THE HISTORY OF
Volume I - Letter 11
MISS BYRON. IN CONTINUATION.
It was convenient to me, Lucy, to break off just where I did in my last; else I should not have been so very self-denying as to suppose you had no curiosity to hear, what undoubtedly I wanted to tell. Two girls talking over a new set of company, would my uncle Selby say, are not apt to break off very abruptly; not she especially of the two, who has found out a fair excuse to repeat every compliment made to herself; and when perhaps there may be a new admirer in the case.
May there so, my uncle? And which of the gentlemen do you think the man? The Baronet, I warrant, you guess.—And so he is.
Well then, let me give you, Lucy, a sketch of him. But consider; I form my accounts from what I have since been told, as well as from what I observed at the time.
Sir Hargrave Pollexfen is handsome and genteel; pretty tall; about twenty-eight or thirty. His complexion is a little of the fairest for a man, and a little of the palest. He has remarkably bold eyes; rather approaching to what we would call goggling; and he gives himself airs with them as if he wish'd to have them thought rakish: Perhaps as a recommendation, in his opinion, to the Ladies. Miss Cantillon, on his back being turned, Lady Betty praising his person, said, Sir Hargrave had the finest eyes she ever saw in a man. They were manly, meaning ones.
He is very voluble in speech; but seems to owe his volubility more to his want of doubt, than to the extraordinary merit of what he says. Yet he is thought to have sense; and if he could prevail upon himself to hear more, and speak less, he would better deserve the good opinion he thinks himself sure of. But as he can say any-thing without hesitation, and excites a laugh by laughing himself at all he is going to say, as well as at what he has just said, he is thought infinitely agreeable by the gay, and by those who wish to drown thought in merriment.
Sir Hargrave, it seems, has travelled: But he must have carried abroad with him a great number of follies, and a great deal of affectation, if he has left any of them behind him.
But, with all his foibles, he is said to be a man of enterprise and courage; and young Ladies, it seems, must take care how they laugh with him: For he makes ungenerous constructions to the disadvantage of a woman whom he can bring to seem pleas'd with his jests.
I will tell you hereafter, how I came to know this, and even worse, of him.
The taste of the present age seems to be dress: No wonder, therefore, that such a man as Sir Hargrave aims to excel in it. What can be misbestowed by a man on his person, who values it more than his mind? But he would, in my opinion, better become his dress, if the pains he undoubtedly takes before he ventures to come into public, were less apparent: This I judge from his solicitude to preserve all in exact order, when in company; for he forgets not to pay his respects to himself at every glass; yet does it with a seeming consciousness, as if he would hide a vanity too apparent to be concealed; breaking from it, if he finds himself observed, with an half-careless, yet seemingly dissatisfied air, pretending to have discovered something amiss in himself. This seldom fails to bring him a compliment: Of which he shows himself very sensible, by affectedly disclaiming the merit of it; perhaps with this speech, bowing, with his spread hand on his breast, waving his head to and fro—By my Soul, Madam (or Sir) you do me too much honour.
Such a man is Sir Hargrave Pollexfen.
He placed himself next to the country girl; and laid himself out in fine speeches to her, running on in such a manner, that I had not for some time an opportunity to convince him that I had been in company of gay people before. He would have it that I was a perfect beauty, and he supposed me very young—Very silly of course: And gave himself such airs, as if he were sure of my admiration.
I viewed him steadily several times; and my eye once falling under his, as I was looking at him, I dare say, he at that moment pitied the poor fond heart, which he supposed was in tumults about him; when, at the very time, I was considering, whether, if I were obliged to have the one or the other, as a punishment for some great fault I had committed, my choice would fall on Mr. Singleton, or on him. I mean, supposing the former were not a remarkably obstinate man; since obstinacy in a weak man, I think, must be worse than tyranny in a man of sense—If indeed a man of sense can be a tyrant.
A summons to dinner relieved me from his more particular addresses, and placed him at a distance from me.
Sir Hargrave, the whole time of dinner, received advantage from the supercilious looks and behaviour of Mr. Walden; who seemed, on every-thing the Baronet said, (and he was seldom silent) half to despise him; for he made at times so many different mouths of contempt, that I thought it was impossible for the same features to express them. I have been making mouths in the glass for several minutes, to try to recover some of Mr. Walden's, in order to describe them to you, Lucy; but I cannot for my life so distort my face as to enable me to give you a notion of one of them.
He might perhaps have been better justified in some of his contempts, had it not been visible, that the consequence which he took from the Baronet, he gave to himself; and yet was as censurable one way, as Sir Hargrave was the other.
Mirth, however insipid, will occasion smiles; tho' sometimes to the disadvantage of the mirthful. But gloom, severity, moroseness, will always disgust, tho' in a Solomon. Mr. Walden had not been taught that: And indeed it might seem a little ungrateful [Don't you think so, Lucy?] if women failed to reward a man with their smiles, who scrupled not to make himself a—monkey (shall I say?) to please them.
Never before did I see the difference between the man of the Town, and the man of the College, displayed in a light so striking as in these two gentlemen in the conversation after dinner. The one seemed resolved not to be pleased; while the other laid himself out to please every-body; and that in a manner so much at his own expense, as frequently to bring into question his understanding. By a second silly thing he banish'd the remembrance of a first; by a third the second; and so on: And by continually laughing at his own absurdities, left us at liberty to suppose that his folly was his choice; and that, had it not been to divert the company, he could have made a better figure.
Mr. Walden, as was evident by his scornful brow, by the contemptuous motions of his lip, and by his whole face affectedly turn'd from the Baronet, grudged him the smile that sat upon everyone's countenance; and for which, without distinguishing whether it was a smile of approbation or not, he look'd as if he pity'd us all, and as if he thought himself cast into unequal company. Nay, twice or thrice he addressed himself, in preference to every one else, to honest simpering Mr. Singleton: Who, for his part, as was evident, much better relished the Baronet's flippancies, than the dry significance of the Student. For, whenever Sir Hargrave spoke, Mr. Singleton's mouth was open: But it was quite otherwise with him, when Mr. Walden spoke, even at the time that he paid him the distinction of addressing himself to him, as if he were the principal person in the company.
But one word, by the bye, Lucy—Don't you think it is very happy for us foolish women, that the generality of the Lords of the creation are not much wiser than ourselves? Or, to express myself in other words, That over-wisdom is as foolish a thing to the full, as moderate folly?—But, hush! I have done—I know that at this place my Uncle will be ready to rise against me.
After dinner, Mr. Walden, not choosing to be any longer so egregiously eclipsed by the man of the Town, put forth the Scholar.
By the way, let me ask my uncle, if the word scholar means not the learner, rather than the learned? If it originally means no more, I would suppose that formerly the most learned men were the most modest, contenting themselves with being thought but learners; a modesty well becoming a learned man; since, vast is the field of science, as my revered first instructor used to say, and the more a man knows, the more he will find he has to know.
Pray, Sir Hargrave, said Mr. Walden, may I ask you—You had a thought just now, speaking of Love and Beauty, which I know you must have from Tibullus [And then he repeated the line in an heroic accent; and, pausing, look'd round upon us women] Which University had the honour of finishing your studies, Sir Hargrave? I presume you were brought up at one of them.
Not I, said the Baronet: A man, surely, may read Tibullus, and Virgil too, without being indebted to either University for his learning.
No man, Sir Hargrave, in my humble opinion [With a decisive air he spoke the word humble] can be well-grounded in any branch of learning, who has not been at one of our famous Universities.
I never yet proposed, Mr. Walden, to qualify myself for a degree. My Chaplain is a very pretty fellow. He understands Tibullus, I believe [Immoderately laughing, and by his eyes cast in turn upon each person at table, bespeaking a general smile]—And of Oxford, as you are.
And again he laughed: But his laugh was then such a one, as rather showed ridicule than mirth; a provoking laugh, such a one as Mr. Greville often affects when he is in a disputatious humour, in order to dash an opponent out of countenance, by getting the laugh, instead of the argument, on his side.
My uncle, you know, will have it sometimes, that his girl has a satirical vein. I am afraid she has—
A bold hussy!—But this I will say, I mean no ill-nature: I love every-body; but not their faults; as my uncle in his Letter tells me: And wish not to be spared for my own. Nor, very probably, am I, if those who see me, write of me to their chosen friends as I do to mine, of them.
Shall I tell you what I imagine each person of the company I am writing about (writing in character) would say of me to their correspondents?—It would be digressing too much, or I would.
Mr. Walden in his heart, I dare say, was revenged on the Baronet. He gave him such a look, as would have grieved me the whole day, had it been given me by one whom I valued.
Sir Hargrave had too much business for his eyes with the Ladies, in order to obtain their countenance, to trouble himself about the looks of the men. And indeed he seemed to have as great a contempt for Mr. Walden, as Mr. Walden had for him.
But here I shall be too late for the post. Will this stuff go down with you at Selby-house, in want of better subjects?
Every thing from you, my Harriet—
Thank you! Thank you, all, my indulgent friends! So it ever was. Trifles from those we love, are acceptable. May I deserve your Love!
Adieu, my Lucy!—But tell my Nancy, that she has delighted me by her Letter.
LA STORIA DI
Volume I - lettera 11
MISS BYRON. CONTINUA
Mi è convenuto, Lucy, interrompere proprio dove l'ho fatto nell'ultima mia, altrimenti non sarei stata così tanto altruista da supporre che tu non fossi curiosa di sentire quello che senza dubbio volevo raccontarti. Due ragazze che chiacchierano su nuove conoscenze, direbbe mio zio Selby, non sono portate a interrompersi all'improvviso, in particolare non quella delle due che ha trovato una buona scusa per riferire tutti i complimenti che le sono stati fatti; e quando forse potrebbe esserci un nuovo ammiratore in gioco.
È così, zio? E quale dei gentiluomini credi che sia? Scommetto che credi sia il baronetto... e così è.
Be', allora, lascia che ti faccia un abbozzo di lui, Lucy. Ma considera che metto insieme il mio resoconto da quello che mi è stato detto, così come da quello che ho osservato al momento.
Sir Hargrave Pollexfen è bello e signorile; piuttosto alto, sui ventotto o trenta. La carnagione è piuttosto buona per uomo, ma anche un po' pallida. Ha degli occhi notevoli, piuttosto vicini a quello che definiremmo sgranarli, e attraverso di essi sembra come se volesse essere considerato un libertino, forse, secondo lui, come una raccomandazione verso le signore. Miss Cantillon, dietro le spalle di lui, mentre Lady Betty lo stava elogiando, ha detto che Sir Hargrave aveva gli occhi più belli che avesse mai visto in un uomo. Virili, espressivi.
È molto loquace, ma è una loquacità che deriva più dall'assenza di dubbi che da qualità straordinarie in ciò che dice. Ma è ritenuto persona di buonsenso, e se riuscisse a persuadersi ad ascoltare di più e parlare di meno meriterebbe maggiormente la stima di cui è certo di godere. Ma visto che può dire qualsiasi cosa senza esitare, e suscitare il riso ridendo per primo di ciò che sta per dire, così come di ciò che ha appena detto, è ritenuto infinitamente simpatico dai gaudenti, e da coloro che vogliono affogare i pensieri nell'allegria.
Sir Hargrave sembra che abbia viaggiato, ma deve aver portato all'estero un gran numero di bizzarrie, e un bel po' di affettazione, se ha lasciato qualcosa dietro di sé.
Ma, con tutte le sue debolezze, si dice sia un uomo intraprendente e coraggioso, e le signorine, così sembra, devono stare attente a ridere con lui, poiché crea ingenerose interpretazioni a svantaggio delle donne che sembrano compiacersi dei suoi scherzi.
In seguito ti racconterò come sono venuta a conoscenza di queste cose, e anche di peggio, su di lui.
La tendenza del momento sembra essere quella di abbigliarsi; non c'è quindi da meravigliarsi se un uomo come Sir Hargrave punti a eccellere in questo. Che cosa può non concedersi qualcuno che valuta più il corpo che la mente? Ma, secondo me, il suo abbigliamento diventerebbe migliore, se la pena che senza dubbio si prende prima di presentarsi in pubblico fosse meno evidente. Giudico questo dalla sua premura di mantenere tutto in perfetto ordine, quando è in compagnia, poiché non dimentica di porgere i propri omaggi a se stesso davanti a ogni specchio; ma lo fa con apparente consapevolezza, come se volesse nascondere una vanità troppo evidente per essere tenuta segreta; se ne discosta, se si sente osservato, con finta noncuranza, ma con aria apparentemente insoddisfatta, fingendo di aver scoperto qualcosa di imperfetto in se stesso. Ciò fallisce di rado dal procurargli un complimento, verso il quale si dimostra molto sensibile, negando in modo ostentato di meritarlo, probabilmente con un inchino, portandosi le mani al petto, scuotendo ripetutamente la testa, e con parole come queste, Parola mia, signora (o signore) mi fate troppo onore.
Questo è Sir Hargrave Pollexfen.
Si è messo vicino alla ragazza di campagna, e con lei si è lanciato in discorsi raffinati, andando avanti in maniera tale che per un po' non ho avuto alcuna possibilità di convincerlo che già da prima ero stata in compagnia di persone brillanti. Sosteneva che io fossi una bellezza perfetta, e mi riteneva moto giovane. Molto sciocco, ovviamente, e si dava certe arie, come se fosse certo della mia ammirazione.
L'ho visto regolarmente per diverse volte, e dato che una volta il mio sguardo si è abbassato di fronte al suo, come se lo stessi guardando, credo proprio che in quel momento abbia compatito quel povero cuore innamorato, che immaginava fosse in tumulto a causa sua, mentre, proprio in quel momento, stavo decidendo se, ove fossi stata costretta a subire come punizione di una grave colpa commessa uno o l'altro dei due, la mia scelta sarebbe caduta su Mr. Singleton o su di lui. Voglio dire, supponendo che il primo non fosse un uomo particolarmente ostinato, visto che l'ostinazione in un uomo debole credo sia peggiore della tirannia in uno di buonsenso... sempre se un uomo di buonsenso possa essere un tiranno.
La chiamata per il pranzo mi liberò da suoi discorsi più specifici, e lo mise a una certa distanza da me.
Sir Hargrave, per tutto il pranzo, fu oggetto degli sguardi altezzosi e del comportamento di Mr. Walden, che sembrava, per qualsiasi cosa dicesse il baronetto (e raramente restava in silenzio), quasi disprezzarlo, visto che a volte faceva smorfie di sdegno così variegate che pensai fosse impossibile esprimerle con una sola fisionomia. Per qualche minuto ho fatto delle smorfie allo specchio, per cercare di ritrovarne qualcuna di quelle di Mr. Walden, allo scopo di descrivertele, Lucy, ma non sono riuscita a contorcere il viso tanto da permettermi di dartene un'idea.
Avrebbe forse potuto essere più giustificato in un qualche suo disprezzo, se non fosse stato così evidente che l'importanza che cercava di togliere al baronetto la annetteva a se stesso, e quindi era da biasimare in un senso, così come Sir Hargrave lo era nell'altro.
L'allegria, per quanto insipida, provoca il sorriso, anche se talvolta a svantaggio di chi è allegro. Ma la tetraggine, la rigidezza, il malumore provocano sempre disgusto, anche se in un Salomone. A Mr. Walden non l'hanno insegnato, e in verità potrebbe sembrare un po' ingrata [non credi, Lucy?] una donna che non ricompensa col sorriso un uomo che non esita a trasformarsi in uno... scimmiotto (posso dirlo?) per compiacerle.
Prima d'ora non avevo mai notato la differenza tra un uomo di città e uno di college, messa così in evidenza come in questi due gentiluomini durante la conversazione dopo il pranzo. Uno sembrava deciso a non farsi piacere nulla, mentre l'altro si dava da fare per piacere a tutti, e talmente a sue spese da mettere spesso in questione le sue facoltà intellettive. Con una seconda sciocchezza cancellava il ricordo di una prima, e così via; e ridendo continuamente alle sue stesse assurdità, ci lasciava la libertà di immaginare che la sua stupidità fosse una scelta, e che, se non fosse stato per divertire la compagnia, avrebbe fatto una figura migliore.
Mr. Walden, com'era evidente dal suo cipiglio scontroso, dallo sdegnoso movimento delle labbra e dal volto ostentatamente rivolto al baronetto, gli invidiava il sorriso incollato sul volto di tutti, al quale, senza distinguere se si trattasse di un sorriso di approvazione o no, guardava come se ci compatisse tutti, e come se si ritenesse incappato in una compagnia inadeguata. Non solo, due o tre volte si rivolse, preferendolo a chiunque altro, all'onesto e lezioso Mr. Singleton, il quale, da parte sua, com'era evidente, gradiva molto di più le impertinenze del baronetto, rispetto alla arida espressività dello studente. Qualsiasi cosa dicesse Sir Hargrave, Mr. Singleton restava a bocca aperta, ma reagiva in modo del tutto diverso quando parlava Mr. Walden, anche nel momento in cui quest'ultimo gli concesse l'onore di rivolgersi a lui, come se fosse la persona più importante del gruppo.
Ma, a proposito Lucy, non credi che per noi sciocche donne sia molto positivo che la maggior parte dei signori del creato non sia molto più saggia di noi? O, in altre parole, che una iper-saggezza sia qualcosa di stupido quanto una moderata stupidità? Ma basta! Ho finito... so che a questo punto mio zio sarà prontissimo a mettersi contro di me.
Dopo il pranzo, Mr. Walden, non volendo più essere eclissato in modo così eclatante dall'uomo di città, diede manforte allo studioso.
A proposito, vorrei chiedere allo zio se la parola studioso non significhi più chi si sta istruendo che chi è istruito. Se in origine non significava nulla di più, presumo che a quei tempi gli uomini più istruiti fossero i più modesti, accontentandosi di essere considerati solo chi si sta istruendo; la modestia si addice a un uomo istruito, dato che, vasto com'è il campo della scienza, come era solito dire il mio riverito primo maestro, più un uomo sa e più sa di non sapere.
Vi prego, Sir Hargrave, ha detto Mr. Walden, posso chiedervi... avete detto qualcosa proprio adesso, parlando di amore e bellezza, che so che dovete aver preso da Tibullo [e poi ripeté il verso con tono eroico, e, facendo una pausa, guardò verso noi donne]; quale università ha avuto l'onore di veder finire i vostri studi, Sir Hargrave? Presumo siate stato educato in una di esse.
Io no, disse il baronetto; si può sicuramente leggere Tibullo, o anche Virgilio, senza essere in debito con una qualche università per la propria istruzione.
Nessuno, Sir Hargrave, a mio modesto avviso [pronunciando con tono risoluto la parola modesto] può essere competente in qualsiasi ramo dell'istruzione, se non è stato in una famosa università.
Non ho mai avuto intenzione, Mr. Walden, di prendere una laurea. Il mio cappellano è un'ottima persona. Credo che sappia tutto di Tibullo [con una sonora risata, e con lo sguardo che si rivolgeva a turno a tutti quelli che erano a tavola, suscitando sorrisi generalizzati]... e di Oxford, come voi.
