century,
to fall to decay, had undergone some clumsy repairs, merely to
render it habitable. The ivy had been torn off the turrets, and
the stones not wanted to patch up the breaches of time, and exclude
the warring elements, left in heaps in the disordered court. Maria
contemplated this scene she knew not how long; or rather gazed on
the walls, and pondered on her situation. To the master of this
most horrid of prisons, she had, soon after her entrance, raved of
injustice, in accents that would have justified his treatment, had
not a malignant smile, when she appealed to his judgment, with a
dreadful conviction stifled her remonstrating complaints. By force,
or openly, what could be done? But surely some expedient might
occur to an active mind, without any other employment, and possessed
of sufficient resolution to put the risk of life into the balance
with the chance of freedom.
A woman entered in the midst of these reflections, with a
firm, deliberate step, strongly marked features, and large black
eyes, which she fixed steadily on Maria's, as if she designed to
intimidate her, saying at the same time "You had better sit down
and eat your dinner, than look at the clouds."
"I have no appetite," replied Maria, who had previously
determined to speak mildly; "why then should I eat?"
"But, in spite of that, you must and shall eat something.
I have had many ladies under my care, who have resolved to starve
themselves; but, soon or late, they gave up their intent, as they
recovered their senses."
"Do you really think me mad?" asked Maria, meeting the
searching glance of her eye.
"Not just now. But what does that prove?--Only that you must
be the more carefully watched, for appearing at times so reasonable.
You have not touched a morsel since you entered the house."--Maria
sighed intelligibly.--"Could any thing but madness produce such a
disgust for food?"
"Yes, grief; you would not ask the question if you knew what
it was." The attendant shook her head; and a ghastly smile of
desperate fortitude served as a forcible reply, and made Maria
pause, before she added--"Yet I will take some refreshment: I mean
not to die.--No; I will preserve my senses; and convince even you,
sooner than you are aware of, that my intellects have never been
disturbed, though the exertion of them may have been suspended by
some infernal drug."
Doubt gathered still thicker on the brow of her guard, as she
attempted to convict her of mistake.
"Have patience!" exclaimed Maria, with a solemnity that inspired
awe. "My God! how have I been schooled into the practice!"
A suffocation of voice betrayed the agonizing emotions she was
labouring to keep down; and conquering a qualm of disgust, she
calmly endeavoured to eat enough to prove her docility, perpetually
turning to the suspicious female, whose observation she courted,
while she was making the bed and adjusting the room.
"Come to me often," said Maria, with a tone of persuasion,
in consequence of a vague plan that she had hastily adopted, when,
after surveying this woman's form and features, she felt convinced
that she had an understanding above the common standard, "and
believe me mad, till you are obliged to acknowledge the contrary."
The woman was no fool, that is, she was superior to her class; nor
had misery quite petrified the life's-blood of humanity, to which
reflections on our own misfortunes only give a more orderly course.
The manner, rather than the expostulations, of Maria made a slight
suspicion dart into her mind with corresponding sympathy, which
various other avocations, and the habit of banishing compunction,
prevented her, for the present, from examining more minutely.
But when she was told that no person, excepting the physician
appointed by her family, was to be permitted to see the lady at
the end of the gallery, she opened her keen eyes still wider, and
uttered a--"hem!" before she enquired--"Why?" She was
in reply, that the malady was hereditary, and the fits not occurring
but at very long and irregular intervals, she must be carefully
watched; for the length of these lucid periods only rendered her
more mischievous, when any vexation or caprice brought on the
paroxysm of phrensy.
Had her master trusted her, it is probable that neither pity
nor curiosity would have made her swerve from the straight line of
her interest; for she had suffered too much in her intercourse with
mankind, not to determine to look for support, rather to humouring
their passions, than courting their approbation by the integrity
of her conduct. A deadly blight had met her at the very threshold
of existence; and the wretchedness of her mother seemed a heavy
weight fastened on her innocent neck, to drag her down to perdition.
She could not heroically determine to succour an unfortunate; but,
offended at the bare supposition that she could be deceived with
the same ease as a common servant, she no longer curbed her curiosity;
and, though she never seriously fathomed her own intentions, she
would sit, every moment she could steal from observation, listening
to the tale, which Maria was eager to relate with all the persuasive
eloquence of grief.
It is so cheering to see a human face, even if little of the
divinity of virtue beam in it, that Maria anxiously expected the
return of the attendant, as of a gleam of light to break the gloom
of idleness. Indulged sorrow, she perceived, must blunt or sharpen
the faculties to the two opposite extremes; producing stupidity,
the moping melancholy of indolence; or the restless activity of a
disturbed imagination. She sunk into one state, after being fatigued
by the other: till the want of occupation became even more painful
than the actual pressure or apprehension of sorrow; and the
confinement that froze her into a nook of existence, with an unvaried
prospect before her, the most insupportable of evils. The lamp of
life seemed to be spending itself to chase the vapours of a dungeon
which no art could dissipate.--And to what purpose did she rally
all her energy?--Was not the world a vast prison, and women born
Though she failed immediately to rouse a lively sense of
injustice in the mind of her guard, because it had been sophisticated
into misanthropy, she touched her heart. Jemima (she had only a
claim to a Christian name, which had not procured her any Christian
privileges) could patiently hear of Maria's confinement on false
pretences; she had felt the crushing hand of power, hardened by
the exercise of injustice, and ceased to wonder at the perversions
of the understanding, which systematize oppression; but, when told
that her child, only four months old, had been torn from her, even
while she was discharging the tenderest maternal office, the woman
awoke in a bosom long estranged from feminine emotions, and Jemima
determined to alleviate all in her power, without hazarding the
loss of her place, the sufferings of a wretched mother, apparently
injured, and certainly unhappy. A sense of right seems to result
from the simplest act of reason, and to preside over the faculties
of the mind, like the master-sense of feeling, to rectify the rest;
but (for the comparison may be carried still farther) how often is
the exquisite sensibility of both weakened or destroyed by the
vulgar occupations, and ignoble pleasures of life?
The preserving her situation was, indeed, an important object
to Jemima, who had been hunted from hole to hole, as if she had
been a beast of prey, or infected with a moral plague. The wages
she received, the greater part of which she hoarded, as her only
chance for independence, were much more considerable than she could
reckon on obtaining any where else, were it possible that she,
an outcast from society, could be permitted to earn a subsistence in
a reputable family. Hearing Maria perpetually complain of
listlessness, and the not being able to beguile grief by resuming
her customary pursuits, she was easily prevailed on, by compassion,
and that involuntary respect for abilities, which those who possess
them can never eradicate, to bring her some books and implements
for writing. Maria's conversation had amused and interested her,
and the natural consequence was a desire, scarcely observed by
herself, of obtaining the esteem of a person she admired. The
remembrance of better days was rendered more lively; and the
sentiments then acquired appearing less romantic than they had for
a long period, a spark of hope roused her mind to new activity.
How grateful was her attention to Maria! Oppressed by a dead
weight of existence, or preyed on by the gnawing worm of discontent,
with what eagerness did she endeavour to shorten the long days,
which left no traces behind! She seemed to be sailing on the vast
ocean of life, without seeing any land-mark to indicate the progress
of time; to find employment was then to find variety, the animating
principle of nature.
EARNESTLY as Maria endeavoured to soothe, by reading, the anguish
of her wounded mind, her thoughts would often wander from the
subject she was led to discuss, and tears of maternal tenderness
obscured the reasoning page. She descanted on "the ills which
flesh is heir to," with bitterness, when the recollection of her
babe was revived by a tale of fictitious woe, that bore any
resemblance to her own; and her imagination was continually employed,
to conjure up and embody the various phantoms of misery, which
folly and vice had let loose on the world. The loss of her babe
was the tender string; against other cruel remembrances she laboured
to steel her bosom; and even a ray of hope, in the midst of her
gloomy reveries, would sometimes gleam on the dark horizon of
futurity, while persuading herself that she ought to cease to hope,
since happiness was no where to be found.--But of her child,
debilitated by the grief with which its mother had been assailed
before it saw the light, she could not think without an impatient
"I, alone, by my active tenderness, could have saved,"
she would exclaim, "from an early blight, this sweet blossom;
and, cherishing it, I should have had something still to love."
In proportion as other expectations were torn from her,
this tender one had been fondly clung to, and knit into her heart.
The books she had obtained, were soon devoured, by one who
had no other resource to escape from sorrow, and the feverish dreams
of ideal wretchedness or felicity, which equally weaken the
intoxicated sensibility. Writing was then the only alternative,
and she wrote some rhapsodies descriptive of the state of her mind;
but the events of her past life pressing on her, she resolved
circumstantially to relate them, with the sentiments that experience,
and more matured reason, would naturally suggest. They might
perhaps instruct her daughter, and shield her from the misery,
the tyranny, her mother knew not how to avoid.
This thought gave life to her diction, her soul flowed into
it, and she soon found the task of recollecting almost obliterated
impressions very interesting. She lived again in the revived
emotions of youth, and forgot her present in the retrospect of
sorrows that had assumed an unalterable character.
Though this employment lightened the weight of time, yet,
never losing sight of her main object, Maria did not allow any
opportunity to slip of winning on the affections of Jemima; for
she discovered in her a strength of mind, that excited her esteem,
clouded as it was by the misanthropy of despair.
An insulated being, from the misfortune of her birth, she
despised and preyed on the society by which she had been oppressed,
and loved not her fellow-creatures, because she had never been
beloved. No mother had ever fondled her, no father or brother had
protected her from outrage; and the man who had plunged her into
infamy, and deserted her when she stood in greatest need of support,
deigned not to smooth with kindness the road to ruin. Thus degraded,
was she let loose on the world; and virtue, never nurtured by
affection, assumed the stern aspect of selfish independence.
This general view of her life, Maria gathered from her
exclamations and dry remarks. Jemima indeed displayed a strange
mixture of interest and suspicion; for she would listen to her with
earnestness, and then suddenly interrupt the conversation, as if
afraid of resigning, by giving way to her sympathy, her dear-bought
knowledge of the world.
Maria alluded to the possibility of an escape, and mentioned
a compensation, or reward; but the style in which she was repulsed
made her cautious, and determine not to renew the subject, till
she knew more of the character she had to work on. Jemima's
countenance, and dark hints, seemed to say, "You are an extraordinary
woman; but let me consider, this may only be one of your lucid
intervals." Nay, the very energy of Maria's character, made her
suspect that the extraordinary animation she perceived might be
the effect of madness. "Should her husband then substantiate his
charge, and get possession of her estate, from whence would come
the promised annuity, or more desired protection? Besides, might
not a woman, anxious to escape, conceal some of the circumstances
which made against her? Was truth to be expected from one who had
been entrapped, kidnapped, in the most fraudulent manner?"
In this train Jemima continued to argue, the moment after
compassion and respect seemed to make her swerve; and she still
resolved not to be wrought on to do more than soften the rigour of
confinement, till she could advance on surer ground.
Maria was not permitted to walk in the garden; but sometimes,
from her window, she turned her eyes from the gloomy walls,
in which she pined life away, on the poor wretches who strayed along
the walks, and contemplated the most terrific of ruins--that of a
human soul. What is the view of the fallen column, the mouldering
arch, of the most exquisite workmanship, when compared with this
living memento of the fragility, the instability, of reason, and
the wild luxuriancy of noxious passions? Enthusiasm turned adrift,
like some rich stream overflowing its banks, rushes forward with
destructive velocity, inspiring a sublime concentration of thought.
Thus thought Maria--These are the ravages over which humanity must
ever mournfully ponder, with a degree of anguish not excited by
crumbling marble, or cankering brass, unfaithful to the trust of
monumental fame. It is not over the decaying productions of the
mind, embodied with the happiest art, we grieve most bitterly.
The view of what has been done by man, produces a melancholy, yet
aggrandizing, sense of what remains to be achieved by human intellect;
but a mental convulsion, which, like the devastation of an earthquake,
throws all the elements of thought and imagination into confusion,
makes contemplation giddy, and we fearfully ask on what ground we
Melancholy and imbecility marked the features of the wretches
allowed to breathe at large; for the frantic, those who in a strong
imagination had lost a sense of woe, were closely confined. The
playful tricks and mischievous devices of their disturbed fancy,
that suddenly broke out, could not be guarded against, when they
were permitted to enjoy any portion of freedom; for, so active was
their imagination, that every new object which accidentally struck
their senses, awoke to phrenzy their restless passions; as Maria
learned from the burden of their incessant ravings.
Sometimes, with a strict injunction of silence, Jemima would
allow Maria, at the close of evening, to stray along the narrow
avenues that separated the dungeon-like apartments, leaning on her
arm. What a change of scene! Maria wished to pass the threshold
of her prison, yet, when by chance she met the eye of rage glaring
on her, yet unfaithful to its office, she shrunk back with more
horror and affright, than if she had stumbled over a mangled corpse.
Her busy fancy pictured the misery of a fond heart, watching over
a friend thus estranged, absent, though present--over a poor wretch
lost to reason and the social joys of existence; and losing all
consciousness of misery in its excess. What a task, to watch the
light of reason quivering in the eye, or with agonizing expectation
to catch the beam of recollection; tantalized by hope, only to feel
despair more keenly, at finding a much loved face or voice, suddenly
remembered, or pathetically implored, only to be immediately
forgotten, or viewed with indifference or abhorrence!
The heart-rending sigh of melancholy sunk into her soul;
and when she retired to rest, the petrified figures she had encountered,
the only human forms she was doomed to observe, haunting her dreams
with tales of mysterious wrongs, made her wish to sleep to dream
Day after day rolled away, and tedious as the present moment
appeared, they passed in such an unvaried tenor, Maria was surprised
to find that she had already been six weeks buried alive, and yet
had such faint hopes of effecting her enlargement. She was,
earnestly as she had sought for employment, now angry with herself
for having been amused by writing her narrative; and grieved to
think that she had for an instant thought of any thing,
but contriving to escape.
Jemima had evidently pleasure in her society: still, though
she often left her with a glow of kindness, she returned with the
same chilling air; and, when her heart appeared for a moment to
open, some suggestion of reason forcibly closed it, before she
could give utterance to the confidence Maria's conversation inspired.
Discouraged by these changes, Maria relapsed into despondency,
when she was cheered by the alacrity with which Jemima brought her
a fresh parcel of books; assuring her, that she had taken some
pains to obtain them from one of the keepers, who attended a
gentleman confined in the opposite corner of the gallery.
Maria took up the books with emotion. "They come," said she,
"perhaps, from a wretch condemned, like me, to reason on the nature
of madness, by having wrecked minds continually under his eye; and
almost to wish himself--as I do--mad, to escape from the contemplation
of it." Her heart throbbed with sympathetic alarm; and she turned
over the leaves with awe, as if they had become sacred from
passing through the hands of an unfortunate being,
oppressed by a similar fate.
Dryden's Fables, Milton's Paradise Lost, with several modern
productions, composed the collection. It was a mine of treasure.
Some marginal notes, in Dryden's Fables, caught her attention: they
were written with force and taste; and, in one of the modern
pamphlets, there was a fragment left, containing various observations
on the present state of society and government, with a comparative
view of the politics of Europe and America. These remarks were
written with a degree of generous warmth, when alluding to the
enslaved state of the labouring majority, perfectly in unison with
Maria's mode of thinking.
She read them over and over again; and fancy, treacherous
fancy, began to sketch a character, congenial with her own, from
these shadowy outlines.--"Was he mad?" She reperused the marginal
notes, and they seemed the production of an animated, but not of
a disturbed imagination. Confined to this speculation, every time
she re-read them, some fresh refinement of sentiment, or accuteness
of thought impressed her, which she was astonished at herself for
not having before observed.
What a creative power has an affectionate heart! There are
beings who cannot live without loving, as poets love; and who feel
the electric spark of genius, wherever it awakens sentiment or
grace. Maria had often thought, when disciplining her wayward
heart, "that to charm, was to be virtuous." "They who make
to appear the most amiable and good in their eyes, must possess in
a degree," she would exclaim, "the graces and virtues they call
She took up a book on the powers of the human mind; but, her
attention strayed from cold arguments on the nature of what she
felt, while she was feeling, and she snapt the chain of the theory
to read Dryden's Guiscard and Sigismunda.
Maria, in the course of the ensuing day, returned some of the
books, with the hope of getting others--and more marginal notes.
Thus shut out from human intercourse, and compelled to view nothing
but the prison of vexed spirits, to meet a wretch in the same
situation, was more surely to find a friend, than to imagine a
countryman one, in a strange land, where the human voice conveys
no information to the eager ear.
"Did you ever see the unfortunate being to whom these books
belong?" asked Maria, when Jemima brought her slipper. "Yes. He
sometimes walks out, between five and six, before the family is
stirring, in the morning, with two keepers; but even then his hands
"What! is he so unruly?" enquired Maria,
with an accent of disappointment.
"No, not that I perceive," replied Jemima; "but he has
untamed look, a vehemence of eye, that excites apprehension. Were
his hands free, he looks as if he could soon manage both his guards:
yet he appears tranquil."
"If he be so strong, he must be young," observed Maria.
"Three or four and thirty, I suppose; but there is no judging
of a person in his situation."
"Are you sure that he is mad?" interrupted Maria with eagerness.
Jemima quitted the room, without replying.
"No, no, he certainly is not!" exclaimed Maria, answering
herself; "the man who could write those observations was not
disordered in his intellects."
She sat musing, gazing at the moon, and watching its motion
as it seemed to glide under the clouds. Then, preparing for bed,
she thought, "Of what use could I be to him, or he to me, if it be
true that he is unjustly confined?--Could he aid me to escape, who
is himself more closely watched?--Still I should like to see him."
She went to bed, dreamed of her child, yet woke exactly at half
after five o'clock, and starting up, only wrapped a gown around
her, and ran to the window. The morning was chill, it was the latter
end of September; yet she did not retire to warm herself and think
in bed, till the sound of the servants, moving about the house,
convinced her that the unknown would not walk in the garden that
morning. She was ashamed at feeling disappointed; and began to
reflect, as an excuse to herself, on the little objects which
attract attention when there is nothing to divert the mind; and
how difficult it was for women to avoid growing romantic, who have
no active duties or pursuits.
At breakfast, Jemima enquired whether she understood French?
for, unless she did, the stranger's stock of books was exhausted.
Maria replied in the affirmative; but forbore to ask any more
questions respecting the person to whom they belonged. And Jemima
gave her a new subject for contemplation, by describing the person
of a lovely maniac, just brought into an adjoining chamber. She
was singing the pathetic ballad of old Rob* with the most
heart-melting falls and pauses. Jemima had half-opened the door,
when she distinguished her voice, and Maria stood close to it,
scarcely daring to respire, lest a modulation should escape her,
so exquisitely sweet, so passionately wild. She began with sympathy
to pourtray to herself another victim, when the lovely warbler
flew, as it were, from the spray, and a torrent of unconnected
exclamations and questions burst from her, interrupted by fits of
laughter, so horrid, that Maria shut the door, and, turning her
eyes up to heaven, exclaimed--"Gracious God!"
* A blank space about ten characters in length occurs here
in the original edition [Publisher's note].
Several minutes elapsed before Maria could enquire respecting
the rumour of the house (for this poor wretch was obviously not
confined without a cause); and then Jemima could only tell her,
that it was said, "she had been married, against her inclination,
to a rich old man, extremely jealous (no wonder, for she was a
charming creature); and that, in consequence of his treatment,
or something which hung on her mind, she had, during her first
lying-in, lost her senses."
What a subject of meditation--even to the very
confines of madness.
"Woman, fragile flower! why were you suffered to adorn a world
exposed to the inroad of such stormy elements?" thought Maria,
while the poor maniac's strain was still breathing on her ear,
and sinking into her very soul.
Towards the evening, Jemima brought her Rousseau's Heloise;
and she sat reading with eyes and heart, till the return of her
guard to extinguish the light. One instance of her kindness was,
the permitting Maria to have one, till her own hour of retiring to
rest. She had read this work long since; but now it seemed to open
a new world to her--the only one worth inhabiting. Sleep was not
to be wooed; yet, far from being fatigued by the restless rotation
of thought, she rose and opened her window, just as the thin watery
clouds of twilight made the long silent shadows visible. The air
swept across her face with a voluptuous freshness that thrilled to
her heart, awakening indefinable emotions; and the sound of a waving
branch, or the twittering of a startled bird, alone broke the
stillness of reposing nature. Absorbed by the sublime sensibility
which renders the consciousness of existence felicity, Maria was
happy, till an autumnal scent, wafted by the breeze of morn from
the fallen leaves of the adjacent wood, made her recollect that
the season had changed since her confinement; yet life afforded no
variety to solace an afflicted heart. She returned dispirited to
her couch, and thought of her child till the broad glare of day
again invited her to the window. She looked not for the unknown,
still how great was her vexation at perceiving the back of a man,
certainly he, with his two attendants, as he turned into a side-path
which led to the house! A confused recollection of having seen
somebody who resembled him, immediately occurred, to puzzle and
torment her with endless conjectures. Five minutes sooner, and
she should have seen his face, and been out of suspense--was ever
any thing so unlucky! His steady, bold step, and the whole air of
his person, bursting as it were from a cloud, pleased her, and gave
an outline to the imagination to sketch the individual form she
wished to recognize.
Feeling the disappointment more severely than she was willing
to believe, she flew to Rousseau, as her only refuge from the idea
of him, who might prove a friend, could she but find a way to
interest him in her fate; still the personification of Saint Preux,
or of an ideal lover far superior, was after this imperfect model,
of which merely a glance had been caught, even to the minutiae of
the coat and hat of the stranger. But if she lent St. Preux,
or the demi-god of her fancy, his form, she richly repaid him by the
donation of all St. Preux's sentiments and feelings, culled to
gratify her own, to which he seemed to have an undoubted right,
when she read on the margin of an impassioned letter, written in
the well-known hand--"Rousseau alone, the true Prometheus of
sentiment, possessed the fire of genius necessary to pourtray the
passion, the truth of which goes so directly to the heart."
Maria was again true to the hour, yet had finished Rousseau,
and begun to transcribe some selected passages; unable to quit
either the author or the window, before she had a glimpse of the
countenance she daily longed to see; and, when seen, it conveyed
no distinct idea to her mind where she had seen it before. He must
have been a transient acquaintance; but to discover an acquaintance
was fortunate, could she contrive to attract his attention,
and excite his sympathy.
Every glance afforded colouring for the picture she was
delineating on her heart; and once, when the window was half open,
the sound of his voice reached her. Conviction flashed on her;
she had certainly, in a moment of distress, heard the same accents.
They were manly, and characteristic of a noble mind; nay,
even sweet--or sweet they seemed to her attentive ear.
She started back, trembling, alarmed at the emotion a strange
coincidence of circumstances inspired, and wondering why she thought
so much of a stranger, obliged as she had been by his timely
interference; [for she recollected, by degrees all the circumstances
of their former meeting.] She found however that she could think
of nothing else; or, if she thought of her daughter, it was to wish
that she had a father whom her mother could respect and love.
WHEN PERUSING the first parcel of books, Maria had, with her pencil,
written in one of them a few exclamations, expressive of compassion
and sympathy, which she scarcely remembered, till turning over the
leaves of one of the volumes, lately brought to her, a slip of
paper dropped out, which Jemima hastily snatched up.
"Let me see it," demanded Maria impatiently, "You surely
not afraid of trusting me with the effusions of a madman?" "I
consider," replied Jemima; and withdrew, with the paper in her
In a life of such seclusion, the passions gain undue force;
Maria therefore felt a great degree of resentment and vexation,
which she had not time to subdue, before Jemima, returning, delivered
"Whoever you are, who partake of my fate,
accept my sincere commiseration--I would have said
protection; but the privilege of man is denied me.
"My own situation forces a dreadful suspicion on
my mind--I may not always languish in vain for freedom--
say are you--I cannot ask the question; yet I will
remember you when my remembrance can be of any use.
I will enquire, why you are so mysteriously detained--
and I will have an answer.
By the most pressing intreaties, Maria prevailed on Jemima to
permit her to write a reply to this note. Another and another
succeeded, in which explanations were not allowed relative to their
present situation; but Maria, with sufficient explicitness, alluded
to a former obligation; and they insensibly entered on an interchange
of sentiments on the most important subjects. To write these
letters was the business of the day, and to receive them the moment
of sunshine. By some means, Darnford having discovered Maria's
window, when she next appeared at it, he made her, behind his
keepers, a profound bow of respect and recognition.
Two or three weeks glided away in this kind of intercourse,
during which period Jemima, to whom Maria had given the necessary
information respecting her family, had evidently gained some
intelligence, which increased her desire of pleasing her charge,
though she could not yet determine to liberate her. Maria took
advantage of this favourable charge, without too minutely enquiring
into the cause; and such was her eagerness to hold human converse,
and to see her former protector, still a stranger to her, that she
incessantly requested her guard to gratify her more than curiosity.
Writing to Darnford, she was led from the sad objects before
her, and frequently rendered insensible to the horrid noises around
her, which previously had continually employed her feverish fancy.
