I was carried to the next town:
fever succeeded to convulsions and faintings, & for
some weeks my unhappy spirit hovered on the very verge
of death. But life was yet strong within me; I
recovered: nor did it a little aid my returning
health that my recollections were at first vague,
and that I was too weak to feel any violent emotion.
I often said to myself, my father is dead. He
loved me with a guilty passion, and stung by remorse
and despair he killed himself. Why is it that
I feel no horror? Are these circumstances not
dreadful? Is it not enough that I shall never
more meet the eyes of my beloved father; never more
hear his voice; no caress, no look? All cold,
and stiff, and dead! Alas! I am quite callous:
the night I was out in was fearful and the cold rain
that fell about my heart has acted like the waters
of the cavern of Antiparos and has changed it to
stone. I do not weep or sigh; but I must reason
with myself, and force myself to feel sorrow and despair.
This is not resignation that I feel, for I am dead
to all regret.
I communed in this manner with myself,
but I was silent to all around me. I hardly replied
to the slightest question, and was uneasy when I saw
a human creature near me. I was surrounded by
my female relations, but they were all of them nearly
strangers to me: I did not listen to their consolations;
and so little did they work their designed effect
that they seemed to me to be spoken in an unknown tongue.
I found if sorrow was dead within me, so was love
and desire of sympathy. Yet sorrow only slept
to revive more fierce, but love never woke again its
ghost, ever hovering over my father’s grave,
alone survived since his death all the
world was to me a blank except where woe had stampt
its burning words telling me to smile no more the
living were not fit companions for me, and I was ever
meditating by what means I might shake them all off,
and never be heard of again.
My convalescence rapidly advanced,
yet this was the thought that haunted me, and I was
for ever forming plans how I might hereafter contrive
to escape the tortures that were prepared for me when
I should mix in society, and to find that solitude
which alone could suit one whom an untold grief seperated
from her fellow creatures. Who can be more solitary
even in a crowd than one whose history and the never
ending feelings and remembrances arising from it is
[sic] known to no living soul. There was
too deep a horror in my tale for confidence; I was
on earth the sole depository of my own secret.
I might tell it to the winds and to the desart heaths
but I must never among my fellow creatures, either
by word or look give allowance to the smallest conjecture
of the dread reality: I must shrink before the
eye of man lest he should read my father’s guilt
in my glazed eyes: I must be silent lest my faltering
voice should betray unimagined horrors. Over
the deep grave of my secret I must heap an impenetrable
heap of false smiles and words: cunning frauds,
treacherous laughter and a mixture of all light deceits
would form a mist to blind others and be as the poisonous
simoon to me. I, the offspring of love, the child
of the woods, the nursling of Nature’s bright
self was to submit to this? I dared not.
How must I escape? I was rich
and young, and had a guardian appointed for me; and
all about me would act as if I were one of their great
society, while I must keep the secret that I really
was cut off from them for ever. If I fled I should
be pursued; in life there was no escape for me:
why then I must die. I shuddered; I dared not
die even though the cold grave held all I loved; although
I might say with Job
Where is now my hope?
For my hope who shall see it?
They shall go down together
to the bars of the pit, when our
rest together is in the dust
Yes my hope was corruption and dust
and all to which death brings us. Or after
life No, no, I will not persuade myself
to die, I may not, dare not. And then I wept;
yes, warm tears once more struggled into my eyes soothing
yet bitter; and after I had wept much and called with
unavailing anguish, with outstretched arms, for my
cruel father; after my weak frame was exhausted by
all variety of plaint I sank once more into reverie,
and once more reflected on how I might find that which
I most desired; dear to me if aught were dear, a death-like
I dared not die, but I might feign
death, and thus escape from my comforters: they
will believe me united to my father, and so indeed
I shall be. For alone, when no voice can disturb
my dream, and no cold eye meet mine to check its fire,
then I may commune with his spirit; on a lone heath,
at noon or at midnight, still I should be near him.
His last injunction to me was that I should be happy;
perhaps he did not mean the shadowy happiness that
I promised myself, yet it was that alone which I could
taste. He did not conceive that ever [qu.
never?] again I could make one of the smiling
hunters that go coursing after bubles that break to
nothing when caught, and then after a new one with
brighter colours; my hope also had proved a buble,
but it had been so lovely, so adorned that I saw none
that could attract me after it; besides I was wearied
with the pursuit, nearly dead with weariness.
I would feign to die; my contented
heirs would seize upon my wealth, and I should purchase
freedom. But then my plan must be laid with art;
I would not be left destitute, I must secure some money.
Alas! to what loathsome shifts must I be driven?