E rise di nuovo; ma la sua risata fu tale da suscitare il ridicolo e non l'allegria; una risata provocante, come quella che finge spesso Mr. Greville quando è di umore litigioso, allo scopo di far uscire dai gangheri un avversario, buttandola sul ridere, invece di argomentare.
Mio zio, come sai, dirà che la sua ragazza ha una vena satirica. Temo che ce l'abbia...
Che sfacciata! Ma ti dirò, non di natura cattiva; amo tutti, ma non i loro difetti; come mio zio dice a me nella sua lettera: E mi auguro si faccia lo stesso con i miei. Né, molto probabilmente, sono io, se quelli che mi incontrano, scrivono di me ai loro amici preferiti come io di essi ai miei.
Devo raccontarti che cosa immagino che ognuno di quelli di cui ti scrivo (parlando di carattere) dica di me ai suoi corrispondenti? Sarebbe divagare troppo, altrimenti lo farei.
Mr. Walden, in cuor suo, credo proprio si sia vendicato del baronetto. Gli ha lanciato uno sguardo tale che mi avrebbe rattristato per tutto il giorno, se fosse arrivato da qualcuno che stimo.
Gli occhi di Sir Hargrave avevano troppo da fare con le signore, allo scopo di ottenerne l'attenzione, per preoccuparsi degli sguardi degli uomini. E in verità sembrava disprezzare Mr. Walden quanto Mr. Walden disprezzava lui.
Ma ormai è troppo tardi per la posta. Questo materiale arriverà con te a Selby-house, in mancanza di argomenti migliori?
Da te va bene tutto, Harriet mia...
Grazie! grazie di tutto, miei indulgenti amici! È sempre così. Accettiamo le frivolezze da coloro che amiamo. Possa io meritare il vostro amore!
Adieu, Lucy mia! Ma di' alla mia Nancy che la sua lettera è stata una delizia.
Volume I - Letter 12
MISS BYRON. IN CONTINUATION.
What is your opinion, my charming Miss Byron? said the Baronet: May not a man of fortune, who has not receiv'd his education and polish [He pronounced the word polish with an emphasis, and another laugh] at an University, make as good a figure in social life, and as ardent a Lover, as if he had?
I would have been silent: But, staring in my face, he repeated, What say you to this, Miss Byron?
The World, Sir Hargrave, I have heard called an University: But, in my humble opinion, neither a learned, nor what is called a fine education, has any other value than as each tends to improve the morals of men, and to make them wise and good.
The world an University! repeated Mr. Walden. Why, truly, looking up to Sir Hargrave's face, and then down to his feet, disdainfully, as if he would measure him with his eye, I cannot but say, twisting his head on one side, and with a drolling accent, that the world produces very pretty scholars—for the Ladies—
The Baronet took fire at being so contemptuously measured by the eye of the Scholar; and I thought it was not amiss, for fear of high words between them, to put myself forward.
And are not women, Mr. Walden, resumed I, one half in number, tho' not perhaps in value, of the human species?—Would it not be pity, Sir, if the knowledge that is to be obtained in the lesser University should make a man despise what is to be acquired in the greater, in which that knowledge was principally intended to make him useful?
This diverted the Baronet's anger: Well, Mr. Walden, said he, exultingly rubbing his hands, what say you to the young Lady's observation? By my Soul it is worth your notice. You may carry it down with you to your University; and the best scholars there will not be the worse for attending to it.
Mr. Walden seemed to collect himself, as if he were inclined to consider me with more attention than he had given me before; and waving his hand, as if he would put by the Baronet, as an adversary he had done with, I am to thank you, madam, said he, it seems, for your observation. And so the lesser University—
I have great veneration, Mr. Walden, interrupted I, for learning, and great honour for learned men—But this is a subject—
That you must not get off from, young Lady.
I am sorry to hear you say so, Sir—But indeed I must.
The company seemed pleased to see me so likely to be drawn in; and this encouraged Mr. Walden to push his weak adversary.
Know you, madam, said he, any-thing of the learned languages?
No, indeed, Sir—Nor do I know which, particularly, you call so.
The Greek, the Latin, madam.
Who, I, a woman, know any thing of Latin and Greek! I know but one Lady who is mistress of both; and she finds herself so much an owl among the birds, that she wants of all things to be thought to have unlearned them.
Why, Ladies, I cannot but say, that I should rather choose to marry a woman whom I could teach something, than one who would think herself qualified to teach me.
Is it a necessary consequence, Sir, said Miss Clements, that knowledge, which makes a man shine, should make a woman vain and pragmatical? May not two persons, having the same taste, improve each other? Was not this the case of Monsieur and Madame Dacier?
Flint and steel to each other, added Lady Betty.
Turkish policy, I doubt, in you men, proceeded Miss Clements—No second brother near the throne. That empire some think the safest which is founded in ignorance.
We know, Miss Clements, replied Mr. Walden, that you are a well-read Lady. But I have nothing to say to observations that are in every-body's mouth—Pardon me, Madam.
Indeed, Sir, said Mr. Reeves, I think Miss Clements should not pardon you. There is, in my opinion, great force in what she hinted.
But I have a mind to talk with this fair Lady, your cousin, Mr. Reeves. She is the very Lady that I wish to hold an argument with, on the hints she threw out.
Pardon me, Sir. But I cannot return the compliment. I cannot argue.
And yet, madam, I will not let you go off so easily. You seem to be very happy in your elocution, and to have some pretty notions, for so young a Lady.
I cannot argue, Sir—
Dear Miss Byron, said the Baronet, hear what Mr. Walden has to say to you.
Every one made the same request. I was silent, look'd down, and play'd with my fan.
When Mr. Walden had liberty to say what he pleased, he seemed at a loss himself, for words.
At last, I asked you, madam, I asked you (hesitatingly began he) whether you knew any thing of the learned languages? It has been whispered to me, that you have had great advantages from a grandfather, of whose learning and politeness we have heard much. He was a scholar. He was of Christ's, in our University, if I am not mistaken—To my question you answered, That you knew not particularly which were the languages that I called the learned ones: and you have been pleased to throw out hints in relation to the lesser and to the greater University; by all which you certainly mean something—
Pray, Mr. Walden, said I—
And pray, Miss Byron—I am afraid of all smatterers in learning. Those who know a little—and Ladies cannot know to the bottom—They have not the happiness of an University education—
Nor is every man at the University, I presume, Sir, a Mr. Walden.
O my Lucy! I have since been told, that this pragmatical man has very few admirers in the university to which, out of it, he is so fond of boasting a relation.
He took it for a compliment—Why, as to that, madam—bowing—But this is a misfortune to Ladies, not a fault in them—But, as I was going to say, Those who know little, are very seldom sound, are very seldom orthodox, as we call it, whether respecting religion or learning: And as it seems you lost your Grandfather too early to be well-grounded in the latter (in the former Lady Betty, who is my informant, says, you are a very good young Lady) I should be glad to put you right if you happen to be a little out of the way.
I thank you, Sir, bowing, and (Simpleton!) still playing with my fan. But, tho' Mr. Reeves said nothing, he did not think me very politely treated. Yet he wanted, he told me afterwards, to have me drawn out.
He should not have served me so, I told him; especially among strangers, and men.
Now, madam, will you be pleased to inform me, said Mr. Walden, Whether you had any particular meaning, when you answered, that you knew not which I called the learned languages? You must know, that the Latin and Greek are of those so called!
I beg, Mr. Walden, that I may not be thus singled out—Mr. Reeves—Sir—you have had University-education. Pray relieve your cousin.
Mr. Reeves smiled, bowed his head, but said nothing.
You were pleased, madam, proceeded Mr. Walden, to mention one learned Lady; and said that she looked upon herself as an owl among the birds—
And you, Sir, said, that you had rather (and I believe most men are of your mind) have a woman you could teach—
Than one who would suppose she could teach me. I did so.
Well, Sir, and would you have me be guilty of an ostentation that would bring me no credit, if I had had some pains taken with me in my education? But indeed, Sir, I know not any-thing of those you call the learned languages. Nor do I take all learning to consist in the knowledge of languages.
All learning!—Nor I, madam—But if you place not learning in language, be so good as to tell us what do you place it in?
He nodded his head with an air, as if he had said, This pretty Miss is got out of her depth. I believe I shall have her now.
I would rather, Sir, said I, be an hearer than a speaker; and the one would better become me than the other. I answered Sir Hargrave, because he thought proper to apply to me.
And I, madam, apply to you likewise.
Then, Sir, I have been taught to think, that a learned man and a linguist may very well be two persons.
Very well. Be pleased to proceed, madam.
Languages, I own, Sir, are of use, to let us into the knowledge for which so many of the ancients were famous—But—
Here I stopped. Every one's eyes were upon me. I was a little out of countenance.
In what a situation, Lucy, are we women?—If we have some little genius, and have taken pains to cultivate it, we must be thought guilty of affectation, whether we appear desirous to conceal it, or submit to have it called forth.
But, what, madam? Pray proceed, eagerly said Mr. Walden—But, what, madam?
But have not the moderns, Sir, if I must speak, if they have equal genius's, the same heavens, the same earth, the same works of God, or of nature, as it is called, to contemplate upon, and improve by? The first great genius's of all had not human example, had not human precepts—
Nor were the first genius's of all (with an emphasis, replied Mr. Walden) so perfect, as the observations of the genius's of after-times, which were built upon their foundations, made them; and they others. Learning, or knowledge, as you choose to call it, was a progressive thing: And it became necessary to understand the different languages in which the sages of antiquity wrote, in order to avail ourselves of their learning.
Very right, Sir, I believe. You consider skill in languages then as a vehicle to knowledge—Not, I presume, as science itself.
I was sorry the Baronet laughed; because his laughing made it more difficult for me to get off, as I wanted to do.
Pray, Sir Hargrave, said Mr. Walden, let not every thing that is said be laughed at. I am fond of talking to this young Lady: And a conversation upon this topic may tend as much to edification, perhaps, as most of the subjects with which we have been hitherto entertained.
Sir Hargrave took an empty glass, and with it humorously rapped his own knuckles, bowed, smiled, and was silent; by that act of yielding, which had gracefulness in it, gaining more honour to himself, than Mr. Walden obtained by his rebuke of him, however just.
But this humorous acknowledgement hindered not Mr. Walden from showing, by a nod, given with an assuming air, that he thought he had obtained a victory over the Baronet: And then he again applied himself to me.
Now, madam, if you please [and he put himself into a disputing attitude] a word or two with you, on your vehicle, and so-forth.
Pray spare me, Sir: I am willing to sit down quietly. I am unequal to this subject. I have done.
But, said the Baronet, you must not sit down quietly, madam: Mr. Walden has promised us edification; and we all attend the effect of his promise.
No, no, madam, said Mr. Walden, you must not come off so easily. You have thrown out some extraordinary things for a Lady, and especially for so young a Lady. From you we expect the opinions of your worthy grandfather, as well as your own notions. He no doubt told you, or you have read, that the competition set on foot between the learning of the ancients and moderns, has been the subject of much debate among the learned in the latter end of the last century.
Indeed, Sir, I know nothing of the matter. I am not learned. My grandfather was chiefly intent to make me an English, and, I may say, a Bible scholar. I was very young when I had the misfortune to lose him. My whole endeavour has been since, that the pains he took with me, should not be cast away.
I have discovered you, madam, to be a Parthian Lady. You can fight flying, I see. You must not, I tell you, come off so easily for what you have thrown out. Let me ask you, Did you ever read The Tale of a Tub?
The Baronet laughed-out, tho' evidently in the wrong place.
How apt are laughing spirits, said Mr. Walden, looking solemnly, to laugh, when perhaps they ought—There he stopped—[to be laugh'd at, I suppose he had in his head]. But I will not, however, be laugh'd out of my question—Have you, madam, read Swift's Tale of a Tub?—There is such a book, Sir Hargrave; looking with a leer of contempt at the Baronet.
I know there is, Mr. Walden, replied the Baronet, and again laughed—Have you, madam; to me? Pray let us know, what Mr. Walden drives at.
I have, Sir.
Why then, madam, resumed Mr. Walden, you no doubt read, bound up with it, The Battle of the Books; a very fine piece, written in favour of the ancients, and against the moderns; and thence must be acquainted with the famous dispute I mentioned. And this will show you, that the moderns are but pygmies in science compared to the ancients. And, pray, shall not the knowledge which enables us, to understand and to digest the wisdom of these immortal ancients, be accounted learning?—Pray, madam, nodding his head, answer me that.
O how these pedants, whispered Sir Hargrave to Mr. Reeves, strut in the livery and brass buttons of the ancients, and call their servility, learning!
You are going beyond my learning, or capacity, Sir. I must agree, that the knowledge which enables us to comprehend the wisdom of the ancients, and to be improved by it, deserves to be called learning. Yet the ancients may be read, I suppose, and not understood?—But pray, Sir, let the Parthian fly the field. I promise you that she will not return to the charge. Escape, not victory, is all she contends for.
All in good time, madam—But who, pray, learns the language but with a view to understand the author?
No-body, I believe, Sir. But yet some who read the ancients, may fail of understanding them, or at least, of improving by them; for every scholar, I presume, is not, necessarily, a man of sense.
The Baronet was wicked here, in pointing by a laugh, as particular satire, what I meant but as general observation.
But supposing the knowledge of these ancients, continued I, as great as you please, is it not to be lamented; is it not, indeed, strange, that none of the modern learned, notwithstanding the advantage of their works; notwithstanding the later important discoveries in many branches of science; notwithstanding a Revelation from Heaven, to which the religion of the Pagans was foolishness (and on which foolishness, however, I am told, most of the works of antiquity are founded); should have deserved a higher consideration in the comparison, than as pygmies to giants?
I was going to say something farther; but the Baronet, by his loud applauses, disconcerted me; and I was silent.
Proceed, madam.—No triumph, no cause of triumph, here, Sir Hargrave!—Pray, madam, proceed—You have not done, I perceive.
I should be very glad, Sir, to have done. Pray change either the subject, or choose another disputant.
Every one called upon me to proceed; and Mr. Walden urged me to say what I was going to say.
But will you not, my Lucy, be glad of a little relief from this argument.—Yes, say. Here then I conclude this Letter, to begin another. But it must be after I return from the play this night, or early in the morning before I go to church.
Volume I - lettera 12
MISS BYRON. CONTINUA
Che cosa ne pensate, Miss Byron? ha detto il baronetto: Un uomo ricco, che non ha frequentato e seguito lezioni di eleganza [ha pronunciato la parola eleganza con enfasi e un'altra risata] in una università, non può forse fare la sua figura nella vita sociale, ed essere un ardente innamorato, come se l'avesse fatto?
Avrei voluto restare in silenzio, ma guardandomi fisso in volto, ha ripetuto, Che cosa ne dite voi, su questo, Miss Byron?
Il mondo, Sir Hargrave, l'ho sentito chiamare una università, ma, secondo la mia modesta opinione, né una istruzione, né quella che è chiamata una raffinata educazione, ha altro valore che tendere a perfezionare la moralità degli uomini, e a renderli saggi e buoni.
Il mondo una università! ha ripetuto Mr. Walden. Be', certo, alzando lo sguardo sul volto di Sir Hargrave, e poi abbassandolo verso terra, in modo sprezzante, come se volesse misurarlo con gli occhi, Non posso che dire, voltando il capo da una parte e con tono derisorio, che il mondo produce molti piacevoli studiosi... per le signore...
Il baronetto ha preso fuoco dopo essere stato misurato con lo sguardo dello studioso con tale disprezzo, e ho ritenuto che non fosse fuori luogo farmi avanti, per paura che si prendessero a male parole.
E non ci sono donne, Mr. Walden, ho ripreso, metà come numero, anche se non forse come valore, nella specie umana? Non ci sarebbe forse da rammaricarsi, signore, se la conoscenza ottenuta in università minori dovesse far disprezzare a qualcuno ciò che si acquisisce nelle maggiori, nelle quali quella conoscenza è intesa soprattutto a essere utile?
Ciò ha sviato la collera del baronetto: Be', Mr. Walden, ha detto, sfregandosi le mani con fare esultante, che avete da dire circa l'osservazione della signorina? Parola mia, è degna della vostra attenzione. Potete portarla con voi nella vostra università, e i migliori studiosi non faranno male a occuparsene.
Mr. Walden è sembrato ricomporsi, come se fosse incline a considerarmi con maggiore interesse di quanto me ne avesse tributato prima, e, agitando la mano, come se volesse scansare il baronetto, come un antagonista sconfitto, Credo di dovervi ringraziare, signora, ha detto, per la vostra osservazione. E così le università minori...
Ho un enorme rispetto, Mr. Walden, l'ho interrotto, per l'istruzione, e grande stima per chi mi istruisce... ma è un argomento...
Che non dovreste trascurare, signorina.
Mi dispiace sentirvi dire questo, signore... ma in verità devo.
Gli altri sembravano compiaciuti di vedermi probabilmente coinvolta, e ciò ha incoraggiato Mr. Walden a premere sul debole avversario.
Sapete qualcosa, signora, delle lingue erudite?
No davvero, signore... e nemmeno so con precisione quali siano quelle che chiamate così.
Il greco e il latino, signora.
Che io, donna, sappia qualcosa di latino e greco! Non conosco che una signora che sia padrona di entrambe, e si sente talmente una mosca bianca, che sopra ogni altra cosa non vorrebbe si sapesse che le ha studiate.
Be', gentili signore, posso solo dire che preferirei sposare una donna alla quale insegnare qualcosa, più di una che pensi di avere i requisiti per insegnare a me.
È proprio una conseguenza necessaria, signore, ha detto Miss Clements, che le conoscenze che rendono brillante un uomo rendano una donna presuntuosa e invadente? Due persone con gli stessi gusti non possono forse migliorarsi a vicenda? Non è questo il caso di Monsieur e Madame Dacier?
Pietra e acciarino a vicenda, ha aggiunto Lady Betty.
Credo che sia un comportamento alla turca in voi uomini, ha continuato Miss Clements. Mai un fratello minore accanto al trono. Qualcuno crede che un impero sia più al sicuro se è fondato sull'ignoranza.
Sappiamo, Miss Clements, ha replicato Mr. Walden, che siete una signora istruita. Ma non ho nulla da dire su considerazioni che sono sulla bocca di tutti... perdonatemi, signora.
In verità, signore, ha detto Mr. Reeves, credo che Miss Clements non vi perdonerà. Secondo me, c'è molto di vero in quello che ha detto.
Ma ho intenzione di chiacchierare con questa bella signora, vostra cugina, Mr. Reeves. È proprio la signora con la quale intendersi sugli argomenti che ha buttato là.
Scusatemi, signore, ma non posso ricambiare il complimento. Non sono capace di disputare.
Eppure, signora, non lascerò che ve la caviate così facilmente. Sembrate molto abile nell'eloquio, e avete qualche idea discreta. per essere una donna così giovane.
Non sono capace di disputare, signore...