Thinking it selfish to dwell on her own sufferings, when in the
midst of wretches, who had not only lost all that endears life,
but their very selves, her imagination was occupied with melancholy
earnestness to trace the mazes of misery, through which so many
wretches must have passed to this gloomy receptacle of disjointed
souls, to the grand source of human corruption. Often at midnight
was she waked by the dismal shrieks of demoniac rage, or of
excruciating despair, uttered in such wild tones of indescribable
anguish as proved the total absence of reason, and roused phantoms
of horror in her mind, far more terrific than all that dreaming
superstition ever drew. Besides, there was frequently something
so inconceivably picturesque in the varying gestures of unrestrained
passion, so irresistibly comic in their sallies, or so
heart-piercingly pathetic in the little airs they would sing,
frequently bursting out after an awful silence, as to fascinate
the attention, and amuse the fancy, while torturing the soul. It
was the uproar of the passions which she was compelled to observe;
and to mark the lucid beam of reason, like a light trembling in a
socket, or like the flash which divides the threatening clouds of
angry heaven only to display the horrors which darkness shrouded.
Jemima would labour to beguile the tedious evenings, by
describing the persons and manners of the unfortunate beings, whose
figures or voices awoke sympathetic sorrow in Maria's bosom; and
the stories she told were the more interesting, for perpetually
leaving room to conjecture something extraordinary. Still Maria,
accustomed to generalize her observations, was led to conclude from
all she heard, that it was a vulgar error to suppose that people
of abilities were the most apt to lose the command of reason. On
the contrary, from most of the instances she could investigate,
she thought it resulted, that the passions only appeared strong
and disproportioned, because the judgment was weak and unexercised;
and that they gained strength by the decay of reason, as the shadows
lengthen during the sun's decline.
Maria impatiently wished to see her fellow-sufferer; but
Darnford was still more earnest to obtain an interview. Accustomed
to submit to every impulse of passion, and never taught, like women,
to restrain the most natural, and acquire, instead of the bewitching
frankness of nature, a factitious propriety of behaviour,
every desire became a torrent that bore down all opposition.
His travelling trunk, which contained the books lent to Maria,
had been sent to him, and with a part of its contents he bribed
his principal keeper; who, after receiving the most solemn promise
that he would return to his apartment without attempting to explore
any part of the house, conducted him, in the dusk of the evening,
to Maria's room.
Jemima had apprized her charge of the visit, and she expected
with trembling impatience, inspired by a vague hope that he might
again prove her deliverer, to see a man who had before rescued her
from oppression. He entered with an animation of countenance,
formed to captivate an enthusiast; and, hastily turned his eyes
from her to the apartment, which he surveyed with apparent emotions
of compassionate indignation. Sympathy illuminated his eye, and,
taking her hand, he respectfully bowed on it, exclaiming--"This is
extraordinary!--again to meet you, and in such circumstances!"
Still, impressive as was the coincidence of events which brought
them once more together, their full hearts did not overflow.--*
* The copy which had received the author's last corrections
breaks off in this place, and the pages which follow, to the end
of Chap. IV, are printed from a copy in a less finished state.
[And though, after this first visit, they were permitted
frequently to repeat their interviews, they were for some time
employed in] a reserved conversation, to which all the world might
have listened; excepting, when discussing some literary subject,
flashes of sentiment, inforced by each relaxing feature, seemed to
remind them that their minds were already acquainted.
[By degrees, Darnford entered into the particulars of his
story.] In a few words, he informed her that he had been a
thoughtless, extravagant young man; yet, as he described his faults,
they appeared to be the generous luxuriancy of a noble mind.
Nothing like meanness tarnished the lustre of his youth, nor had
the worm of selfishness lurked in the unfolding bud, even while he
had been the dupe of others. Yet he tardily acquired the experience
necessary to guard him against future imposition.
"I shall weary you," continued he, "by my egotism; and
not powerful emotions draw me to you,"--his eyes glistened as he
spoke, and a trembling seemed to run through his manly frame,--
"I would not waste these precious moments in talking of myself.
"My father and mother were people of fashion; married by their
parents. He was fond of the turf, she of the card-table. I, and
two or three other children since dead, were kept at home till we
became intolerable. My father and mother had a visible dislike to
each other, continually displayed; the servants were of the depraved
kind usually found in the houses of people of fortune. My brothers
and parents all dying, I was left to the care of guardians; and
sent to Eton. I never knew the sweets of domestic affection, but
I felt the want of indulgence and frivolous respect at school.
I will not disgust you with a recital of the vices of my youth,
which can scarcely be comprehended by female delicacy. I was taught
to love by a creature I am ashamed to mention; and the other women
with whom I afterwards became intimate, were of a class of which
you can have no knowledge. I formed my acquaintance with them at
the theaters; and, when vivacity danced in their eyes, I was not
easily disgusted by the vulgarity which flowed from their lips.
Having spent, a few years after I was of age, [the whole of] a
considerable patrimony, excepting a few hundreds, I had no resource
but to purchase a commission in a new-raised regiment, destined to
subjugate America. The regret I felt to renounce a life of pleasure,
was counter-balanced by the curiosity I had to see America, or
rather to travel; [nor had any of those circumstances occurred to
my youth, which might have been calculated] to bind my country to
my heart. I shall not trouble you with the details of a military
life. My blood was still kept in motion; till, towards the close
of the contest, I was wounded and taken prisoner.
"Confined to my bed, or chair, by a lingering cure, my only
refuge from the preying activity of my mind, was books, which I
read with great avidity, profiting by the conversation of my host,
a man of sound understanding. My political sentiments now underwent
a total change; and, dazzled by the hospitality of the Americans,
I determined to take up my abode with freedom. I, therefore, with
my usual impetuosity, sold my commission, and travelled into the
interior parts of the country, to lay out my money to advantage.
Added to this, I did not much like the puritanical manners of the
large towns. Inequality of condition was there most disgustingly
galling. The only pleasure wealth afforded, was to make an
ostentatious display of it; for the cultivation of the fine arts,
or literature, had not introduced into the first circles that polish
of manners which renders the rich so essentially superior to the
poor in Europe. Added to this, an influx of vices had been let in
by the Revolution, and the most rigid principles of religion shaken
to the centre, before the understanding could be gradually emancipated
from the prejudices which led their ancestors undauntedly to seek
an inhospitable clime and unbroken soil. The resolution, that led
them, in pursuit of independence, to embark on rivers like seas,
to search for unknown shores, and to sleep under the hovering mists
of endless forests, whose baleful damps agued their limbs, was now
turned into commercial speculations, till the national character
exhibited a phenomenon in the history of the human mind--a head
enthusiastically enterprising, with cold selfishness of heart.
And woman, lovely woman!--they charm everywhere--still there is a
degree of prudery, and a want of taste and ease in the manners of
the American women, that renders them, in spite of their roses and
lilies, far inferior to our European charmers. In the country,
they have often a bewitching simplicity of character; but, in the
cities, they have all the airs and ignorance of the ladies who give
the tone to the circles of the large trading towns in England.
They are fond of their ornaments, merely because they are good,
and not because they embellish their persons; and are more gratified
to inspire the women with jealousy of these exterior advantages,
than the men with love. All the frivolity which often (excuse me,
Madam) renders the society of modest women so stupid in England,
here seemed to throw still more leaden fetters on their charms.
Not being an adept in gallantry, I found that I could only keep
myself awake in their company by making downright love to them.
"But, not to intrude on your patience, I retired to the track
of land which I had purchased in the country, and my time passed
pleasantly enough while I cut down the trees, built my house, and
planted my different crops. But winter and idleness came, and I
longed for more elegant society, to hear what was passing in the
world, and to do something better than vegetate with the animals
that made a very considerable part of my household. Consequently,
I determined to travel. Motion was a substitute for variety of
objects; and, passing over immense tracks of country, I exhausted
my exuberant spirits, without obtaining much experience. I every
where saw industry the fore-runner and not the consequence, of
luxury; but this country, everything being on an ample scale, did
not afford those picturesque views, which a certain degree of
cultivation is necessary gradually to produce. The eye wandered
without an object to fix upon over immeasureable plains, and lakes
that seemed replenished by the ocean, whilst eternal forests of
small clustering trees, obstructed the circulation of air, and
embarrassed the path, without gratifying the eye of taste. No
cottage smiling in the waste, no travellers hailed us, to give life
to silent nature; or, if perchance we saw the print of a footstep
in our path, it was a dreadful warning to turn aside; and the head
ached as if assailed by the scalping knife. The Indians who hovered
on the skirts of the European settlements had only learned of their
neighbours to plunder, and they stole their guns from them to
do it with more safety.
"From the woods and back settlements, I returned to the towns,
and learned to eat and drink most valiantly; but without entering
into commerce (and I detested commerce) I found I could not live
there; and, growing heartily weary of the land of liberty and vulgar
aristocracy, seated on her bags of dollars, I resolved once more
to visit Europe. I wrote to a distant relation in England, with
whom I had been educated, mentioning the vessel in which I intended
to sail. Arriving in London, my senses were intoxicated. I ran
from street to street, from theater to theater, and the women of
the town (again I must beg pardon for my habitual frankness)
appeared to me like angels.
"A week was spent in this thoughtless manner, when, returning
very late to the hotel in which I had lodged ever since my arrival,
I was knocked down in a private street, and hurried, in a state of
insensibility, into a coach, which brought me hither, and I only
recovered my senses to be treated like one who had lost them. My
keepers are deaf to my remonstrances and enquiries, yet assure me
that my confinement shall not last long. Still I cannot guess,
though I weary myself with conjectures, why I am confined, or in
what part of England this house is situated. I imagine sometimes
that I hear the sea roar, and wished myself again on the Atlantic,
till I had a glimpse of you."*
A few moments were only allowed to Maria to comment on this
narrative, when Darnford left her to her own thoughts, to the "never
ending, still beginning," task of weighing his words, recollecting
his tones of voice, and feeling them reverberate on her heart.
* The introduction of Darnford as the deliverer of Maria
in a former instance, appears to have been an after-thought
of the author. This has occasioned the omission of any
allusion to that circumstance in the preceding narration.
EDITOR. [Godwin's note]
PITY, and the forlorn seriousness of adversity, have both been
considered as dispositions favourable to love, while satirical
writers have attributed the propensity to the relaxing effect of
idleness; what chance then had Maria of escaping, when pity, sorrow,
and solitude all conspired to soften her mind, and nourish romantic
wishes, and, from a natural progress, romantic expectations?
Maria was six-and-twenty. But, such was the native soundness
of her constitution, that time had only given to her countenance
the character of her mind. Revolving thought, and exercised
affections had banished some of the playful graces of innocence,
producing insensibly that irregularity of features which the
struggles of the understanding to trace or govern the strong emotions
of the heart, are wont to imprint on the yielding mass. Grief and
care had mellowed, without obscuring, the bright tints of youth,
and the thoughtfulness which resided on her brow did not take from
the feminine softness of her features; nay, such was the sensibility
which often mantled over it, that she frequently appeared, like a
large proportion of her sex, only born to feel; and the activity
of her well-proportioned, and even almost voluptuous figure, inspired
the idea of strength of mind, rather than of body. There was a
simplicity sometimes indeed in her manner, which bordered on
infantine ingenuousness, that led people of common discernment to
underrate her talents, and smile at the flights of her imagination.
But those who could not comprehend the delicacy of her sentiments,
were attached by her unfailing sympathy, so that she was very
generally beloved by characters of very different descriptions;
still, she was too much under the influence of an ardent imagination
to adhere to common rules.
There are mistakes of conduct which at five-and-twenty prove
the strength of the mind, that, ten or fifteen years after, would
demonstrate its weakness, its incapacity to acquire a sane judgment.
The youths who are satisfied with the ordinary pleasures of life,
and do not sigh after ideal phantoms of love and friendship, will
never arrive at great maturity of understanding; but if these
reveries are cherished, as is too frequently the case with women,
when experience ought to have taught them in what human happiness
consists, they become as useless as they are wretched. Besides,
their pains and pleasures are so dependent on outward circumstances,
on the objects of their affections, that they seldom act from the
impulse of a nerved mind, able to choose its own pursuit.
Having had to struggle incessantly with the vices of mankind,
Maria's imagination found repose in pourtraying the possible virtues
the world might contain. Pygmalion formed an ivory maid, and longed
for an informing soul. She, on the contrary, combined all the
qualities of a hero's mind, and fate presented a statue in which
she might enshrine them.
We mean not to trace the progress of this passion, or recount
how often Darnford and Maria were obliged to part in the midst of
an interesting conversation. Jemima ever watched on the tip-toe
of fear, and frequently separated them on a false alarm, when they
would have given worlds to remain a little longer together.
A magic lamp now seemed to be suspended in Maria's prison,
and fairy landscapes flitted round the gloomy walls, late so blank.
Rushing from the depth of despair, on the seraph wing of hope,
she found herself happy.--She was beloved, and every emotion
To Darnford she had not shown a decided affection; the fear
of outrunning his, a sure proof of love, made her often assume a
coldness and indifference foreign from her character; and, even
when giving way to the playful emotions of a heart just loosened
from the frozen bond of grief, there was a delicacy in her manner
of expressing her sensibility, which made him doubt whether it was
the effect of love.
One evening, when Jemima left them, to listen to the sound of
a distant footstep, which seemed cautiously to approach, he seized
Maria's hand--it was not withdrawn. They conversed with earnestness
of their situation; and, during the conversation, he once or twice
gently drew her towards him. He felt the fragrance of her breath,
and longed, yet feared, to touch the lips from which it issued;
spirits of purity seemed to guard them, while all the enchanting
graces of love sported on her cheeks, and languished in her eyes.
Jemima entering, he reflected on his diffidence with poignant
regret, and, she once more taking alarm, he ventured, as Maria
stood near his chair, to approach her lips with a declaration of
love. She drew back with solemnity, he hung down his head abashed;
but lifting his eyes timidly, they met her's; she had determined,
during that instant, and suffered their rays to mingle. He took,
with more ardour, reassured, a half-consenting, half-reluctant
kiss, reluctant only from modesty; and there was a sacredness in
her dignified manner of reclining her glowing face on his shoulder,
that powerfully impressed him. Desire was lost in more ineffable
emotions, and to protect her from insult and sorrow--to make her
happy, seemed not only the first wish of his heart, but the most
noble duty of his life. Such angelic confidence demanded the
fidelity of honour; but could he, feeling her in every pulsation,
could he ever change, could he be a villain? The emotion with which
she, for a moment, allowed herself to be pressed to his bosom, the
tear of rapturous sympathy, mingled with a soft melancholy sentiment
of recollected disappointment, said--more of truth and faithfulness,
than the tongue could have given utterance to in hours! They were
silent--yet discoursed, how eloquently? till, after a moment's
reflection, Maria drew her chair by the side of his, and, with a
composed sweetness of voice, and supernatural benignity of
countenance, said, "I must open my whole heart to you; you must be
told who I am, why I am here, and why, telling you I am a wife,
I blush not to"--the blush spoke the rest.
Jemima was again at her elbow, and the restraint of her presence
did not prevent an animated conversation, in which love, sly urchin,
was ever at bo-peep.
So much of heaven did they enjoy, that paradise bloomed around
them; or they, by a powerful spell, had been transported into
Armida's garden. Love, the grand enchanter, "lapt them in Elysium,"
and every sense was harmonized to joy and social extacy.
So animated, indeed, were their accents of tenderness, in discussing
what, in other circumstances, would have been commonplace subjects,
that Jemima felt, with surprise, a tear of pleasure trickling down
her rugged cheeks. She wiped it away, half ashamed; and when Maria
kindly enquired the cause, with all the eager solicitude of a happy
being wishing to impart to all nature its overflowing felicity,
Jemima owned that it was the first tear that social enjoyment had
ever drawn from her. She seemed indeed to breathe more freely;
the cloud of suspicion cleared away from her brow; she felt herself,
for once in her life, treated like a fellow-creature.
Imagination! who can paint thy power; or reflect the evanescent
tints of hope fostered by thee? A despondent gloom had long obscured
Maria's horizon--now the sun broke forth, the rainbow appeared,
and every prospect was fair. Horror still reigned in the darkened
cells, suspicion lurked in the passages, and whispered along the
walls. The yells of men possessed, sometimes, made them pause,
and wonder that they felt so happy, in a tomb of living death.
They even chid themselves for such apparent insensibility; still
the world contained not three happier beings. And Jemima, after
again patrolling the passage, was so softened by the air of confidence
which breathed around her, that she voluntarily began an account
"MY FATHER," said Jemima, "seduced my mother, a pretty
whom he lived fellow-servant; and she no sooner perceived the
natural, the dreaded consequence, than the terrible conviction
flashed on her--that she was ruined. Honesty, and a regard for her
reputation, had been the only principles inculcated by her mother;
and they had been so forcibly impressed, that she feared shame,
more than the poverty to which it would lead. Her incessant
importunities to prevail upon my father to screen her from reproach
by marrying her, as he had promised in the fervour of seduction,
estranged him from her so completely, that her very person became
distasteful to him; and he began to hate, as well as despise me,
before I was born.
"My mother, grieved to the soul by his neglect, and unkind
treatment, actually resolved to famish herself; and injured her
health by the attempt; though she had not sufficient resolution to
adhere to her project, or renounce it entirely. Death came not at
her call; yet sorrow, and the methods she adopted to conceal her
condition, still doing the work of a house-maid, had such an effect
on her constitution, that she died in the wretched garret, where
her virtuous mistress had forced her to take refuge in the very
pangs of labour, though my father, after a slight reproof, was
allowed to remain in his place--allowed by the mother of six
children, who, scarcely permitting a footstep to be heard,
during her month's indulgence, felt no sympathy for the
poor wretch, denied every comfort required by her situation.
"The day my mother, died, the ninth after my birth, I was
consigned to the care of the cheapest nurse my father could find;
who suckled her own child at the same time, and lodged as many more
as she could get, in two cellar-like apartments.
"Poverty, and the habit of seeing children die off her hands,
had so hardened her heart, that the office of a mother did not
awaken the tenderness of a woman; nor were the feminine caresses
which seem a part of the rearing of a child, ever bestowed on me.
The chicken has a wing to shelter under; but I had no bosom to
nestle in, no kindred warmth to foster me. Left in dirt, to cry
with cold and hunger till I was weary, and sleep without ever being
prepared by exercise, or lulled by kindness to rest; could I be
expected to become any thing but a weak and rickety babe? Still,
in spite of neglect, I continued to exist, to learn to curse
existence, [her countenance grew ferocious as she spoke,] and the
treatment that rendered me miserable, seemed to sharpen my wits.
Confined then in a damp hovel, to rock the cradle of the succeeding
tribe, I looked like a little old woman, or a hag shrivelling into
nothing. The furrows of reflection and care contracted the youthful
cheek, and gave a sort of supernatural wildness to the ever watchful
eye. During this period, my father had married another
fellow-servant, who loved him less, and knew better how to manage
his passion, than my mother. She likewise proving with child, they
agreed to keep a shop: my step-mother, if, being an illegitimate
offspring, I may venture thus to characterize her, having obtained
a sum of a rich relation, for that purpose.
"Soon after her lying-in, she prevailed on my father to take
me home, to save the expense of maintaining me, and of hiring a
girl to assist her in the care of the child. I was young, it was
true, but appeared a knowing little thing, and might be made handy.
Accordingly I was brought to her house; but not to a home--for a
home I never knew. Of this child, a daughter, she was extravagantly
fond; and it was a part of my employment, to assist to spoil her,
by humouring all her whims, and bearing all her caprices. Feeling
her own consequence, before she could speak, she had learned the
art of tormenting me, and if I ever dared to resist, I received
blows, laid on with no compunctious hand, or was sent to bed
dinnerless, as well as supperless. I said that it was a part of
my daily labour to attend this child, with the servility of a slave;
still it was but a part. I was sent out in all seasons, and from
place to place, to carry burdens far above my strength, without
being allowed to draw near the fire, or ever being cheered by
encouragement or kindness. No wonder then, treated like a creature
of another species, that I began to envy, and at length to hate,
the darling of the house. Yet, I perfectly remember, that it was
the caresses, and kind expressions of my step-mother, which first
excited my jealous discontent. Once, I cannot forget it, when she
was calling in vain her wayward child to kiss her, I ran to her,
saying, 'I will kiss you, ma'am!' and how did my heart, which was
in my mouth, sink, what was my debasement of soul, when pushed away
with--'I do not want you, pert thing!' Another day, when a new gown
had excited the highest good humour, and she uttered the appropriate
dear, addressed unexpectedly to me, I thought I could never do
enough to please her; I was all alacrity, and rose proportionably
in my own estimation.
"As her daughter grew up, she was pampered with cakes and
fruit, while I was, literally speaking, fed with the refuse of the
table, with her leavings. A liquorish tooth is, I believe, common
to children, and I used to steal any thing sweet, that I could
catch up with a chance of concealment. When detected, she was not
content to chastize me herself at the moment, but, on my father's
return in the evening (he was a shopman), the principal discourse
was to recount my faults, and attribute them to the wicked disposition
which I had brought into the world with me, inherited from my
mother. He did not fail to leave the marks of his resentment on my
body, and then solaced himself by playing with my sister.--I could
have murdered her at those moments. To save myself from these
unmerciful corrections, I resorted to falshood, and the untruths
which I sturdily maintained, were brought in judgment against me,
to support my tyrant's inhuman charge of my natural propensity to
vice. Seeing me treated with contempt, and always being fed and
dressed better, my sister conceived a contemptuous opinion of me,
that proved an obstacle to all affection; and my father, hearing
continually of my faults, began to consider me as a curse entailed
on him for his sins: he was therefore easily prevailed on to bind
me apprentice to one of my step-mother's friends, who kept a
slop-shop in Wapping. I was represented (as it was said) in my
true colours; but she, 'warranted,' snapping her fingers,
'that she should break my spirit or heart.'
"My mother replied, with a whine, 'that if any body could make
me better, it was such a clever woman as herself; though, for her
own part, she had tried in vain; but good-nature was her fault.'
"I shudder with horror, when I recollect the treatment I had
now to endure. Not only under the lash of my task-mistress, but
the drudge of the maid, apprentices and children, I never had a
taste of human kindness to soften the rigour of perpetual labour.
I had been introduced as an object of abhorrence into the family;
as a creature of whom my step-mother, though she had been kind
enough to let me live in the house with her own child, could make
nothing. I was described as a wretch, whose nose must be kept to
the grinding stone--and it was held there with an iron grasp. It
seemed indeed the privilege of their superior nature to kick me
about, like the dog or cat. If I were attentive, I was called
fawning, if refractory, an obstinate mule, and like a mule I received
their censure on my loaded back. Often has my mistress, for some
instance of forgetfulness, thrown me from one side of the kitchen
to the other, knocked my head against the wall, spit in my face,
with various refinements on barbarity that I forbear to enumerate,
though they were all acted over again by the servant, with additional
insults, to which the appellation of bastard, was commonly added,
with taunts or sneers. But I will not attempt to give you
an adequate idea of my situation, lest you, who probably have
never been drenched with the dregs of human misery,
should think I exaggerate.
"I stole now, from absolute necessity,--bread; yet whatever
else was taken, which I had it not in my power to take, was ascribed
to me. I was the filching cat, the ravenous dog, the dumb brute,
who must bear all; for if I endeavoured to exculpate myself, I was
silenced, without any enquiries being made, with 'Hold your tongue,
you never tell truth.' Even the very air I breathed was tainted
with scorn; for I was sent to the neighbouring shops with Glutton,
Liar, or Thief, written on my forehead. This was, at first, the
most bitter punishment; but sullen pride, or a kind of stupid
desperation, made me, at length, almost regardless of the contempt,
which had wrung from me so many solitary tears at the only moments
when I was allowed to rest.
"Thus was I the mark of cruelty till my sixteenth year; and
then I have only to point out a change of misery; for a period I
never knew. Allow me first to make one observation. Now I look
back, I cannot help attributing the greater part of my misery, to
the misfortune of having been thrown into the world without the
grand support of life--a mother's affection. I had no one to love
me; or to make me respected, to enable me to acquire respect.
I was an egg dropped on the sand; a pauper by nature, hunted from
family to family, who belonged to nobody--and nobody cared for me.
I was despised from my birth, and denied the chance of obtaining
a footing for myself in society. Yes; I had not even the chance
of being considered as a fellow-creature--yet all the people with
whom I lived, brutalized as they were by the low cunning of trade,
and the despicable shifts of poverty, were not without bowels,
though they never yearned for me. I was, in fact, born a slave,
and chained by infamy to slavery during the whole of existence,
without having any companions to alleviate it by sympathy, or teach
me how to rise above it by their example. But, to resume the thread
of my tale--
"At sixteen, I suddenly grew tall, and something like comeliness
appeared on a Sunday, when I had time to wash my face, and put on
clean clothes. My master had once or twice caught hold of me in
the passage; but I instinctively avoided his disgusting caresses.
One day however, when the family were at a methodist meeting, he
contrived to be alone in the house with me, and by blows--yes;
blows and menaces, compelled me to submit to his ferocious desire;
and, to avoid my mistress's fury, I was obliged in future to comply,
and skulk to my loft at his command, in spite of increasing loathing.