Yet a whole life of falsehood was otherwise my portion:
and when remorse at being the contriver of any cheat
made me shrink from my design I was irresistably led
back and confirmed in it by the visit of some aunt
or cousin, who would tell me that death was the end
of all men. And then say that my father had surely
lost his wits ever since my mother’s death; that
he was mad and that I was fortunate, for in one of
his fits he might have killed me instead of destroying
his own crazed being. And all this, to be sure,
was delicately put; not in broad words for my feelings
might be hurt but
Whispered so and so
In dark hint soft and low
with downcast eyes, and sympathizing
smiles or whimpers; and I listened with quiet countenance
while every nerve trembled; I that dared not utter
aye or no to all this blasphemy. Oh, this was
a delicious life quite void of guile! I with
my dove’s look and fox’s heart: for
indeed I felt only the degradation of falsehood, and
not any sacred sentiment of conscious innocence that
might redeem it. I who had before clothed myself
in the bright garb of sincerity must now borrow one
of divers colours: it might sit awkwardly at first,
but use would enable me to place it in elegant folds,
to lie with grace. Aye, I might die my soul with
falsehood untill I had quite hid its native colour.
Oh, beloved father! Accept the pure heart of your
unhappy daughter; permit me to join you unspotted
as I was or you will not recognize my altered semblance.
As grief might change Constance so would deceit
change me untill in heaven you would say, “This
is not my child” My father, to be
happy both now and when again we meet I must fly from
all this life which is mockery to one like me.
In solitude only shall I be myself; in solitude I
shall be thine.
Alas! I even now look back with
disgust at my artifices and contrivances by which,
after many painful struggles, I effected my retreat.
I might enter into a long detail of the means I used,
first to secure myself a slight maintenance for the
remainder of my life, and afterwards to ensure the
conviction of my death: I might, but I will not.
I even now blush at the falsehoods I uttered; my heart
sickens: I will leave this complication of what
I hope I may in a manner call innocent deceit to be
imagined by the reader. The remembrance haunts
me like a crime I know that if I were to
endeavour to relate it my tale would at length remain
unfinished. I was led to London, and had to endure
for some weeks cold looks, cold words and colder consolations:
but I escaped; they tried to bind me with fetters
that they thought silken, yet which weighed on me like
iron, although I broke them more easily than a girth
formed of a single straw and fled to freedom.
The few weeks that I spent in London
were the most miserable of my life: a great city
is a frightful habitation to one sorrowing. The
sunset and the gentle moon, the blessed motion of the
leaves and the murmuring of waters are all sweet physicians
to a distempered mind. The soul is expanded and
drinks in quiet, a lulling médecine to
me it was as the sight of the lovely water snakes
to the bewitched mariner in loving and
blessing Nature I unawares, called down a blessing
on my own soul. But in a city all is closed shut
like a prison, a wiry prison from which you can peep
at the sky only. I can not describe to you what
were [sic] the frantic nature of my sensations
while I resided there; I was often on the verge of
madness. Nay, when I look back on many of my
wild thoughts, thoughts with which actions sometimes
endeavoured to keep pace; when I tossed my hands high
calling down the cope of heaven to fall on me and bury
me; when I tore my hair and throwing it to the winds
cried, “Ye are free, go seek my father!”
And then, like the unfortunate Constance, catching
at them again and tying them up, that nought might
find him if I might not. How, on my knees I have
fancied myself close to my father’s grave and
struck the ground in anger that it should cover him
from me. Oft when I have listened with gasping
attention for the sound of the ocean mingled with
my father’s groans; and then wept untill my strength
was gone and I was calm and faint, when I have recollected
all this I have asked myself if this were not madness.
While in London these and many other dreadful thoughts
too harrowing for words were my portion: I lost
all this suffering when I was free; when I saw the
wild heath around me, and the evening star in the
west, then I could weep, gently weep, and be at peace.
Do not mistake me; I never was really
mad. I was always conscious of my state when
my wild thoughts seemed to drive me to insanity, and
never betrayed them to aught but silence and solitude.
The people around me saw nothing of all this.
They only saw a poor girl broken in spirit, who spoke
in a low and gentle voice, and from underneath whose
downcast lids tears would sometimes steal which she
strove to hide. One who loved to be alone, and
shrunk from observation; who never smiled; oh, no!
I never smiled and that was all.
Well, I escaped. I left my guardian’s
house and I was never heard of again; it was believed
from the letters that I left and other circumstances
that I planned that I had destroyed myself. I
was sought after therefore with less care than would
otherwise have been the case; and soon all trace and
memory of me was lost. I left London in a small
vessel bound for a port in the north of England.