Cara Miss Byron, ha detto il baronetto, ascoltate ciò ha da dirvi Mr. Walden.
Tutti fecero la stessa richiesta. Io sono rimasta in silenzio, con gli occhi bassi e giocando con il ventaglio.
Una volta avuta libertà di dire ciò che voleva, Mr. Walden è sembrato a corto di parole.
Alla fine, Vi ho chiesto, signora, vi ho chiesto (cominciò incerto) se conoscevate qualcosa delle lingue erudite. Mi è stato accennato che avete goduto di grandi benefici da un nonno, dei cui insegnamenti si è sentito molto parlare. Era uno studioso. Era del Christ, a Cambridge, se non sbaglio. Alla mia domanda avete risposto che non conoscevate con precisione quali fossero le lingue che ho chiamato erudite, e vi siete compiaciuta di buttare là degli accenni in relazione a università minori e maggiori; di certo intendevate dire qualcosa...
Vi prego, Mr. Walden, ho detto.
Vi prego io, Miss Byron... sull'erudizione temo tutti i saccenti. Coloro che ne sanno un po'.... e le signore non possono saperne molto... non godono dell'istruzione di una università...
Né presumo che ogni uomo che frequenta l'università sia un Mr. Walden, signore.
Oh, Lucy mia! Ho già detto che quest'uomo così presuntuoso ha pochissimi ammiratori all'università, con i quali, al di fuori di essa, possa vantare dei rapporti.
Lui lo ha preso come un complimento. Be', quanto a questo, signora... con un inchino, Ma è una sfortuna per le signore, non un difetto in loro stesse. Ma, quello che volevo dire, è che coloro che sono poco istruiti, sono molto di rado attendibili, molto di rado ortodossi, come li chiamo io, nei confronti della religione o dell'istruzione, e dato che forse avete perso troppo presto vostro nonno per essere ferrata in quest'ultima (quanto alla prima, Lady Betty, che è la mia informatrice, dice che siete un'ottima giovane) sarei lieto di esservi utile, se pensate di averne bisogno.
Vi ringrazio, signore, con un inchino, e (che babbeo!) continuando a giocare con il ventaglio. Ma, anche se Mr. Reeves non ha detto niente, non ha ritenuto che fossi stata trattata con molta cortesia. Voleva portarmi via, così mi ha detto dopo.
Non mi avrebbe reso un buon servizio, gli ho detto, specialmente in presenza di estranei, e uomini.
Ora, signora, sarete così gentile da informarmi, ha detto Mr. Walden, se intendevate qualcosa di particolare, quando avete risposto che non conoscevate quelle che avevo chiamato lingue erudite? Dovete sicuramente sapere che quelle chiamate così sono il latino e il greco!
Mi scuso, Mr. Walden, per non saperlo... Mr. Reeves... signore... voi avete avuto un'istruzione universitaria. Vi prego, venite in soccorso di vostra cugina.
Mr. Reeves sorrise, fece un inchino, ma non disse nulla.
Volevate, signora, proseguì Mr. Walden, menzionare una signora istruita, e avete detto che si sentiva una mosca bianca...
E voi, signore, avete detto che avreste preferito (e credo che la maggior parte degli uomini siano dello stesso parere) una donna a cui dover insegnare...
A una che pensasse di dover insegnare a me. Sì, ho detto così.
Be', signore, non mi avreste dunque considerata colpevole di una ostentazione che non mi farebbe onore, se mi fossi presa la briga di istruirmi? Ma in verità, signore, non so nulla di quelle che chiamate lingue erudite. Né credo che l'intera istruzione consista nella conoscenza delle lingue.
Intera istruzione! Nemmeno io, signora... ma se non mettete le lingue nel campo dell'istruzione, siate così buona da dirmi che cosa ci mettete!
Chinò il capo con l'aria di qualcuno che avesse detto, Questa graziosa fanciulla è esentata dall'essere profonda. Ormai penso di averla in pugno.
Preferisco di gran lunga ascoltare che parlare, e la prima cosa è più adatta a me della seconda. Ho risposto a Sir Hargrave perché aveva ritenuto appropriato rivolgersi a me.
E io, signora, mi rivolgo a voi in modo simile.
Allora, signore, mi hanno insegnato a credere che un uomo istruito e un linguista possono essere due persone distinte.
Benissimo. Abbiate la compiacenza di proseguire, signora.
Ammetto, signore, che le lingue siano utili, per consentirci di capire perché così tanti antichi fossero famosi... ma...
Qui mi sono fermata. Tutti gli sguardi erano rivolti a me. Ero un po' agitata.
In che situazione siamo noi donne, Lucy? Se abbiamo un po' di talento, e ci siamo date da fare per coltivarlo, siamo ritenute colpevoli di affettazione, e lo stesso se sembriamo desiderare di nasconderlo, o accettiamo di renderlo palese.
Ma che cosa, signora? Vi prego di proseguire, ha detto con fervore Mr. Walden. Ma, che cosa, signora?
Ma, se posso dirlo, signore, non hanno i moderni, se hanno il medesimo talento, lo stesso cielo, la stessa terra, le stesse opere di Dio, o della natura, quali che siano, da contemplare e migliorare? Il primo di tutti i talenti non aveva esempi umani, regole umane...
Il primo di tutti i talenti (ha replicato con enfasi Mr. Walden) non era così perfetto come lo studio ha reso i talenti dei tempi successivi, edificati su quelle fondamenta. L'istruzione, o la conoscenza, chiamatela come volete, è stata graduale, ed è diventato necessario capire le diverse lingue in cui scrivevano i saggi dell'antichità, allo scopo di avvalerci del loro sapere.
Credo sia giustissimo, signore. Dunque voi ritenete la comprensione delle lingue un veicolo di conoscenza... non, presumo, una scienza in sé...
Mi dispiacque veder ridere il baronetto, poiché la sua risata mi rese più difficile chiudere il discorso, come volevo fare.
Vi prego, Sir Hargrave, ha detto Mr. Walden, non mettetevi a ridere per qualsiasi cosa venga detta. Mi piace chiacchierare con questa giovane signora, e una conversazione su questo tema può forse dare lo stesso beneficio morale della maggior parte degli argomenti sui quali ci siamo fin qui intrattenuti.
Sir Hargrave ha preso un bicchiere vuoto, e lo ha scherzosamente sbattuto contro le nocche delle dita, ha fatto un inchino, ha sorriso ed è rimasto in silenzio; con quei gesti arrendevoli, in sé pieni di eleganza, si è fatto più onore di quanto ne aveva ottenuto Mr. Walden biasimandolo, per quanto giusto fosse.
Ma quello spiritoso riconoscimento non ha impedito a Mr. Walden di mostrare, con un ostentato cenno del capo, di aver ottenuto una vittoria sul baronetto; si è quindi rivolto nuovamente a me.
Ora, signora, se vi aggrada [e ha assunto l'atteggiamento di chi dà l'avvio a una disputa] una parola o due con voi, sul vostro veicolo, e via dicendo.
Vi prego di risparmiarmelo, signore; vorrei starmene tranquilla. Sono inadatta a questo argomento. Ho concluso.
Ma, ha detto il baronetto, non dovete starvene tranquilla, signora; Mr. Walden ci ha promesso un beneficio morale, e noi tutti siamo in attesa degli effetti di quella promessa.
No, no, signora, ha detto Mr. Walden, non potete sottrarvi così facilmente. Avete detto qualcosa di straordinario per una gentildonna, e specialmente per una gentildonna così giovane. Da voi ci aspettiamo le opinioni del vostro onorato nonno, così come le vostre idee. Senza dubbio egli vi ha detto, o voi avete letto, che la contesa sorta tra il sapere degli antichi e dei moderni è stata oggetto di molte discussioni tra gli eruditi alla fine del secolo scorso.
In verità, signore, non ne so nulla. Non sono un'erudita. Il principale scopo di mio nonno è stato quello di fare di me una inglese, e, posso dirlo, una studiosa della Bibbia. Ero molto giovane quando ebbi la disgrazia di perderlo. Da allora, il mio sforzo più grande è stato quello di non gettare al vento ciò ha fatto per me.
Mi accorgo, signora, che siete una gentildonna sfuggente. Vedo che siete capace di combattere fuggendo. Dico che non potete sottrarvi così facilmente dopo ciò che avete detto. Posso chiedervi se avete mai letto La favola della botte? (1)
Il baronetto è scoppiato a ridere, anche se evidentemente fuori luogo.
Come sono pronti a ridere i ridanciani, ha detto Mr. Walden con aria solenne, quando invece si dovrebbe... Qui si è fermato [ridere di loro, immagino che avesse in mente]. Ma comunque, io non voglio che si rida della mia domanda... Avete mai letto, signora, Favola della botte di Swift? Esiste un libro del genere, Sir Hargrave, con un'occhiata di disprezzo al baronetto.
Lo so che esiste, Mr. Walden, ha risposto il baronetto, ridendo di nuovo. L'avete letto signora, me lo dite? Vi prego, fateci sapere a che cosa mira Mr. Walden.
L'ho letto, signore.
Be', allora, signora, ha ripreso Mr. Walden, senza dubbio avete letto, nello stesso volume, La battaglia dei libri (2), un pezzo molto bello, scritto in favore degli antichi e contro i moderni, e quindi dovete essere al corrente della famosa disputa che ho menzionato. E ciò vi dimostrerà che i moderni non sono che pigmei della scienza, in confronto agli antichi. E, vi prego, non deve forse la conoscenza che ci permette di capire e assimilare la saggezza di quegli immortali antichi, essere acquisita tramite l'istruzione? Vi prego, signora, chinando il capo, rispondetemi su questo.
Oh, ha sussurrato Sir Hargrave a Mr. Reeves, questi pedanti vanno avanti a omaggiare gli antichi, e chiamano istruzione il loro servilismo!
State andando oltre la mia comprensione, o capacità, signore. Devo convenire che la conoscenza che ci permette di comprendere la saggezza degli antichi, e di trarre beneficio da essa, merita di essere chiamata istruzione, ma gli antichi non possono forse anche essere letti e non capiti? Ma vi prego, signore, permettete alla sfuggente di sottrarsi alla competizione. Vi prometto che non tornerà alla carica. La fuga, non la vittoria, è tutto ciò che vuole.
A suo tempo, signora... Ma chi, vi prego, apprende una lingua se non allo scopo di capire un autore?
Credo nessuno, signore. Eppure qualcuno che legge gli antichi può non riuscire a comprenderli, o almeno a trarne beneficio, poiché immagino che ogni studioso non sia necessariamente una persona perspicace.
A questo punto il baronetto si è messo a ridere maliziosamente di una mia osservazione generale, come se si trattasse di parole satiriche.
Ma supponendo che la conoscenza di questi antichi, proseguii, sia grande come vi aggrada, non c'è da rammaricarsi, non è in effetti strano, che nessuno degli eruditi moderni, nonostante il vantaggio dato dalle loro opere, nonostante le recenti importanti scoperte in molti campi della scienza, nonostante la rivelazione celeste, in confronto alla quale la religione dei pagani era assurda (e sulla cui assurdità, tuttavia, so che sono fondate molte delle cose antiche), sia degno di una più alta considerazione di quella di essere un pigmeo rispetto ai giganti?
Stavo dicendo qualche altra cosa, ma il baronetto, con un rumoroso applauso, mi ha confusa, e sono rimasta in silenzio.
Proseguite, signora. Nessuna esultanza, nessun motivo di esultanza, Sir Hargrave! Vi prego, signora, proseguite. Credo che non abbiate finito.
Sarei lietissima, signore, di aver finito. Vi prego di cambiare argomento, oppure di cercare un'altra persona con cui discutere.
Tutti mi hanno detto di proseguire, e Mr. Walden ha insistito affinché dicessi quello che stavo per dire.
Ma, Lucy mia, non saresti lieta di qualcosa di diverso da questo argomento? Sì, dici. E allora concludo qui questa lettera, per iniziarne un'altra. Ma lo farò stasera al ritorno dal teatro, oppure domattina presto, prima di andare in chiesa.
(1) A Tale of a Tub (1704), racconto di Jonathan Swift.
(2) In effetti, An Account of a Battel Between the Ancient and Modern Books era stato pubblicato insieme al libro di Swift citato prima.
Volume I - Letter 13
MISS BYRON. IN CONTINUATION.
Urged thus by every one, What I had further in my thoughts to say, resumed I, was from what I read in my Bible. The first man seems to have had an intuitive knowledge given him of almost all that concerned him to know: And his early descendants, while there was but one language, and long before the Greek and Roman sages existed, understood Husbandry and Music, were Artificers in Brass and Iron, built that surprising naval structure the Ark; attempted a yet greater piece of architecture, the Tower of Babel; and therefore must have had skill in many other parts of science which are not particularly mentioned.
And so, madam, you really seem to think, that the knowledge we gather from the great ancients is hardly worth the pains we take in acquiring the languages in which they wrote?
Not so, Sir. I have great respect even for linguists: Do we not owe to them the translation of the sacred Books?—But methinks I could wish that such a distinction should be made between language and science, as should convince me, that That confusion of tongues, which was intended for a punishment of presumption in the early ages of the world, should not be thought to give us our greatest glory in these more enlightened times.
Well, madam, Ladies must be treated as Ladies. But I shall have great pleasure, on my return to Oxford, in being able to acquaint my learned friends, that they must all turn fine gentlemen and laughers [Mr. Reeves had smiled as well as the Baronet] and despise the great ancients as men of straw, or very shortly they will stand no chance in the Ladies favour.
Good Mr. Walden! Good Mr. Walden! laughed the Baronet, shaking his embroider'd sides, let me, let me, beg your patience, while I tell you, that the young gentlemen at both Universities, are already in more danger of becoming fine gentlemen than fine scholars—And then again he laughed; and looking round him, bespoke, in his usual way, a laugh from the rest of the company.
Mr. Reeves, a little touch'd at the scholar's reference to him, in the word laughers, said, It were to be wish'd, that in all nurseries of learning, the manners of youth were proposed as the principal end. It is too known a truth, said he, that the attention paid to languages, has too generally swallowed up all other and more important considerations; insomuch that sound morals and good breeding themselves, are obliged to give way to that which is of little moment, but as it promotes and inculcates those. And learned men, I am persuaded, if they dared to speak out, would not lay so much stress upon languages as you, Mr. Walden, seem to do.
Learning here, reply'd Mr. Walden, a little peevishly, has not a fair tribunal to be try'd at. As it is said of the advantages of birth or degree, so it may be said of learning; No one despises it that has pretensions to it. But, proceed, Miss Byron, if you please.
Very true, I believe, Sir, said I: But, on the other hand, may not those who have either, or both, value themselves too much on that account? I knew once an excellent scholar, who thought, that too great a portion of life was bestowed in the learning of languages; and that the works of many of the ancients were more to be admired for the stamp which antiquity has fixed upon them, and for the sake of their purity in languages that cannot alter (and whose works are therefore become the standard of those languages) than for the lights obtained from them by men of genius, in ages that we have reason to think more enlightened, as well by new discoveries as by revelation.
And then I was going to ask, whether the reputation of learning was not oftener acquir'd by skill in those branches of science which principally serve for amusement to inquisitive and curious minds, than by that in the more useful sort: But Mr. Walden broke in upon me with an air that had severity in it.
I could almost wish, said he (and but almost, as you are a Lady) that you knew the works of the great ancients in their original languages.
Something, said Miss Clements, should be left for men to excel in. I cannot but approve of Mr. Walden's word almost.
She then whisper'd me; Pray, Miss Byron, proceed (for she saw me a little out of countenance at Mr. Walden's severe air)—Strange, added she, still whispering, that people who know least how to argue, should be most disputatious. Thank Heaven, all scholars are not like this.
A little encouraged, Pray, Sir, said I, let me ask one question—Whether you do not think, that our Milton, in his Paradise Lost, shows himself to be a very learned man:—And yet that work is written wholly in the language of his own country, as the works of Homer and Virgil were in the language of theirs:—And they, I presume, will be allowed to be learned men.
Milton, madam, let me tell you, is infinitely obliged to the great ancients; and his very frequent allusions to them, and his knowledge of their mythology, show that he is.
His knowledge of their mythology, Sir!—His own subject so greatly, so nobly, so divinely, above that mythology!—I have been taught to think, by a very learned man, that it was a condescension in Milton to the taste of persons of more reading than genius, in the age in which he wrote, to introduce, so often as he does, his allusions to the pagan mythology: And that he neither raised his sublime subject, nor did credit to his vast genius, by it.
Mr. Addision, said Mr. Walden, is a writer admired by the Ladies. Mr. Addison, madam, as you will find in your Spectators [Sneeringly he spoke this] gives but the second place to Milton, on comparing some passage of his with some of Homer.
If Mr. Addison, Sir, has not the honour of being admired by the gentlemen, as well as the ladies; I dare say Mr. Walden will not allow, that his authority should decide the point in question: And yet, as I remember, he greatly extols Milton.—But I am going out of my depth—Only permit me to say one thing more—If Homer is to be preferred to Milton, he must be the sublimest of writers; and Mr. Pope, admirable as his translation of the Iliad is said to be, cannot have done him justice.
You seem, madam, to be a very deep English scholar. But say you this from your own observation, or from that of any other?
I readily own, that my lights are borrowed, replied I. I owe the observation to my godfather Mr. Deane. He is a scholar; but a greater admirer of Milton than of any of the ancients. A gentleman, his particular friend, who was as great an admirer of Homer, undertook from Mr. Pope's translation of the Iliad, to produce passages that in sublimity exceeded any in the Paradise Lost. The gentlemen met at Mr. Deane's house, where I then was. They allowed me to be present; and this was the issue: The gentleman went away convinced, that the English poet as much excelled the Grecian in the grandeur of his sentiments, as his subject, founded on the Christian system, surpasses the pagan.
The debate, I have the vanity to think, said Mr. Walden, had I been a party in it, would have taken another turn; for I do insist upon it, that without the knowledge of the learned languages, a man cannot understand his own.
I opposed Shakespeare to this assertion: but wished on this occasion, that I had not been a party in this debate; for the baronet was even noisy in his applauses of what I said; and the applause of empty minds always gives one suspicion of having incurred in by one's over-forwardness.
He drowned the voice of Mr. Walden, who two or three times was earnest to speak; but not finding himself heard, drew up his mouth as if to a contemptuous whistle, shrugg'd his shoulders, and sat collected in his own conscious worthiness: His eyes, however, were often cast upon the pictures that hung round the room, as much better objects than the living ones before him.
But what extremely disconcerted me, was, a freedom of Miss Barnevelt's; taken upon what I last said, and upon Mr. Walden's hesitation, and Sir Hargrave's applauses: She professed that I was able to bring her own Sex into reputation with her. Wisdom, as I call it, said she, notwithstanding what you have modestly alleged to depreciate your own, proceeding thro' teeth of ivory, and lips of coral, give a grace to every word. And then clasping one of her mannish arms round me, she kissed my cheek.
I was surprised, and offended; and with the more reason, as Sir Hargrave, rising from his seat, declared, that since merit was to be approved in that manner, he thought himself obliged to follow so good an example.