"The anguish which was now pent up in my bosom, seemed to open
a new world to me: I began to extend my thoughts beyond myself,
and grieve for human misery, till I discovered, with horror--ah!
what horror!--that I was with child. I know not why I felt a mixed
sensation of despair and tenderness, excepting that, ever called
a bastard, a bastard appeared to me an object of the greatest
compassion in creation.
"I communicated this dreadful circumstance to my master, who
was almost equally alarmed at the intelligence; for he feared his
wife, and public censure at the meeting. After some weeks of
deliberation had elapsed, I in continual fear that my altered shape
would be noticed, my master gave me a medicine in a phial, which
he desired me to take, telling me, without any circumlocution, for
what purpose it was designed. I burst into tears, I thought it
was killing myself--yet was such a self as I worth preserving?
He cursed me for a fool, and left me to my own reflections.
I could not resolve to take this infernal potion; but I
wrapped it up in an old gown, and hid it in a corner of my box.
"Nobody yet suspected me, because they had been accustomed to
view me as a creature of another species. But the threatening
storm at last broke over my devoted head--never shall I forget it!
One Sunday evening when I was left, as usual, to take care of the
house, my master came home intoxicated, and I became the prey of
his brutal appetite. His extreme intoxication made him forget his
customary caution, and my mistress entered and found us in a
situation that could not have been more hateful to her than me.
Her husband was 'pot-valiant,' he feared her not at the moment,
nor had he then much reason, for she instantly turned the whole
force of her anger another way. She tore off my cap, scratched,
kicked, and buffetted me, till she had exhausted her strength,
declaring, as she rested her arm, 'that I had wheedled her husband
from her.--But, could any thing better be expected from a wretch,
whom she had taken into her house out of pure charity?' What a
torrent of abuse rushed out? till, almost breathless, she concluded
with saying, 'that I was born a strumpet; it ran in my blood,
and nothing good could come to those who harboured me.'
"My situation was, of course, discovered, and she declared
that I should not stay another night under the same roof with an
honest family. I was therefore pushed out of doors, and my trumpery
thrown after me, when it had been contemptuously examined in the
passage, lest I should have stolen any thing.
"Behold me then in the street, utterly destitute! Whither
could I creep for shelter? To my father's roof I had no claim, when
not pursued by shame--now I shrunk back as from death, from my
mother's cruel reproaches, my father's execrations. I could not
endure to hear him curse the day I was born, though life had been
a curse to me. Of death I thought, but with a confused emotion of
terror, as I stood leaning my head on a post, and starting at every
footstep, lest it should be my mistress coming to tear my heart
out. One of the boys of the shop passing by, heard my tale, and
immediately repaired to his master, to give him a description of
my situation; and he touched the right key--the scandal it would
give rise to, if I were left to repeat my tale to every enquirer.
This plea came home to his reason, who had been sobered by his
wife's rage, the fury of which fell on him when I was out of her
reach, and he sent the boy to me with half-a-guinea, desiring him
to conduct me to a house, where beggars, and other wretches,
the refuse of society, nightly lodged.
This night was spent in a state of stupefaction, or desperation.
I detested mankind, and abhorred myself.
"In the morning I ventured out, to throw myself in my master's
way, at his usual hour of going abroad. I approached him, he
'damned me for a b----, declared I had disturbed the peace of the
family, and that he had sworn to his wife, never to take any more
notice of me.' He left me; but, instantly returning, he told me
that he should speak to his friend, a parish-officer, to get a
nurse for the brat I laid to him; and advised me, if I wished to
keep out of the house of correction, not to make free with his
"I hurried back to my hole, and, rage giving place to despair,
sought for the potion that was to procure abortion, and swallowed
it, with a wish that it might destroy me, at the same time that it
stopped the sensations of new-born life, which I felt with
indescribable emotion. My head turned round, my heart grew sick,
and in the horrors of approaching dissolution, mental anguish was
swallowed up. The effect of the medicine was violent, and I was
confined to my bed several days; but, youth and a strong constitution
prevailing, I once more crawled out, to ask myself the cruel
question, 'Whither I should go?' I had but two shillings left in
my pocket, the rest had been expended, by a poor woman who slept
in the same room, to pay for my lodging, and purchase the necessaries
of which she partook.
"With this wretch I went into the neighbouring streets to beg,
and my disconsolate appearance drew a few pence from the idle,
enabling me still to command a bed; till, recovering from my illness,
and taught to put on my rags to the best advantage, I was accosted
from different motives, and yielded to the desire of the brutes I
met, with the same detestation that I had felt for my still more
brutal master. I have since read in novels of the blandishments
of seduction, but I had not even the pleasure of being enticed
"I shall not," interrupted Jemima, "lead your imagination
all the scenes of wretchedness and depravity, which I was condemned
to view; or mark the different stages of my debasing misery. Fate
dragged me through the very kennels of society: I was still a slave,
a bastard, a common property. Become familiar with vice, for I wish
to conceal nothing from you, I picked the pockets of the drunkards
who abused me; and proved by my conduct, that I deserved the
epithets, with which they loaded me at moments when distrust
ought to cease.
"Detesting my nightly occupation, though valuing, if I may so
use the word, my independence, which only consisted in choosing
the street in which I should wander, or the roof, when I had money,
in which I should hide my head, I was some time before I could
prevail on myself to accept of a place in a house of ill fame, to
which a girl, with whom I had accidentally conversed in the street,
had recommended me. I had been hunted almost into a fever, by the
watchmen of the quarter of the town I frequented; one, whom I had
unwittingly offended, giving the word to the whole pack. You can
scarcely conceive the tyranny exercised by these wretches: considering
themselves as the instruments of the very laws they violate, the
pretext which steels their conscience, hardens their heart. Not
content with receiving from us, outlaws of society (let other women
talk of favours) a brutal gratification gratuitously as a privilege
of office, they extort a tithe of prostitution, and harrass with
threats the poor creatures whose occupation affords not the means
to silence the growl of avarice. To escape from this persecution,
I once more entered into servitude.
"A life of comparative regularity restored my health; and--
do not start--my manners were improved, in a situation where vice
sought to render itself alluring, and taste was cultivated to
fashion the person, if not to refine the mind. Besides, the common
civility of speech, contrasted with the gross vulgarity to which
I had been accustomed, was something like the polish of civilization.
I was not shut out from all intercourse of humanity. Still I was
galled by the yoke of service, and my mistress often flying into
violent fits of passion, made me dread a sudden dismission, which
I understood was always the case. I was therefore prevailed on,
though I felt a horror of men, to accept the offer of a gentleman,
rather in the decline of years, to keep his house, pleasantly
situated in a little village near Hampstead.
"He was a man of great talents, and of brilliant wit; but, a
worn-out votary of voluptuousness, his desires became fastidious
in proportion as they grew weak, and the native tenderness of his
heart was undermined by a vitiated imagination. A thoughtless
carreer of libertinism and social enjoyment, had injured his health
to such a degree, that, whatever pleasure his conversation afforded
me (and my esteem was ensured by proofs of the generous humanity
of his disposition), the being his mistress was purchasing it at
a very dear rate. With such a keen perception of the delicacies
of sentiment, with an imagination invigorated by the exercise of
genius, how could he sink into the grossness of sensuality!
"But, to pass over a subject which I recollect with pain,
I must remark to you, as an answer to your often-repeated question,
'Why my sentiments and language were superior to my station?' that
I now began to read, to beguile the tediousness of solitude, and
to gratify an inquisitive, active mind. I had often, in my childhood,
followed a ballad-singer, to hear the sequel of a dismal story,
though sure of being severely punished for delaying to return with
whatever I was sent to purchase. I could just spell and put a
sentence together, and I listened to the various arguments, though
often mingled with obscenity, which occurred at the table where I
was allowed to preside: for a literary friend or two frequently
came home with my master, to dine and pass the night. Having lost
the privileged respect of my sex, my presence, instead of restraining,
perhaps gave the reins to their tongues; still I had the advantage
of hearing discussions, from which, in the common course of life,
women are excluded.
"You may easily imagine, that it was only by degrees that I
could comprehend some of the subjects they investigated, or acquire
from their reasoning what might be termed a moral sense. But my
fondness of reading increasing, and my master occasionally shutting
himself up in this retreat, for weeks together, to write, I had
many opportunities of improvement. At first, considering money (I
was right!" exclaimed Jemima, altering her tone of voice) "as
only means, after my loss of reputation, of obtaining respect, or
even the toleration of humanity, I had not the least scruple to
secrete a part of the sums intrusted to me, and to screen myself
from detection by a system of falshood. But, acquiring new
principles, I began to have the ambition of returning to the
respectable part of society, and was weak enough to suppose it
possible. The attention of my unassuming instructor, who, without
being ignorant of his own powers, possessed great simplicity of
manners, strengthened the illusion. Having sometimes caught up
hints for thought, from my untutored remarks, he often led me to
discuss the subjects he was treating, and would read to me his
productions, previous to their publication, wishing to profit by
the criticism of unsophisticated feeling. The aim of his writings
was to touch the simple springs of the heart; for he despised the
would-be oracles, the self-elected philosophers, who fright away
fancy, while sifting each grain of thought to prove that slowness
of comprehension is wisdom.
"I should have distinguished this as a moment of sunshine, a
happy period in my life, had not the repugnance the disgusting
libertinism of my protector inspired, daily become more painful.--And,
indeed, I soon did recollect it as such with agony, when his sudden
death (for he had recourse to the most exhilarating cordials to
keep up the convivial tone of his spirits) again threw me into the
desert of human society. Had he had any time for reflection, I am
certain he would have left the little property in his power to me:
but, attacked by the fatal apoplexy in town, his heir, a man of
rigid morals, brought his wife with him to take possession of the
house and effects, before I was even informed of his death,--
'to prevent,' as she took care indirectly to tell me, 'such a creature
as she supposed me to be, from purloining any of them, had I been
apprized of the event in time.'
"The grief I felt at the sudden shock the information gave
me, which at first had nothing selfish in it, was treated with
contempt, and I was ordered to pack up my clothes; and a few trinkets
and books, given me by the generous deceased, were contested, while
they piously hoped, with a reprobating shake of the head, 'that
God would have mercy on his sinful soul!' With some difficulty,
I obtained my arrears of wages; but asking--such is the spirit-grinding
consequence of poverty and infamy--for a character for honesty and
economy, which God knows I merited, I was told by this--why must
I call her woman?--'that it would go against her conscience to
recommend a kept mistress.' Tears started in my eyes, burning tears;
for there are situations in which a wretch is humbled by the contempt
they are conscious they do not deserve.
"I returned to the metropolis; but the solitude of a poor
lodging was inconceivably dreary, after the society I had enjoyed.
To be cut off from human converse, now I had been taught to relish
it, was to wander a ghost among the living. Besides, I foresaw, to
aggravate the severity of my fate, that my little pittance would
soon melt away. I endeavoured to obtain needlework; but, not having
been taught early, and my hands being rendered clumsy by hard work,
I did not sufficiently excel to be employed by the ready-made linen
shops, when so many women, better qualified, were suing for it.
The want of a character prevented my getting a place; for, irksome
as servitude would have been to me, I should have made another
trial, had it been feasible. Not that I disliked employment,
but the inequality of condition to which I must have submitted.
I had acquired a taste for literature, during the five years
I had lived with a literary man, occasionally conversing with
men of the first abilities of the age; and now to descend
to the lowest vulgarity, was a degree of wretchedness
not to be imagined unfelt. I had not, it is true, tasted
the charms of affection, but I had been familiar with
the graces of humanity.
"One of the gentlemen, whom I had frequently dined in company
with, while I was treated like a companion, met me in the street,
and enquired after my health. I seized the occasion, and began to
describe my situation; but he was in haste to join, at dinner, a
select party of choice spirits; therefore, without waiting to hear
me, he impatiently put a guinea into my hand, saying, 'It was a
pity such a sensible woman should be in distress--he wished me well
from his soul.'
"To another I wrote, stating my case, and requesting advice.
He was an advocate for unequivocal sincerity; and had often, in my
presence, descanted on the evils which arise in society from the
despotism of rank and riches.
"In reply, I received a long essay on the energy of the human
mind, with continual allusions to his own force of character. He
added, 'That the woman who could write such a letter as I had sent
him, could never be in want of resources, were she to look into
herself, and exert her powers; misery was the consequence of
indolence, and, as to my being shut out from society, it was the
lot of man to submit to certain privations.'
"How often have I heard," said Jemima, interrupting her
narrative, "in conversation, and read in books, that every person
willing to work may find employment? It is the vague assertion,
I believe, of insensible indolence, when it relates to men; but,
with respect to women, I am sure of its fallacy, unless they will
submit to the most menial bodily labour; and even to be employed
at hard labour is out of the reach of many, whose reputation
misfortune or folly has tainted.
"How writers, professing to be friends to freedom, and the
improvement of morals, can assert that poverty is no evil, I cannot
"No more can I," interrupted Maria, "yet they even expatiate
on the peculiar happiness of indigence, though in what it can
consist, excepting in brutal rest, when a man can barely earn a
subsistence, I cannot imagine. The mind is necessarily imprisoned
in its own little tenement; and, fully occupied by keeping it in
repair, has not time to rove abroad for improvement. The book of
knowledge is closely clasped, against those who must fulfil their
daily task of severe manual labour or die; and curiosity, rarely
excited by thought or information, seldom moves on the stagnate
lake of ignorance."
"As far as I have been able to observe," replied Jemima,
"prejudices, caught up by chance, are obstinately maintained
by the poor, to the exclusion of improvement; they have not time
to reason or reflect to any extent, or minds sufficiently exercised
to adopt the principles of action, which form perhaps the only
basis of contentment in every station."*
* The copy which appears to have received the author's
last corrections, ends at this place. [Godwin's note]
"And independence," said Darnford, "they are necessarily
strangers to, even the independence of despising their persecutors.
If the poor are happy, or can be happy, _things_ _are_ _very_ _well_
_as_ _they_ _are_. And I cannot conceive on what principle those
writers contend for a change of system, who support this opinion.
The authors on the other side of the question are much more
consistent, who grant the fact; yet, insisting that it is the lot
of the majority to be oppressed in this life, kindly turn them over
to another, to rectify the false weights and measures of this, as
the only way to justify the dispensations of Providence. I have
not," continued Darnford, "an opinion more firmly fixed by observation
in my mind, than that, though riches may fail to produce proportionate
happiness, poverty most commonly excludes it, by shutting up all
the avenues to improvement."
"And as for the affections," added Maria, with a sigh, "how
gross, and even tormenting do they become, unless regulated by an
improving mind! The culture of the heart ever, I believe, keeps
pace with that of the mind. But pray go on," addressing Jemima,
"though your narrative gives rise to the most painful reflections
on the present state of society."
"Not to trouble you," continued she, "with a detailed
of all the painful feelings of unavailing exertion, I have only to
tell you, that at last I got recommended to wash in a few families,
who did me the favour to admit me into their houses, without the
most strict enquiry, to wash from one in the morning till eight at
night, for eighteen or twenty-pence a day. On the happiness to be
enjoyed over a washing-tub I need not comment; yet you will allow
me to observe, that this was a wretchedness of situation peculiar
to my sex. A man with half my industry, and, I may say, abilities,
could have procured a decent livelihood, and discharged some of
the duties which knit mankind together; whilst I, who had acquired
a taste for the rational, nay, in honest pride let me assert it,
the virtuous enjoyments of life, was cast aside as the filth of
society. Condemned to labour, like a machine, only to earn bread,
and scarcely that, I became melancholy and desperate.
"I have now to mention a circumstance which fills me with
remorse, and fear it will entirely deprive me of your esteem. A
tradesman became attached to me, and visited me frequently,--and
I at last obtained such a power over him, that he offered to take
me home to his house.--Consider, dear madam, I was famishing: wonder
not that I became a wolf!.--The only reason for not taking me home
immediately, was the having a girl in the house, with child by him--
and this girl--I advised him--yes, I did! would I could forget it!--
to turn out of doors: and one night he determined to follow
my advice. Poor wretch! She fell upon her knees, reminded him that
he had promised to marry her, that her parents were honest!--
What did it avail?--She was turned out.
"She approached her father's door, in the skirts of London,
--listened at the shutters,--but could not knock. A watchman had
observed her go and return several times--Poor wretch!--[The remorse
Jemima spoke of, seemed to be stinging her to the soul, as she
"She left it, and, approaching a tub where horses were watered,
she sat down in it, and, with desperate resolution, remained in
that attitude--till resolution was no longer necessary!
"I happened that morning to be going out to wash, anticipating
the moment when I should escape from such hard labour. I passed
by, just as some men, going to work, drew out the stiff, cold
corpse--Let me not recal the horrid moment!--I recognized her pale
visage; I listened to the tale told by the spectators, and my heart
did not burst. I thought of my own state, and wondered how I could
be such a monster!--I worked hard; and, returning home, I was
attacked by a fever. I suffered both in body and mind. I determined
not to live with the wretch. But he did not try me; he left the
neighbourhood. I once more returned to the wash-tub.
"Still this state, miserable as it was, admitted of aggravation.
Lifting one day a heavy load, a tub fell against my shin, and gave
me great pain. I did not pay much attention to the hurt, till it
became a serious wound; being obliged to work as usual, or starve.
But, finding myself at length unable to stand for any time,
I thought of getting into an hospital. Hospitals, it should seem
(for they are comfortless abodes for the sick) were expressly
endowed for the reception of the friendless; yet I, who had on that
plea a right to assistance, wanted the recommendation of the rich
and respectable, and was several weeks languishing for admittance;
fees were demanded on entering; and, what was still more unreasonable,
security for burying me, that expence not coming into the letter
of the charity. A guinea was the stipulated sum--I could as soon
have raised a million; and I was afraid to apply to the parish for
an order, lest they should have passed me, I knew not whither.
The poor woman at whose house I lodged, compassionating my state,
got me into the hospital; and the family where I received the hurt,
sent me five shillings, three and six-pence of which I gave at my
admittance--I know not for what.
"My leg grew quickly better; but I was dismissed before my
cure was completed, because I could not afford to have my linen
washed to appear decently, as the virago of a nurse said, when the
gentlemen (the surgeons) came. I cannot give you an adequate idea
of the wretchedness of an hospital; every thing is left to the care
of people intent on gain. The attendants seem to have lost all
feeling of compassion in the bustling discharge of their offices;
death is so familiar to them, that they are not anxious to ward it
off. Every thing appeared to be conducted for the accommodation
of the medical men and their pupils, who came to make experiments
on the poor, for the benefit of the rich. One of the physicians,
I must not forget to mention, gave me half-a-crown, and ordered me
some wine, when I was at the lowest ebb. I thought of making my
case known to the lady-like matron; but her forbidding countenance
prevented me. She condescended to look on the patients, and make
general enquiries, two or three times a week; but the nurses knew
the hour when the visit of ceremony would commence, and every thing
was as it should be.
"After my dismission, I was more at a loss than ever for a
subsistence, and, not to weary you with a repetition of the same
unavailing attempts, unable to stand at the washing-tub, I began
to consider the rich and poor as natural enemies, and became a
thief from principle. I could not now cease to reason, but I hated
mankind. I despised myself, yet I justified my conduct. I was
taken, tried, and condemned to six months' imprisonment in a house
of correction. My soul recoils with horror from the remembrance
of the insults I had to endure, till, branded with shame, I was
turned loose in the street, pennyless. I wandered from street to
street, till, exhausted by hunger and fatigue, I sunk down senseless
at a door, where I had vainly demanded a morsel of bread. I was
sent by the inhabitant to the work-house, to which he had surlily
bid me go, saying, he 'paid enough in conscience to the poor,'
when, with parched tongue, I implored his charity. If those
well-meaning people who exclaim against beggars, were acquainted
with the treatment the poor receive in many of these wretched
asylums, they would not stifle so easily involuntary sympathy, by
saying that they have all parishes to go to, or wonder that the
poor dread to enter the gloomy walls. What are the common run of
workhouses, but prisons, in which many respectable old people, worn
out by immoderate labour, sink into the grave in sorrow,
to which they are carried like dogs!"
Alarmed by some indistinct noise, Jemima rose hastily to
listen, and Maria, turning to Darnford, said, "I have indeed been
shocked beyond expression when I have met a pauper's funeral.
A coffin carried on the shoulders of three or four ill-looking
wretches, whom the imagination might easily convert into a band of
assassins, hastening to conceal the corpse, and quarrelling about
the prey on their way. I know it is of little consequence how we
are consigned to the earth; but I am led by this brutal insensibility,
to what even the animal creation appears forcibly to feel, to advert
to the wretched, deserted manner in which they died."
"True," rejoined Darnford, "and, till the rich will give
than a part of their wealth, till they will give time and attention
to the wants of the distressed, never let them boast of charity.
Let them open their hearts, and not their purses, and employ their
minds in the service, if they are really actuated by humanity;
or charitable institutions will always be the prey of
the lowest order of knaves."
Jemima returning, seemed in haste to finish her tale. "The
overseer farmed the poor of different parishes, and out of the
bowels of poverty was wrung the money with which he purchased this
dwelling, as a private receptacle for madness. He had been a keeper
at a house of the same description, and conceived that he could
make money much more readily in his old occupation. He is a
shrewd--shall I say it?--villain. He observed something resolute
in my manner, and offered to take me with him, and instruct me how
to treat the disturbed minds he meant to intrust to my care. The
offer of forty pounds a year, and to quit a workhouse, was not to
be despised, though the condition of shutting my eyes and hardening
my heart was annexed to it.
"I agreed to accompany him; and four years have I been attendant
on many wretches, and"--she lowered her voice,--"the witness of
many enormities. In solitude my mind seemed to recover its force,
and many of the sentiments which I imbibed in the only tolerable
period of my life, returned with their full force. Still what
should induce me to be the champion for suffering humanity?--Who
ever risked any thing for me?--Who ever acknowledged me to be a
Maria took her hand, and Jemima, more overcome by kindness
than she had ever been by cruelty, hastened out of the room to
conceal her emotions.
Darnford soon after heard his summons, and, taking leave of
him, Maria promised to gratify his curiosity, with respect to
herself, the first opportunity.
ACTIVE as love was in the heart of Maria, the story she had just
heard made her thoughts take a wider range. The opening buds of
hope closed, as if they had put forth too early, and the the happiest
day of her life was overcast by the most melancholy reflections.
Thinking of Jemima's peculiar fate and her own, she was led to
consider the oppressed state of women, and to lament that she had
given birth to a daughter. Sleep fled from her eyelids, while she
dwelt on the wretchedness of unprotected infancy, till sympathy
with Jemima changed to agony, when it seemed probable that her own
babe might even now be in the very state she so forcibly described.
Maria thought, and thought again. Jemima's humanity had rather
been benumbed than killed, by the keen frost she had to brave at
her entrance into life; an appeal then to her feelings, on this
tender point, surely would not be fruitless; and Maria began to
anticipate the delight it would afford her to gain intelligence of
her child. This project was now the only subject of reflection;
and she watched impatiently for the dawn of day, with that determinate
purpose which generally insures success.
At the usual hour, Jemima brought her breakfast, and a tender
note from Darnford. She ran her eye hastily over it, and her heart
calmly hoarded up the rapture a fresh assurance of affection,
affection such as she wished to inspire, gave her, without diverting
her mind a moment from its design. While Jemima waited to take
away the breakfast, Maria alluded to the reflections, that had
haunted her during the night to the exclusion of sleep. She spoke
with energy of Jemima's unmerited sufferings, and of the fate of
a number of deserted females, placed within the sweep of a whirlwind,
from which it was next to impossible to escape. Perceiving the
effect her conversation produced on the countenance of her guard,
she grasped the arm of Jemima with that irresistible warmth which
defies repulse, exclaiming--"With your heart, and such dreadful
experience, can you lend your aid to deprive my babe of a mother's
tenderness, a mother's care? In the name of God, assist me to snatch
her from destruction! Let me but give her an education--let me but
prepare her body and mind to encounter the ills which await her
sex, and I will teach her to consider you as her second mother,
and herself as the prop of your age. Yes, Jemima, look at me--
observe me closely, and read my very soul; you merit a better fate;"
she held out her hand with a firm gesture of assurance;
"and I will procure it for you, as a testimony of my esteem,
as well as of my gratitude."
Jemima had not power to resist this persuasive torrent; and,
owning that the house in which she was confined, was situated on
the banks of the Thames, only a few miles from London, and not on
the sea-coast, as Darnford had supposed, she promised to invent
some excuse for her absence, and go herself to trace the situation,
and enquire concerning the health, of this abandoned daughter.
Her manner implied an intention to do something more, but she seemed
unwilling to impart her design; and Maria, glad to have obtained
the main point, thought it best to leave her to the workings of
her own mind; convinced that she had the power of interesting her
still more in favour of herself and child,
by a simple recital of facts.
In the evening, Jemima informed the impatient mother, that on
the morrow she should hasten to town before the family hour of
rising, and received all the information necessary, as a clue to
her search. The "Good night!" Maria uttered was peculiarly solemn
and affectionate. Glad expectation sparkled in her eye; and, for
the first time since her detention, she pronounced the name of her
child with pleasureable fondness; and, with all the garrulity of
a nurse, described her first smile when she recognized her mother.
