Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft
Part 2 out of 3
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 of
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 on
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
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