I stood up, and said, Surely, Sir, my compliance with the request of the company, too much I fear at my own expense, calls rather for civility than freedom, from a gentleman. I beg, Sir Hargrave—There I stopped; and I am sure looked greatly in earnest.
He stood suspended till I had speaking; and then, bowing, sat down again; but, as Mr. Reeves told me afterwards, he whispered a great oath in his ear, and declared, that he beheld with transport his future wife; and cursed himself if he would ever have another; vowing, in the same whisper, that were a thousand men to stand in his way, he would not scruple any means to remove them.
Miss Barnevelt only laughed at the freedom she had taken with me. She is a loud and fearless laugher. She hardly knows how to smile: For as soon as anything catches her fancy, her voice immediately bursts her lips, and widens her mouth to its full extent—Forgive me, Lucy: I believe I am spiteful.
Lady Betty and Miss Clements, in low voices, praised me for my presence of mind, as they called it, in checking Sir Hargrave's forwardness.
Just here, Lucy, I laid down my pen, and stepped to the glass, to see whether I could not please myself with a wise frown or two; at least with a solemnity of countenance, that, occasionally, I might dash with it my childishness of look; which certainly encouraged this freedom of Miss Barnevelt. But I could not please myself. My muscles have never been used to any-thing but smiling: So favoured, so beloved, by every one of my dear friends; an heart so grateful for all their favours—How can I learn now to frown; or even long to look grave?
All this time the scholar sat uneasily-careless.
In the mean time Mr. Reeves, having sent for from his study, Bishop Burnet's History of his own Times, said he would, by way of moderatorship in the present debate, read them a passage, to which he believed all parties would subscribe: And then read what I will transcribe for you from the conclusion to that performance:
'I have often thought it a great error to waste young gentlemen's years so long in learning Latin, by so tedious a grammar. I know those who are bred to the profession in literature, must have the Latin correctly; and for that the rules of grammar are necessary: But these rules are not at all requisite to those, who need only so much Latin, as thoroughly to understand and delight in the Roman authors and poets.
'But suppose a youth had, either for want of memory, or of application, an incurable aversion to Latin, his education is not for that to be despaired of: There is much noble knowledge to be had in the English and French languages: Geography, History, chiefly that of our own country, the knowledge of Nature, and the more practical parts of the Mathematics (if he has not a genius for the demonstrative) may make a gentleman very knowing, tho' he has not a word of Latin' [And why, I would fain know, said Mr. Reeves, not a gentlewoman?] 'There is a fineness of thought, and a nobleness of expression, indeed, in the Latin authors' [This makes for your argument, Mr. Walden] 'that will make them the entertainment of a man's whole life, if he once understands and reads them with delight' [Very well, said Mr. Walden!]: 'But if this cannot be attained to, I would not have it reckoned that the education of an ill Latin scholar is to be given over.'
Thus far the Bishop.
We all know, proceeded Mr. Reeves, how well Mr. Locke has treated this subject. And he is so far from discouraging the fair Sex from learning languages, that he gives us a method in his Treatise of Education, by which a mother may not only learn Latin herself, but be able to teach it to her son. Be not therefore, Ladies, ashamed either of your talents or acquirements. Only take care, you give not up any knowledge that is more laudable in your Sex, and more useful, for learning; and then I am sure, you will, you must, be the more agreeable, the more suitable companions to men of sense. Nor let any man have so narrow a mind as to be apprehensive for his own prerogative, from a learned woman. A woman who does not behave the better the more she knows, will make her husband uneasy, and will think as well of herself, were she utterly illiterate; nor would any argument convince her of her duty. Do not men marry with their eyes open? And cannot they court whom they please? A conceited, a vain mind in a woman cannot be hid. Upon the whole, I think it may be fairly concluded, that the more a woman knows, as well as a man, the wiser she will generally be; and the more regard she will have for a man of sense and learning.
Here ended Mr. Reeves.
Mr. Walden was silent; yet shrugged his shoulders, and seemed unsatisfied.
The conversation then took a more general turn, in which every one bore a part. Plays, Fashion, Dress, and the Public Entertainments, were the subjects.
Miss Cantillon, who had till now sat a little uneasy, seemed resolved to make up for her silence: But did not shine at all where she thought herself most entitled to make a figure.
But Miss Clements really shone. Yet in the eye of some people, what advantages has folly in a pretty face, over even wisdom in a plain one? Sir Hargrave was much more struck with the pert things spoken, without fear or wit, by Miss Cantillon, than with the just observations that fell from the lips of Miss Clements.
Mr. Walden made no great figure on these fashionable subjects; no, not on that of Plays: For he would needs force into conversation, with a preference to our Shakespeare, his Sophocles, his Euripides, his Terence; of the merits of whose performances, except by translation, no one present but Mr. Reeves and himself, could judge.
Sir Hargrave spoke well on the subject of the reigning fashions, and on modern dress, so much the foible of the present age.
Lady Betty and Mrs. Reeves spoke very properly of the decency of dress, and propriety of fashions, as well as of public entertainments.
Miss Clements put in here also with advantage to herself.
Nor would Mr. Walden be excluded this topic. But, as the observations he made on it, went no deeper than what it was presumed he might have had at second-hand, he made a worse figure here, than he did on his more favourite subject. He was, however, heard, till he was for bringing in his Spartan jacket, I forget what he called it, descending only to the knees of the women, in place of hoops; and the Roman toga for the men.
Miss Barnevelt broke in upon the Scholar; but by way of approbation of what he said; and went on with subjects of heroism, without permitting him to rally and proceed, as he seemed inclined to do.
After praising what he said of the Spartan and Roman dresses, she fell to enumerating her heroes, both ancient and modern. Achilles, the savage Achilles, charmed her. Hector was a good clever man, however: Yet she could not bear to think of his being so mean as to beg for his life, tho' of her heroic Achilles. He deserved for it, she said, to have his corpse dragged round the Trojan walls at the wheels of the victor's chariot. Alexander the Great was her dear creature; and Julius Caesar was a very pretty fellow.
These were Miss Barnevelt's ancient heroes.
Among the moderns, the great Scanderbeg, our Henry V. Henry IV. of France, Charles XII. of Sweden, and the great Czar Peter, who my grandfather used to say was worth them all, were her favourites.
All this while honest Mr. Singleton had a smile at the service of every speaker, and a loud laugh always ready at the baronet's.
Sir Hargrave seemed not a little pleased with the honest man's complaisance; and always directed himself to him, when he was disposed to be merry.
Laughing, you know, my dear, is almost as catching as gaping, be the subject ever so silly: And more than once he showed by his eyes, that he could have devoured Miss Cantillon, for generally adding her affected Te-he (twisting and bridling behind her fan) to his louder, Hah, hah, hah, hah.
What a length have I run! How does this narrative Letter-writing, if one is to enter into minute and characteristic descriptions and conversations, draw one on! I will leave off for the present. Yet have not quite dismissed the company (tho' I have done with the argument) that I thought to have parted with before I concluded this Letter.
But I know I shall please my uncle in the livelier parts of it, by the handle they will give him against me. My grandmother and aunt Selby will be pleased, and so will you, my Lucy, with all I write, for the writer's sake: Such is their and your partial Love to
Volume I - lettera 13
MISS BYRON. CONTINUA
Pressata in questo modo da tutti, ciò che avevo ancora in mente di dire, ho riassunto, era quello che avevo letto nella Bibbia. Il primo uomo sembra che abbia avuto una conoscenza intuitiva, che gli aveva fornito quasi tutto ciò che era necessario conoscere, e i suoi primi discendenti, quando esisteva una sola lingua, e molto prima dell'esistenza di sapienti greci e romani, sapevano di agricoltura e di musica, praticavano l'artigianato con l'ottone e il ferro, crearono quella sorprendente costruzione navale, l'arca, si dedicarono a un ancora più grande esempio architettonico, la torre di Babele, e dovevano quindi essere stati esperti in molte altre parti della tecnica che non sono menzionate in modo specifico.
E dunque, signora, credete davvero che il sapere che apprendiamo dai nostri grandi classici non sia degno della fatica che facciamo per imparare le lingue nelle quali scrissero?
Ma no, signore. Ho grande rispetto anche per i linguisti, non dobbiamo a loro la traduzione dei libri sacri? Ma mi sembrerebbe preferibile che una distinzione del genere venisse fatta tra il linguaggio e la scienza, tanto da convincermi che quella confusione tra gli idiomi, interpretata come punizione per la presunzione delle età remote dell'umanità, non dovrebbe essere considerata come qualcosa che ora ci conferisce la gloria maggiore in questi tempi più illuminati.
Be', signora, le signore vanno trattate da signore. Ma mi farebbe molto piacere, al mio ritorno a Oxford, poter informare i miei eruditi amici che farebbero bene a trasformarsi tutti in gentiluomini sofisticati e ridanciani [Mr. Reeves ha sorriso, così come il baronetto] e a considerare con disprezzo i grandi classici come uomini di paglia, altrimenti non avrebbero alcuna possibilità di conquistare il favore delle signore.
Buon Mr. Walden! Buon Mr. Walden! ha detto ridendo il baronetto, scrollando le spalle piene di ricami, permettetemi, permettetemi di implorare la vostra pazienza, mentre vi dico che i giovani gentiluomini di entrambe le università corrono già il rischio di diventare più gentiluomini sofisticati che studiosi sofisticati. E poi si è messo di nuovo a ridere, e, guardandosi intorno, ha provocato, nel suo solito modo, le risate del resto della compagnia.
Mr. Reeves, un po' urtato dal riferimento a lui dello studente, nella parola ridanciani, ha detto, Sarebbe desiderabile che in tutte le culle dell'istruzione, i modi della gioventù venissero presentati come lo scopo principale. È una verità fin troppo nota, ha detto, che l'attenzione rivolta alle lingue abbia generalmente soffocato tutte le altre, e più importanti, considerazioni, a tal punto che una salda moralità e una buona educazione sono costrette a cedere il passo a ciò che è di poca importanza, utile soltanto a favorire e incoraggiare lo studio delle lingue. E le persone istruite, ne sono convinto, se osassero pronunciarsi apertamente, non si soffermerebbero così tanto sulle lingue, come sembrate fare voi, Mr. Walden.
Qui l'istruzione, ha risposto Mr. Walden, un po' piccato, non ha un tribunale favorevole a cui appellarsi. Come si dice dei vantaggi di nascita o di rango, così si può dire dell'istruzione; chi aspira ad essa non la disprezza. Ma proseguite, Miss Byron, se volete.
Verissimo, signore, credo, ho detto, ma, d'altra parte, non potrebbe chi ha una delle due cose, o entrambe, avere troppa stima di sé per questo? Una volta ho conosciuto un eccellente studioso, che riteneva che una porzione troppo grande della vita fosse dedicata all'apprendimento delle lingue, e che le opere degli antichi fossero più da apprezzare per l'impronta di antichità che posseggono, e per la purezza di lingue che non possono più subire modifiche (opere che sono quindi diventate dei modelli per quelle lingue) che per l'illuminazione che possono suscitare in uomini di genio, in epoche che abbiamo motivo di ritenere più illuminate, sia per nuove scoperte che per la loro divulgazione.
E poi ho chiesto se la reputazione dell'istruzione non fosse più spesso acquisita dall'abilità in quei campi della scienza che servono principalmente allo svago di menti curiose e indagatrici, più che in quelli più utili; ma Mr. Walden mi ha interrotta con aria che appariva piuttosto severa.
Avrei quasi potuto desiderare, ha detto (e solo quasi, perché siete una signora), che voi conosceste le opere dei grandi classici nelle loro lingue originali.
Qualche cosa, ha detto Miss Clements, dev'essere lasciata agli uomini per farli eccellere in essa. Non posso approvare il quasi di Mr. Walden.
Poi mi ha sussurrato, Vi prego, Miss Byron, proseguite (poiché mi aveva vista un po' disorientata di fronte all'aria severa di Mr. Walden). Strano, ha aggiunto, sempre sussurrando, che la gente che sa almeno come discutere debba essere più litigiosa. Grazie al cielo, non tutti gli studiosi sono come questo.
Un po' incoraggiata, ho detto, Vi prego, signore, lasciate che vi faccia una domanda. Non credete che il nostro Milton, nel suo Paradiso perduto, si dimostri un uomo molto colto? Eppure quell'opera è scritta interamente nella lingua del nostro paese, così come le opere di Omero e Virgilio sono scritte nella loro, ed essi presumo siano ritenuti uomini colti.
Milton, signora, fatemelo dire, è infinitamente debitore dei grandi classici, e le sue frequenti allusioni ad essi, e la sua conoscenza della mitologia, lo dimostrano.
La sua conoscenza della mitologia, signore! Il suo argomento è così grandioso, nobile, divino, così al di sopra di quella mitologia! Mi è stato insegnato a pensare, da un uomo molto colto, che in Milton c'era condiscendenza verso il gusto delle persone di più letture che genio, nel periodo in cui scriveva, nell'inserire, come fa spesso, allusioni alla mitologia pagana, e che ciò non innalzava il suo sublime argomento, né aggiungeva credito al suo vasto genio.
Mr. Addison, ha detto Mr. Walden, è uno scrittore apprezzato dalle gentildonne. Mr. Addison, signora, come potete vedere nel suo Spectators [con tono beffardo] mette Milton solo al secondo posto, confrontando alcuni suoi passaggi con quelli di Omero.
Se Mr. Addison, signore, non ha l'onore di essere apprezzato dai gentiluomini come dalle gentildonne, credo proprio che Mr. Walden non permetterà che la sua autorità decida il punto in questione; eppure, per quanto ricordo, esalta moltissimo Milton. Ma sto andando oltre le mie capacità. Permettetemi solo di dire un'altra cosa ancora. Se Omero è da preferire a Milton, dev'essere il più sublime degli autori, e Mr. Pope, eccellente come si dice sia la sua traduzione dell'Iliade, non può avergli reso giustizia.
Sembrate essere, signora, un'esemplare studiosa inglese. Ma dite queste cose per convinzione personale, o per quella di qualcun altro?
Ammetto senza difficoltà che le mie idee sono prese in prestito, ho risposto. Devo l'osservazione a mio nonno, Mr. Deane. È uno studioso, ma ammira Milton più di chiunque tra gli antichi. Un gentiluomo, suo caro amico e grande ammiratore di Omero, si serviva della traduzione di Mr. Pope per citare brani che superavano in bellezza qualunque altro preso dal Paradiso perduto. Il gentiluomo era a casa di Mr. Deane, dove ero anch'io. Mio nonno mi permise di restare, e la conclusione fu questa: il gentiluomo se ne andò convinto che il poeta inglese fosse altrettanto eccellente di quello greco nella grandezza dei sentimenti, e che l'argomento, basato sul cristianesimo, superasse quello pagano.
Ho la presunzione di pensare, ha detto Mr. Walden, che se avessi partecipato anche io la discussione avrebbe preso un'altra piega, poiché insisto nel dire che senza la conoscenza delle lingue erudite, una persona non riesce a capire la propria.
Io ho contrapposto Shakespeare a quella affermazione, ma in quella occasione avrei preferito non essere parte della discussione, poiché il baronetto era sempre più rumoroso nell'elogiare ciò che dicevo, e il plauso di una mente vuota fa sempre venire il sospetto di essersi spinti troppo oltre.
Lui copriva la voce di Mr. Walden, che due o tre volte, ansioso di esprimersi, ma capendo di non essere ascoltato, si è zittito, atteggiando le labbra a una sorta di sibilo sprezzante, scuotendo le spalle, e rinchiudendosi nella consapevolezza del proprio valore; tuttavia, il suo sguardo vagava spesso sui quadri alle pareti della stanza, come se fossero oggetti più degni di attenzione delle persone che aveva di fronte.
Ma quello che mi ha estremamente sconcertata è stata la libertà che si è presa Miss Barnevelt dopo quello che avevo detto, mentre Mr. Walden era incerto e Sir Hargrave plaudiva; ha affermato che ero stata capace di farle capire la rispettabilità del proprio sesso. La saggezza, come la chiamo io, così ha detto, nonostante ciò che avete asserito con modestia per sminuirvi, venendo da denti d'avorio e da labbra di corallo, elargisce grazia o ogni parola. E poi mettendomi un braccio virile dei suoi intorno al collo, mi ha baciato una guancia.
Sono rimasta sorpresa, e offesa, e a maggior ragione, poiché Sir Hargrave, alzandosi, ha dichiarato che, essendo stato il merito approvato in tal modo, si riteneva obbligato a seguire un tale ottimo esempio.
Mi sono alzata, e ho detto, Sicuramente, signore, la mia arrendevolezza verso la richiesta di tutti voi, forse troppa come ho visto a mie spese, richiede più discrezione che libertà, da parte di un gentiluomo. Vi prego, Sir Hargrave... Qui mi sono fermata, e, ne sono certa, apparivo molto seria.
Lui era rimasto in sospeso mentre parlavo. e poi, con un inchino, si è rimesso a sedere, ma, come mi ha poi detto Mr. Reeves, gli ha sussurrato all'orecchio un solenne giuramento, e ha affermato di stare osservando estasiato la sua futura moglie, e si sarebbe considerato un essere riprovevole se mai ne avesse scelta un'altra, promettendo, sempre sussurrando, che anche se ci fossero stati migliaia di uomini a sbarrargli il cammino, non si sarebbe fatto scrupolo di spazzarli via.
Miss Barnevelt si è soltanto fatta una risata sulla libertà che si era presa con me. Ride di gusto e senza freni. Non è capace di sorridere, poiché non appena qualcosa cattura la sua immaginazione, la voce irrompe immediatamente dalle sue labbra, e la bocca le si allarga al massimo grado. Perdonami Lucy, credo di essere maligna.
Lady Betty e Miss Clements, a bassa voce, mi hanno elogiata per la mia presenza di spirito, così l'hanno chiamata, nel rintuzzare l'insolenza di Sir Hargrave.
Proprio qui, Lucy, ho posato la penna e sono andata allo specchio, per vedere se fosse possibile fornirmi di un paio di saggi cipigli, o almeno di un contegno solenne, che, di tanto in tanto, potrei usare per infrangere il mio aspetto infantile, che ha sicuramente incoraggiato la libertà che si è presa Miss Barnevelt. Ma non sono riuscita a farlo. I miei muscoli non sono avvezzi a null'altro che il sorriso, prediletta e amata come sono da tutti i miei amici, con un cuore così grato per tutta la loro benevolenza... come potrei imparare ad accigliarmi, o pensare di sembrare austera?
Per tutto il tempo lo studioso è rimasto seduto a disagio e con fare noncurante.