Recollecting herself, a still kinder "Adieu!" with a "God
you!"--that seemed to include a maternal benediction,
The dreary solitude of the ensuing day, lengthened by impatiently
dwelling on the same idea, was intolerably wearisome. She listened
for the sound of a particular clock, which some directions of the
wind allowed her to hear distinctly. She marked the shadow gaining
on the wall; and, twilight thickening into darkness, her breath
seemed oppressed while she anxiously counted nine.--The last sound
was a stroke of despair on her heart; for she expected every moment,
without seeing Jemima, to have her light extinguished by the savage
female who supplied her place. She was even obliged to prepare
for bed, restless as she was, not to disoblige her new attendant.
She had been cautioned not to speak too freely to her; but the
caution was needless, her countenance would still more emphatically
have made her shrink back. Such was the ferocity of manner,
conspicuous in every word and gesture of this hag, that Maria was
afraid to enquire, why Jemima, who had faithfully promised to see
her before her door was shut for the night, came not?--
and, when the key turned in the lock, to consign her to
a night of suspence, she felt a degree of anguish which
the circumstances scarcely justified.
Continually on the watch, the shutting of a door, or the sound
of a foot-step, made her start and tremble with apprehension,
something like what she felt, when, at her entrance, dragged along
the gallery, she began to doubt whether she were not surrounded
Fatigued by an endless rotation of thought and wild alarms,
she looked like a spectre, when Jemima entered in the morning;
especially as her eyes darted out of her head, to read in Jemima's
countenance, almost as pallid, the intelligence she dared not trust
her tongue to demand. Jemima put down the tea-things, and appeared
very busy in arranging the table. Maria took up a cup with trembling
hand, then forcibly recovering her fortitude, and restraining the
convulsive movement which agitated the muscles of her mouth, she
said, "Spare yourself the pain of preparing me for your information,
I adjure you!--My child is dead!" Jemima solemnly answered, "Yes;"
with a look expressive of compassion and angry emotions.
"Leave me," added Maria, making a fresh effort to govern her
feelings, and hiding her face in her handkerchief, to conceal her
anguish--"It is enough--I know that my babe is no more--I will
hear the particulars when I am"--calmer, she could not utter; and
Jemima, without importuning her by idle attempts to console her,
left the room.
Plunged in the deepest melancholy, she would not admit Darnford's
visits; and such is the force of early associations even on strong
minds, that, for a while, she indulged the superstitious notion
that she was justly punished by the death of her child, for having
for an instant ceased to regret her loss. Two or three letters from
Darnford, full of soothing, manly tenderness, only added poignancy
to these accusing emotions; yet the passionate style in which he
expressed, what he termed the first and fondest wish of his heart,
"that his affection might make her some amends for the cruelty and
injustice she had endured," inspired a sentiment of gratitude to
heaven; and her eyes filled with delicious tears, when, at the
conclusion of his letter, wishing to supply the place of her unworthy
relations, whose want of principle he execrated, he assured her,
calling her his dearest girl, "that it should henceforth be the
business of his life to make her happy."
He begged, in a note sent the following morning, to be permitted
to see her, when his presence would be no intrusion on her grief,
and so earnestly intreated to be allowed, according to promise, to
beguile the tedious moments of absence, by dwelling on the events
of her past life, that she sent him the memoirs which had been
written for her daughter, promising Jemima the perusal as soon as
he returned them.
"ADDRESSING these memoirs to you, my child, uncertain whether I
shall ever have an opportunity of instructing you, many observations
will probably flow from my heart, which only a mother--a mother
schooled in misery, could make.
"The tenderness of a father who knew the world, might be great;
but could it equal that of a mother--of a mother, labouring under
a portion of the misery, which the constitution of society seems
to have entailed on all her kind? It is, my child, my dearest
daughter, only such a mother, who will dare to break through all
restraint to provide for your happiness--who will voluntarily
brave censure herself, to ward off sorrow from your bosom. From
my narrative, my dear girl, you may gather the instruction, the
counsel, which is meant rather to exercise than influence your
mind.--Death may snatch me from you, before you can weigh my advice,
or enter into my reasoning: I would then, with fond anxiety, lead
you very early in life to form your grand principle of action, to
save you from the vain regret of having, through irresolution, let
the spring-tide of existence pass away, unimproved, unenjoyed.--
Gain experience--ah! gain it--while experience is worth having,
and acquire sufficient fortitude to pursue your own happiness;
it includes your utility, by a direct path. What is wisdom too often,
but the owl of the goddess, who sits moping in a desolated heart;
around me she shrieks, but I would invite all the gay warblers of
spring to nestle in your blooming bosom.--Had I not wasted years
in deliberating, after I ceased to doubt, how I ought to have
acted--I might now be useful and happy.--For my sake, warned by my
example, always appear what you are, and you will not pass through
existence without enjoying its genuine blessings, love and respect.
"Born in one of the most romantic parts of England, an
enthusiastic fondness for the varying charms of nature is the first
sentiment I recollect; or rather it was the first consciousness of
pleasure that employed and formed my imagination.
"My father had been a captain of a man of war; but, disgusted
with the service, on account of the preferment of men whose chief
merit was their family connections or borough interest, he retired
into the country; and, not knowing what to do with himself--married.
In his family, to regain his lost consequence, he determined to
keep up the same passive obedience, as in the vessels in which he
had commanded. His orders were not to be disputed; and the whole
house was expected to fly, at the word of command, as if to man
the shrouds, or mount aloft in an elemental strife, big with life
or death. He was to be instantaneously obeyed, especially by my
mother, whom he very benevolently married for love; but took care
to remind her of the obligation, when she dared, in the slightest
instance, to question his absolute authority. My eldest brother,
it is true, as he grew up, was treated with more respect by my
father; and became in due form the deputy-tyrant of the house.
The representative of my father, a being privileged by nature--a
boy, and the darling of my mother, he did not fail to act like an
heir apparent. Such indeed was my mother's extravagant partiality,
that, in comparison with her affection for him, she might be said
not to love the rest of her children. Yet none of the children
seemed to have so little affection for her. Extreme indulgence
had rendered him so selfish, that he only thought of himself; and
from tormenting insects and animals, he became the despot of his
brothers, and still more of his sisters.
"It is perhaps difficult to give you an idea of the petty
cares which obscured the morning of my life; continual restraint
in the most trivial matters; unconditional submission to orders,
which, as a mere child, I soon discovered to be unreasonable,
because inconsistent and contradictory. Thus are we destined to
experience a mixture of bitterness, with the recollection of our
most innocent enjoyments.
"The circumstances which, during my childhood, occurred to
fashion my mind, were various; yet, as it would probably afford me
more pleasure to revive the fading remembrance of newborn delight,
than you, my child, could feel in the perusal, I will not entice
you to stray with me into the verdant meadow, to search for the
flowers that youthful hopes scatter in every path; though, as I
write, I almost scent the fresh green of spring--of that spring
which never returns!
"I had two sisters, and one brother, younger than myself, my
brother Robert was two years older, and might truly be termed the
idol of his parents, and the torment of the rest of the family.
Such indeed is the force of prejudice, that what was called spirit
and wit in him, was cruelly repressed as forwardness in me.
"My mother had an indolence of character, which prevented her
from paying much attention to our education. But the healthy breeze
of a neighbouring heath, on which we bounded at pleasure, volatilized
the humours that improper food might have generated. And to enjoy
open air and freedom, was paradise, after the unnatural restraint
of our fireside, where we were often obliged to sit three or four
hours together, without daring to utter a word, when my father was
out of humour, from want of employment, or of a variety of boisterous
amusement. I had however one advantage, an instructor, the brother
of my father, who, intended for the church, had of course received
a liberal education. But, becoming attached to a young lady of
great beauty and large fortune, and acquiring in the world some
opinions not consonant with the profession for which he was designed,
he accepted, with the most sanguine expectations of success, the
offer of a nobleman to accompany him to India, as his confidential
"A correspondence was regularly kept up with the object of
his affection; and the intricacies of business, peculiarly wearisome
to a man of a romantic turn of mind, contributed, with a forced
absence, to increase his attachment. Every other passion was lost
in this master-one, and only served to swell the torrent. Her
relations, such were his waking dreams, who had despised him, would
court in their turn his alliance, and all the blandishments of
taste would grace the triumph of love.--While he basked in the warm
sunshine of love, friendship also promised to shed its dewy freshness;
for a friend, whom he loved next to his mistress, was the confident,
who forwarded the letters from one to the other, to elude the
observation of prying relations. A friend false in similar
circumstances, is, my dearest girl, an old tale; yet, let not this
example, or the frigid caution of coldblooded moralists, make you
endeavour to stifle hopes, which are the buds that naturally unfold
themselves during the spring of life! Whilst your own heart is
sincere, always expect to meet one glowing with the same sentiments;
for to fly from pleasure, is not to avoid pain!
"My uncle realized, by good luck, rather than management, a
handsome fortune; and returning on the wings of love, lost in the
most enchanting reveries, to England, to share it with his mistress
and his friend, he found them--united.
"There were some circumstances, not necessary for me to recite,
which aggravated the guilt of the friend beyond measure, and the
deception, that had been carried on to the last moment, was so
base, it produced the most violent effect on my uncle's health and
spirits. His native country, the world! lately a garden of blooming
sweets, blasted by treachery, seemed changed into a parched desert,
the abode of hissing serpents. Disappointment rankled in his heart;
and, brooding over his wrongs, he was attacked by a raging fever,
followed by a derangement of mind, which only gave place to habitual
melancholy, as he recovered more strength of body.
"Declaring an intention never to marry, his relations were
ever clustering about him, paying the grossest adulation to a man,
who, disgusted with mankind, received them with scorn, or bitter
sarcasms. Something in my countenance pleased him, when I began
to prattle. Since his return, he appeared dead to affection; but
I soon, by showing him innocent fondness, became a favourite; and
endeavouring to enlarge and strengthen my mind, I grew dear to him
in proportion as I imbibed his sentiments. He had a forcible manner
of speaking, rendered more so by a certain impressive wildness of
look and gesture, calculated to engage the attention of a young
and ardent mind. It is not then surprising that I quickly adopted
his opinions in preference, and reverenced him as one of a superior
order of beings. He inculcated, with great warmth, self-respect,
and a lofty consciousness of acting right, independent of the
censure or applause of the world; nay, he almost taught me to brave,
and even despise its censure, when convinced of the rectitude of
my own intentions.
"Endeavouring to prove to me that nothing which deserved the
name of love or friendship, existed in the world, he drew such
animated pictures of his own feelings, rendered permanent by
disappointment, as imprinted the sentiments strongly on my heart,
and animated my imagination. These remarks are necessary to
elucidate some peculiarities in my character, which by the world
are indefinitely termed romantic.
"My uncle's increasing affection led him to visit me often.
Still, unable to rest in any place, he did not remain long in the
country to soften domestic tyranny; but he brought me books, for
which I had a passion, and they conspired with his conversation,
to make me form an ideal picture of life. I shall pass over the
tyranny of my father, much as I suffered from it; but it is necessary
to notice, that it undermined my mother's health; and that her
temper, continually irritated by domestic bickering, became
"My eldest brother was articled to a neighbouring attorney,
the shrewdest, and, I may add, the most unprincipled man in that
part of the country. As my brother generally came home every
Saturday, to astonish my mother by exhibiting his attainments, he
gradually assumed a right of directing the whole family, not
excepting my father. He seemed to take a peculiar pleasure in
tormenting and humbling me; and if I ever ventured to complain of
this treatment to either my father or mother, I was rudely rebuffed
for presuming to judge of the conduct of my eldest brother.
"About this period a merchant's family came to settle in our
neighbourhood. A mansion-house in the village, lately purchased,
had been preparing the whole spring, and the sight of the costly
furniture, sent from London, had excited my mother's envy, and
roused my father's pride. My sensations were very different, and
all of a pleasurable kind. I longed to see new characters, to
break the tedious monotony of my life; and to find a friend, such
as fancy had pourtrayed. I cannot then describe the emotion I
felt, the Sunday they made their appearance at church. My eyes
were rivetted on the pillar round which I expected first to catch
a glimpse of them, and darted forth to meet a servant who hastily
preceded a group of ladies, whose white robes and waving plumes,
seemed to stream along the gloomy aisle, diffusing the light, by
which I contemplated their figures.
"We visited them in form; and I quickly selected the eldest
daughter for my friend. The second son, George, paid me particular
attention, and finding his attainments and manners superior to
those of the young men of the village, I began to imagine him
superior to the rest of mankind. Had my home been more comfortable,
or my previous acquaintance more numerous, I should not probably
have been so eager to open my heart to new affections.
"Mr. Venables, the merchant, had acquired a large fortune by
unremitting attention to business; but his health declining rapidly,
he was obliged to retire, before his son, George, had acquired
sufficient experience, to enable him to conduct their affairs on
the same prudential plan, his father had invariably pursued.
Indeed, he had laboured to throw off his authority, having despised
his narrow plans and cautious speculation. The eldest son could
not be prevailed on to enter the firm; and, to oblige his wife,
and have peace in the house, Mr. Venables had purchased a commission
for him in the guards.
"I am now alluding to circumstances which came to my knowledge
long after; but it is necessary, my dearest child, that you should
know the character of your father, to prevent your despising your
mother; the only parent inclined to discharge a parent's duty. In
London, George had acquired habits of libertinism, which he carefully
concealed from his father and his commercial connections. The mask
he wore, was so complete a covering of his real visage, that the
praise his father lavished on his conduct, and, poor mistaken man!
on his principles, contrasted with his brother's, rendered the
notice he took of me peculiarly flattering. Without any fixed
design, as I am now convinced, he continued to single me out at
the dance, press my hand at parting, and utter expressions of
unmeaning passion, to which I gave a meaning naturally suggested
by the romantic turn of my thoughts. His stay in the country was
short; his manners did not entirely please me; but, when he left
us, the colouring of my picture became more vivid--Whither did not
my imagination lead me? In short, I fancied myself in love--in love
with the disinterestedness, fortitude, generosity, dignity, and
humanity, with which I had invested the hero I dubbed. A circumstance
which soon after occurred, rendered all these virtues palpable.
[The incident is perhaps worth relating on other accounts, and
therefore I shall describe it distinctly.]
"I had a great affection for my nurse, old Mary, for whom I
used often to work, to spare her eyes. Mary had a younger sister,
married to a sailor, while she was suckling me; for my mother only
suckled my eldest brother, which might be the cause of her
extraordinary partiality. Peggy, Mary's sister, lived with her,
till her husband, becoming a mate in a West-Indian trader, got a
little before-hand in the world. He wrote to his wife from the
first port in the Channel, after his most successful voyage, to
request her to come to London to meet him; he even wished her to
determine on living there for the future, to save him the trouble
of coming to her the moment he came on shore; and to turn a penny
by keeping a green-stall. It was too much to set out on a journey
the moment he had finished a voyage, and fifty miles by land,
was worse than a thousand leagues by sea.
"She packed up her alls, and came to London--but did not meet
honest Daniel. A common misfortune prevented her, and the poor
are bound to suffer for the good of their country--he was pressed
in the river--and never came on shore.
"Peggy was miserable in London, not knowing, as she said, 'the
face of any living soul.' Besides, her imagination had been employed,
anticipating a month or six weeks' happiness with her husband.
Daniel was to have gone with her to Sadler's Wells, and Westminster
Abbey, and to many sights, which he knew she never heard of in the
country. Peggy too was thrifty, and how could she manage to put
his plan in execution alone? He had acquaintance; but she did not
know the very name of their places of abode. His letters were made
up of--How do you does, and God bless yous,--information was reserved
for the hour of meeting.
"She too had her portion of information, near at heart. Molly
and Jacky were grown such little darlings, she was almost angry
that daddy did not see their tricks. She had not half the pleasure
she should have had from their prattle, could she have recounted
to him each night the pretty speeches of the day. Some stories,
however, were stored up--and Jacky could say papa with such a sweet
voice, it must delight his heart. Yet when she came, and found no
Daniel to greet her, when Jacky called papa, she wept, bidding 'God
bless his innocent soul, that did not know what sorrow was.'--
But more sorrow was in store for Peggy, innocent as she was.--
Daniel was killed in the first engagement, and then the papa
was agony, sounding to the heart.
"She had lived sparingly on his wages, while there was any
hope of his return; but, that gone, she returned with a breaking
heart to the country, to a little market town, nearly three miles
from our village. She did not like to go to service, to be snubbed
about, after being her own mistress. To put her children out to
nurse was impossible: how far would her wages go? and to send them
to her husband's parish, a distant one, was to lose her husband
"I had heard all from Mary, and made my uncle furnish a little
cottage for her, to enable her to sell--so sacred was poor Daniel's
advice, now he was dead and gone a little fruit, toys and cakes.
The minding of the shop did not require her whole time, nor even
the keeping her children clean, and she loved to see them clean;
so she took in washing, and altogether made a shift to earn bread
for her children, still weeping for Daniel, when Jacky's arch looks
made her think of his father.--It was pleasant to work for her
children.--'Yes; from morning till night, could she have had a kiss
from their father, God rest his soul! Yes; had it pleased Providence
to have let him come back without a leg or an arm, it would have
been the same thing to her--for she did not love him because he
maintained them--no; she had hands of her own.'
"The country people were honest, and Peggy left her linen out
to dry very late. A recruiting party, as she supposed, passing
through, made free with a large wash; for it was all swept away,
including her own and her children's little stock.
"This was a dreadful blow; two dozen of shirts, stocks and
handkerchiefs. She gave the money which she had laid by for half
a year's rent, and promised to pay two shillings a week till all
was cleared; so she did not lose her employment. This two shillings
a week, and the buying a few necessaries for the children, drove
her so hard, that she had not a penny to pay her rent with,
when a twelvemonth's became due.
"She was now with Mary, and had just told her tale, which Mary
instantly repeated--it was intended for my ear. Many houses in
this town, producing a borough-interest, were included in the estate
purchased by Mr. Venables, and the attorney with whom my brother
lived, was appointed his agent, to collect and raise the rents.
"He demanded Peggy's, and, in spite of her intreaties, her
poor goods had been seized and sold. So that she had not, and what
was worse her children, 'for she had known sorrow enough,' a bed
to lie on. She knew that I was good-natured--right charitable,
yet not liking to ask for more than needs must, she scorned to
petition while people could any how be made to wait. But now,
should she be turned out of doors, she must expect nothing less
than to lose all her customers, and then she must beg or starve--
and what would become of her children?--'had Daniel not been pressed--
but God knows best--all this could not have happened.'
"I had two mattrasses on my bed; what did I want with two,
when such a worthy creature must lie on the ground? My mother would
be angry, but I could conceal it till my uncle came down;
and then I would tell him all the whole truth,
and if he absolved me, heaven would.
"I begged the house-maid to come up stairs with me (servants
always feel for the distresses of poverty, and so would the rich
if they knew what it was). She assisted me to tie up the mattrass;
I discovering, at the same time, that one blanket would serve me
till winter, could I persuade my sister, who slept with me, to keep
my secret. She entering in the midst of the package, I gave her
some new feathers, to silence her. We got the mattrass down the
back stairs, unperceived, and I helped to carry it, taking with me
all the money I had, and what I could borrow from my sister.
"When I got to the cottage, Peggy declared that she would not
take what I had brought secretly; but, when, with all the eager
eloquence inspired by a decided purpose, I grasped her hand with
weeping eyes, assuring her that my uncle would screen me from blame,
when he was once more in the country, describing, at the same time,
what she would suffer in parting with her children, after keeping
them so long from being thrown on the parish,
she reluctantly consented.
"My project of usefulness ended not here; I determined to
speak to the attorney; he frequently paid me compliments. His
character did not intimidate me; but, imagining that Peggy must be
mistaken, and that no man could turn a deaf ear to such a tale of
complicated distress, I determined to walk to the town with Mary
the next morning, and request him to wait for the rent, and keep
my secret, till my uncle's return.
"My repose was sweet; and, waking with the first dawn of day,
I bounded to Mary's cottage. What charms do not a light heart
spread over nature! Every bird that twittered in a bush, every
flower that enlivened the hedge, seemed placed there to awaken me
to rapture--yes; to rapture. The present moment was full fraught
with happiness; and on futurity I bestowed not a thought, excepting
to anticipate my success with the attorney.
"This man of the world, with rosy face and simpering features,
received me politely, nay kindly; listened with complacency to my
remonstrances, though he scarcely heeded Mary's tears. I did not
then suspect, that my eloquence was in my complexion, the blush of
seventeen, or that, in a world where humanity to women is the
characteristic of advancing civilization, the beauty of a young
girl was so much more interesting than the distress of an old one.
Pressing my hand, he promised to let Peggy remain in the house as
long as I wished.--I more than returned the pressure--I was so
grateful and so happy. Emboldened by my innocent warmth, he then
kissed me--and I did not draw back--I took it for a kiss of charity.
"Gay as a lark, I went to dine at Mr. Venables'. I had
previously obtained five shillings from my father, towards re-clothing
the poor children of my care, and prevailed on my mother to take
one of the girls into the house, whom I determined to teach to work
"After dinner, when the younger part of the circle retired to
the music room, I recounted with energy my tale; that is, I mentioned
Peggy's distress, without hinting at the steps I had taken to
relieve her. Miss Venables gave me half-a-crown; the heir five
shillings; but George sat unmoved. I was cruelly distressed by
the disappointment--I scarcely could remain on my chair; and, could
I have got out of the room unperceived, I should have flown home,
as if to run away from myself. After several vain attempts to
rise, I leaned my head against the marble chimney-piece, and gazing
on the evergreens that filled the fire-place, moralized on the
vanity of human expectations; regardless of the company. I was
roused by a gentle tap on my shoulder from behind Charlotte's chair.
I turned my head, and George slid a guinea into my hand, putting
his finger to his mouth, to enjoin me silence.
"What a revolution took place, not only in my train of thoughts,
but feelings! I trembled with emotion--now, indeed, I was in love.
Such delicacy too, to enhance his benevolence! I felt in my pocket
every five minutes, only to feel the guinea; and its magic touch
invested my hero with more than mortal beauty. My fancy had found
a basis to erect its model of perfection on; and quickly went to
work, with all the happy credulity of youth, to consider that heart
as devoted to virtue, which had only obeyed a virtuous impulse.
The bitter experience was yet to come, that has taught me how very
distinct are the principles of virtue, from the casual feelings
from which they germinate.
"I HAVE perhaps dwelt too long on a circumstance, which is only
importance as it marks the progress of a deception that has been
so fatal to my peace; and introduces to your notice a poor girl,
whom, intending to serve, I led to ruin. Still it is probable that
I was not entirely the victim of mistake; and that your father,
gradually fashioned by the world, did not quickly become what I
hesitate to call him--out of respect to my daughter.
"But, to hasten to the more busy scenes of my life. Mr.
Venables and my mother died the same summer; and, wholly engrossed
by my attention to her, I thought of little else. The neglect of
her darling, my brother Robert, had a violent effect on her weakened
mind; for, though boys may be reckoned the pillars of the house
without doors, girls are often the only comfort within. They but
too frequently waste their health and spirits attending a dying
parent, who leaves them in comparative poverty. After closing,
with filial piety, a father's eyes, they are chased from the paternal
roof, to make room for the first-born, the son, who is to carry
the empty family-name down to posterity; though, occupied with
his own pleasures, he scarcely thought of discharging, in the
decline of his parent's life, the debt contracted in his childhood.
My mother's conduct led me to make these reflections. Great as
was the fatigue I endured, and the affection my unceasing solicitude
evinced, of which my mother seemed perfectly sensible, still, when
my brother, whom I could hardly persuade to remain a quarter of an
hour in her chamber, was with her alone, a short time before
her death, she gave him a little hoard, which she had been
some years accumulating.
"During my mother's illness, I was obliged to manage my father's
temper, who, from the lingering nature of her malady, began to
imagine that it was merely fancy. At this period, an artful kind
of upper servant attracted my father's attention, and the neighbours
made many remarks on the finery, not honestly got, exhibited at
evening service. But I was too much occupied with my mother to
observe any change in her dress or behaviour, or to listen to
the whisper of scandal.
"I shall not dwell on the death-bed scene, lively as is the
remembrance, or on the emotion produced by the last grasp of my
mother's cold hand; when blessing me, she added, 'A little patience,
and all will be over!' Ah! my child, how often have those words
rung mournfully in my ears--and I have exclaimed--'A little more
patience, and I too shall be at rest!'
"My father was violently affected by her death, recollected
instances of his unkindness, and wept like a child.
"My mother had solemnly recommended my sisters to my care,
and bid me be a mother to them. They, indeed, became more dear to
me as they became more forlorn; for, during my mother's illness,
I discovered the ruined state of my father's circumstances, and
that he had only been able to keep up appearances, by the sums
which he borrowed of my uncle.
"My father's grief, and consequent tenderness to his children,
quickly abated, the house grew still more gloomy or riotous; and
my refuge from care was again at Mr. Venables'; the young 'squire
having taken his father's place, and allowing, for the present,
his sister to preside at his table. George, though dissatisfied
with his portion of the fortune, which had till lately been all in
trade, visited the family as usual. He was now full of speculations
in trade, and his brow became clouded by care. He seemed to relax
in his attention to me, when the presence of my uncle gave a new
turn to his behaviour. I was too unsuspecting, too disinterested,
to trace these changes to their source.