And now having succeeded in my attempt, and being
quite alone peace returned to me. The sea was
calm and the vessel moved gently onwards, I sat upon
deck under the open canopy of heaven and methought
I was an altered creature. Not the wild, raving
& most miserable Mathilda but a youthful Hermitess
dedicated to seclusion and whose bosom she must strive
to keep free from all tumult and unholy despair The
fanciful nunlike dress that I had adopted; the
knowledge that my very existence was a secret known
only to myself; the solitude to which I was for ever
hereafter destined nursed gentle thoughts in my wounded
heart. The breeze that played in my hair revived
me, and I watched with quiet eyes the sunbeams that
glittered on the waves, and the birds that coursed
each other over the waters just brushing them with
their plumes. I slept too undisturbed by dreams;
and awoke refreshed to again enjoy my tranquil freedom.
In four days we arrived at the harbour
to which we were bound. I would not remain on
the sea coast, but proceeded immediately inland.
I had already planned the situation where I would
live. It should be a solitary house on a wide
plain near no other habitation: where I could
behold the whole horizon, and wander far without molestation
from the sight of my fellow creatures. I was
not mysanthropic, but I felt that the gentle current
of my feelings depended upon my being alone. I
fixed myself on a wide solitude. On a dreary heath
bestrewen with stones, among which short grass grew;
and here and there a few rushes beside a little pool.
Not far from my cottage was a small cluster of pines
the only trees to be seen for many miles: I had
a path cut through the furze from my door to this
little wood, from whose topmost branches the birds
saluted the rising sun and awoke me to my daily meditation.
My view was bounded only by the horizon except on one
side where a distant wood made a black spot on the
heath, that every where else stretched out its faint
hues as far as the eye could reach, wide and very
desolate. Here I could mark the net work of the
clouds as they wove themselves into thick masses:
I could watch the slow rise of the heavy thunder clouds
and could see the rack as it was driven across the
heavens, or under the pine trees I could enjoy the
stillness of the azure sky.
My life was very peaceful. I
had one female servant who spent the greater part
of the day at a village two miles off. My amusements
were simple and very innocent; I fed the birds who
built on the pines or among the ivy that covered the
wall of my little garden, and they soon knew me:
the bolder ones pecked the crumbs from my hands and
perched on my fingers to sing their thankfulness.
When I had lived here some time other animals visited
me and a fox came every day for a portion of food
appropriated for him & would suffer me to pat his head.
I had besides many books and a harp with which when
despairing I could soothe my spirits, and raise myself
to sympathy and love.
Love! What had I to love?
Oh many things: there was the moonshine, and
the bright stars; the breezes and the refreshing rains;
there was the whole earth and the sky that covers
it: all lovely forms that visited my imagination[,]
all memories of heroism and virtue. Yet this was
very unlike my early life although as then I was confined
to Nature and books. Then I bounded across the
fields; my spirit often seemed to ride upon the winds,
and to mingle in joyful sympathy with the ambient
air. Then if I wandered slowly I cheered myself
with a sweet song or sweeter day dreams. I felt
a holy rapture spring from all I saw. I drank
in joy with life; my steps were light; my eyes, clear
from the love that animated them, sought the heavens,
and with my long hair loosened to the winds I gave
my body and my mind to sympathy and delight.
But now my walk was slow My eyes were seldom
raised and often filled with tears; no song; no smiles;
no careless motion that might bespeak a mind intent
on what surrounded it I was gathered up
into myself a selfish solitary creature
ever pondering on my regrets and faded hopes.
Mine was an idle, useless life; it
was so; but say not to the lily laid prostrate by
the storm arise, and bloom as before. My heart
was bleeding from its death’s wound; I could
live no otherwise Often amid apparent calm
I was visited by despair and melancholy; gloom that
nought could dissipate or overcome; a hatred of life;
a carelessness of beauty; all these would by fits
hold me nearly annihilated by their powers. Never
for one moment when most placid did I cease to pray
for death. I could be found in no state of mind
which I would not willingly have exchanged for nothingness.
And morning and evening my tearful eyes raised to
heaven, my hands clasped tight in the energy of prayer,
I have repeated with the poet
Before I see another day
Oh, let this body die away!
Let me not be reproached then with
inutility; I believed that by suicide I should violate
a divine law of nature, and I thought that I sufficiently
fulfilled my part in submitting to the hard task of
enduring the crawling hours & minutes in
bearing the load of time that weighed miserably upon
me and that in abstaining from what I in my calm moments
considered a crime, I deserved the reward of virtue.
There were periods, dreadful ones, during which I despaired &
doubted the existence of all duty & the reality of
crime but I shudder, and turn from the
Coleridge’s Fire, Famine and Slaughter.