Nel frattempo Mr. Reeves, dopo essersi fatto portare dal suo studio la Storia dei suoi tempi del vescovo Barnett, ha detto, nella veste di moderatore della discussione, di volerne leggere un passaggio, che riteneva tutti avrebbero sottoscritto, e poi ha letto quello che trascrivo per te a conclusione di quella esibizione:
"Ho spesso pensato che sia un grande errore per i giovani gentiluomini perdere così tanti anni per imparare il latino, con una grammatica tanto noiosa. So che coloro che sono educati a occuparsi di letteratura devono conoscere bene il latino, e per far ciò le regole grammaticali sono una necessità, ma quelle regole non sono affatto necessarie per quelli che devono sapere di latino solo quanto basta a capire la bellezza di autori e poeti romani.
"Ma supponendo che un giovane abbia, per mancanza di memoria o di applicazione, un'incurabile avversione per il latino, non per questo ci sarebbe da disperare per la sua educazione; c'è molto da conoscere nella lingua inglese e in quella francese: geografia, storia, principalmente quella del nostro paese, conoscenza della natura, e delle parti più pratiche della matematica (se non si è portati per le dimostrazioni) possono rendere molto colto un gentiluomo, anche se non conosce una parola di latino" [e vorrei proprio sapere, ha detto Mr. Reeves, perché non anche una gentildonna] "In verità, c'è una finezza di pensiero, e una nobiltà di espressione, negli autori latini" [questo a favore dei vostri argomenti, Mr. Walden] "che li rendono adatti a intrattenere una persona per una vita intera, se solo li legge e li comprende con gusto" [benissimo!, ha detto Mr. Walden]; "ma se non si riesce ad arrivare a questo, non reputerei necessario interrompere l'istruzione di un cattivo studente di latino."
Fin qui il vescovo.
Tutti noi sappiamo, ha proseguito Mr. Reeves, come questo argomento sia stato trattato egregiamente da Locke. Ed egli è talmente lontano dallo scoraggiare il bel sesso dall'apprendere le lingue che nel suo Trattato sull'istruzione ci fornisce un metodo attraverso il quale mia madre non solo ha imparato da sé il latino, ma è stata in grado di insegnarlo al figlio. Quindi, gentili signore, non vergognatevi dei vostri talenti e dei risultati a cui portano. State solo attente a non rinunciare ad acquisire qualsiasi conoscenza più lodevole e più utile per il vostro sesso, e allora sono certo che sarete, dovrete essere, compagne più piacevoli e più adatte per uomini di buonsenso. E non curatevi di uomini dalla mente così ristretta da avere timore per le proprie prerogative di fronte a una donna istruita. Una donna che non è migliore quanto più sa, metterà a disagio il marito, e giudicherebbe se stessa in modo positivo anche se fosse totalmente illetterata; né qualsiasi argomento la convincerebbe circa i suoi doveri. Forse che gli uomini non si sposano a occhi ben aperti? E non possono forse corteggiare chi gli pare? In una donna, una mente vuota, piena di sé, non può essere nascosta. In definitiva, credo si possa correttamente concludere che in generale, così come per un uomo, più una donna sa più accorta sarà, e più stima avrà per un uomo intelligente e istruito.
Qui ha concluso Mr. Reeves.
Mr. Walden era silenzioso, ma si stringeva nelle spalle, e sembrava insoddisfatto.
Poi la conversazione ha preso una piega più generica, nella quale tutti avevano una parte. Gli argomenti erano Teatro, moda abbigliamento, e intrattenimenti pubblici.
Miss Cantillon, che fino a quel momento era parsa un po' a disagio, sembrava decisa a uscire dal suo silenzio, ma non ha brillato affatto dove riteneva di essere più adatta a fare bella figura.
Invece Miss Clements ha davvero brillato. Ma, agli occhi di qualcuno, che vantaggi ha la stupidità in un volto grazioso, rispetto all'intelligenza in uno brutto? Sir Hargrave è rimasto molto più colpito dalle parole disinvolte pronunciate senza timore o arguzia da Miss Cantillon, che dalle giuste osservazioni uscite dalle labbra di Miss Clements.
Mr. Walden non ha fatto una bella figura in questi argomenti alla moda; no, non sul teatro, visto che voleva introdurre per forza nella conversazione, oltre alla preferenza per il nostro Shakespeare, i suoi Sofocle, Euripide e Terenzio, i meriti delle cui opere, salvo in traduzione, nessuno dei presenti, tranne lui stesso e Mr. Reeves, era in grado di giudicare.
Sir Hargrave si è espresso bene sull'argomento delle mode attuali, e dell'abbigliamento moderno, le manie dei nostri tempi.
Lady Betty e Mrs. Reeves hanno parlato in modo appropriato del giusto abbigliamento, e del decoro delle mode, così come degli intrattenimenti pubblici.
Miss Clements si è inserita, con vantaggio per lei, a questo punto.
Mr. Walden non poteva certo essere escluso da questo soggetto. Ma, dato che le sue osservazioni non sono andate oltre ciò che si presumeva sapesse solo di seconda mano, ha fatto una figura peggiore di quella fatta nei suoi argomenti preferiti. Tuttavia, l'hanno ascoltato, fino a quando non si è messo a parlare della giacca spartana, non mi ricordo come l'ha chiamata, che arriva solo fino alle ginocchia delle donne, al posto dei cerchi per sostenere le gonne, e della toga romana per gli uomini.
Miss Barnevelt ha interrotto lo studioso, approvando di sfuggita ciò che aveva detto, e ha proseguito parlando di eroismo, senza permettergli di riprendere il discorso e andare avanti, come sembrava volesse fare.
Dopo aver elogiato quello che lui aveva detto sull'abbigliamento spartano e romano, ha enumerato i suoi eroi, sia antichi che moderni. Achille, il feroce Achille l'affascinava. Ettore era comunque un uomo intelligente, ma non riusciva a credere al suo essere così meschino da implorare per la propria vita, anche se al suo eroico Achille. Aveva meritato, ha detto, di avere il proprio cadavere trascinato intorno alle mura di Troia tra le ruote del cocchio del vincitore. Alessandro il Grande era il suo beniamino, e Giulio Cesare era davvero un bel tipo.
Questi erano gli antichi eroi di Miss Barnevelt.
Tra i moderni, il grande Scanderbeg, il nostro Enrico V, Enrico IV di Francia, Carlo XII di Svezia, e lo zar Pietro il Grande, che mio nonno soleva dire fosse valoroso quanto tutti loro, erano i suoi preferiti.
Tutto questo mentre l'onesto Mr. Singleton aveva un sorriso per ognuno che dicesse qualcosa, e una sonora risata sempre pronta per il baronetto.
Sir Hargrave sembrava non poco compiaciuto della deferenza dell'onest'uomo, e si rivolgeva sempre a lui, quando era incline all'allegria.
Come sai, mia cara, ridere è quasi contagioso come sbadigliare, anche se l'argomento è così sciocco, e più di una volta il suo sguardo ha rivelato che avrebbe divorato Miss Cantillon, per aver in genere aggiunto la sua risatina affettata (rigirando il capo e nascondendosi dietro il ventaglio) ai suoi sonori ah, ah, ah, ah.
Come mi sono dilungata! Queste lettere in forma narrativa, se si sceglie di essere minuziosi nelle descrizioni e nel raccontare le conversazioni, scappano di mano! Per il momento voglio smettere. Ma non ho del tutto sciolto la compagnia (anche se ho terminato l'argomento) dalla quale pensavo di separarmi prima di aver concluso questa lettera.
Ma so che le parti più briose faranno piacere allo zio, per gli spunti che gli suggeriranno contro di me. Alla nonna e alla zia Selby fa piacere, e lo stesso a te Lucy mia, tutto quello che scrivo, per amore della scrivente, tanto è il bene che loro e tu volete
alla vostra sempre grata
Volume I - Letter 14
MISS BYRON. IN CONTINUATION.
By the time tea was ready, Lady Betty whisperingly congratulated me on having made so considerable a conquest, as she was sure I had, by Sir Hargrave's looks, in which was mingled reverence with admiration, as she expressed herself. She took notice also of a gallant expression of his, uttered, as she would have it, with an earnestness that gave it a meaning beyond a common compliment. My cousin Reeves had asked Miss Clements if she could commend to me an honest, modest man-servant? I, said Sir Hargrave can. I myself shall be proud to wear Miss Byron's livery; and that for life.
Miss Cantillon, who was within hearing of this, and had seemed to be highly taken with the baronet, could hardly let her eyes be civil to me; and yet her really pretty mouth, occasionally, worked itself into forced smiles, and an affectation of complaisance.
Sir Hargrave was extremely obsequious to me all the tea-time; and seemed in earnest a little uneasy in himself: And after tea he took my cousin Reeves into the next room; and there made your Harriet the subject of a serious conversation; and desired his interest with me.
He prefaced his declaration to Mr. Reeves, with assuring him, that he had sought for an opportunity more than once, to be admitted into my company, when he was last at Northampton; and that he had not intruded himself then into this company, had he not heard I was to be there. He made protestations of his honourable views; which look'd as if he thought they might be doubted, if he had not given such assurances. A tacit implication of an imagined superiority, as well in consequence as fortune.
Mr. Reeves told him, It was a rule which all my relations had set themselves, not to interfere with my choice, let it be placed on whom it would.
Sir Hargrave called himself an happy man upon this intelligence. He afterwards, on his return to company, found an opportunity, as Mrs. Reeves and I were talking at the furthest part of the room, in very vehement terms, to declare himself to me an admirer of perfections of his own creation; for he volubly enumerated many; and begg'd my permission to pay his respects to me at Mr. Reeves's.
Mr. Reeves, Sir Hargrave, said I, will receive what visits he pleases in his own house. I have no permission to give.
He bowed, and made me a very high compliment, taking what I said for a permission.
What can a woman do with these self-flatterers?
Mr. Walden took his leave: Sir Hargrave his: He wanted, I saw, to speak to me, at his departure; but I gave him no opportunity.
Mr. Singleton seemed also inclined to go, but knew not how; and having lost the benefit of their example by his irresolution, sat down.
Lady Betty then repeated her congratulations. How many Ladies, said she, and fine Ladies too, have sigh'd in secret for Sir Hargrave. You will have the glory, Miss Byron, of fixing the wavering heart of a man who has done, and is capable of doing, a great deal of mischief.
The Ladies, madam, said I, who can sigh in secret for such a man as Sir Hargrave, must either deserve a great deal of pity, or none at all.
Sir Hargrave, said Miss Cantillon, is a very fine gentleman; and so looked upon, I assure you: And he has a noble estate.
It is very happy, reply'd I, that we do not all of us like the same person. I mean not to disparage Sir Hargrave; but I have compassion for the Ladies who sigh for him in secret. One woman only can be his wife; and perhaps she will not be one of those who sigh for him; especially were he to know that she does.
Perhaps not, reply'd Miss Cantillon: But I do assure you, that I am not one of those who sigh for Sir Hargrave.
The Ladies smiled.
I am glad of it, madam, said I. Every woman should have her heart in her own keeping, till she can find a worthy man to bestow it upon.
Miss Barnevelt took a tilt in heroics. Well, Ladies, said she, you may talk of Love and Love as much as you please; but it is my glory, that I never knew what Love was. I, for my part, like a brave man, a gallant man: One in whose loud praise fame has crack'd half a dozen trumpets. But as to your milksops, your dough-baked Lovers, who stay at home and strut among the women, when glory is to be gain'd in the martial field; I despise them with all my heart. I have often wish'd that the foolish heads of such fellows as these, were all cut off in time of war, and sent over to the heroes to fill their cannon with, when they batter in breach, by way of saving ball.
I am afraid, said Lady Betty, humouring this romantic speech, that if the heads of such persons were as soft as we are apt sometimes to think them, they would be of as little service abroad as they are at home.
O, madam, replied Miss Barnevelt, there is a good deal of lead in the heads of these fellows. But were their brains, said the shocking creature, if any they have, made to fly about the ears of an enemy, they would serve both to blind and terrify him.
Even Mr. Singleton was affected with this horrid speech; for he clapped both his hands to his head, as if he were afraid of his brains.
Lady Betty was very urgent with us to pass the evening with her; but we excused ourselves; and when we were in the coach, Mr. Reeves told me, that I should find the Baronet a very troublesome and resolute Lover, if I did not give him countenance.
And so, Sir, said I, you would have me do, as I have heard many a good woman has done, marry a man, in order to get rid of his importunity.
And a certain cure too, let me tell you, cousin, said he, smiling.
We found at home, waiting for Mr. Reeves's return, Sir John Allestree: A worthy sensible man, of plain and unaffected manners, upwards of fifty.
Mr. Reeves mentioning to him our past entertainment and company, Sir John gave us such an account of Sir Hargrave, as helped me not only in the character I have given of him, but let me know that he is a very dangerous and enterprising man. He says, that laughing and light as he is in company, he is malicious, ill-natured, and designing; and sticks at nothing to carry a point on which he has once set his heart. He has ruined, Sir John says, three young creatures already under vows of marriage.
Sir John spoke of him as a managing man, as to his fortune: He said, That tho' he would at times be lavish in the pursuit of his pleasures; yet that he had some narrownesses which made him despised, and that most by those for whose regard a good man would principally wish; his neighbours and tenants.
Could you have thought, my Lucy, that this laughing, fine-dressing man, could have been a man of malice; of resentment; of enterprise; a cruel man? Yet Sir John told two very bad stories of him, besides what I have mentioned, which prove him to be all I have said.
But I had no need of these stories to determine me against receiving his addresses. What I saw of him was sufficient; though Sir John made no manner of doubt (on being told by Mr. Reeves, in confidence, of his application to him for leave to visit me) that he was quite in earnest; and, making me a compliment, added, that he knew Sir Hargrave was inclined to marry; and the more, as one half of his estate, on failure of issue male, would go at his death to a distant relation whom he hated; but for no other reason than for admonishing him, when a school-boy, on his low and mischievous pranks.
His estate, Sir John told my cousin, is full as considerable as reported. And Mr. Reeves, after Sir John went away, said, What a glory will it be to you, cousin Byron, to reform such a man, and make his great fortune a blessing to multitudes; as I am sure would be your endeavour to do, were you Lady Pollexfen!
But, my Lucy, were Sir Hargrave king of one half of the globe, I would not go to the altar with him.
But if he be a very troublesome man, what shall I say to him? I can deal pretty well with those, who will be kept at arms length; but I own, I should be very much perplex'd with resolute wretches. The civility I think myself obliged to pay every one who professes a regard for me, might subject me to inconveniencies with violent spirits, which, protected as I have been by my uncle Selby, and my good Mr. Deane, I never yet have known. O my Lucy, to what evils, but for that protection, might I not, as a sole, an independent young woman, have been exposed? Since men, many men, are to be look'd upon as savages, as wild beasts of the desert; and a single and independent woman they hunt after as their proper prey.
To have done with Sir Hargrave for the present, and I wish I may be able to say, for ever; early in the morning, a billet was brought from him to Mr. Reeves, excusing himself from paying him a visit that morning (as he had intended) by reason of the sudden and desperate illness of a relation, whose seat was near Reading, with whom he had large concerns, and who was desirous to see him before he died. As it was impossible that he could return under three days, which, he said, would appear as three years to him, and he was obliged to set out that moment; he could not dispense with himself for putting in his claim, as he called it, to Miss Byron's favour, and confirming his declaration of yesterday. In very high strains, he professed himself her admirer; and begg'd Mr. and Mrs. Reeves's interest with her. One felicity, he said, he hoped for from his absence, which was, that as Miss Byron, and Mr. and Mrs. Reeves, would have time to consider of his offers; he presum'd to hope he should not be subjected to a repulse.
And now, my Lucy, you have before you as good an account as I can give you of my two new Lovers. How I shall manage with them, I know not: But I begin to think that those young women are happiest, whose friends take all the trouble of this sort upon them; only consulting their daughters inclinations as preliminaries are adjusting.
My friends indeed pay an high compliment to my discretion, when they so generously allow me to judge for myself: And we young women are fond of being our own mistresses: But I must say, that to me this compliment has been, and is a painful one; for two reasons; That I cannot but consider their goodness as a task upon me, which requires my utmost circumspection, as well as gratitude; and that they have shown more generosity in dispensing with their authority, than I have done whenever I have acted so as to appear, tho' but to appear, to accept of the dispensation: Let me add besides, that now, when I find myself likely to be addressed to by mere strangers, by men who grew not into my knowledge insensibly, as our neighbours Greville, Fenwick, and Orme, did, I cannot but think it has the appearance of confidence, to stand out to receive, as a creature uncontrollable, the first motions to an address of this awful nature. Awful indeed might it be called, were one's heart to incline towards a particular person.
Allow me then for the future, my revered grandmamma, and you, my beloved and equally honoured uncle and aunt Selby, allow me, to refer myself to you, if any person offers to whom I may happen to have no strong objections. As to Mr. Fowler, and the Baronet, I must now do as well as I can with them. It is much easier for a young woman to say No, than Yes. But for the time to come I will not have the assurance to act for myself. I know your partiality for your Harriet, too well, to doubt the merit of your recommendation.
As Mr. and Mrs. Reeves require me to show them what I write, they are fond of indulging me in the employment. You will therefore be the less surpris'd that I write so much in so little a time. Miss Byron is in her Closet; Miss Byron is writing; is an excuse sufficient, they seem to think, to every-body, because they allow it to be one to them: But besides, I know they believe they oblige you all by the opportunity they so kindly give me of showing my Duty and Love, where so justly due.
I am, however, surpris'd at casting my eye back.—Two sheets! and such a quantity before! Unconscionable, say; and let me, Echo-like, repeat, Unconscionable
Letters from Northamptonshire! by Farmer Jenkins. I kiss the seals. What agreeable things, now, has my Lucy to say to her Harriet? Disagreeable ones she cannot write, if all my beloved friends are well.
Volume I - lettera 14
MISS BYRON. CONTINUA
Una volta pronto il tè, Lady Betty, con un sussurro, si è congratulata con me per aver fatto una conquista così rilevante, certa che l'avessi fatta a causa degli sguardi di Sir Hargrave, nei quali c'era un misto di rispetto e ammirazione, così ha detto. Aveva anche notato una sua espressione galante, espressa, a suo dire, con un fervore che le conferiva un significato che andava al di là di un normale complimento. Mia cugina Reeves aveva chiesto a Miss Clements se poteva raccomandarmi un servitore onesto e senza pretese. Io, aveva risposto Sir Hargrave posso. Io stesso sarei fiero di indossare la livrea di Miss Byron, e di farlo per tutta la vita.
Miss Cantillon, che era tanto vicina da poter sentire, ed era sembrata molto presa dal baronetto, poté a malapena controllare che i suoi sguardi verso di me fossero garbati, ma la bocca, davvero graziosa, si atteggiava ogni tanto a sorrisi forzati, e a una finzione di cortesia.
Sir Hargrave è stato estremamente ossequioso per tutta la durata del tè, e sembrava sul serio un po' a disagio; dopo il tè ha portato mio cugino Reeves nella stanza accanto, e là ha fatto della tua Harriet il soggetto di una seria conversazione e asserito il suo interesse per me.