My home every day became more and more disagreeable to me; my
liberty was unnecessarily abridged, and my books, on the pretext
that they made me idle, taken from me. My father's mistress was
with child, and he, doating on her, allowed or overlooked her vulgar
manner of tyrannizing over us. I was indignant, especially when I
saw her endeavouring to attract, shall I say seduce? my younger
brother. By allowing women but one way of rising in the world,
the fostering the libertinism of men, society makes monsters of
them, and then their ignoble vices are brought forward as a proof
of inferiority of intellect.
The wearisomeness of my situation can scarcely be described.
Though my life had not passed in the most even tenour with my
mother, it was paradise to that I was destined to endure with my
father's mistress, jealous of her illegitimate authority. My
father's former occasional tenderness, in spite of his violence of
temper, had been soothing to me; but now he only met me with reproofs
or portentous frowns. The house-keeper, as she was now termed,
was the vulgar despot of the family; and assuming the new character
of a fine lady, she could never forgive the contempt which was
sometimes visible in my countenance, when she uttered with pomposity
her bad English, or affected to be well bred.
To my uncle I ventured to open my heart; and he, with his
wonted benevolence, began to consider in what manner he could
extricate me out of my present irksome situation. In spite of his
own disappointment, or, most probably, actuated by the feelings
that had been petrified, not cooled, in all their sanguine fervour,
like a boiling torrent of lava suddenly dash ing into the sea, he
thought a marriage of mutual inclination (would envious stars permit
it) the only chance for happiness in this disastrous world. George
Venables had the reputation of being attentive to business, and my
father's example gave great weight to this circumstance; for habits
of order in business would, he conceived, extend to the regulation
of the affections in domestic life. George seldom spoke in my
uncle's company, except to utter a short, judicious question, or
to make a pertinent remark, with all due deference to his superior
judgment; so that my uncle seldom left his company without observing,
that the young man had more in him than people supposed.
In this opinion he was not singular; yet, believe me, and I
am not swayed by resentment, these speeches so justly poized, this
silent deference, when the animal spirits of other young people
were throwing off youthful ebullitions, were not the effect of
thought or humility, but sheer barrenness of mind, and want of
imagination. A colt of mettle will curvet and shew his paces.
Yes; my dear girl, these prudent young men want all the fire
necessary to ferment their faculties, and are characterized as
wise, only because they are not foolish. It is true, that George
was by no means so great a favourite of mine as during the first
year of our acquaintance; still, as he often coincided in opinion
with me, and echoed my sentiments; and having myself no other
attachment, I heard with pleasure my uncle's proposal; but thought
more of obtaining my freedom, than of my lover. But, when George,
seemingly anxious for my happiness, pressed me to quit my present
painful situation, my heart swelled with gratitude--I knew not that
my uncle had promised him five thousand pounds.
Had this truly generous man mentioned his intention to me,
I should have insisted on a thousand pounds being settled on each of
my sisters; George would have contested; I should have seen his
selfish soul; and--gracious God! have been spared the misery of
discovering, when too late, that I was united to a heartless,
unprincipled wretch. All my schemes of usefulness would not then
have been blasted. The tenderness of my heart would not have heated
my imagination with visions of the ineffable delight of happy love;
nor would the sweet duty of a mother have been so cruelly interrupted.
But I must not suffer the fortitude I have so hardly acquired,
to be undermined by unavailing regret. Let me hasten forward to
describe the turbid stream in which I had to wade--but let me
exultingly declare that it is passed--my soul holds fellowship with
him no more. He cut the Gordian knot, which my principles, mistaken
ones, respected; he dissolved the tie, the fetters rather, that
ate into my very vitals--and I should rejoice, conscious that my
mind is freed, though confined in hell itself, the only place that
even fancy can imagine more dreadful than my present abode.
These varying emotions will not allow me to proceed. I heave
sigh after sigh; yet my heart is still oppressed. For what am I
reserved? Why was I not born a man, or why was I born at all?
"I RESUME my pen to fly from thought. I was married; and we hastened
to London. I had purposed taking one of my sisters with me; for
a strong motive for marrying, was the desire of having a home at
which I could receive them, now their own grew so uncomfortable,
as not to deserve the cheering appellation. An objection was made
to her accompanying me, that appeared plausible; and I reluctantly
acquiesced. I was however willingly allowed to take with me Molly,
poor Peggy's daughter. London and preferment, are ideas commonly
associated in the country; and, as blooming as May, she bade adieu
to Peggy with weeping eyes. I did not even feel hurt at the refusal
in relation to my sister, till hearing what my uncle had done for
me, I had the simplicity to request, speaking with warmth of their
situation, that he would give them a thousand pounds a-piece, which
seemed to me but justice. He asked me, giving me a kiss, 'If I
had lost my senses?' I started back, as if I had found a wasp in
a rose-bush. I expostulated. He sneered: and the demon of discord
entered our paradise, to poison with his pestiferous breath every
"I had sometimes observed defects in my husband's understanding;
but, led astray by a prevailing opinion, that goodness of disposition
is of the first importance in the relative situations of life, in
proportion as I perceived the narrowness of his understanding,
fancy enlarged the boundary of his heart. Fatal error! How quickly
is the so much vaunted milkiness of nature turned into gall, by an
intercourse with the world, if more generous juices do not sustain
the vital source of virtue!
"One trait in my character was extreme credulity; but, when
my eyes were once opened, I saw but too clearly all I had before
overlooked. My husband was sunk in my esteem; still there are
youthful emotions, which, for a while, fill up the chasm of love
and friendship. Besides, it required some time to enable me to
see his whole character in a just light, or rather to allow it to
become fixed. While circumstances were ripening my faculties, and
cultivating my taste, commerce and gross relaxations were shutting
his against any possibility of improvement, till, by stifling
every spark of virtue in himself, he began to imagine that it
no where existed.
"Do not let me lead you astray, my child, I do not mean to
assert, that any human being is entirely incapable of feeling the
generous emotions, which are the foundation of every true principle
of virtue; but they are frequently, I fear, so feeble, that, like
the inflammable quality which more or less lurks in all bodies,
they often lie for ever dormant; the circumstances never occurring,
necessary to call them into action.
"I discovered however by chance, that, in consequence of some
losses in trade, the natural effect of his gambling desire to start
suddenly into riches, the five thousand pounds given me by my uncle,
had been paid very opportunely. This discovery, strange as you
may think the assertion, gave me pleasure; my husband's embarrassments
endeared him to me. I was glad to find an excuse for his conduct
to my sisters, and my mind became calmer.
"My uncle introduced me to some literary society; and the
theatres were a never-failing source of amusement to me. My
delighted eye followed Mrs. Siddons, when, with dignified delicacy,
she played Califta; and I involuntarily repeated after her, in the
same tone, and with a long-drawn sigh,
'Hearts like our's were pair'd--not match'd.'
"These were, at first, spontaneous emotions, though, becoming
acquainted with men of wit and polished manners, I could not
sometimes help regretting my early marriage; and that, in my haste
to escape from a temporary dependence, and expand my newly fledged
wings, in an unknown sky, I had been caught in a trap, and caged
for life. Still the novelty of London, and the attentive fondness
of my husband, for he had some personal regard for me, made several
months glide away. Yet, not forgetting the situation of my sisters,
who were still very young, I prevailed on my uncle to settle a
thousand pounds on each; and to place them in a school near town,
where I could frequently visit, as well as have them
at home with me.
"I now tried to improve my husband's taste, but we had few
subjects in common; indeed he soon appeared to have little relish
for my society, unless he was hinting to me the use he could make
of my uncle's wealth. When we had company, I was disgusted by an
ostentatious display of riches, and I have often quitted the room,
to avoid listening to exaggerated tales of money obtained
by lucky hits.
"With all my attention and affectionate interest, I perceived
that I could not become the friend or confident of my husband.
Every thing I learned relative to his affairs I gathered up by
accident; and I vainly endeavoured to establish, at our fire-side,
that social converse, which often renders people of different
characters dear to each other. Returning from the theatre, or any
amusing party, I frequently began to relate what I had seen and
highly relished; but with sullen taciturnity he soon silenced me.
I seemed therefore gradually to lose, in his society, the soul,
the energies of which had just been in action. To such a degree,
in fact, did his cold, reserved manner affect me, that, after
spending some days with him alone, I have imagined myself the most
stupid creature in the world, till the abilities of some casual
visitor convinced me that I had some dormant animation, and sentiments
above the dust in which I had been groveling. The very countenance
of my husband changed; his complexion became sallow, and all the
charms of youth were vanishing with its vivacity.
"I give you one view of the subject; but these experiments
and alterations took up the space of five years; during which
period, I had most reluctantly extorted several sums from my uncle,
to save my husband, to use his own words, from destruction.
At first it was to prevent bills being noted, to the injury of
his credit; then to bail him; and afterwards to prevent an execution
from entering the house. I began at last to conclude, that he
would have made more exertions of his own to extricate himself,
had he not relied on mine, cruel as was the task he imposed on me;
and I firmly determined that I would make use of no more pretexts.
"From the moment I pronounced this determination, indifference
on his part was changed into rudeness, or something worse.
"He now seldom dined at home, and continually returned at a
late hour, drunk, to bed. I retired to another apartment; I was
glad, I own, to escape from his; for personal intimacy without
affection, seemed, to me the most degrading, as well as the most
painful state in which a woman of any taste, not to speak of the
peculiar delicacy of fostered sensibility, could be placed. But
my husband's fondness for women was of the grossest kind, and
imagination was so wholly out of the question, as to render his
indulgences of this sort entirely promiscuous, and of the most
brutal nature. My health suffered, before my heart was entirely
estranged by the loathsome information; could I then have returned
to his sullied arms, but as a victim to the prejudices of mankind,
who have made women the property of their husbands? I discovered
even, by his conversation, when intoxicated that his favourites
were wantons of the lowest class, who could by their vulgar,
indecent mirth, which he called nature, rouse his sluggish spirits.
Meretricious ornaments and manners were necessary to attract his
attention. He seldom looked twice at a modest woman, and sat silent
in their company; and the charms of youth and beauty had not the
slightest effect on his senses, unless the possessors were initiated
in vice. His intimacy with profligate women, and his habits of
thinking, gave him a contempt for female endowments; and he would
repeat, when wine had loosed his tongue, most of the common-place
sarcasms levelled at them, by men who do not allow them to have
minds, because mind would be an impediment to gross enjoyment.
Men who are inferior to their fellow men, are always most anxious
to establish their superiority over women. But where are these
reflections leading me?
"Women who have lost their husband's affection, are justly
reproved for neglecting their persons, and not taking the same
pains to keep, as to gain a heart; but who thinks of giving the
same advice to men, though women are continually stigmatized for
being attached to fops; and from the nature of their education,
are more susceptible of disgust? Yet why a woman should be expected
to endure a sloven, with more patience than a man, and magnanimously
to govern herself, I cannot conceive; unless it be supposed arrogant
in her to look for respect as well as a maintenance. It is not
easy to be pleased, because, after promising to love, in different
circumstances, we are told that it is our duty. I cannot, I am
sure (though, when attending the sick, I never felt disgust) forget
my own sensations, when rising with health and spirit, and after
scenting the sweet morning, I have met my husband at the breakfast
table. The active attention I had been giving to domestic
regulations, which were generally settled before he rose, or a
walk, gave a glow to my countenance, that contrasted with his
squallid appearance. The squeamishness of stomach alone, produced
by the last night's intemperance, which he took no pains to conceal,
destroyed my appetite. I think I now see him lolling in an arm-chair,
in a dirty powdering gown, soiled linen, ungartered stockings, and
tangled hair, yawning and stretching himself. The newspaper was
immediately called for, if not brought in on the tea-board, from
which he would scarcely lift his eyes while I poured out the tea,
excepting to ask for some brandy to put into it, or to declare that
he could not eat. In answer to any question, in his best humour,
it was a drawling 'What do you say, child?' But if I demanded money
for the house expences, which I put off till the last moment, his
customary reply, often prefaced with an oath, was, 'Do you think
me, madam, made of money?'--The butcher, the baker, must wait; and,
what was worse, I was often obliged to witness his surly dismission
of tradesmen, who were in want of their money, and whom I sometimes
paid with the presents my uncle gave me for my own use.
At this juncture my father's mistress, by terrifying his
conscience, prevailed on him to marry her; he was already become
a methodist; and my brother, who now practised for himself, had
discovered a flaw in the settlement made on my mother's children,
which set it aside, and he allowed my father, whose distress made
him submit to any thing, a tithe of his own, or rather our fortune.
My sisters had left school, but were unable to endure home,
which my father's wife rendered as disagreeable as possible, to
get rid of girls whom she regarded as spies on her conduct. They
were accomplished, yet you can (may you never be reduced to the
same destitute state!) scarcely conceive the trouble I had to place
them in the situation of governesses, the only one in which even
a well-educated woman, with more than ordinary talents, can struggle
for a subsistence; and even this is a dependence next to menial.
Is it then surprising, that so many forlorn women, with human
passions and feelings, take refuge in infamy? Alone in large
mansions, I say alone, because they had no companions with whom
they could converse on equal terms, or from whom they could expect
the endearments of affection, they grew melancholy, and the sound
of joy made them sad; and the youngest, having a more delicate
frame, fell into a decline. It was with great difficulty that I,
who now almost supported the house by loans from my uncle, could
prevail on the _master_ of it, to allow her a room to die in.
I watched her sick bed for some months, and then closed her eyes,
gentle spirit! for ever. She was pretty, with very engaging manners;
yet had never an opportunity to marry, excepting to a very old man.
She had abilities sufficient to have shone in any profession, had
there been any professions for women, though she shrunk at the name
of milliner or mantua-maker as degrading to a gentlewoman. I would
not term this feeling false pride to any one but you, my child,
whom I fondly hope to see (yes; I will indulge the hope for a
moment!) possessed of that energy of character which gives dignity
to any station; and with that clear, firm spirit that will enable
you to choose a situation for yourself, or submit to be classed in
the lowest, if it be the only one in which you can be the mistress
of your own actions.
"Soon after the death of my sister, an incident occurred, to
prove to me that the heart of a libertine is dead to natural
affection; and to convince me, that the being who has appeared all
tenderness, to gratify a selfish passion, is as regardless of the
innocent fruit of it, as of the object, when the fit is over.
I had casually observed an old, meanlooking woman, who called on my
husband every two or three months to receive some money. One day
entering the passage of his little counting-house, as she was going
out, I heard her say, 'The child is very weak; she cannot live
long, she will soon die out of your way, so you need not grudge
her a little physic.'
"'So much the better,' he replied,' and pray mind your own
business, good woman.'
"I was struck by his unfeeling, inhuman tone of voice, and
drew back, determined when the woman came again, to try to speak
to her, not out of curiosity, I had heard enough, but with the hope
of being useful to a poor, outcast girl.
"A month or two elapsed before I saw this woman again; and
then she had a child in her hand that tottered along, scarcely able
to sustain her own weight. They were going away, to return at the
hour Mr. Venables was expected; he was now from home. I desired
the woman to walk into the parlour. She hesitated, yet obeyed.
I assured her that I should not mention to my husband (the word
seemed to weigh on my respiration), that I had seen her, or his
child. The woman stared at me with astonishment; and I turned my
eyes on the squalid object [that accompanied her.] She could hardly
support herself, her complexion was sallow, and her eyes inflamed,
with an indescribable look of cunning, mixed with the wrinkles
produced by the peevishness of pain.
"Poor child!' I exclaimed. 'Ah! you may well say poor child,'
replied the woman. 'I brought her here to see whether he would
have the heart to look at her, and not get some advice. I do not
know what they deserve who nursed her. Why, her legs bent under
her like a bow when she came to me, and she has never been well
since; but, if they were no better paid than I am, it is not to be
wondered at, sure enough.'
"On further enquiry I was informed, that this miserable
spectacle was the daughter of a servant, a country girl, who caught
Mr. Venables' eye, and whom he seduced. On his marriage he sent
her away, her situation being too visible. After her delivery, she
was thrown on the town; and died in an hospital within the year.
The babe was sent to a parish-nurse, and afterwards to this woman,
who did not seem much better; but what was to be expected from such
a close bargain? She was only paid three shillings a week
for board and washing.
"The woman begged me to give her some old clothes for the
child, assuring me, that she was almost afraid to ask master for
money to buy even a pair of shoes.
"I grew sick at heart. And, fearing Mr. Venables might enter,
and oblige me to express my abhorrence, I hastily enquired where
she lived, promised to pay her two shillings a week more, and to
call on her in a day or two; putting a trifle into her hand as a
proof of my good intention.
"If the state of this child affected me, what were my feelings
at a discovery I made respecting Peggy--?*
* The manuscript is imperfect here. An episode seems
to have been intended, which was never committed to paper.
EDITOR. [Godwin's note]
"MY FATHER'S situation was now so distressing, that I prevailed
my uncle to accompany me to visit him; and to lend me his assistance,
to prevent the whole property of the family from becoming the prey
of my brother's rapacity; for, to extricate himself out of present
difficulties, my father was totally regardless of futurity. I took
down with me some presents for my step-mother; it did not require
an effort for me to treat her with civility, or to forget the past.
"This was the first time I had visited my native village,
since my marriage. But with what different emotions did I return
from the busy world, with a heavy weight of experience benumbing
my imagination, to scenes, that whispered recollections of joy and
hope most eloquently to my heart! The first scent of the wild
flowers from the heath, thrilled through my veins, awakening every
sense to pleasure. The icy hand of despair seemed to be removed
from my bosom; and--forgetting my husband--the nurtured visions of
a romantic mind, bursting on me with all their original wildness
and gay exuberance, were again hailed as sweet realities. I forgot,
with equal facility, that I ever felt sorrow, or knew care in the
country; while a transient rainbow stole athwart the cloudy sky of
despondency. The picturesque form of several favourite trees, and
the porches of rude cottages, with their smiling hedges, were
recognized with the gladsome playfulness of childish vivacity.
I could have kissed the chickens that pecked on the common;
and longed to pat the cows, and frolic with the dogs that sported
on it. I gazed with delight on the windmill, and thought it lucky
that it should be in motion, at the moment I passed by; and entering
the dear green lane, which led directly to the village, the sound of
the well-known rookery gave that sentimental tinge to the varying
sensations of my active soul, which only served to heighten the
lustre of the luxuriant scenery. But, spying, as I advanced, the
spire, peeping over the withered tops of the aged elms that composed
the rookery, my thoughts flew immediately to the churchyard, and
tears of affection, such was the effect of my imagination, bedewed
my mother's grave! Sorrow gave place to devotional feelings.
I wandered through the church in fancy, as I used sometimes to do on
a Saturday evening. I recollected with what fervour I addressed
the God of my youth: and once more with rapturous love looked above
my sorrows to the Father of nature. I pause--feeling forcibly all
the emotions I am describing; and (reminded, as I register my
sorrows, of the sublime calm I have felt, when in some tremendous
solitude, my soul rested on itself, and seemed to fill the universe)
I insensibly breathe soft, hushing every wayward emotion, as if
fearing to sully with a sigh, a contentment so extatic.
"Having settled my father's affairs, and, by my exertions in
his favour, made my brother my sworn foe, I returned to London.
My husband's conduct was now changed; I had during my absence,
received several affectionate, penitential letters from him; and
he seemed on my arrival, to wish by his behaviour to prove his
sincerity. I could not then conceive why he acted thus; and, when
the suspicion darted into my head, that it might arise from observing
my increasing influence with my uncle, I almost despised myself
for imagining that such a degree of debasing selfishness
"He became, unaccountable as was the change, tender and
attentive; and, attacking my weak side, made a confession of his
follies, and lamented the embarrassments in which I, who merited
a far different fate, might be involved. He besought me to aid
him with my counsel, praised my understanding, and appealed to the
tenderness of my heart.
"This conduct only inspired me with compassion. I wished to
be his friend; but love had spread his rosy pinions and fled far,
far away; and had not (like some exquisite perfumes, the fine spirit
of which is continually mingling with the air) left a fragrance
behind, to mark where he had shook his wings. My husband's renewed
caresses then became hateful to me; his brutality was tolerable,
compared to his distasteful fondness. Still, compassion, and the
fear of insulting his supposed feelings, by a want of sympathy,
made me dissemble, and do violence to my delicacy. What a task!
"Those who support a system of what I term false refinement,
and will not allow great part of love in the female, as well as
male breast, to spring in some respects involuntarily, may not
admit that charms are as necessary to feed the passion, as virtues
to convert the mellowing spirit into friendship. To such observers
I have nothing to say, any more than to the moralists, who insist
that women ought to, and can love their husbands, because it is
their duty. To you, my child, I may add, with a heart tremblingly
alive to your future conduct, some observations, dictated by my
present feelings, on calmly reviewing this period of my life. When
novelists or moralists praise as a virtue, a woman's coldness of
constitution, and want of passion; and make her yield to the ardour
of her lover out of sheer compassion, or to promote a frigid plan
of future comfort, I am disgusted. They may be good women, in the
ordinary acceptation of the phrase, and do no harm; but they appear
to me not to have those 'finely fashioned nerves,' which render
the senses exquisite. They may possess tenderness; but they want
that fire of the imagination, which produces _active_ sensibility,
and _positive_ _virtue_. How does the woman deserve to be
characterized, who marries one man, with a heart and imagination
devoted to another? Is she not an object of pity or contempt, when
thus sacrilegiously violating the purity of her own feelings? Nay,
it is as indelicate, when she is indifferent, unless she be
constitutionally insensible; then indeed it is a mere affair of
barter; and I have nothing to do with the secrets of trade. Yes;
eagerly as I wish you to possess true rectitude of mind, and purity
of affection, I must insist that a heartless conduct is the contrary
of virtuous. Truth is the only basis of virtue; and we cannot,
without depraving our minds, endeavour to please a lover or husband,
but in proportion as he pleases us. Men, more effectually to
enslave us, may inculcate this partial morality, and lose sight of
virtue in subdividing it into the duties of particular stations;
but let us not blush for nature without a cause!
"After these remarks, I am ashamed to own, that I was pregnant.
The greatest sacrifice of my principles in my whole life, was the
allowing my husband again to be familiar with my person, though to
this cruel act of self-denial, when I wished the earth to open and
swallow me, you owe your birth; and I the unutterable pleasure of
being a mother. There was something of delicacy in my husband's
bridal attentions; but now his tainted breath, pimpled face, and
blood-shot eyes, were not more repugnant to my senses, than his
gross manners, and loveless familiarity to my taste.
"A man would only be expected to maintain; yes, barely grant
a subsistence, to a woman rendered odious by habitual intoxication;
but who would expect him, or think it possible to love her? And
unless 'youth, and genial years were flown,' it would be thought
equally unreasonable to insist, [under penalty of] forfeiting almost
every thing reckoned valuable in life, that he should not love
another: whilst woman, weak in reason, impotent in will, is required
to moralize, sentimentalize herself to stone, and pine her life
away, labouring to reform her embruted mate. He may even spend in
dissipation, and intemperance, the very intemperance which renders
him so hateful, her property, and by stinting her expences, not
permit her to beguile in society, a wearisome, joyless life; for
over their mutual fortune she has no power, it must all pass through
his hand. And if she be a mother, and in the present state of
women, it is a great misfortune to be prevented from discharging
the duties, and cultivating the affections of one, what has she
not to endure?--But I have suffered the tenderness of one to lead
me into reflections that I did not think of making, to interrupt
my narrative--yet the full heart will overflow.
"Mr. Venables' embarrassments did not now endear him to me;
still, anxious to befriend him, I endeavoured to prevail on him to
retrench his expences; but he had always some plausible excuse to
give, to justify his not following my advice. Humanity, compassion,
and the interest produced by a habit of living together, made me
try to relieve, and sympathize with him; but, when I recollected
that I was bound to live with such a being for ever--my heart died
within me; my desire of improvement became languid, and baleful,
corroding melancholy took possession of my soul. Marriage had
bastilled me for life. I discovered in myself a capacity for the
enjoyment of the various pleasures existence affords; yet, fettered
by the partial laws of society, this fair globe was to me
an universal blank.
"When I exhorted my husband to economy, I referred to himself.
I was obliged to practise the most rigid, or contract debts, which
I had too much reason to fear would never be paid. I despised this
paltry privilege of a wife, which can only be of use to the vicious
or inconsiderate, and determined not to increase the torrent that
was bearing him down. I was then ignorant of the extent of his
fraudulent speculations, whom I was bound to honour and obey.
"A woman neglected by her husband, or whose manners form a
striking contrast with his, will always have men on the watch to
soothe and flatter her. Besides, the forlorn state of a neglected
woman, not destitute of personal charms, is particularly interesting,
and rouses that species of pity, which is so near akin, it easily
slides into love. A man of feeling thinks not of seducing, he is
himself seduced by all the noblest emotions of his soul. He figures
to himself all the sacrifices a woman of sensibility must make,
and every situation in which his imagination places her, touches
his heart, and fires his passions. Longing to take to his bosom
the shorn lamb, and bid the drooping buds of hope revive, benevolence
changes into passion: and should he then discover that he is beloved,
honour binds him fast, though foreseeing that he may afterwards be
obliged to pay severe damages to the man, who never appeared to
value his wife's society, till he found that there was a chance of
his being indemnified for the loss of it.