Questa dichiarazione a Mr. Reeves è stata preceduta dall'assicurazione che aveva cercato più di una volta l'opportunità di conoscermi, quando era stato di recente a Northampton, e che non si sarebbe presentato se non avesse saputo che ci sarei stata io. Ha proclamato la serietà delle proprie intenzioni, come se pensasse che potessero essere messe in dubbio se non avesse fornito assicurazioni simili. Un implicito segno di immaginaria superiorità, dovuta alla ricchezza.
Mr. Reeves gli ha detto che la regola seguita dai miei parenti era quella di non intromettersi nelle mie scelte, lasciandole del tutto libere.
Dopo queste parole Sir Hargrave si è dichiarato un uomo felice. Poi, al suo ritorno da noi, visto che io e Mrs. Reeves stavamo chiacchierando nella parte opposta della stanza, ha cercato un'occasione per dirmi, con toni molto veementi, di essere un ammiratore delle perfezioni da lui ritenute tali, delle quali ha fatto un elenco molto prolisso, e ha chiesto il mio permesso di farmi visita da Mr. Reeves.
Sir Hargrave, ho detto, Mr. Reeves riceve chi vuole in casa sua. Non ho alcun permesso da fornire.
Ha fatto un inchino, e si è molto complimentato con me, interpretando quanto avevo detto come un permesso.
Che cosa può fare una donna di fronte a questi adulatori di se stessi?
Mr. Walden ha preso congedo, così come Sir Hargrave; ho notato che avrebbe voluto parlarmi, prima di andarsene, ma non gli ho fornito l'occasione di farlo.
Anche Mr. Singleton sembrava incline ad andarsene, ma non sapeva come, e avendo sprecato il beneficio di seguire il loro esempio a causa della sua indecisione, è rimasto seduto.
Lady Betty ha allora ripetuto le sue congratulazioni. Quante gentildonne, ha detto, e gentildonne molto distinte, hanno sospirato in segreto per Sir Hargrave. Voi, Miss Byron, avrete la gloria di rendere stabile il cuore incostante di un uomo che ha fatto, ed è capace di fare, un bel po' di danni.
Signora, ho detto, per le gentildonne che sospirano in segreto per un uomo come Sir Hargrave si deve sicuramente provare moltissima o nessuna compassione.
Sir Hargrave, ha detto Miss Cantillon, è un gentiluomo molto distinto, e così è ritenuto, ve l'assicuro; e ha un bel patrimonio.
È un'ottima cosa, ho risposto, che non a tutti piaccia la stessa persona. Non ho intenzione di criticare Sir Hargrave, ma provo compassione per le signore che sospirano per lui in segreto. Solo una donna potrà essere sua moglie, e forse non sarà una di quelle che sospirano per lui, specialmente se egli ne è consapevole.
Forse no, ha riposto Miss Cantillon, ma vi assicuro di non essere tra quelle che sospirano per Sir Hargrave.
Le altre signore hanno sorriso.
Ne sono lieta, signora, ho detto. Ogni donna dovrebbe essere padrona del proprio cuore, finché non riesce a trovare un uomo degno a cui concederlo.
Miss Barnevelt ha preso una piega melodrammatica. Be', signore, ha detto, potete parlare d'amore quanto volete, ma io mi vanto di non aver mai saputo che cosa fosse l'amore. Io, per quanto mi riguarda, preferisco un uomo coraggioso, ardito, uno la cui fama celebrata sonoramente supera il rumore di una mezza dozzina di trombe. Ma quanto ai vostri smidollati e inetti innamorati, che se ne stanno a casa a pavoneggiarsi tra le donne, mentre la gloria si acquisisce sul campo di battaglia, li disprezzo con tutto il cuore. Ho spesso desiderato che le sciocche teste di tipi del genere fossero mozzate in tempo di guerra, e mandate agli eroi per riempire i loro cannoni, quando devono aprirsi una breccia, allo scopo di risparmiare le munizioni.
Temo, ha detto Lady Betty, assecondando quell'eloquio romantico, che se le teste di persone del genere fossero molli come talvolta siamo inclini a ritenerle, sarebbero di ben poco aiuto all'estero così come lo sono in patria.
Oh, signora, ha riposto Miss Barnevelt, c'è un bel po' di piombo nelle teste di quei tipi. Ma se i cervelli, ha detto la terribile creatura, sempre che ne abbiano, fossero fatti svolazzare vicino alle orecchie dei nemici, servirebbero a renderli sordi e a terrorizzarli.
Persino Mr. Singleton è rimasto colpito da quelle orribili parole, visto che si è stretto la testa con entrambe le mani, come se temesse per il proprio cervello.
Lady Betty ha molto insistito affinché passassimo la notte da lei, ma noi ci siamo scusati, e, una volta in carrozza, Mr. Reeves mi ha detto che avrei trovato il baronetto un innamorato molto fastidioso e risoluto, se non l'avessi incoraggiato.
E così, signore, ho detto, vorreste che io, così come, da quanto ne so, hanno fatto molte brave donne, sposassi un uomo allo scopo di sbarazzarmi del suo comportamento molesto.
E, permettetemi di dirlo, cugina, si tratta anche di un rimedio sicuro, ha detto sorridendo.
A casa abbiamo trovato in attesa del ritorno di Mr. Reeves, Sir John Allestree, una persona rispettabile e intelligente, con modi semplici e spontanei, un po' più in là dei cinquanta.
Dato che Mr. Reeves gli ha accennato al nostro impegno e agli ospiti che c'erano, Sir John ci ha parlato di Sir Hargrave in termini tali che non solo hanno confermato l'dea che mi ero fatta di lui, ma mi hanno anche reso edotta di come sia un uomo molto pericoloso e impudente. Dice che per quanto sia ridanciano e frivolo in compagnia, è in realtà cattivo, di indole maligna e intrigante, e non tralascia nulla pur di portare a compimento ciò che ha in mente. Sir John afferma che ha rovinato tre giovani donne alle quali aveva già fatto una proposta di matrimonio.
Sir John, in relazione al suo patrimonio, ne ha parlato come di un maneggione: ha detto che sebbene sia a volte prodigo nel perseguire ciò che gli piace, è anche capace di meschinità che lo fanno disprezzare, in gran parte soprattutto da coloro la cui stima sarebbe da augurarsi da parte di un brav'uomo, ovvero i vicini e gli affittuari.
Avresti mai pensato, Lucy mia, che quest'uomo ridanciano, elegante, avrebbe potuto essere un uomo malvagio, rancoroso e avido; un uomo crudele? Eppure Sir John ci ha raccontato due bruttissime storie su di lui, oltre a quello che ho già menzionato, che dimostrano come sia vero tutto ciò che ho detto.
Ma non avevo bisogno di quelle storie per convincermi a respingere i suoi approcci. Quello che ho visto è stato sufficiente, anche se Sir John (dopo che Mr. Reeves gli aveva detto, in confidenza, della richiesta che gli aveva fatto circa il permesso di venirmi a fare visita) non ha avuto dubbi sul fatto che fosse sincero, e, facendomi i complimenti, ha aggiunto che sapeva come Sir Hargrave fosse propenso a sposarsi, e, in più, come la metà della sua proprietà, in mancanza di figli maschi, sarebbe andata alla sua morte a un parente lontano che detestava, per nessun motivo se non per averlo rimproverato, quando era uno scolaro, per i suoi scherzi volgari e malevoli.
La sua proprietà, ha detto Sir John a mio cugino, è realmente considerevole, e Mr. Reeves, dopo che se n'è andato Sir John, ha detto, Che trionfo sarebbe per te, cugina Byron, riportare sulla retta via un uomo simile, e far sì che il suo patrimonio vada a beneficio di tanti, come sono certo che cercheresti di fare se diventassi Lady Pollexfen!
Ma, Lucy mia, anche se Sir Hargrave fosse il re di metà del mondo, non andrei mai all'altare con lui.
Ma se sarà molto fastidioso, che cosa mai gli dirò? Posso benissimo occuparmi di quelli che vanno tenuti a debita distanza, ma confesso che sarei davvero incerta di fronte a dei perfetti farabutti. La cortesia che mi sento obbligata ad avere verso chiunque afferma di essere interessato a me, potrebbe farmi andare incontro a delle seccature con caratteri violenti, che, protetta come sono stata dallo zio Selby, e dal buon Mr. Deane, non ho mai frequentato. Oh, Lucy mia, a quali mali sarei stata esposta, io, giovane donna sola e indipendente, se non fosse stato per quella protezione, visto che gli uomini, molti uomini, sono da considerare come dei selvaggi, come bestie feroci nel deserto, che guardano alle donne nubili e indipendenti come prede da cacciare?
Per farla finita con Sir Hargrave, per il momento, e, mi auguro di poter dire, per sempre, stamattina presto è stato recapitato un suo biglietto a Mr. Reeves, con il quale si scusava per non potergli far visita quel giorno (come aveva intenzione di fare) a causa di un'improvvisa e grave malattia di un parente, la cui residenza è a Reading, con il quale ha molti interessi e che voleva vedere prima che morisse. Dato che gli sarebbe stato impossibile tornare prima di tre giorni, che, ha scritto, gli sarebbero sembrati tre anni, e che era costretto a partire in quel momento, non poteva evitare di reclamare i suoi diritti, così li ha chiamati, al favore di Miss Byron, confermando nel contempo le sue parole di ieri. Con tono elevato, si professava suo ammiratore, e pregava Mr. e Mrs. Reeves di intercedere presso di lei. Una cosa positiva, diceva, derivava da quell'assenza, ovvero che Miss Byron, e Mr. e Mrs. Reeves, avrebbero avuto tempo di considerare la sua proposta, che sperava non sarebbe stata oggetto di un rifiuto.
E ora, Lucy mia, hai il resoconto più completo possibile dei miei due nuovi innamorati. Come gestirli, non lo so, ma comincio a pensare che sono più felici le giovani donne i cui parenti si interessano loro di queste cose, consultandole soltanto mentre si stanno definendo i preliminari.
I miei parenti fanno molto onore alla mia discrezionalità, quando mi permettono così generosamente di giudicare da me, e noi giovani donne amiamo essere padrone di noi stesse; ma devo dire che per me questo onore è stato, ed è, faticoso, per due ragioni: che non posso non considerare la loro bontà come un compito che grava su di me, che richiede la mia massima cautela, insieme alla gratitudine, e che hanno dimostrato maggiore generosità nel rinunciare alla loro autorità di quanto abbia fatto io ogni volta che ho agito in modo da sembrare, anche se solo sembrare, di accettare quella rinuncia; lasciami aggiungere, inoltre, che ormai, trovandomi soggetta a essere presa di mira da semplici estranei, da uomini che non ho conosciuto nel corso del tempo, come è successo con i nostri vicini, Greville, Fenwick e Orme, non posso non pensare che stare a sentire passivamente discorsi di quella terribile natura appaia come se li si accettasse. Potrebbero davvero essere chiamati terribili, se il proprio cuore battesse per una persona in particolare.
Per il futuro, lasciate dunque, mia riverita nonna, e voi, amati e del pari onorati zii Selby, lasciate che faccia riferimento a voi, se dovesse succedere che mi vengano rivolte offerte per le quali non ho forti obiezioni. Quanto a Mr. Fowler , e al baronetto, devo ormai fare quello che posso con loro. Per una giovane donna è molto più facile dire no che sì. Ma per il futuro non voglio essere costrette ad agire da sola. Conosco troppo bene la parzialità per la vostra Harriet, per dubitare del valore del vostro consiglio.
Dato che Mr. e Mrs. Reeves mi hanno chiesto di mostrar loro ciò che scrivo, sono lieti di assecondarmi in questo compito. Sarai quindi meno sorpresa dal fatto che scrivo così tanto in così poco tempo.Miss Byron è nel suo spogliatoio; Miss Byron sta scrivendo, sembrano pensare che siano scuse sufficienti per tutti, poiché così le considerano loro; inoltre, so che credono di far piacere a voi tutti offrendomi così gentilmente la possibilità di dimostrare il mio rispetto e il mio amore, così giustamente dovuti.
Sono tuttavia sorpresa nel guardare indietro... due fogli! e una tale quantità davanti! Incredibile, mi dico, e, come un'eco, ripeto, incredibile
Lettere dal Northamptonshire! portate da Jenkins. Un bacio ai sigilli, E adesso, che belle cose ha da dire la mia Lucy a Harriet? Di sgradevoli non ne può scrivere, se tutti i miei amati parenti stanno bene.
Volume I - Letter 15
MISS BYRON. IN CONTINUATION.
Monday, February 6.
And so my uncle Selby, you tell me, is making observations in writing, on my Letters; and waits for nothing more to begin with me, than my conclusion of the conversations that offered at Lady Betty's.
And is it expected that I should go on furnishing weapons against myself?—It is.
Well; with all my heart. As long as I can contribute to his amusement; as long as I know that he rather sometimes delights to say what may be said, than what he really thinks; as long as I have my good aunt Selby for my advocate; as long as my grandmamma is pleased and diverted with what I write; as well as with his pleasantries on her girl; and as long as you, my Lucy, stand up for your Harriet; I will proceed; and when my measure is full, and runs over, in his opinion, then let him ascribe vanity and what he pleases to me. I am but a woman: And he knows that I must love him the better for his stripes. Only let him take care, that, when he lays at my door faults of which I think I can acquit myself, he increases not in me the vanity he is so ready to attribute to me.
Well, but will you not, my Harriet, methinks you ask, write with less openness, with more reserve, in apprehension of the rod which you know hangs over your head?
Indeed I will not. It is my glory, that I have not a thought in my heart which I would conceal from any one whom it imported to know it, and who would be gratified by the revealing of it. And yet I am a little chagrin'd at the wager which you tell me my uncle has actually laid with my grandmamma, that I shall not return from London with a sound heart.
And does he tease you, my Lucy, on this subject, with reminding you of your young partiality for Captain Duncan, in order to make good his assertion of the susceptibility of us all!
Why so let him. And why should you deny, that you were susceptible of a natural passion? You must not be prudish, Lucy. If you are not, all his raillery will lose its force. What better assurance can I give to my uncle, and to all my friends, that if I were caught, I would own it, than by advising you not to be ashamed to confess a sensibility which is no disgrace, when duty and prudence are our guides, and the object worthy?
Your man indeed was not worthy, as it proved; but he was a very specious creature; and you knew not his bad character, when you suffered liking to grow into love. But when the Love-fever was at the height, did you make any-body uneasy with your passion? Did you run to woods and groves, to record it on the barks of trees?—No!—You sighed in silence indeed: But it was but for a little while. I got your secret from you; not, however, till it betray'd itself in your pined countenance; and then the man's discover'd unworthiness, and your own discretion, enabled you to conquer a passion to which you had given way, supposing it unconquerable, because you thought it would cost you pains to contend with it.
As to myself, you know I have hitherto been on my guard. I have been careful ever to shut the door of my heart against the blind deity, the moment I could imagine him setting his encroaching foot on the threshold, which I think liking may be called. Had he once gained entrance, perhaps I might have come off but simply.
But I hope I am in the less danger of falling in love with any man, as I can be civil and courteous to all. When a stream is sluiced off into several channels, there is the less fear that it will overflow its banks. I really think I never shall be in love with any-body, till duty directs inclination.
Excuse me, Lucy. I do now-and-then, you know, get into a boasting humour. But then my punishment, as in most other cases, follows my fault: My uncle pulls me down, and shows me, that I am not half so good as the rest of my friends think me.
You tell me, that Mr. Greville will be in London in a very few days. I can't help it. He pretends business, you say; and (since that calls him up) intends to give himself a month's pleasure in town, and to take his share of the public entertainments. Well, so let him. But I hope that I am not to be either his business or entertainment. After a civil neighbourly visit, or so, I hope, I shall not be tormented with him.
What happened once betwixt Mr. Fenwick and him, gave me pain enough; exposed me enough, surely! A young woman, tho' without her own fault, made the occasion of a rencounter between two men of fortune, must be talked of too much for her own liking, or she must be a strange creature. What numbers of people has the unhappy rashness of those two men brought to stare at me? And with what difficulty did my uncle and Mr. Deane bring them into so odd a compromise, as they at last came into, to torment me by joint consent, notwithstanding all I could say to them; which was the only probable way, shocking creatures! to prevent murder?—And may I not be apprehensive of what may happen, should Sir Hargrave persist in his present way of thinking?—Mr. Greville is a rash creature; and Sir John Allestree says, Sir Hargrave wants no resolution.
I suppose Mr. Fenwick will come up, if the other does. But pray, my Lucy, let them know—Yet should you tell them that I am greatly averse to seeing them, and that I will not see them if I can help it; that will be giving them consequence in their own opinion; and as the one pleads business, it will be, in the interpretation of so bold a man as Mr. Greville, making myself a part of it; and denying his visit before it is offered. They must, in short, do as they will; if they are resolved to haunt me at the public places to which I am to go, I am not so fond of show and glitter, but I can forbear going often to them.
But to have done with these men—What an odd thing is it in my uncle, to take hold of what I said in one of my Letters, that I had a good mind to give you a sketch of what I might suppose the company at Lady Betty's would say of your Harriet, were each to write her character, to their confidents or correspondents, as she has done theirs to you!
I am apprehensive that his command on this occasion is owing to his hope to find room from what I write, to charge me the heavier: But be this as it may, I will endeavour to obey him; and the more readily, as the task will be an exercise to my fancy.—Which of you, my dear friends, was it, that once called me a fanciful girl?
To begin—Lady Betty, who owns she thinks favourably of me, I will suppose would write to her Lucy, in such terms as these: But shall I suppose every one to be so happy, as to have her Lucy?
'Miss Byron, of whom you have heard Mr. Reeves talk so much, discredits not, in the main, the character he has given her. We must allow a little, you know, for the fondness of relationship.
'The girl has had a good education, and owes all her advantages to it. But it is a country and bookish one: And that won't do every thing for one of our Sex, if any thing. Poor thing! She never was in town before!—But she seems docile, and, for a country girl, is tolerably genteel: I think, therefore, I shall receive no discredit by introducing her into the Beau Monde.'
Miss Clements, perhaps, agreeable to the goodness of her kind heart, would have written thus:
'Miss Byron is an agreeable girl. She has invited me to visit her; and I hope I shall like her better and better. She has, one may see, kept worthy persons company; and I dare say, will preserve the improvement she has gained by it. She is lively and obliging: She is young; not more than twenty; yet looks rather younger, by reason of a country bloom, which, however, misbecomes her not; and gives a modesty to her first appearance, that possesses one in her favour. She is a great observer; yet I think not censorious. What a castaway would Miss Byron be, if knowing so well, as she seems to know, what the duty of others is, she should forget her own!'
Miss Cantillon would perhaps thus write:
'There was Miss Harriet Byron of Northamptonshire; a young woman in whose favour report has been very lavish. I can't say that I think her so very extraordinary: Yet she is well enough for a country girl. But tho' I do not impute to her a very pert look, yet if she had not been set up for something beyond what she is, by all her friends, who, it seems, are excessively fond of her, she might have had a more humble opinion of herself than she seems to have, when she is set a talking. She may, indeed, make a figure in a country assembly; but in the London world she must be not a little awkward, having never been here before.
'I take her to have a great deal of art. But to do her justice, she has no bad complexion: That you know is a striking advantage: Nor are her features, taking them either in whole or part, much amiss. But to me she has a babyish look, especially when she smiles; yet I suppose she has been told that her smiles become her; for she is always smiling—So like a simpleton, I was going to say!
'Upon the whole, I see nothing so engaging in her as to have made her the idol she is with every-body—And what little beauty she has, it cannot last. For my part, were I a man, the clear Brunette—you will think I am praising myself.'
Miss Barnevelt would perhaps thus write to her Lucy—To her Lucy!—Upon my word I will not let her have a Lucy—She shall have a brother man to write to, not a woman, and he shall have a fierce name. We will suppose that she also had been describing the rest of the company.
'Well but, my dear Bombardino, I am now to give you a description of Miss Byron. 'Tis the softest, gentlest, smiling rogue of a girl—I protest, I could five or six times have kissed her, for what she said, and for the manner she spoke in—For she has been used to prate; a favour'd child in her own family, one may easily see that. Yet so prettily loth to speak till spoken to!—Such a blushing little rogue!—'Tis a dear girl, and I wish'd twenty times as I sat by her, that I had been a man for her sake. Upon my honour, Bombardino, I believe if I had, I should have caught her up, popped her under one of my arms, and run away with her.'
Something like this, my Lucy, did Miss Barnevelt once say.
Having now dismissed the women, I come to Mr. Singleton, Mr. Walden, and Sir Hargrave.
Mr. Walden (himself a Pasquin) would thus perhaps have written to his Marforio:
'The first Lady, whom, as the greatest stranger, I shall take upon me to describe, is Miss Harriet Byron of Northamptonshire. In her person she is not disagreeable; and most people think her pretty. But, what is prettiness? Why, nevertheless, in a woman, prettiness is—pretty: what other word can I so fitly use of a person who, tho' a little sightly, cannot be called a beauty? I will allow, that we men are not wrong in admiring modest women for the graces of their persons: But let them be modest; let them return the compliment, and revere Us for our capaciousness of mind: And so they will, if they are brought up to know their own weakness, and that they are but domestic animals of a superior order. Even ignorance, let me tell you, my Marforio, is pretty in a woman. Humility is one of their principal graces. Women hardly ever set themselves to acquire the knowledge that is proper to men, but they neglect for it, what more indispensably belongs to women. To have them come to their husbands, to their brothers, and even to their lovers, when they have a mind to know any-thing out of their way, and beg to be instructed and informed, inspireth them with the becoming humility which I have touched upon, and giveth us importance with them.
'Indeed, my Marforio, there are very few topics that arise in conversation among men, upon which women ought to open their lips. Silence becomes them. Let them therefore hear, wonder, and improve, in silence. They are naturally contentious, and lovers of contradiction' [Something like this Mr. Walden once threw out: And you know who, my Lucy, has said as much] 'and shall we qualify them to be disputants against ourselves?
'These reflections, Marforio, are not foreign to my subject. This girl, this Harriet Byron, is applauded for a young woman of reading and observation. But there was another Lady present, Miss Clements, who (if there be any merit to a woman in it) appeareth to me to excel her in the compass of her reading; and that upon the strength of her own diligence and abilities; for this Miss Harriet hath had some pains taken with her by her late grandfather, a man of erudition, who had his education among us. This old gentleman, I am told, took it into his head, having no grandson, to give this girl a bookish turn; but he wisely stopped at her mother-tongue! only giving her a smattering in French and Italian.
'As I saw that the eyes of every one were upon her, I was willing to hear what she had to say for herself. Poor girl! She will suffer, I doubt, for her speciousness. Yet I cannot say, all things considered, that she was very malapert: That quality is yet to come. She is young.
'I therefore trifled a little with her. And went farther than I generally choose to go with the reading species of women, in order to divert an inundation of nonsense and foppery, breaking in from one of the company; Sir Hargrave Pollexfen: Of whom more anon. You know, Marforio, that a man, when he is provok'd to fight with an overgrown boy, hath every-body against him: So hath a scholar who engageth on learned topics with a woman. The Sex must be flatter'd at the expense of truth. Many things are thought to be pretty from the mouth of a woman, which would be egregiously weak and silly proceeding from that of a man. His very eminence in learning, on such a contention, would tend only to exalt her, and depreciate himself. As the girl was every-body's favourite, and as the Baronet seemed to eye her with particular regard, I spared her. A man would not, you know, spoil a girl's fortune.
But how shall I be able to tell you what I imagine Sir Hargrave would have written? Can I do it, if I place him in the light of a Lover, and not either under-do his character as such, or incur the censure of vanity and conceit?
Well, but are you sure, Harriet, methinks my uncle asks, that the Baronet is really and truly so egregiously smitten with you, as he pretended he was?
Why, ay! That's the thing, Sir!
You girls are so apt to take in earnest the compliments made you by men!
And so we are. But our credulity, my dear Sir, is a greater proof of our innocence, than mens professions are of their sincerity. So, let losers speak, and winners laugh.
But let him be in jest, if he will. In jest or in earnest, Sir Hargrave must be extravagant, I ween, in love-speeches. And that I may not be thought wholly to decline this part of my task, I will suppose him professing with Hudibras, after he has praised me beyond measure, for graces of his own creation;
The sun shall now no more dispense
His own, but Harriet's influence.
Where-e'er she treads, her feet shall set
The primrose, and the violet:
All spices, perfumes, and sweet powders,
Shall borrow from her breath their odours:
Worlds shall depend upon her eye,
And when she frowns upon them, die.
And what if I make him address me, by way of apostrophe, shall I say? (writing to his friend) in the following strain?
My faith [my friend] is adamantine,
As chains of destiny, I'll maintain;
True, as Apollo ever spoke,
Or oracle from heart of oak:
Then shine upon me but benignly,
With that one, and that other pigsnye;
The sun and day shall sooner part,
Than love or you shake off my heart.
Well, but what, my Harriet, would honest Mr. Singleton have written, methinks you ask, had he written about you?
Why thus, perhaps, my Lucy. And to his grandmother; for she is living:
'We had rare fun, at dinner, and after dinner my grandmother. There was one Miss Barnevelt, a fine tall portly young Lady. There was Miss Clements, not handsome, but very learned, and who, as was easy to perceive, could hold a good argument, on occasion. There was Miss Cantillon; as pretty a young Lady as one should wish to behold in a summer's day. And there was one Miss Byron, a Northamptonshire Lady, whom I never saw before in my born days. There was Mr. Walden, a famous scholar. I thought him very entertaining; for he talk'd of learning, and such-like things; which I know not so much of as I wish I did; because my want of knowing a little Latin and Greek has made my understanding look less than other men's. O my grandmother! what a wise man would the being able to talk Latin and Greek have made me!—And yet I thought that now-and-then Mr. Walden made too great a fuss about his. But there was a rich and noble Baronet; richer than me, as they say, a great deal; Sir Hargrove Pollexfun, if I spell his name right. A charming man; and charmingly dress'd. And so many fine things he said, and was so merry, and so facetious, that he did nothing but laugh, as a man may say. And I was as merry as him to the full. Why not?—O my grandmother! What with the talk of the young country Lady, that same Miss Byron; for they put her upon talking a great deal; what with the famous scholar; who, however, being a learned man, could not be so merry as us; what with Sir Hargrave (I could live and die with Sir Hargrave: You never knew, my grandmother, such a bright man as Sir Hargrave) and what with one thing, and what with another, we boxed it about, and had rare fun, as I told you—So that when I got home, and went to bed, I did nothing but dream of being in the same company, and three or four times waked myself with laughing.'
There, Lucy!—Will this do for Mr. Singleton? It is not much out of character, I assure you.
This knight, this Sir Rowland Meredith!—He is below, it seems; his nephew in his hand; Sir Rowland, my Sally tells me, in his gold button and button-hole coat, and full-buckled wig; Mr. Fowler as spruce as a bridegroom. What shall I do with Sir Rowland?
What, my Lucy, can there be in the addresses of these men, that even those who are indifferent to us, can put one's spirits in an hurry? But, my dear, it is painful to be obliged to deny the earnest suits of those who declare a Love for us.
Expect another Letter next post: And so you will if I did not bid you; for have I missed one yet?
Adieu, my Lucy.
Volume I - lettera 15
MISS BYRON. CONTINUA
Volume I - Letter 16
MISS BYRON TO MISS SELBY.
Monday Night, Tuesday, Morn. Feb. 6 & 7.
Sir Rowland and his nephew, tea being not quite ready, sat down with my cousins; and the knight, leaving Mr. Fowler little to say, expatiated so handsomely on his nephew's good qualities, and great passion for me, and on what he himself proposed to do for him in addition to his own fortune, that my cousins, knowing I liked not the gentlemen in our own neighbourhood, and thought very indifferently of Sir Hargrave, were more than half inclined to promote the addresses of Mr. Fowler, and gave them both room to think so.
This favourable disposition set the two gentlemen up. They were impatient for tea, that they might see me.
By the time I had sealed up my Letters, word was brought me, that tea was ready; and I went down.
The knight, it seems, as soon as they heard me coming, jogged Mr. Fowler—Nephew, said he, pointing to the door, see what you can say to the Primrose of your heart!—This is now the Primrose season with us in Caermarthen, Mr. Reeves.
Mr. Fowler, by a stretch of complaisance, came to meet and introduce me to the company, tho' at home. The knight nodded his head after him, smiling, as if he had said, Let my nephew alone to gallant the Lady to her seat.
I was a little surprised at Mr. Fowler's approaching me the moment I appeared, and with his taking my hand, and conducting me to my seat, with an air; not knowing how much he had been raised by the conversation that had passed before.
He bowed. I curtsied; and looked a little sillier than ordinary, I believe.
Your servant, young Lady, said the knight. Lovelier, and lovelier, by Mercy! How these blushes become that sweet face!—But, forgive me, madam, it is not my intent to dash you.
Writing, Miss Byron, all day! said Mrs. Reeves. We have greatly missed you.
My cousin seemed to say this, on purpose to give me time to recover myself.
I have blotted several sheets of paper, said I, and had just concluded.
I hope, madam, said the knight, leaning forward his whole body, and peering in my face under his bent brows, that we have not been the cause of hastening you down.
I stared. But as he seemed not to mean any-thing, I would not help him to a meaning by my own over-quickness.
Mr. Fowler had done an extraordinary thing, and sat down, hemmed, and said nothing; looking, however, as if he was at a loss to know whether he or his uncle was expected to speak.
The cold weather was then the subject; and the two gentlemen rubbed their hands, and drew nearer the fire, as if they were the colder for talking of it. Many hems passed between them, now the uncle looking on the nephew, now the nephew on the uncle: At last they fell into talk of their new-built house at Caermarthen; and the furnishing of it.
They mentioned afterwards their very genteel neighbourhood, and gave the characters of half a dozen people, of whom none present but themselves ever heard; but all tending to show how much they were valued by the best gentry in Caermarthenshire.
The knight then related a conversation that had once passed between himself and the late Lord Mansell, in which that nobleman had complimented him on an estate of a clear 3000l. a year, besides a good deal of ready cash, and with supposing that he would set up his nephew when at age (for it was some years ago) as a representative for the county. And he repeated the prudent answer he gave his Lordship, disavowing such a design, as no better than a gaming propensity, as he called it, which had ruined many a fair estate.
This sort of talk, in which his nephew could bear a part (and indeed they had it all between them) held the tea-time; and then having given themselves the consequence they had seemed to intend, the knight, drawing his chair nearer me, and winking to his nephew, who withdrew, began to set forth the young gentleman's good qualities; to declare the passion he had for me; and to beg my encouragement of so worthy, so proper, and so well-favoured a young man; who was to be his sole heir; and for whom he would do such things, on my account, as, during his life, he would not do for any other woman breathing.
There was no answering a discourse so serious with the air of levity, which it was hardly possible to avoid assuming, on the first visit of the knight.
I was vexed that I found myself almost as bashful, as silly, and as silent, as if I had thoughts of encouraging Mr. Fowler's addresses. My cousins seemed pleased with my bashfulness. The knight, I once thought, by the tone of his voice and his hum, would have struck up a Welsh tune, and danced for joy.
Shall I call in my kinsman, madam, to confirm all I have said, and to pour out the whole soul at your feet? My boy is bashful: But a little favour from that sweet countenance will make a man of him. Let me, let me, call in my boy. I will go for him myself; and was going.
Let me say one word, Sir Rowland—before Mr. Fowler comes in—before you speak to him—You have explained yourself unexceptionably. I am obliged to you and Mr. Fowler for your good opinion: But this can never be.
How, madam! can never be!—I will allow that you shall take time for half a dozen visits, or so, that you may be able to judge of my nephew's qualities and understanding, and be convinced from his own mouth, and heart and soul, as I may say, of his Love for you. No need of time for him. He, poor man! is fixed; immoveably fixed: But say you will take a week's time, or so, to consider what you can do, what you will do—And that's all I at present crave, or indeed, madam, can allow you.
I cannot doubt now, Sir Rowland, of what my mind will be a week hence, as to this matter.
How, madam!—Why we are all in the suds then!—Why, Mr. Reeves, Mrs. Reeves!—Whew! with an half-whistle—Why, madam, we shall, at this rate, be all untwisted!—But (after a pause) by Mercy I will not be thus answered!—Why, madam, would you have the conscience to break my poor boy's heart?—Come, be as gracious as you look to be—Give me your hand—[He snatched my hand. In respect to his years I withdrew it not] And give my boy your heart.—Sweet soul! Such sensible, such good-natured mantlings!—Why you can't be cruel, if you would!—Dear Lady! Say you will take a little time to consider of this matter. Don't repeat those cruel words, "It can never be."—What have you to object to my boy?
Mr. Fowler, both by character and appearance, Sir Rowland, is a worthy man. He is a modest man; and modesty—
Well, and so he is—Mercy! I was afraid that his modesty would be an objection—
It cannot, Sir Rowland, with a modest woman. I love, I revere, a modest man: But, indeed, I cannot give hope, where I mean not to encourage any.
Your objection, madam, to my nephew—You must have seen something in him you dislike.
I do not easily dis-like, Sir; but then I do not easily like. And I never will marry any man, to whom I cannot be more than indifferent.
Why, madam, he adores you—He—
That, Sir, is an objection, unless I could return his Love. My gratitude would be endangered.
Excellent notions!—With these notions, madam, you could not be ungrateful.
That, Sir, is a risk I will never run. How many bad wives are there, who would have been good ones, had they not married either to their dislike, or with indifference? Good beginnings, Sir Rowland, are necessary to good progresses, and to happy conclusions.
Why so they are. But beginnings that are not bad, with good people, will make no bad progresses, no bad conclusions.
No bad is not good, Sir Rowland; and in such a world as this, shall people lay themselves open to the danger of acting contrary to their duty? Shall they suffer themselves to be bribed, either by conveniencies, or superfluities, to give their hands, and leave their hearts doubtful or indifferent? It would not be honest to do so.
You told me, madam, the first time I had the honour to see you, that you were absolutely and bonâ fide disengaged.
I told you truth, Sir.
Then, madam, we will not take your denial. We will persevere. We will not be discouraged. What a dunce! Have I not heard it said, that faint heart never won fair Lady?
I never would give an absolute denial, Sir, were I to have the least doubt of my mind. If I could balance, I would consult my friends, and refer to them; and their opinion should have due weight with me. But for your nephew's sake, Sir Rowland, while his esteem for me is young and conquerable, urge not this matter farther. I would not give pain to a worthy heart.
As I hope for mercy, madam, so well do I like your notions, that if you will be my niece, and let me but converse with you once a day, I will be contented with an hundred pounds a year, and settle upon you all I have in the world.
His eyes glistened; his face glowed; an honest earnestness appeared in his countenance.
Generous man! good Sir Rowland! said I. I was affected. I was forced to withdraw.
I soon returned, and found Sir Rowland, his handkerchief in his hand, applying very earnestly to my cousins. And they were so much affected, too, that on his resuming the subject to me, they could not help putting in a word or two on his side of the question.
Sir Rowland then proposed to call in his nephew, that he might speak for himself. My boy may be over-awed by Love, madam: True Love is always fearful: Yet he is no milksop, I do assure you. To men he has courage. How he will behave to you, madam, I know not; for really, notwithstanding that sweetness of aspect, which I should have thought would have led one to say what one would to you (in modesty I mean) I have a kind of I cannot-tell-what for you myself. Reverence it is not, neither, I think.—I only reverence my Maker—And yet I believe it is. Why, madam, your face is one of God Almighty's wonders in a little compass—Pardon me—You may blush—But be gracious now!—Don't show us, that, with a face so encouragingly tender, you have an hard heart.
O Sir Rowland, you are an excellent advocate: But pray tell Mr. Fowler—
I will call him in—And was rising.
No, don't. But tell Mr. Fowler that I regard him, on a double account; for his own worth's sake, and for his uncle's: But subject me not, I once more entreat you, to the pain of repulsing a worthy man. I repeat, that I am under obligation to him for the value he has for me: I shall be under more, if he will accept of my thanks as all I have to return.
My dear Miss Byron, said Mr. Reeves, oblige Sir Rowland so far, as to take a little time to consider—
God bless you on earth and in heaven, Mr. Reeves, for this! You are a good man—Why, ay, take a little time to consider—God bless you, madam, take a little time. Say you will consider. You know not what a man of understanding my nephew is. Why, madam, modest as he is, and awed by his Love for you, he cannot show half the good sense he is master of.
Modest men must have merit, Sir. But how can you, Mr. Reeves, make a difficult task more difficult? And yet all is from the goodness of your heart. You see Sir Rowland thinks me cruel: I have no cruelty in my nature. I love to oblige. I wish to match you in generosity, Sir Rowland—Ask me for any-thing but myself, and I will endeavour to oblige you.
Admirable, by mercy! Why, every-thing you say, instead of making me desist, induces me to persevere. There is no yielding up such a prize, if one can obtain it. Tell me, Mr. Reeves, where there is such another woman to be had, and we may give up Miss Byron: But I hope she will consider of it.—Pray, madam—But I will call in my nephew. And out he went in haste, as if he were afraid of being again forbidden.
Mean time my cousins put it to me—But before I could answer them, the knight, followed by his nephew, returned.
Mr. Fowler entered, bowing in the most respectful manner. He looked much more dejected than when he approached me at my first coming down. His uncle had given him an hint of what had passed between us.
Mr. Fowler and I had but just sat down, when the knight said to Mr. Revees (but took him not by the button, as in his first visit) One word with you, Sir—Mr. Reeves, one word with you, if you please.
They withdrew together; and presently after Mrs. Reeves went out at the other door; and I was left alone with Mr. Fowler.
We both sat silent for about three or four minutes. I thought I ought not to begin; Mr. Fowler knew not how. He drew his chair nearer to me; then sat a little farther off; then drew it nearer again; stroked his ruffles, and hemmed two or three times; and, at last, You cannot, madam, but observe my confusion; my concern, my, my, my confusion!—It is all owing to my reverence, my respect, my reverence, for you—hem!—He gave two gentle hems, and was silent.