"Such are the partial laws enacted by men; for, only to lay
a stress on the dependent state of a woman in the grand question
of the comforts arising from the possession of property, she is
[even in this article] much more injured by the loss of the husband's
affection, than he by that of his wife; yet where is she, condemned
to the solitude of a deserted home, to look for a compensation from
the woman, who seduces him from her? She cannot drive an unfaithful
husband from his house, nor separate, or tear, his children from
him, however culpable he may be; and he, still the master of his
own fate, enjoys the smiles of a world, that would brand her with
infamy, did she, seeking consolation, venture to retaliate.
"These remarks are not dictated by experience; but merely by
the compassion I feel for many amiable women, the _outlaws_ of the
world. For myself, never encouraging any of the advances that were
made to me, my lovers dropped off like the untimely shoots of
spring. I did not even coquet with them; because I found, on
examining myself, I could not coquet with a man without loving him
a little; and I perceived that I should not be able to stop at the
line of what are termed _innocent_ _freedoms_, did I suffer any.
My reserve was then the consequence of delicacy. Freedom of conduct
has emancipated many women's minds; but my conduct has most rigidly
been governed by my principles, till the improvement of my
understanding has enabled me to discern the fallacy of prejudices
at war with nature and reason.
"Shortly after the change I have mentioned in my husband's
conduct, my uncle was compelled by his declining health, to seek
the succour of a milder climate, and embark for Lisbon. He left
his will in the hands of a friend, an eminent solicitor; he had
previously questioned me relative to my situation and state of
mind, and declared very freely, that he could place no reliance on
the stability of my husband's professions. He had been deceived
in the unfolding of his character; he now thought it fixed in a
train of actions that would inevitably lead to ruin and disgrace.
"The evening before his departure, which we spent alone
together, he folded me to his heart, uttering the endearing
appellation of 'child.'--My more than father! why was I not permitted
to perform the last duties of one, and smooth the pillow of death?
He seemed by his manner to be convinced that he should never see
me more; yet requested me, most earnestly, to come to him, should
I be obliged to leave my husband. He had before expressed his
sorrow at hearing of my pregnancy, having determined to prevail on
me to accompany him, till I informed him of that circumstance. He
expressed himself unfeignedly sorry that any new tie should bind
me to a man whom he thought so incapable of estimating my value;
such was the kind language of affection.
"I must repeat his own words; they made an indelible impression
on my mind:
"'The marriage state is certainly that in which women, generally
speaking, can be most useful; but I am far from thinking that a
woman, once married, ought to consider the engagement as indissoluble
(especially if there be no children to reward her for sacrificing
her feelings) in case her husband merits neither her love, nor
esteem. Esteem will often supply the place of love; and prevent
a woman from being wretched, though it may not make her happy.
The magnitude of a sacrifice ought always to bear some proportion
to the utility in view; and for a woman to live with a man, for
whom she can cherish neither affection nor esteem, or even be of
any use to him, excepting in the light of a house-keeper, is an
abjectness of condition, the enduring of which no concurrence of
circumstances can ever make a duty in the sight of God or just men.
If indeed she submits to it merely to be maintained in idleness,
she has no right to complain bitterly of her fate; or to act,
as a person of independent character might, as if she had
a title to disregard general rules.
"But the misfortune is, that many women only submit in
appearance, and forfeit their own respect to secure their reputation
in the world. The situation of a woman separated from her husband,
is undoubtedly very different from that of a man who has left his
wife. He, with lordly dignity, has shaken of a clog; and the
allowing her food and raiment, is thought sufficient to secure his
reputation from taint. And, should she have been inconsiderate,
he will be celebrated for his generosity and forbearance. Such is
the respect paid to the master-key of property! A woman, on the
contrary, resigning what is termed her natural protector (though
he never was so, but in name) is despised and shunned, for asserting
the independence of mind distinctive of a rational being, and
spurning at slavery.'
"During the remainder of the evening, my uncle's tenderness
led him frequently to revert to the subject, and utter, with
increasing warmth, sentiments to the same purport. At length it
was necessary to say 'Farewell!'--and we parted--gracious God! to
meet no more.
"A GENTLEMAN of large fortune and of polished manners, had lately
visited very frequently at our house, and treated me, if possible,
with more respect than Mr. Venables paid him; my pregnancy was not
yet visible, his society was a great relief to me, as I had for
some time past, to avoid expence, confined myself very much at
home. I ever disdained unnecessary, perhaps even prudent
concealments; and my husband, with great ease, discovered the amount
of my uncle's parting present. A copy of a writ was the stale
pretext to extort it from me; and I had soon reason to believe that
it was fabricated for the purpose. I acknowledge my folly in thus
suffering myself to be continually imposed on. I had adhered to
my resolution not to apply to my uncle, on the part of my husband,
any more; yet, when I had received a sum sufficient to supply my
own wants, and to enable me to pursue a plan I had in view, to
settle my younger brother in a respectable employment, I allowed
myself to be duped by Mr. Venables' shallow pretences, and
"Thus did he pillage me and my family, thus frustrate all my
plans of usefulness. Yet this was the man I was bound to respect
and esteem: as if respect and esteem depended on an arbitrary will
of our own! But a wife being as much a man's property as his horse,
or his ass, she has nothing she can call her own. He may use any
means to get at what the law considers as his, the moment his wife
is in possession of it, even to the forcing of a lock, as Mr.
Venables did, to search for notes in my writing-desk--and all this
is done with a show of equity, because, forsooth, he is responsible
for her maintenance.
"The tender mother cannot _lawfully_ snatch from the gripe of
the gambling spendthrift, or beastly drunkard, unmindful of his
offspring, the fortune which falls to her by chance; or (so flagrant
is the injustice) what she earns by her own exertions. No; he can
rob her with impunity, even to waste publicly on a courtezan; and
the laws of her country--if women have a country--afford her no
protection or redress from the oppressor, unless she have the plea
of bodily fear; yet how many ways are there of goading the soul
almost to madness, equally unmanly, though not so mean? When such
laws were framed, should not impartial lawgivers have first decreed,
in the style of a great assembly, who recognized the existence of
an _etre_ _supreme_, to fix the national belief, that the husband
should always be wiser and more virtuous than his wife, in order
to entitle him, with a show of justice, to keep this idiot, or
perpetual minor, for ever in bondage. But I must have done--
on this subject, my indignation continually runs away with me.
"The company of the gentleman I have already mentioned, who
had a general acquaintance with literature and subjects of taste,
was grateful to me; my countenance brightened up as he approached,
and I unaffectedly expressed the pleasure I felt. The amusement
his conversation afforded me, made it easy to comply with
my husband's request, to endeavour to render our house
agreeable to him.
"His attentions became more pointed; but, as I was not of the
number of women, whose virtue, as it is termed, immediately takes
alarm, I endeavoured, rather by raillery than serious expostulation,
to give a different turn to his conversation. He assumed a new mode
of attack, and I was, for a while, the dupe of his pretended friendship.
"I had, merely in the style of _badinage_, boasted of my
conquest, and repeated his lover-like compliments to my husband.
But he begged me, for God's sake, not to affront his friend, or I
should destroy all his projects, and be his ruin. Had I had more
affection for my husband, I should have expressed my contempt of
this time-serving politeness: now I imagined that I only felt pity;
yet it would have puzzled a casuist to point out in what the exact
"This friend began now, in confidence, to discover to me the
real state of my husband's affairs. 'Necessity,' said Mr. S----;
why should I reveal his name? for he affected to palliate the
conduct he could not excuse, 'had led him to take such steps, by
accommodation bills, buying goods on credit, to sell them for ready
money, and similar transactions, that his character in the commercial
world was gone. He was considered,' he added, lowering his voice,
'on 'Change as a swindler.'
"I felt at that moment the first maternal pang. Aware of the
evils my sex have to struggle with, I still wished, for my own
consolation, to be the mother of a daughter; and I could not bear
to think, that the _sins_ of her father's entailed disgrace, should
be added to the ills to which woman is heir.
"So completely was I deceived by these shows of friendship
(nay, I believe, according to his interpretation, Mr. S---- really
was my friend) that I began to consult him respecting the best mode
of retrieving my husband's character: it is the good name of a
woman only that sets to rise no more. I knew not that he had been
drawn into a whirlpool, out of which he had not the energy to
attempt to escape. He seemed indeed destitute of the power of
employing his faculties in any regular pursuit. His principles of
action were so loose, and his mind so uncultivated, that every
thing like order appeared to him in the shape of restraint; and,
like men in the savage state, he required the strong stimulus of
hope or fear, produced by wild speculations, in which the interests
of others went for nothing, to keep his spirits awake. He one time
professed patriotism, but he knew not what it was to feel honest
indignation; and pretended to be an advocate for liberty, when,
with as little affection for the human race as for individuals, he
thought of nothing but his own gratification. He was just such a
citizen, as a father. The sums he adroitly obtained by a violation
of the laws of his country, as well as those of humanity, he would
allow a mistress to squander; though she was, with the same _sang_
_froid_, consigned, as were his children, to poverty, when another
proved more attractive.
"On various pretences, his friend continued to visit me; and,
observing my want of money, he tried to induce me to accept of
pecuniary aid; but this offer I absolutely rejected, though it was
made with such delicacy, I could not be displeased.
"One day he came, as I thought accidentally, to dinner. My
husband was very much engaged in business, and quitted the room
soon after the cloth was removed. We conversed as usual, till
confidential advice led again to love. I was extremely mortified.
I had a sincere regard for him, and hoped that he had an equal
friendship for me. I therefore began mildly to expostulate with
him. This gentleness he mistook for coy encouragement; and he
would not be diverted from the subject. Perceiving his mistake, I
seriously asked him how, using such language to me, he could profess
to be my husband's friend? A significant sneer excited my curiosity,
and he, supposing this to be my only scruple, took a letter
deliberately out of his pocket, saying, 'Your husband's honour is
not inflexible. How could you, with your discernment, think it so?
Why, he left the room this very day on purpose to give me an
opportunity to explain myself; _he_ thought me too timid--too tardy.
"I snatched the letter with indescribable emotion. The purport
of it was to invite him to dinner, and to ridicule his chivalrous
respect for me. He assured him, 'that every woman had her price,
and, with gross indecency, hinted, that he should be glad to have
the duty of a husband taken off his hands. These he termed _liberal_
_sentiments_. He advised him not to shock my romantic notions,
but to attack my credulous generosity, and weak pity; and concluded
with requesting him to lend him five hundred pounds for a month or
six weeks.' I read this letter twice over; and the firm purpose it
inspired, calmed the rising tumult of my soul. I rose deliberately,
requested Mr. S---- to wait a moment, and instantly going into the
counting-house, desired Mr. Venables to return with me to the
"He laid down his pen, and entered with me, without observing
any change in my countenance. I shut the door, and, giving him
the letter, simply asked, 'whether he wrote it, or was it a forgery?'
"Nothing could equal his confusion. His friend's eye met his,
and he muttered something about a joke--But I interrupted him--
'It is sufficient--We part for ever.'
"I continued, with solemnity, 'I have borne with your tyranny
and infidelities. I disdain to utter what I have borne with.
I thought you unprincipled, but not so decidedly vicious. I formed
a tie, in the sight of heaven--I have held it sacred; even when
men, more conformable to my taste, have made me feel--I despise
all subterfuge!--that I was not dead to love. Neglected by you,
I have resolutely stifled the enticing emotions, and respected the
plighted faith you outraged. And you dare now to insult me,
by selling me to prostitution!--Yes--equally lost to delicacy and
principle--you dared sacrilegiously to barter the honour of the
mother of your child.'
"Then, turning to Mr. S----, I added, 'I call on you, Sir, to
witness,' and I lifted my hands and eyes to heaven, 'that, as
solemnly as I took his name, I now abjure it,' I pulled off my
ring, and put it on the table; 'and that I mean immediately to quit
his house, never to enter it more. I will provide for myself and
child. I leave him as free as I am determined to be myself--
he shall be answerable for no debts of mine.'
"Astonishment closed their lips, till Mr. Venables, gently
pushing his friend, with a forced smile, out of the room, nature
for a moment prevailed, and, appearing like himself, he turned
round, burning with rage, to me: but there was no terror in the
frown, excepting when contrasted with the malignant smile which
preceded it. He bade me 'leave the house at my peril;
told me he despised my threats; I had no resource; I could not
swear the peace against him!--I was not afraid of my life!--
he had never struck me!'
"He threw the letter in the fire, which I had incautiously
left in his hands; and, quitting the room, locked the door on me.
"When left alone, I was a moment or two before I could recollect
myself--One scene had succeeded another with such rapidity, I almost
doubted whether I was reflecting on a real event. 'Was it possible?
Was I, indeed, free?'--Yes; free I termed myself, when I decidedly
perceived the conduct I ought to adopt. How had I panted for
liberty--liberty, that I would have purchased at any price, but
that of my own esteem! I rose, and shook myself; opened the window,
and methought the air never smelled so sweet. The face of heaven
grew fairer as I viewed it, and the clouds seemed to flit away
obedient to my wishes, to give my soul room to expand. I was all
soul, and (wild as it may appear) felt as if I could have dissolved
in the soft balmy gale that kissed my cheek, or have glided below
the horizon on the glowing, descending beams. A seraphic satisfaction
animated, without agitating my spirits; and my imagination collected,
in visions sublimely terrible, or soothingly beautiful, an immense
variety of the endless images, which nature affords, and fancy
combines, of the grand and fair. The lustre of these bright
picturesque sketches faded with the setting sun; but I was still
alive to the calm delight they had diffused through my heart.
"There may be advocates for matrimonial obedience, who, making
a distinction between the duty of a wife and of a human being, may
blame my conduct.--To them I write not--my feelings are not for
them to analyze; and may you, my child, never be able to ascertain,
by heart-rending experience, what your mother felt before the
present emancipation of her mind!
"I began to write a letter to my father, after closing one to
my uncle; not to ask advice, but to signify my determination; when
I was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Venables. His manner was
changed. His views on my uncle's fortune made him averse to my
quitting his house, or he would, I am convinced, have been glad to
have shaken off even the slight restraint my presence imposed on
him; the restraint of showing me some respect. So far from having
an affection for me, he really hated me, because he was convinced
that I must despise him.
"He told me, that 'As I now had had time to cool and reflect,
he did not doubt but that my prudence, and nice sense of propriety,
would lead me to overlook what was passed.'
"'Reflection,' I replied, 'had only confirmed my purpose, and
no power on earth could divert me from it.'
"Endeavouring to assume a soothing voice and look, when he
would willingly have tortured me, to force me to feel his power,
his countenance had an infernal expression, when he desired me,
'Not to expose myself to the servants, by obliging him to confine
me in my apartment; if then I would give my promise not to quit
the house precipitately, I should be free--and--.' I declared,
interrupting him, 'that I would promise nothing. I had
no measures to keep with him--I was resolved, and would not
condescend to subterfuge.'
"He muttered, 'that I should soon repent of these preposterous
airs;' and, ordering tea to be carried into my little study, which
had a communication with my bed-chamber, he once more locked the
door upon me, and left me to my own meditations. I had passively
followed him up stairs, not wishing to fatigue myself with
"Nothing calms the mind like a fixed purpose. I felt as if
I had heaved a thousand weight from my heart; the atmosphere seemed
lightened; and, if I execrated the institutions of society, which
thus enable men to tyrannize over women, it was almost a disinterested
sentiment. I disregarded present inconveniences, when my mind had
done struggling with itself,--when reason and inclination had shaken
hands and were at peace. I had no longer the cruel task before
me, in endless perspective, aye, during the tedious for ever of
life, of labouring to overcome my repugnance--of labouring to
extinguish the hopes, the maybes of a lively imagination. Death
I had hailed as my only chance for deliverance; but, while existence
had still so many charms, and life promised happiness, I shrunk
from the icy arms of an unknown tyrant, though far more inviting
than those of the man, to whom I supposed myself bound without any
other alternative; and was content to linger a little longer,
waiting for I knew not what, rather than leave 'the warm precincts
of the cheerful day,' and all the unenjoyed affection of my nature.
"My present situation gave a new turn to my reflection; and
I wondered (now the film seemed to be withdrawn, that obscured the
piercing sight of reason) how I could, previously to the deciding
outrage, have considered myself as everlastingly united to vice
and folly! 'Had an evil genius cast a spell at my birth; or a demon
stalked out of chaos, to perplex my understanding, and enchain my
will, with delusive prejudices?'
"I pursued this train of thinking; it led me out of myself,
to expatiate on the misery peculiar to my sex. 'Are not,' I thought,
'the despots for ever stigmatized, who, in the wantonness of power,
commanded even the most atrocious criminals to be chained to dead
bodies? though surely those laws are much more inhuman, which forge
adamantine fetters to bind minds together, that never can mingle
in social communion! What indeed can equal the wretchedness of that
state, in which there is no alternative, but to extinguish the
affections, or encounter infamy?'
"TOWARDS midnight Mr. Venables entered my chamber; and, with calm
audacity preparing to go to bed, he bade me make haste, 'for that
was the best place for husbands and wives to end their differences.
He had been drinking plentifully to aid his courage.
"I did not at first deign to reply. But perceiving that he
affected to take my silence for consent, I told him that, 'If he
would not go to another bed, or allow me, I should sit up in my
study all night.' He attempted to pull me into the chamber, half
joking. But I resisted; and, as he had determined not to give me
any reason for saying that he used violence, after a few more
efforts, he retired, cursing my obstinacy, to bed.
"I sat musing some time longer; then, throwing my cloak around
me, prepared for sleep on a sopha. And, so fortunate seemed my
deliverance, so sacred the pleasure of being thus wrapped up in
myself, that I slept profoundly, and woke with a mind composed to
encounter the struggles of the day. Mr. Venables did not wake till
some hours after; and then he came to me half-dressed, yawning and
stretching, with haggard eyes, as if he scarcely recollected what
had passed the preceding evening. He fixed his eyes on me for a
moment, then, calling me a fool, asked 'How long I intended to
continue this pretty farce? For his part, he was devilish sick of
it; but this was the plague of marrying women who pretended to know
"I made no other reply to this harangue, than to say, 'That
he ought to be glad to get rid of a woman so unfit to be his
companion--and that any change in my conduct would be mean
dissimulation; for maturer reflection only gave the sacred seal
of reason to my first resolution.'
"He looked as if he could have stamped with impatience, at
being obliged to stifle his rage; but, conquering his anger (for
weak people, whose passions seem the most ungovernable, restrain
them with the greatest ease, when they have a sufficient motive),
he exclaimed, 'Very pretty, upon my soul! very pretty, theatrical
flourishes! Pray, fair Roxana, stoop from your altitudes,
and remember that you are acting a part in real life.'
"He uttered this speech with a self-satisfied air, and went
down stairs to dress.
"In about an hour he came to me again; and in the same tone
said, 'That he came as my gentleman-usher to hand me down to
"'Of the black rod?' asked I.
"This question, and the tone in which I asked it, a little
disconcerted him. To say the truth, I now felt no resentment; my
firm resolution to free myself from my ignoble thraldom, had absorbed
the various emotions which, during six years, had racked my soul.
The duty pointed out by my principles seemed clear; and not one
tender feeling intruded to make me swerve: The dislike which my
husband had inspired was strong; but it only led me to wish to
avoid, to wish to let him drop out of my memory; there was no
misery, no torture that I would not deliberately have chosen, rather
than renew my lease of servitude.
"During the breakfast, he attempted to reason with me on the
folly of romantic sentiments; for this was the indiscriminate
epithet he gave to every mode of conduct or thinking superior to
his own. He asserted, 'that all the world were governed by their
own interest; those who pretended to be actuated by different
motives, were only deeper knaves, or fools crazed by books, who
took for gospel all the rodomantade nonsense written by men who
knew nothing of the world. For his part, he thanked God, he was
no hypocrite; and, if he stretched a point sometimes, it was always
with an intention of paying every man his own.'
"He then artfully insinuated, 'that he daily expected a vessel
to arrive, a successful speculation, that would make him easy for
the present, and that he had several other schemes actually depending,
that could not fail. He had no doubt of becoming rich in a few
years, though he had been thrown back by some unlucky adventures
at the setting out.'
"I mildly replied, 'That I wished he might not involve himself
"He had no notion that I was governed by a decision of judgment,
not to be compared with a mere spurt of resentment. He knew not
what it was to feel indignation against vice, and often boasted of
his placable temper, and readiness to forgive injuries. True; for
he only considered the being deceived, as an effort of skill he
had not guarded against; and then, with a cant of candour, would
observe, 'that he did not know how he might himself have been
tempted to act in the same circumstances.' And, as his heart never
opened to friendship, it never was wounded by disappointment.
Every new acquaintance he protested, it is true, was 'the cleverest
fellow in the world; and he really thought so; till the novelty of
his conversation or manners ceased to have any effect on his sluggish
spirits. His respect for rank or fortune was more permanent, though
he chanced to have no design of availing himself of the influence
of either to promote his own views.
"After a prefatory conversation,--my blood (I thought it had
been cooler) flushed over my whole countenance as he spoke--he
alluded to my situation. He desired me to reflect--'and act like
a prudent woman, as the best proof of my superior understanding;
for he must own I had sense, did I know how to use it. I was not,'
he laid a stress on his words, 'without my passions; and a husband
was a convenient cloke.--He was liberal in his way of thinking;
and why might not we, like many other married people, who were
above vulgar prejudices, tacitly consent to let each other follow
their own inclination?--He meant nothing more, in the letter I made
the ground of complaint; and the pleasure which I seemed to take
in Mr. S.'s company, led him to conclude, that he was not
disagreeable to me.'
"A clerk brought in the letters of the day, and I, as I often
did, while he was discussing subjects of business, went to the
_piano_ _forte_, and began to play a favourite air to restore
myself, as it were, to nature, and drive the sophisticated sentiments
I had just been obliged to listen to, out of my soul.
"They had excited sensations similar to those I have felt, in
viewing the squalid inhabitants of some of the lanes and back
streets of the metropolis, mortified at being compelled to consider
them as my fellow-creatures, as if an ape had claimed kindred with
me. Or, as when surrounded by a mephitical fog, I have wished to
have a volley of cannon fired, to clear the incumbered atmosphere,
and give me room to breathe and move.
"My spirits were all in arms, and I played a kind of
extemporary prelude. The cadence was probably wild and impassioned,
while, lost in thought, I made the sounds a kind of echo to
my train of thinking.
"Pausing for a moment, I met Mr. Venables' eyes. He was
observing me with an air of conceited satisfaction, as much as to
say--'My last insinuation has done the business--she begins to know
her own interest.' Then gathering up his letters, he said, 'That
he hoped he should hear no more romantic stuff, well enough in a
miss just come from boarding school;' and went, as was his custom,
to the counting-house. I still continued playing; and, turning to
a sprightly lesson, I executed it with uncommon vivacity. I heard
footsteps approach the door, and was soon convinced that Mr. Venables
was listening; the consciousness only gave more animation to my
fingers. He went down into the kitchen, and the cook, probably by
his desire, came to me, to know what I would please to order for
dinner. Mr. Venables came into the parlour again, with apparent
carelessness. I perceived that the cunning man was overreaching
himself; and I gave my directions as usual, and left the room.
"While I was making some alteration in my dress, Mr. Venables
peeped in, and, begging my pardon for interrupting me, disappeared.
I took up some work (I could not read), and two or three messages
were sent to me, probably for no other purpose, but to enable Mr.
Venables to ascertain what I was about.
"I listened whenever I heard the street-door open; at last I
imagined I could distinguish Mr. Venables' step, going out. I laid
aside my work; my heart palpitated; still I was afraid hastily to
enquire; and I waited a long half hour, before I ventured to ask
the boy whether his master was in the counting-house?
"Being answered in the negative, I bade him call me a coach,
and collecting a few necessaries hastily together, with a little
parcel of letters and papers which I had collected the preceding
evening, I hurried into it, desiring the coachman to drive to a
distant part of the town.
"I almost feared that the coach would break down before I got
out of the street; and, when I turned the corner, I seemed to
breathe a freer air. I was ready to imagine that I was rising
above the thick atmosphere of earth; or I felt, as wearied souls
might be supposed to feel on entering another state of existence.
"I stopped at one or two stands of coaches to elude pursuit,
and then drove round the skirts of the town to seek for an obscure
lodging, where I wished to remain concealed, till I could avail
myself of my uncle's protection. I had resolved to assume my own
name immediately, and openly to avow my determination, without any
formal vindication, the moment I had found a home, in which I could
rest free from the daily alarm of expecting to see Mr. Venables enter.
"I looked at several lodgings; but finding that I could not,
without a reference to some acquaintance, who might inform my
tyrant, get admittance into a decent apartment--men have not all
this trouble--I thought of a woman whom I had assisted to furnish
a little haberdasher's shop, and who I knew had a first floor to let.
"I went to her, and though I could not persuade her, that the
quarrel between me and Mr. Venables would never be made up, still
she agreed to conceal me for the present; yet assuring me at the
same time, shaking her head, that, when a woman was once married,
she must bear every thing. Her pale face, on which appeared a
thousand haggard lines and delving wrinkles, produced by what is
emphatically termed fretting, inforced her remark; and I had
afterwards an opportunity of observing the treatment she had to
endure, which grizzled her into patience. She toiled from morning
till night; yet her husband would rob the till, and take away the
money reserved for paying bills; and, returning home drunk, he
would beat her if she chanced to offend him, though she had a child
at the breast.
"These scenes awoke me at night; and, in the morning,
I heard her, as usual, talk to her dear Johnny--he, forsooth,
was her master; no slave in the West Indies had one more despotic;
but fortunately she was of the true Russian breed of wives.
"My mind, during the few past days, seemed, as it were,
disengaged from my body; but, now the struggle was over, I felt
very forcibly the effect which perturbation of spirits produces
on a woman in my situation.
"The apprehension of a miscarriage, obliged me to confine
myself to my apartment near a fortnight; but I wrote to my uncle's
friend for money, promising 'to call on him, and explain my situation,
when I was well enough to go out; mean time I earnestly intreated
him, not to mention my place of abode to any one, lest my
husband--such the law considered him--should disturb the mind he
could not conquer. I mentioned my intention of setting out for
Lisbon, to claim my uncle's protection, the moment my health
"The tranquillity however, which I was recovering, was soon
interrupted. My landlady came up to me one day, with eyes swollen
with weeping, unable to utter what she was commanded to say. She
declared, 'That she was never so miserable in her life; that she
must appear an ungrateful monster; and that she would readily go
down on her knees to me, to intreat me to forgive her, as she had
done to her husband to spare her the cruel task.' Sobs prevented
her from proceeding, or answering my impatient enquiries, to know
what she meant.
"When she became a little more composed, she took a newspaper
out of her pocket, declaring, 'that her heart smote her, but what
could she do?--she must obey her husband.' I snatched the paper
from her. An advertisement quickly met my eye, purporting, that
'Maria Venables had, without any assignable cause, absconded from
her husband; and any person harbouring her, was menaced with the
utmost severity of the law.'
"Perfectly acquainted with Mr. Venables' meanness of soul,
this step did not excite my surprise, and scarcely my contempt.
Resentment in my breast, never survived love. I bade the poor
woman, in a kind tone, wipe her eyes, and request her husband to
come up, and speak to me himself.
"My manner awed him. He respected a lady, though not a woman;
and began to mutter out an apology.
"'Mr. Venables was a rich gentleman; he wished to oblige me,
but he had suffered enough by the law already, to tremble at the
thought; besides, for certain, we should come together again, and
then even I should not thank him for being accessary to keeping us
asunder.--A husband and wife were, God knows, just as one,--and
all would come round at last.' He uttered a drawling 'Hem!' and
then with an arch look, added--'Master might have had his little
frolics--but--Lord bless your heart!--men would be men while the
"To argue with this privileged first-born of reason, I perceived,
would be vain. I therefore only requested him to let me remain
another day at his house, while I sought for a lodging; and not to
inform Mr. Venables that I had ever been sheltered there.
"He consented, because he had not the courage to refuse a
person for whom he had an habitual respect; but I heard the pent-up
choler burst forth in curses, when he met his wife, who was waiting
impatiently at the foot of the stairs, to know what effect my
expostulations would have on him.
"Without wasting any time in the fruitless indulgence of
vexation, I once more set out in search of an abode in which I
could hide myself for a few weeks.
"Agreeing to pay an exorbitant price, I hired an apartment,
without any reference being required relative to my character:
indeed, a glance at my shape seemed to say, that my motive for
concealment was sufficiently obvious. Thus was I obliged to shroud
my head in infamy.
"To avoid all danger of detection--I use the appropriate word,
my child, for I was hunted out like a felon--I determined to take
possession of my new lodgings that very evening.
"I did not inform my landlady where I was going. I knew that
she had a sincere affection for me, and would willingly have run
any risk to show her gratitude; yet I was fully convinced, that a
few kind words from Johnny would have found the woman in her, and
her dear benefactress, as she termed me in an agony of tears, would
have been sacrificed, to recompense her tyrant for condescending
to treat her like an equal. He could be kind-hearted, as she
expressed it, when he pleased. And this thawed sternness, contrasted
with his habitual brutality, was the more acceptable, and could
not be purchased at too dear a rate.
"The sight of the advertisement made me desirous of taking
refuge with my uncle, let what would be the consequence; and I
repaired in a hackney coach (afraid of meeting some person who
might chance to know me, had I walked) to the chambers of my uncle's
"He received me with great politeness (my uncle had already
prepossessed him in my favour), and listened, with interest, to my
explanation of the motives which had induced me to fly from home,
and skulk in obscurity, with all the timidity of fear that ought
only to be the companion of guilt. He lamented, with rather more
gallantry than, in my situation, I thought delicate, that such a
woman should be thrown away on a man insensible to the charms of
beauty or grace. He seemed at a loss what to advise me to do, to
evade my husband's search, without hastening to my uncle, whom, he
hesitating said, I might not find alive. He uttered this intelligence
with visible regret; requested me, at least, to wait for the arrival
of the next packet; offered me what money I wanted, and promised
to visit me.
"He kept his word; still no letter arrived to put an end to
my painful state of suspense. I procured some books and music, to
beguile the tedious solitary days.
'Come, ever smiling Liberty,
'And with thee bring thy jocund train:'
I sung--and sung till, saddened by the strain of joy, I bitterly
lamented the fate that deprived me of all social pleasure. Comparative
liberty indeed I had possessed myself of; but the jocund train
lagged far behind!
"BY WATCHING my only visitor, my uncle's friend, or by some other
means, Mr. Venables discovered my residence, and came to enquire
for me. The maid-servant assured him there was no such person in
the house. A bustle ensued--I caught the
alarm--listened--distinguished his voice, and immediately locked
the door. They suddenly grew still; and I waited near a quarter
of an hour, before I heard him open the parlour door, and mount
the stairs with the mistress of the house, who obsequiously declared
that she knew nothing of me.
"Finding my door locked, she requested me to open it, and
prepare to go home with my husband, poor gentleman! to whom I had
already occasioned sufficient vexation.' I made no reply.
Mr. Venables then, in an assumed tone of softness, intreated me,
'to consider what he suffered, and my own reputation, and get the
better of childish resentment.' He ran on in the same strain,
pretending to address me, but evidently adapting his discourse
to the capacity of the landlady; who, at every pause, uttered
an exclamation of pity; or 'Yes, to be sure--Very true, sir.'
"Sick of the farce, and perceiving that I could not avoid the
hated interview, I opened the door, and he entered. Advancing with
easy assurance to take my hand, I shrunk from his touch, with an
involuntary start, as I should have done from a noisome reptile,
with more disgust than terror. His conductress was retiring, to
give us, as she said, an opportunity to accommodate matters. But
I bade her come in, or I would go out; and curiosity impelled her
to obey me.
"Mr. Venables began to expostulate; and this woman, proud of
his confidence, to second him. But I calmly silenced her, in the
midst of a vulgar harangue, and turning to him, asked, 'Why he
vainly tormented me? declaring that no power on earth should force
me back to his house.'
"After a long altercation, the particulars of which, it would
be to no purpose to repeat, he left the room. Some time was spent
in loud conversation in the parlour below, and I discovered that
he had brought his friend, an attorney, with him.*
* In the original edition the paragraph following is
preceded by three lines of asterisks [Publisher's note].
The tumult on the landing place, brought out a gentleman, who
had recently taken apartments in the house; he enquired why I was
thus assailed?* The voluble attorney instantly repeated the trite
tale. The stranger turned to me, observing, with the most soothing
politeness and manly interest, that 'my countenance told a very
different story.' He added, 'that I should not be insulted, or
forced out of the house, by any body.'
* The introduction of Darnford as the deliverer of Maria,
in an early stage of the history, is already stated (Chap.
III.) to have been an after-thought of the author.
This has probably caused the imperfectness of the manuscript
in the above passage; though, at the same time, it must be
acknowledged to be somewhat uncertain, whether Darnford is
the stranger intended in this place. It appears from
Chap. XVII, that an interference of a more decisive nature
was designed to be attributed to him. EDITOR. [Godwin's note]
"'Not by her husband?' asked the attorney.
"'No, sir, not by her husband.' Mr. Venables advanced towards him--
But there was a decision in his attitude, that so well seconded
that of his voice, * They left the house: at the same time protesting,
that any one that should dare to protect me, should be prosecuted
with the utmost rigour.
* Two and a half lines of asterisks appear here in the
original [Publisher's note].
"They were scarcely out of the house, when my landlady came
up to me again, and begged my pardon, in a very different tone.
For, though Mr. Venables had bid her, at her peril, harbour me, he
had not attended, I found, to her broad hints, to discharge the
lodging. I instantly promised to pay her, and make her a present
to compensate for my abrupt departure, if she would procure me
another lodging, at a sufficient distance; and she, in return,
repeating Mr. Venables' plausible tale, I raised her indignation,
and excited her sympathy, by telling her briefly the truth.
"She expressed her commiseration with such honest warmth, that
I felt soothed; for I have none of that fastidious sensitiveness,
which a vulgar accent or gesture can alarm to the disregard of real
kindness. I was ever glad to perceive in others the humane feelings
I delighted to exercise; and the recollection of some ridiculous
characteristic circumstances, which have occurred in a moment of
emotion, has convulsed me with laughter, though at the instant I
should have thought it sacrilegious to have smiled. Your improvement,
my dearest girl, being ever present to me while I write, I note
these feelings, because women, more accustomed to observe manners
than actions, are too much alive to ridicule. So much so, that
their boasted sensibility is often stifled by false delicacy. True
sensibility, the sensibility which is the auxiliary of virtue, and
the soul of genius, is in society so occupied with the feelings of
others, as scarcely to regard its own sensations. With what reverence
have I looked up at my uncle, the dear parent of my mind! when I
have seen the sense of his own sufferings, of mind and body, absorbed
in a desire to comfort those, whose misfortunes were comparatively
trivial. He would have been ashamed of being as indulgent to
himself, as he was to others. 'Genuine fortitude,' he would assert,
'consisted in governing our own emotions, and making allowance for
the weaknesses in our friends, that we would not tolerate in
ourselves.' But where is my fond regret leading me!
"'Women must be submissive,' said my landlady. 'Indeed what
could most women do? Who had they to maintain them, but their
husbands? Every woman, and especially a lady, could not go through
rough and smooth, as she had done, to earn a little bread.'
"She was in a talking mood, and proceeded to inform me how
she had been used in the world. 'She knew what it was to have a
bad husband, or she did not know who should.' I perceived that she
would be very much mortified, were I not to attend to her tale,
and I did not attempt to interrupt her, though I wished her, as
soon as possible, to go out in search of a new abode for me, where
I could once more hide my head.
"She began by telling me, 'That she had saved a little money
in service; and was over-persuaded (we must all be in love once in
our lives) to marry a likely man, a footman in the family, not
worth a groat. My plan,' she continued, 'was to take a house, and
let out lodgings; and all went on well, till my husband got acquainted
with an impudent slut, who chose to live on other people's means--and
then all went to rack and ruin. He ran in debt to buy her fine
clothes, such clothes as I never thought of wearing myself, and--would
you believe it?--he signed an execution on my very goods, bought
with the money I worked so hard to get; and they came and took my
bed from under me, before I heard a word of the matter. Aye, madam,
these are misfortunes that you gentlefolks know nothing of,--but
sorrow is sorrow, let it come which way it will.
"'I sought for a service again--very hard, after having a
house of my own!--but he used to follow me, and kick up such a riot
when he was drunk, that I could not keep a place; nay, he even
stole my clothes, and pawned them; and when I went to the
pawnbroker's, and offered to take my oath that they were not bought
with a farthing of his money, they said, 'It was all as one, my
husband had a right to whatever I had.'
"'At last he listed for a soldier, and I took a house, making
an agreement to pay for the furniture by degrees; and I almost
starved myself, till I once more got before-hand in the world.
"'After an absence of six years (God forgive me! I thought he
was dead) my husband returned; found me out, and came with such a
penitent face, I forgave him, and clothed him from head to foot.
But he had not been a week in the house, before some of his creditors
arrested him; and, he selling my goods, I found myself once more
reduced to beggary; for I was not as well able to work, go to bed
late, and rise early, as when I quitted service; and then I thought
it hard enough. He was soon tired of me, when there was nothing
more to be had, and left me again.
"I will not tell you how I was buffeted about, till, hearing
for certain that he had died in an hospital abroad, I once more
returned to my old occupation; but have not yet been able to get
my head above water: so, madam, you must not be angry if I am afraid
to run any risk, when I know so well, that women have always the
worst of it, when law is to decide.'
"After uttering a few more complaints, I prevailed on my
landlady to go out in quest of a lodging; and, to be more secure,
I condescended to the mean shift of changing my name.
"But why should I dwell on similar incidents!--I was hunted,
like an infected beast, from three different apartments, and should
not have been allowed to rest in any, had not Mr. Venables, informed
of my uncle's dangerous state of health, been inspired with the
fear of hurrying me out of the world as I advanced in my pregnancy,
by thus tormenting and obliging me to take sudden journeys to avoid
him; and then his speculations on my uncle's fortune must prove
"One day, when he had pursued me to an inn, I fainted, hurrying
from him; and, falling down, the sight of my blood alarmed him,
and obtained a respite for me. It is strange that he should have
retained any hope, after observing my unwavering determination;
but, from the mildness of my behaviour, when I found all my endeavours
to change his disposition unavailing, he formed an erroneous opinion
of my character, imagining that, were we once more together,
I should part with the money he could not legally force from me,
with the same facility as formerly. My forbearance and occasional
sympathy he had mistaken for weakness of character; and, because
he perceived that I disliked resistance, he thought my indulgence
and compassion mere selfishness, and never discovered that the fear
of being unjust, or of unnecessarily wounding the feelings of
another, was much more painful to me, than any thing I could have
to endure myself. Perhaps it was pride which made me imagine, that
I could bear what I dreaded to inflict; and that it was often easier
to suffer, than to see the sufferings of others.
"I forgot to mention that, during this persecution, I received
a letter from my uncle, informing me, 'that he only found relief
from continual change of air; and that he intended to return when
the spring was a little more advanced (it was now the middle of
February), and then we would plan a journey to Italy, leaving the
fogs and cares of England far behind.' He approved of my conduct,
promised to adopt my child, and seemed to have no doubt of obliging
Mr. Venables to hear reason. He wrote to his friend, by the same
post, desiring him to call on Mr. Venables in his name; and, in
consequence of the remonstrances he dictated, I was permitted
to lie-in tranquilly.
"The two or three weeks previous, I had been allowed to rest
in peace; but, so accustomed was I to pursuit and alarm, that I
seldom closed my eyes without being haunted by Mr. Venables' image,
who seemed to assume terrific or hateful forms to torment me,
wherever I turned.--Sometimes a wild cat, a roaring bull, or hideous
assassin, whom I vainly attempted to fly; at others he was a demon,
hurrying me to the brink of a precipice, plunging me into dark
waves, or horrid gulfs; and I woke, in violent fits of trembling
anxiety, to assure myself that it was all a dream, and to endeavour
to lure my waking thoughts to wander to the delightful Italian
vales, I hoped soon to visit; or to picture some august ruins,
where I reclined in fancy on a mouldering column, and escaped, in
the contemplation of the heart-enlarging virtues of antiquity, from
the turmoil of cares that had depressed all the daring purposes of
my soul. But I was not long allowed to calm my mind by the exercise
of my imagination; for the third day after your birth, my child,
I was surprised by a visit from my elder brother; who came in the
most abrupt manner, to inform me of the death of my uncle. He had
left the greater part of his fortune to my child, appointing me
its guardian; in short, every step was taken to enable me to be
mistress of his fortune, without putting any part of it in Mr.
Venables' power. My brother came to vent his rage on me, for having,
as he expressed himself, 'deprived him, my uncle's eldest nephew,
of his inheritance;' though my uncle's property, the fruit of his
own exertion, being all in the funds, or on landed securities,
there was not a shadow of justice in the charge.
"As I sincerely loved my uncle, this intelligence brought on
a fever, which I struggled to conquer with all the energy of my
mind; for, in my desolate state, I had it very much at heart to
suckle you, my poor babe. You seemed my only tie to life, a cherub,
to whom I wished to be a father, as well as a mother; and the double
duty appeared to me to produce a proportionate increase of affection.
But the pleasure I felt, while sustaining you, snatched from the
wreck of hope, was cruelly damped by melancholy reflections on my
widowed state--widowed by the death of my uncle. Of Mr. Venables
I thought not, even when I thought of the felicity of loving your
father, and how a mother's pleasure might be exalted, and her care
softened by a husband's tenderness.--'Ought to be!' I exclaimed;
and I endeavoured to drive away the tenderness that suffocated me;
but my spirits were weak, and the unbidden tears would flow. 'Why
was I,' I would ask thee, but thou didst not heed me,--'cut off
from the participation of the sweetest pleasure of life?' I imagined
with what extacy, after the pains of child-bed, I should have
presented my little stranger, whom I had so long wished to view,
to a respectable father, and with what maternal fondness I should
have pressed them both to my heart!--Now I kissed her with less
delight, though with the most endearing compassion, poor helpless
one! when I perceived a slight resemblance of him, to whom she owed
her existence; or, if any gesture reminded me of him, even in his
best days, my heart heaved, and I pressed the innocent to my bosom,
as if to purify it--yes, I blushed to think that its purity had
been sullied, by allowing such a man to be its father.
"After my recovery, I began to think of taking a house in the
country, or of making an excursion on the continent, to avoid Mr.
Venables; and to open my heart to new pleasures and affection.
The spring was melting into summer, and you, my little companion,
began to smile--that smile made hope bud out afresh, assuring me
the world was not a desert. Your gestures were ever present to my
fancy; and I dwelt on the joy I should feel when you would begin
to walk and lisp. Watching your wakening mind, and shielding from
every rude blast my tender blossom, I recovered my spirits--I
dreamed not of the frost--'the killing frost,' to which you were
destined to be exposed.--But I lose all patience--and execrate the
injustice of the world--folly! ignorance!--I should rather call
it; but, shut up from a free circulation of thought, and always
pondering on the same griefs, I writhe under the torturing
apprehensions, which ought to excite only honest indignation, or
active compassion; and would, could I view them as the natural
consequence of things. But, born a woman--and born to suffer, in
endeavouring to repress my own emotions, I feel more acutely the
various ills my sex are fated to bear--I feel that the evils they
are subject to endure, degrade them so far below their oppressors,
as almost to justify their tyranny; leading at the same time
superficial reasoners to term that weakness the cause, which is
only the consequence of short-sighted despotism.
"AS MY MIND grew calmer, the visions of Italy again returned with
their former glow of colouring; and I resolved on quitting the
kingdom for a time, in search of the cheerfulness, that naturally
results from a change of scene, unless we carry the barbed arrow
with us, and only see what we feel.
"During the period necessary to prepare for a long absence,
I sent a supply to pay my father's debts, and settled my brothers
in eligible situations; but my attention was not wholly engrossed
by my family, though I do not think it necessary to enumerate the
common exertions of humanity. The manner in which my uncle's
property was settled, prevented me from making the addition to the
fortune of my surviving sister, that I could have wished; but I
had prevailed on him to bequeath her two thousand pounds, and she
determined to marry a lover, to whom she had been some time attached.
Had it not been for this engagement, I should have invited her to
accompany me in my tour; and I might have escaped the pit, so
artfully dug in my path, when I was the least aware of danger.
"I had thought of remaining in England, till I weaned my child;
but this state of freedom was too peaceful to last, and I had soon
reason to wish to hasten my departure. A friend of Mr. Venables,
the same attorney who had accompanied him in several excursions to
hunt me from my hiding places, waited on me to propose a
reconciliation. On my refusal, he indirectly advised me to make
over to my husband--for husband he would term him--the greater part
of the property I had at command, menacing me with continual
persecution unless I complied, and that, as a last resort, he would
claim the child. I did not, though intimidated by the last
insinuation, scruple to declare, that I would not allow him to
squander the money left to me for far different purposes, but
offered him five hundred pounds, if he would sign a bond not to
torment me any more. My maternal anxiety made me thus appear to
waver from my first determination, and probably suggested to him,
or his diabolical agent, the infernal plot, which has succeeded
but too well.
"The bond was executed; still I was impatient to leave England.
Mischief hung in the air when we breathed the same; I wanted seas
to divide us, and waters to roll between, till he had forgotten
that I had the means of helping him through a new scheme. Disturbed
by the late occurrences, I instantly prepared for my departure.
My only delay was waiting for a maid-servant, who spoke French
fluently, and had been warmly recommended to me. A valet I was
advised to hire, when I fixed on my place of residence for any time.
"My God, with what a light heart did I set out for Dover!--
It was not my country, but my cares, that I was leaving behind.
My heart seemed to bound with the wheels, or rather appeared the
centre on which they twirled. I clasped you to my bosom, exclaiming
'And you will be safe--quite safe--when--we are once on board the
packet.--Would we were there!' I smiled at my idle fears, as the
natural effect of continual alarm; and I scarcely owned to myself
that I dreaded Mr. Venables's cunning, or was conscious of the
horrid delight he would feel, at forming stratagem after stratagem
to circumvent me. I was already in the snare--I never reached the
packet--I never saw thee more.--I grow breathless. I have scarcely
patience to write down the details. The maid--the plausible woman
I had hired--put, doubtless, some stupefying potion in what I ate
or drank, the morning I left town. All I know is, that she must
have quitted the chaise, shameless wretch! and taken (from my
breast) my babe with her. How could a creature in a female form
see me caress thee, and steal thee from my arms! I must stop, stop
to repress a mother's anguish; lest, in bitterness of soul,
I imprecate the wrath of heaven on this tiger, who tore my only
comfort from me.
"How long I slept I know not; certainly many hours, for I woke
at the close of day, in a strange confusion of thought. I was
probably roused to recollection by some one thundering at a huge,
unwieldy gate. Attempting to ask where I was, my voice died away,
and I tried to raise it in vain, as I have done in a dream.
I looked for my babe with affright; feared that it had fallen out of
my lap, while I had so strangely forgotten her; and, such was the
vague intoxication, I can give it no other name, in which I was
plunged, I could not recollect when or where I last saw you; but
I sighed, as if my heart wanted room to clear my head.
"The gates opened heavily, and the sullen sound of many locks
and bolts drawn back, grated on my very soul, before I was appalled
by the creeking of the dismal hinges, as they closed after me.
The gloomy pile was before me, half in ruins; some of the aged
trees of the avenue were cut down, and left to rot where they fell;
and as we approached some mouldering steps, a monstrous dog darted
forwards to the length of his chain, and barked and growled infernally.
"The door was opened slowly, and a murderous visage peeped
out, with a lantern. 'Hush!' he uttered, in a threatning tone,
and the affrighted animal stole back to his kennel. The door of
the chaise flew back, the stranger put down the lantern, and clasped
his dreadful arms around me. It was certainly the effect of the
soporific draught, for, instead of exerting my strength, I sunk
without motion, though not without sense, on his shoulder, my limbs
refusing to obey my will. I was carried up the steps into a
close-shut hall. A candle flaring in the socket, scarcely dispersed
the darkness, though it displayed to me the ferocious countenance
of the wretch who held me.
"He mounted a wide staircase. Large figures painted on the
walls seemed to start on me, and glaring eyes to meet me at every
turn. Entering a long gallery, a dismal shriek made me spring out
of my conductor's arms, with I know not what mysterious emotion of
terror; but I fell on the floor, unable to sustain myself.
"A strange-looking female started out of one of the recesses,
and observed me with more curiosity than interest; till, sternly
bid retire, she flitted back like a shadow. Other faces, strongly
marked, or distorted, peeped through the half-opened doors, and I
heard some incoherent sounds. I had no distinct idea where I could
be--I looked on all sides, and almost doubted whether I was alive
"Thrown on a bed, I immediately sunk into insensibility again;
and next day, gradually recovering the use of reason, I began,
starting affrighted from the conviction, to discover where I was
confined--I insisted on seeing the master of the mansion--I saw
him--and perceived that I was buried alive.--
"Such, my child, are the events of thy mother's life to this
dreadful moment--Should she ever escape from the fangs of her
enemies, she will add the secrets of her prison-house--and--"
Some lines were here crossed out, and the memoirs broke off
abruptly with the names of Jemima and Darnford.
THE performance, with a fragment of which the reader has now been
presented, was designed to consist of three parts. The preceding
sheets were considered as constituting one of those parts. Those
persons who in the perusal of the chapters, already written and in
some degree finished by the author, have felt their hearts awakened,
and their curiosity excited as to the sequel of the story, will,
of course, gladly accept even of the broken paragraphs and
half-finished sentences, which have been found committed to paper,
as materials for the remainder. The fastidious and cold-hearted
critic may perhaps feel himself repelled by the incoherent form in
which they are presented. But an inquisitive temper willingly
accepts the most imperfect and mutilated information, where better
is not to be had: and readers, who in any degree resemble the author
in her quick apprehension of sentiment, and of the pleasures and
pains of imagination, will, I believe, find gratification, in
contemplating sketches, which were designed in a short time to have
received the finishing touches of her genius; but which must now
for ever remain a mark to record the triumphs of mortality, over
schemes of usefulness, and projects of public interest.
* Presumed to have been written by Godwin [Publisher's note].
DARNFORD returned the memoirs to Maria, with a most affectionate
letter, in which he reasoned on "the absurdity of the laws respecting
matrimony, which, till divorces could be more easily obtained,
was," he declared, "the most insufferable bondage. Ties of this
nature could not bind minds governed by superior principles; and
such beings were privileged to act above the dictates of laws they
had no voice in framing, if they had sufficient strength of mind
to endure the natural consequence. In her case, to talk of duty,
was a farce, excepting what was due to herself. Delicacy, as well
as reason, forbade her ever to think of returning to her husband:
was she then to restrain her charming sensibility through mere
prejudice? These arguments were not absolutely impartial, for he
disdained to conceal, that, when he appealed to her reason, he felt
that he had some interest in her heart.--The conviction was not
more transporting, than sacred--a thousand times a day, he asked
himself how he had merited such happiness?--and as often he determined
to purify the heart she deigned to inhabit--He intreated to be
again admitted to her presence.
He was; and the tear which glistened in his eye, when he
respectfully pressed her to his bosom, rendered him peculiarly dear
to the unfortunate mother. Grief had stilled the transports of
love, only to render their mutual tenderness more touching. In
former interviews, Darnford had contrived, by a hundred little
pretexts, to sit near her, to take her hand, or to meet her eyes--
now it was all soothing affection, and esteem seemed to have rivalled
love. He adverted to her narrative, and spoke with warmth of the
oppression she had endured.--His eyes, glowing with a lambent flame,
told her how much he wished to restore her to liberty and love;
but he kissed her hand, as if it had been that of a saint; and
spoke of the loss of her child, as if it had been his own.--
What could have been more flattering to Maria?--Every instance of
self-denial was registered in her heart, and she loved him, for
loving her too well to give way to the transports of passion.
They met again and again; and Darnford declared, while passion
suffused his cheeks, that he never before knew what it was to
One morning Jemima informed Maria, that her master intended
to wait on her, and speak to her without witnesses. He came, and
brought a letter with him, pretending that he was ignorant of its
contents, though he insisted on having it returned to him. It was
from the attorney already mentioned, who informed her of the death
of her child, and hinted, "that she could not now have a legitimate
heir, and that, would she make over the half of her fortune during
life, she should be conveyed to Dover, and permitted to pursue her
plan of travelling."
Maria answered with warmth, "That she had no terms to make
with the murderer of her babe, nor would she purchase liberty at
the price of her own respect."
She began to expostulate with her jailor; but he sternly bade
her "Be silent--he had not gone so far, not to go further."
Darnford came in the evening. Jemima was obliged to be absent,
and she, as usual, locked the door on them, to prevent interruption
or discovery.--The lovers were, at first, embarrassed; but fell
insensibly into confidential discourse. Darnford represented,
"that they might soon be parted," and wished her "to put
it out of
the power of fate to separate them."
As her husband she now received him, and he solemnly pledged
himself as her protector--and eternal friend.--
There was one peculiarity in Maria's mind: she was more anxious
not to deceive, than to guard against deception; and had rather
trust without sufficient reason, than be for ever the prey of doubt.
Besides, what are we, when the mind has, from reflection, a certain
kind of elevation, which exalts the contemplation above the little
concerns of prudence! We see what we wish, and make a world of our
own--and, though reality may sometimes open a door to misery, yet
the moments of happiness procured by the imagination, may, without
a paradox, be reckoned among the solid comforts of life. Maria now,
imagining that she had found a being of celestial mould--was
happy,--nor was she deceived.--He was then plastic in her impassioned
hand--and reflected all the sentiments which animated and warmed
* Two and a half lines of dashes follow here in the original
ONE morning confusion seemed to reign in the house, and Jemima came
in terror, to inform Maria, "that her master had left it, with a
determination, she was assured (and too many circumstances
corroborated the opinion, to leave a doubt of its truth) of never
returning. I am prepared then," said Jemima, "to accompany you
Maria started up, her eyes darting towards the door, as if
afraid that some one should fasten it on her for ever.
Jemima continued, "I have perhaps no right now to expect the
performance of your promise; but on you it depends to reconcile me
with the human race."
"But Darnford!"--exclaimed Maria, mournfully--sitting down
again, and crossing her arms--"I have no child to go to, and liberty
has lost its sweets."
"I am much mistaken, if Darnford is not the cause of my master's
flight--his keepers assure me, that they have promised to confine
him two days longer, and then he will be free--you cannot see him;
but they will give a letter to him the moment he is free.--In that
inform him where he may find you in London; fix on some hotel.
Give me your clothes; I will send them out of the house with mine,
and we will slip out at the garden-gate. Write your letter while
I make these arrangements, but lose no time!"
In an agitation of spirit, not to be calmed, Maria began to
write to Darnford. She called him by the sacred name of "husband,"
and bade him "hasten to her, to share her fortune, or she would
return to him."--An hotel in the Adelphi was the place of rendezvous.
The letter was sealed and given in charge; and with light
footsteps, yet terrified at the sound of them, she descended,
scarcely breathing, and with an indistinct fear that she should
never get out at the garden gate. Jemima went first.
A being, with a visage that would have suited one possessed
by a devil, crossed the path, and seized Maria by the arm. Maria
had no fear but of being detained--"Who are you? what are you?"
for the form was scarcely human. "If you are made of flesh and
blood," his ghastly eyes glared on her, "do not stop me!"
"Woman," interrupted a sepulchral voice, "what have I
with thee?"--Still he grasped her hand, muttering a curse.
"No, no; you have nothing to do with me," she exclaimed, "this
is a moment of life and death!"--
With supernatural force she broke from him, and, throwing her
arms round Jemima, cried, "Save me!" The being, from whose grasp
she had loosed herself, took up a stone as they opened the door,
and with a kind of hellish sport threw it after them. They were
out of his reach.
When Maria arrived in town, she drove to the hotel already
fixed on. But she could not sit still--her child was ever before
her; and all that had passed during her confinement, appeared to
be a dream. She went to the house in the suburbs, where, as she
now discovered, her babe had been sent. The moment she entered,
her heart grew sick; but she wondered not that it had proved its
grave. She made the necessary enquiries, and the church-yard was
pointed out, in which it rested under a turf. A little frock which
the nurse's child wore (Maria had made it herself) caught her eye.
The nurse was glad to sell it for half-a-guinea, and Maria hastened
away with the relic, and, reentering the hackney-coach which waited
for her, gazed on it, till she reached her hotel.
She then waited on the attorney who had made her uncle's will,
and explained to him her situation. He readily advanced her some
of the money which still remained in his hands, and promised to
take the whole of the case into consideration. Maria only wished
to be permitted to remain in quiet--She found that several bills,
apparently with her signature, had been presented to her agent,
nor was she for a moment at a loss to guess by whom they had been
forged; yet, equally averse to threaten or intreat, she requested
her friend [the solicitor] to call on Mr. Venables. He was not to
be found at home; but at length his agent, the attorney, offered
a conditional promise to Maria, to leave her in peace, as long as
she behaved with propriety, if she would give up the notes. Maria
inconsiderately consented--Darnford was arrived, and she wished to
be only alive to love; she wished to forget the anguish she felt
whenever she thought of her child.
They took a ready furnished lodging together, for she was
above disguise; Jemima insisting on being considered as her
house-keeper, and to receive the customary stipend. On no other
terms would she remain with her friend.
Darnford was indefatigable in tracing the mysterious
circumstances of his confinement. The cause was simply, that a
relation, a very distant one, to whom he was heir, had died intestate,
leaving a considerable fortune. On the news of Darnford's arrival
[in England, a person, intrusted with the management of the property,
and who had the writings in his possession, determining, by one
bold stroke, to strip Darnford of the succession,] had planned his
confinement; and [as soon as he had taken the measures he judged
most conducive to his object, this ruffian, together with his
instrument,] the keeper of the private mad-house, left the kingdom.
Darnford, who still pursued his enquiries, at last discovered that
they had fixed their place of refuge at Paris.
Maria and he determined therefore, with the faithful Jemima,
to visit that metropolis, and accordingly were preparing for the
journey, when they were informed that Mr. Venables had commenced
an action against Darnford for seduction and adultery. The
indignation Maria felt cannot be explained; she repented of the
forbearance she had exercised in giving up the notes. Darnford
could not put off his journey, without risking the loss of his
property: Maria therefore furnished him with money for his expedition;
and determined to remain in London till the termination of this affair.
She visited some ladies with whom she had formerly been
intimate, but was refused admittance; and at the opera, or Ranelagh,
they could not recollect her. Among these ladies there were some,
not her most intimate acquaintance, who were generally supposed to
avail themselves of the cloke of marriage, to conceal a mode of
conduct, that would for ever have damned their fame, had they been
innocent, seduced girls. These particularly stood aloof.--Had she
remained with her husband, practicing insincerity, and neglecting
her child to manage an intrigue, she would still have been visited
and respected. If, instead of openly living with her lover, she
could have condescended to call into play a thousand arts, which,
degrading her own mind, might have allowed the people who were not
deceived, to pretend to be so, she would have been caressed and
treated like an honourable woman. "And Brutus* is an honourable
man!" said Mark-Antony with equal sincerity.
* The name in the manuscript is by mistake written Caesar.
EDITOR. [Godwin's note]
With Darnford she did not taste uninterrupted felicity; there
was a volatility in his manner which often distressed her; but love
gladdened the scene; besides, he was the most tender, sympathizing
creature in the world. A fondness for the sex often gives an
appearance of humanity to the behaviour of men, who have small
pretensions to the reality; and they seem to love others, when they
are only pursuing their own gratification. Darnford appeared ever
willing to avail himself of her taste and acquirements, while she
endeavoured to profit by his decision of character, and to eradicate
some of the romantic notions, which had taken root in her mind,
while in adversity she had brooded over visions of unattainable bliss.
The real affections of life, when they are allowed to burst
forth, are buds pregnant with joy and all the sweet emotions of
the soul; yet they branch out with wild ease, unlike the artificial
forms of felicity, sketched by an imagination painful alive. The
substantial happiness, which enlarges and civilizes the mind,
may be compared to the pleasure experienced in roving
through nature at large, inhaling the sweet gale natural to the
clime; while the reveries of a feverish imagination continually
sport themselves in gardens full of aromatic shrubs, which cloy
while they delight, and weaken the sense of pleasure they gratify.
The heaven of fancy, below or beyond the stars, in this life, or
in those ever-smiling regions surrounded by the unmarked ocean of
futurity, have an insipid uniformity which palls. Poets have
imagined scenes of bliss; but, sencing out sorrow, all the extatic
emotions of the Soul, and even its grandeur, seem to be equally
excluded. We dose over the unruffled lake, and long to scale the
rocks which fence the happy valley of contentment, though serpents
hiss in the pathless desert, and danger lurks in the unexplored
wiles. Maria found herself more indulgent as she was happier, and
discovered virtues, in characters she had before disregarded, while
chasing the phantoms of elegance and excellence, which sported in
the meteors that exhale in the marshes of misfortune. The heart
is often shut by romance against social pleasure; and, fostering
a sickly sensibility, grows callous to the soft touches of humanity.
To part with Darnford was indeed cruel.--It was to feel most
painfully alone; but she rejoiced to think, that she should spare
him the care and perplexity of the suit, and meet him again, all
his own. Marriage, as at present constituted, she considered as
leading to immorality--yet, as the odium of society impedes
usefulness, she wished to avow her affection to Darnford, by becoming
his wife according to established rules; not to be confounded with
women who act from very different motives, though her conduct would
be just the same without the ceremony as with it, and her expectations
from him not less firm. The being summoned to defend herself from
a charge which she was determined to plead guilty to, was still
galling, as it roused bitter reflections on the situation of women
SUCH was her state of mind when the dogs of law were let loose on
her. Maria took the task of conducting Darnford's defence upon
herself. She instructed his counsel to plead guilty to the charge
of adultery; but to deny that of seduction.
The counsel for the plaintiff opened the cause, by observing,
"that his client had ever been an indulgent husband, and had borne
with several defects of temper, while he had nothing criminal to
lay to the charge of his wife. But that she left his house without
assigning any cause. He could not assert that she was then acquainted
with the defendant; yet, when he was once endeavouring to bring
her back to her home, this man put the peace-officers to flight,
and took her he knew not whither. After the birth of her child,
her conduct was so strange, and a melancholy malady having afflicted
one of the family, which delicacy forbade the dwelling on, it was
necessary to confine her. By some means the defendant enabled her
to make her escape, and they had lived together, in despite of all
sense of order and decorum. The adultery was allowed, it was not
necessary to bring any witnesses to prove it; but the seduction,
though highly probable from the circumstances which he had the
honour to state, could not be so clearly proved.--It was of the
most atrocious kind, as decency was set at defiance, and respect
for reputation, which shows internal compunction, utterly disregarded."
A strong sense of injustice had silenced every motion, which
a mixture of true and false delicacy might otherwise have excited
in Maria's bosom. She only felt in earnest to insist on the
privilege of her nature. The sarcasms of society, and the
condemnations of a mistaken world, were nothing to her, compared
with acting contrary to those feelings which were the foundation
of her principles. [She therefore eagerly put herself forward,
instead of desiring to be absent, on this memorable occasion.]
Convinced that the subterfuges of the law were disgraceful,
she wrote a paper, which she expressly desired might be read in
"Married when scarcely able to distinguish the nature of the
engagement, I yet submitted to the rigid laws which enslave women,
and obeyed the man whom I could no longer love. Whether the duties
of the state are reciprocal, I mean not to discuss; but I can prove
repeated infidelities which I overlooked or pardoned. Witnesses
are not wanting to establish these facts. I at present maintain
the child of a maid servant, sworn to him, and born after our
marriage. I am ready to allow, that education and circumstances
lead men to think and act with less delicacy, than the preservation
of order in society demands from women; but surely I may without
assumption declare, that, though I could excuse the birth, I could
not the desertion of this unfortunate babe:--and, while I despised
the man, it was not easy to venerate the husband. With proper
restrictions however, I revere the institution which fraternizes
the world. I exclaim against the laws which throw the whole weight
of the yoke on the weaker shoulders, and force women, when they
claim protectorship as mothers, to sign a contract, which renders
them dependent on the caprice of the tyrant, whom choice or necessity
has appointed to reign over them. Various are the cases, in which
a woman ought to separate herself from her husband; and mine,
I may be allowed emphatically to insist, comes under the description
of the most aggravated.
"I will not enlarge on those provocations which only the
individual can estimate; but will bring forward such charges only,
the truth of which is an insult upon humanity. In order to promote
certain destructive speculations, Mr. Venables prevailed on me to
borrow certain sums of a wealthy relation; and, when I refused
further compliance, he thought of bartering my person; and not only
allowed opportunities to, but urged, a friend from whom he borrowed
money, to seduce me. On the discovery of this act of atrocity,
I determined to leave him, and in the most decided manner, for ever.
I consider all obligations as made void by his conduct; and hold,
that schisms which proceed from want of principles, can never be healed.
"He received a fortune with me to the amount of five thousand
pounds. On the death of my uncle, convinced that I could provide
for my child, I destroyed the settlement of that fortune. I required
none of my property to be returned to me, nor shall enumerate the
sums extorted from me during six years that we lived together.
"After leaving, what the law considers as my home, I was hunted
like a criminal from place to place, though I contracted no debts,
and demanded no maintenance--yet, as the laws sanction such
proceeding, and make women the property of their husbands, I forbear
to animadvert. After the birth of my daughter, and the death of
my uncle, who left a very considerable property to myself and child,
I was exposed to new persecution; and, because I had, before arriving
at what is termed years of discretion, pledged my faith, I was
treated by the world, as bound for ever to a man whose vices were
notorious. Yet what are the vices generally known, to the various
miseries that a woman may be subject to, which, though deeply felt,
eating into the soul, elude description, and may be glossed over!
A false morality is even established, which makes all
the virtue of women consist in chastity, submission,
and the forgiveness of injuries.
"I pardon my oppressor--bitterly as I lament the loss of my
child, torn from me in the most violent manner. But nature revolts,
and my soul sickens at the bare supposition, that it could ever be
a duty to pretend affection, when a separation is necessary to
prevent my feeling hourly aversion.
"To force me to give my fortune, I was imprisoned--yes; in a
private mad-house.--There, in the heart of misery, I met the man
charged with seducing me. We became attached--I deemed, and ever
shall deem, myself free. The death of my babe dissolved the only
tie which subsisted between me and my, what is termed, lawful husband.
"To this person, thus encountered, I voluntarily gave myself,
never considering myself as any more bound to transgress the laws
of moral purity, because the will of my husband might be pleaded
in my excuse, than to transgress those laws to which [the policy
of artificial society has] annexed [positive] punishments.--While
no command of a husband can prevent a woman from suffering for
certain crimes, she must be allowed to consult her conscience, and
regulate her conduct, in some degree, by her own sense of right.
The respect I owe to myself, demanded my strict adherence to my
determination of never viewing Mr. Venables in the light of a
husband, nor could it forbid me from encouraging another. If I am
unfortunately united to an unprincipled man, am I for ever to be
shut out from fulfilling the duties of a wife and mother?--I wish
my country to approve of my conduct; but, if laws exist, made by
the strong to oppress the weak, I appeal to my own sense of justice,
and declare that I will not live with the individual, who has
violated every moral obligation which binds man to man.
"I protest equally against any charge being brought to criminate
the man, whom I consider as my husband. I was six-and-twenty when
I left Mr. Venables' roof; if ever I am to be supposed to arrive
at an age to direct my own actions, I must by that time have arrived
at it.--I acted with deliberation.--Mr. Darnford found me a forlorn
and oppressed woman, and promised the protection women in the
present state of society want.--But the man who now claims me--was
he deprived of my society by this conduct? The question is an insult
to common sense, considering where Mr. Darnford met me.--Mr.
Venables' door was indeed open to me--nay, threats and intreaties
were used to induce me to return; but why? Was affection or honour
the motive?--I cannot, it is true, dive into the recesses of the
human heart--yet I presume to assert, [borne out as I am by a
variety of circumstances,] that he was merely influenced by the
most rapacious avarice.
"I claim then a divorce, and the liberty of enjoying, free
from molestation, the fortune left to me by a relation, who was
well aware of the character of the man with whom I had to contend.--I
appeal to the justice and humanity of the jury--a body of men,
whose private judgment must be allowed to modify laws, that must
be unjust, because definite rules can never apply to indefinite
circumstances--and I deprecate punishment upon the man of my choice,
freeing him, as I solemnly do, from the charge of seduction.]
"I did not put myself into a situation to justify a charge of
adultery, till I had, from conviction, shaken off the fetters which
bound me to Mr. Venables.--While I lived with him, I defy the voice
of calumny to sully what is termed the fair fame of woman.--
Neglected by my husband, I never encouraged a lover; and preserved
with scrupulous care, what is termed my honour, at the expence of
my peace, till he, who should have been its guardian, laid traps
to ensnare me. From that moment I believed myself, in the sight
of heaven, free--and no power on earth shall force me to renounce
The judge, in summing up the evidence, alluded to "the fallacy
of letting women plead their feelings, as an excuse for the violation
of the marriage-vow. For his part, he had always determined to
oppose all innovation, and the newfangled notions which incroached
on the good old rules of conduct. We did not want French principles
in public or private life--and, if women were allowed to plead
their feelings, as an excuse or palliation of infidelity, it was
opening a flood-gate for immorality. What virtuous woman thought
of her feelings?--It was her duty to love and obey the man chosen
by her parents and relations, who were qualified by their experience
to judge better for her, than she could for herself. As to the
charges brought against the husband, they were vague, supported by
no witnesses, excepting that of imprisonment in a private madhouse.
The proofs of an insanity in the family, might render that however
a prudent measure; and indeed the conduct of the lady did not appear
that of a person of sane mind. Still such a mode of proceeding
could not be justified, and might perhaps entitle the lady [in
another court] to a sentence of separation from bed and board,
during the joint lives of the parties; but he hoped that no Englishman
would legalize adultery, by enabling the adulteress to enrich her
seducer. Too many restrictions could not be thrown in the way of
divorces, if we wished to maintain the sanctity of marriage; and,
though they might bear a little hard on a few, very few individuals,
it was evidently for the good of the whole."
BY THE EDITOR *
* i.e., Godwin [Publisher's note].
VERY FEW hints exist respecting the plan of the remainder of the
work. I find only two detached sentences, and some scattered heads
for the continuation of the story. I transcribe the whole.
"Darnford's letters were affectionate; but circumstances
occasioned delays, and the miscarriage of some letters rendered
the reception of wished-for answers doubtful: his return was
necessary to calm Maria's mind."
"As Darnford had informed her that his business was settled,
his delaying to return seemed extraordinary; but love to excess,
excludes fear or suspicion."
The scattered heads for the continuation of the story, are as
* To understand these minutes, it is necessary the reader
should consider each of them as setting out from the same
point in the story, viz. the point to which it is brought
down in the preceding chapter. [Godwin's note]
"Trial for adultery--Maria defends herself--A separation from
bed and board is the consequence--Her fortune is thrown into
chancery--Darnford obtains a part of his property--Maria goes into
"A prosecution for adultery commenced--Trial--Darnford sets
out for France--Letters--Once more pregnant--He returns--Mysterious
"Sued by her husband--Damages awarded to him--Separation from
bed and board--Darnford goes abroad--Maria into the country--Provides
for her father--Is shunned--Returns to London--Expects to see her
lover--The rack of expectation--Finds herself again with child--
Delighted--A discovery--A visit--A miscarriage--Conclusion."
"Divorced by her husband--Her lover unfaithful--Pregnancy--
[The following passage appears in some respects to deviate
from the preceding hints. It is superscribed]
"She swallowed the laudanum; her soul was calm--the tempest
had subsided--and nothing remained but an eager longing to forget
herself--to fly from the anguish she endured to escape from
thought--from this hell of disappointment.
"Still her eyes closed not--one remembrance with frightful
velocity followed another--All the incidents of her life were in
arms, embodied to assail her, and prevent her sinking into the
sleep of death.--Her murdered child again appeared to her, mourning
for the babe of which she was the tomb.--'And could it have a
nobler?--Surely it is better to die with me, than to enter on life
without a mother's care!--I cannot live!--but could I have deserted
my child the moment it was born?--thrown it on the troubled wave
of life, without a hand to support it?'--She looked up: 'What have
I not suffered!--may I find a father where I am going!--Her head
turned; a stupor ensued; a faintness--'Have a little patience,'
said Maria, holding her swimming head (she thought of her mother),
'this cannot last long; and what is a little bodily pain to the
pangs I have endured?'
"A new vision swam before her. Jemima seemed to enter--
leading a little creature, that, with tottering footsteps, approached
the bed. The voice of Jemima sounding as at a distance, called
her--she tried to listen, to speak, to look!
"'Behold your child!' exclaimed Jemima. Maria started off
the bed, and fainted.--Violent vomiting followed.
"When she was restored to life, Jemima addressed her with
great solemnity: '----- led me to suspect, that your husband
and brother had deceived you, and secreted the child. I would not
torment you with doubtful hopes, and I left you (at a fatal moment)
to search for the child!--I snatched her from misery--and (now she
is alive again) would you leave her alone in the world, to endure
what I have endured?'
"Maria gazed wildly at her, her whole frame was convulsed with
emotion; when the child, whom Jemima had been tutoring all the
journey, uttered the word 'Mamma!' She caught her to her bosom,
and burst into a passion of tears--then, resting the child gently
on the bed, as if afraid of killing it,--she put her hand to her
eyes, to conceal as it were the agonizing struggle of her soul.
She remained silent for five minutes, crossing her arms over her
bosom, and reclining her head,--then exclaimed: 'The conflict is
over!--I will live for my child!'"
A few readers perhaps, in looking over these hints, will wonder
how it could have been practicable, without tediousness, or remitting
in any degree the interest of the story, to have filled, from these
slight sketches, a number of pages, more considerable than those
which have been already presented. But, in reality, these hints,
simple as they are, are pregnant with passion and distress. It is
the refuge of barren authors only, to crowd their fictions with so
great a number of events, as to suffer no one of them to sink into
the reader's mind. It is the province of true genius to develop
events, to discover their capabilities, to ascertain the different
passions and sentiments with which they are fraught, and to diversify
them with incidents, that give reality to the picture, and take a
hold upon the mind of a reader of taste, from which they can never
be loosened. It was particularly the design of the author, in the
present instance, to make her story subordinate to a great moral
purpose, that "of exhibiting the misery and oppression, peculiar
to women, that arise out of the partial laws and customs of
society.--This view restrained her fancy."* It was necessary for
her, to place in a striking point of view, evils that are too
frequently overlooked, and to drag into light those details of
oppression, of which the grosser and more insensible part of mankind
make little account.