I could not enjoy the modest man's awkwardness.—Every feature of his face working, his hands and his knees trembling, and his tongue faltering, how barbarous had I been, if I could!—O Lucy, what a disqualifier is Love, if such agitations as these are natural effects of that passion!
Sir Rowland has been acquainting me, Sir, said I, with the good opinion you have of me. I am very much obliged to you for it. I have been telling Sir Rowland—
Ah, madam! Say not what you have been telling Sir Rowland: He has hinted it to me. I must indeed confess my unworthiness; yet I cannot forbear aspiring to your favour. Who that knows what will make him the happiest of men, however unworthy he may be, can forbear seeking his happiness? I can only say, I am the most miserable of men, if—
Good Mr. Fowler, interrupted I, indulge not an hope that cannot be answered. I will not pretend to say, that I should not merit your esteem, if I could return it; because, to whomsoever I should give my hand, I would make it a point of duty to deserve his affection: But, for that very reason, and that I may have not temptation to do otherwise, I must be convinced in my own mind, that there is not a man in the world whom I could value more than him I chose.
He sighed. I was assured, madam, said he, that your heart was absolutely disengaged: On that assurance I founded my presumptuous hope.
And so it is, Mr. Fowler. I have never yet seen a man whom I could wish to marry.
Then, madam, may I not hope, that time, that my assiduities, that my profound reverence, my unbounded Love—
O Mr. Fowler, think me not either insensible or ungrateful: But time, I am sure can make no alteration in this case. I can only esteem you, and that from a motive which I think has selfishness in it, because you have shown a regard for me.
No selfishness in this motive; madam, it is amiable gratitude: And if all the services of my life, if all the adoration—
I have a very indifferent notion of sudden impressions, Mr. Fowler: But I will not question the sincerity of a man I think so worthy. Sir Rowland has been very urgent with me: He has wished me to take time to consider. I have told him I would, if I could doubt: But that I cannot. For your own sake, therefore, let me entreat you to place your affections elsewhere. And may you place them happily!
You have, madam, I am afraid, seen men whom you could prefer to me—
Our acquaintance, Mr. Fowler, is very short. It would be no wonder if I had. Yet I told you truly, that I never yet saw a man whom I could wish to marry.
He looked down, and sighed.
But, Mr. Fowler, to be still more frank and explicit with you, as I think you a very worthy man; I will own, that were any of the gentlemen I have hitherto known, to be my lot, it must be, I think, in compassion (in gratitude I had almost said) one (who nevertheless it cannot be) who has professed a love for me ever since I was a child. A man of honour, of virtue, of modesty; such a man as I believe Mr. Fowler is. His fortune indeed is not so considerable as Sir Rowland says yours will be: But, Sir, as there is no other reason on the comparison, why I should prefer Mr. Fowler to him, I should think the worse of myself as long as I lived, if I gave a preference over such a tried affection to fortune only. And now, Sir, I expect that you will make a generous use of my frankness, lest the gentleman, if you should know him, may hear of it. And this I request for his sake, as I think I can never be his; as for yours I have been thus explicit.
I can only say, that I am the most miserable of men!—But will you, madam, give me leave to visit Mr. Reeves now-and-then?
Not on my account Mr. Fowler. Understand it so; and if you see me, let it be with indifference, and without expectation from me; and I shall always behave myself to you, as to a man who has obliged me by his good opinion.
He bowed: Sat in silence: Pulled out his handkerchief.—I pitied him.
But let me ask all you, my friends, who love Mr. Orme, Was I wrong? I think I never could love Mr. Fowler, as a wife ought to love her husband.—May he meet with a worthy woman who can! And surely so good, so modest a man, and of such an ample fortune, easily may: While it may be my lot, if ever I marry, to be the wife of a man, with whom I may not be so happy, as either Mr. Orme or Mr. Fowler would probably make me; could I prevail upon myself to be the wife of either. O my uncle, often do I reflect on your mercer's shop.
Mr. Fowler arose, and walked disconsolately about the room, and often profoundly, and, I believe (not Greville-like) sincerely sighed. His motion soon brought in the knight and Mr. Reeves at one door, and Mrs. Reeves at the other.
Well! What news? What news?—Good, I hope, said the knight, with spread hands—Ah my poor boy! Thus à-la-mort! Surely, madam—
There he stopped, and looked wistfully at me; then at my cousins—Mr. Reeves, Mrs. Reeves, speak a good word for my boy. The heart that belongs to that countenance cannot be adamant surely.—Dear young Lady, let your power be equalled by your mercy.
Mr. Fowler, Sir Rowland, has too much generosity to upbraid me, I dare say. Nor will you think me either perverse or ungenerous, when he tells you what has passed between us.
Have you given him hope, then? God grant it, tho' but distant hope! Have you said you will consider—Dear blessed Lady!—
O Sir, interrupted I, how good you are to your nephew! How worthily is your Love placed on him! What a proof is it of his merit, and of the goodness of your heart!—I shall always have an esteem for you both!—Your excuse, Sir Rowland: Yours, Mr. Fowler. Be so good as to allow me to withdraw.
I retired to my own apartment, and throwing myself into a chair, reflected on what had passed; and after a while recollected myself to begin to write it down for you.
As soon as I had withdrawn, Mr. Fowler, with a sorrowful heart, as my cousins told me, related all that I had said to him.
Mr. Reeves was so good as to praise me for what he called my generosity to Mr. Orme, as well as for my frankness and civility to Mr. Fowler.
That was the deuce of it, Sir Rowland said, that were they to have no remedy, they could not find any fault in me to comfort themselves with.
They put it over and over to my cousin, Whether time and assiduity might not prevail with me to change my mind? And whether an application to my friends in the country might not, on setting-every thing fairly before them, be of service? But Mr. Reeves told them, that now I had opened so freely my mind, and had spoken so unexpectedly, yet so gratefully, in favour of Mr. Orme, he feared there could be no hopes.
However, both gentlemen, at taking leave recommended themselves to Mr. and Mrs. Reeves for their interests; and the knight vowed that I should not come off so easily.
So much, and adieu, my Lucy, for the addresses of worthy Mr. Fowler. Pray, however, for your Harriet, that she may not draw a worse lot.
At a private concert last night with my cousins and Miss Clements; and again to be at the play this night; I shall be a racketer, I doubt.
Mr. Fowler called here this morning. Mrs. Reeves and I were out on a visit. But Mr. Reeves was at home, and they had a good deal of discourse about me. The worthy man spoke so despairingly of his success with me, that I hope, for his own sake, I shall hear no more of his addresses; and with the more reason, as Sir Rowland will in a few days set out for Caermarthen.
Sir Rowland called afterwards: But Mr. Reeves was abroad; and Mrs. Reeves and I were gone to Ludgate-hill, to buy a gown, which is to be made up in all haste, that I may the more fashionably attend Lady Betty Williams to some of the public entertainments. I have been very extravagant: But it is partly my cousin's fault. I send you inclosed a pattern of my silk. I thought we were high in the fashion in Northamptonshire; but all my cloths are altering, that I may not look frightful, as the phrase is.
But shall I as easily get rid of the Baronet, think you, as I hope I have of Mr. Fowler? He is come to town, and by his own invention (in a card to Mr. Reeves) is to be here to-morrow afternoon. What signifies my getting out of the way? He will see me at another time; and I shall increase my own difficulties, and his consequence, if he thinks I am afraid of him.
Volume I - lettera 16
MISS BYRON A MISS SELBY
Volume I - Letter 17
MISS BYRON. IN CONTINUATION.
Sir Hargrave came before six o'clock. He was richly dressed. He asked for Mr. Reeves. I was in my closet, writing. He was not likely to be the better received for the character Sir John Allestree gave of him.
He excused himself for coming so early, on the score of his impatience, and that he might have a little discourse with them, if I should be engaged before tea-time.
Was I within?—I was.—Thank heaven!—I was very good.
So he seemed to imagine that I was at home, in compliment to him.
Shall I give you, from my cousins, an account of the conversation before I went down? You know Mrs. Reeves is a nice observer.
He had had, he told my cousins, a most uneasy time of it, ever since he saw me. The devil fetch him, if he had had one hour's rest! He never saw a woman before, whom he could love as he loved me. By his soul, he had no view, but what was strictly honourable.
He sometimes sat down, sometimes walked about the room, strutting, and now-and-then adjusting something in his dress that nobody else saw wanted it. He gloried in the happy prospects before him: Not but he knew I had a little army of admirers: But as none of them had met with encouragement from me, he hoped there was room for him to flatter himself that he might be the happy man.
I told you, Mr. Reeves, said he, that I will give you carte blanche as to settlements. What I do for so prudent a woman, will be doing for myself. I am not used, Mr. Reeves, to boast of my fortune [Then, it seems, he went up to the glass, as if his person could not fail of being an additional recommendation] but I will lay before you, or before any of Miss Byron's friends (Mr. Deane, if she pleases—) my rent-rolls. There never was a better-conditioned estate. She shall live in town, or in the country, as she thinks fit; and in the latter, at which of my seats she pleases. I know I shall have no will but hers. I doubt not your friendship, Mr. Reeves. I hope for yours, madam. I shall have great pleasure in the alliance I have in view, with every individual of your family—As if he would satisfy them of his friendship, in the near relation, as the only matter that could bear a doubt.
Then he ran on upon the part I bore in the conversation at Lady Betty Williams's—By his soul, only the wisest, the wittiest, the most gracefully modest of women—that was all—Then Ha, ha, ha, hah, poor Walden! What a silly fellow! He had caught a Tartar!—Ha, ha, ha, hah—Shaking his head and his gay sides: Devil take him if ever he saw a Prig so fairly taken in!—But I was a sly little rogue!—He saw that!—By all that's good, I must myself sing small in her company!—I will never meet at hard-edge with her—If I did—(and yet I have been thought to carry a good one) I should be confoundedly gapped, I can see that [alluding to two knives, I suppose, gapping each other; and winking with one eye; and, as Mrs. Reeves described him, looking as wise as if he would make a compliment to his penetration, at the expense of his understanding]: But, continued he, as a woman is more an husband's than a man is a wife's [Have all the men this prerogative-notion, Lucy? You know it is a better man's] I shall have a pride worth boasting of, if I can call such a jewel mine. Poor Walden!—Rot the fellow!—I warrant he would not have so knowing a wife for the world.—Ha, ha, ha, hah! He is right: It is certainly right for such narrow pedants to be afraid of learned women!—Methinks, I see the fellow, conjurer-like, circumscribed in a narrow circle, putting into Greek what was better expressed in English; and forbidding every one's approach within the distance of his wand!—Hah, hah, hah!—Let me die, if ever I saw a tragicomical fellow better handled!—Then the faces he made—Saw you ever, Mr. Reeves, saw you ever in your life such a parcel of disastrous faces made by one man?
Thus did Sir Hargrave, laughingly, run on: Nor left he hardly any-thing for my cousins to say, or to do, but to laugh with him, and to smile at him.
On a message that tea was near ready, I went down. On my entering the room, he addressed me with an air of kindness and freedom: Charming Miss Byron! said he, I hope you are all benignity and compassion. You know not what I have suffered since I had the honour to see you last; bowing very low; then rearing himself up, holding back his head; and seemed the taller for having bowed.
Handsome fop! thought I to myself. I took my seat; and endeavoured to look easy and free, as usual; finding something to say to my cousins, and to him. He begged that tea might be postponed for half an hour; and that, before the servants were admitted, I would hear him relate the substance of the conversation that had passed between him and Mr. and Mrs. Reeves.
Had not Sir Hargrave intended me an honour, and had he not a very high opinion of the efficacy of eight thousand pounds a year in an address of this kind, I dare say, he would have supposed a little more prefacing necessary: But, after he had told me, in few words, how much he was attracted by my character before he saw me, he thought fit directly to refer himself to the declaration he had made at Lady Betty Williams's, both to Mr. Reeves and myself; and then talked of large settlements; boasted of his violent passion; and besought my favour with the utmost earnestness.
I would have played a little female trifling upon him, and affected to take his professions only for polite raillery, which men call making love to young women, who perhaps are frequently but too willing to take in earnest what the wretches mean but in jest; but the fervour with which he renewed (as he called it) his declaration, admitted not of fooling; and yet his volubility might have made questionable the sincerity of his declarations. As therefore I could not think of encouraging his addresses, I thought it best to answer him with openness and unreserve.
To seem to question the sincerity of such professions as you make, Sir Hargrave, might appear to you as if I wanted to be assured: But be pleased to know that you are directing your discourse to one of the plainest-hearted women in England; and you may therefore expect from me nothing but the simplest truth. I thank you, Sir, for your good opinion of me; but I cannot encourage your addresses.
You cannot, madam, encourage my addresses! And express yourself so seriously! Good heaven! [He stood silent a minute or two, looking upon me, and upon himself; as if he had said, foolish girl! knows she whom she refuses?] I have been assured, madam, recovering a little from his surprise, that your affections are not engaged. But surely it must be a mistake; Some happy man—
Is it, interrupted I, a necessary consequence, that the woman who cannot receive the addresses of Sir Hargrave Pollexsen, must be engaged?
Why, madam—As to that—I know not what to say—But a man of my fortune, and I hope, not absolutely disagreeable either in person or temper; of some rank in life—He paused; then resuming—What, madam, if you are as much in earnest as you seem, can be your objection? Be so good as to name it, that I may know, whether I cannot be so happy as to get over it?
We do not, we cannot, all like the same person. Women, I have heard say are very capricious. Perhaps I am so. But there is a something (we cannot always say what) that attracts or disgusts us.
Disgusts! madam—Disgusts! Miss Byron.
I spoke in general, Sir; I dare say, nineteen women out of twenty would think themselves favoured in the addresses of Sir Hargrave Pollexfen.
But you, madam, are the twentieth that I must love: And be so good as to let me know—
Pray, Sir, ask me not a reason for a peculiarity. Do you not yourself show a peculiarity in making me the twentieth?
Your merit, madam—
It would be vanity in me, Sir, interrupted I, to allow a force to that plea. You, Sir, may have more merit, than perhaps the man I may happen to approve of better; but—shall I say? (Pardon me, Sir) You do not—You do not, hesitated I—hit my fancy—Pardon me, Sir.
If pardon depends upon my breath, let me die if I do!—Not hit your fancy, madam! [And then he look'd upon himself all round] Not hit your fancy, madam!
I told you, Sir, that you must not expect any-thing from me but the simplest truth. You do me an honour in your good opinion; and if my own heart were not, in this case, a very determined one, I would answer you with more politeness. But, Sir, on such an occasion as this, I think it would not be honourable, it would not be just, to keep a man in an hour's suspense, when I am in none myself.
And are you then (angrily) so determined, Miss Byron?
I am, Sir,
Confound me!—And yet I am enough confounded!—But I will not take an answer so contrary to my hopes. Tell me, madam, by the sincerity which you boast; are you not engaged in your affections? Is there not some one happy man, whom you prefer to all men?
I am a free person, Sir Hargrave. It is no impeachment of sincerity, if a free person answers not every question that may be put to her, by those to whom she is not accountable.
Very true, madam. But as it is no impeachment of your freedom to answer this question either negatively or affirmatively, and as you glory in your frankness, let me be beseech you to answer it; Are you, madam, or are you not, disengaged in your affections?
Excuse me, Sir Hargrave; I don't think you are entitled to an answer to this question. Nor, perhaps, would you be determined by the answer I should make to it, whether negative or affirmative.
Give me leave to say, madam, that I have some little knowledge of Mr. Fenwick and Mr. Greville, and of their addresses. They have both owned, that no hopes have you given them; yet declare that they will hope. Have you, madam, been as explicit to them, as you are to me?
I have, Sir.
Then they are not the men I have to fear—Mr. Orme, madam—
Is a good man, Sir.
Ah! madam!—But why then will you not say that you are engaged?
If I own I am; perhaps it will not avail me: It will much less, if I say I am not.
Avail you! dear Miss Byron! I have pride, madam. If I had not, I should not aspire to your favour: But give me leave to say [and he reddened with anger] that my fortune, my descent, and my ardent affection for you, considered, it may not dis-avail you. Your relations will at least think so, if I may have the honour of your consent for applying to them.
May your fortune, Sir Hargrave, be a blessing to you. It will, as you do good with it. But were it twice as much, that alone would have no charms for me. My duties would be increased with my power. My fortune is an humble one; but were it less, it would satisfy my ambition while I am single; and if I marry, I shall not desire to live beyond the estate of the man I choose.
Upon my soul, madam, you must be mine. Every word you speak, adds a rivet to my chains.
Then, Sir, let us say no more upon this subject.
He then laid a title to my gratitude from the passion he avowed for me.
That is a very poor plea, Sir, said I, as you yourself would think, I believe, were one of our sex, whom you could not like, to claim a return of love from you upon it.
You are too refined, surely, madam.
Refined! what meant the man by the word in this place?
I believe, Sir, we differ very widely in many of our sentiments.
We will not differ in one, madam, when I know yours; such is the opinion I have of your prudence, that I will adopt them, and make them my own.
This may be said, Sir; but there is hardly a man in the world that, saying it, would keep his word: Nor a woman, who ought to expect he should.
But you will allow of my visits to your cousins, madam?
Not on my account, Sir.
You will not withdraw if I come? You will not refuse seeing me?
As you will be no visitor of mine, I must be allowed to act accordingly. Had I the least thought of encouraging your addresses, I would deal with you as openly as is consistent with my notions of modesty and decorum.
Perhaps, madam, from my gay behaviour at Lady Betty Williams's, you think me too airy a man. You have doubts of my sincerity: You question my honour.
That, Sir, would be to injure myself.
Your objections, then, dear madam? Give me, I beseech you, some one material objection.
Why, Sir, should you urge me thus?—When I have no doubt, it is unnecessary to look into my own mind for the particular reasons that move me to disapprove of the addresses of a gentleman whose professions of regard for me, notwithstanding, entitle him to civility and acknowledgement.
By my soul, madam, this is very comical:
I do not like thee Dr. Fell;
The reason why, I cannot tell—
But I don't like thee, Dr. Fell.
Such, madam, seem to me to be your reasons.
You are very pleasant, Sir. But let me say, that if you are in earnest in your professions, you could not have quoted any-thing more against you than these humorous lines; since a dislike of such a nature as is implied by them, must be a dislike arising from something resembling a natural aversion; whether just or not, is little to the purpose.
I was not aware of that, replied he: But I hope yours to me is not such a one.
Excuse me, cousin, said I, turning to Mrs. Reeves: But I believe I have talked away the tea-time.
I think not of tea, said she.
Hang tea, said Mr. Reeves.
The devil fly away with the tea-kettle, said Sir Hargrave; let it not have entrance here, till I have said what I have further to say. And let me tell you, Miss Byron, that tho' you may not have a dying lover, you shall have a resolute one: For I will not cease pursuing you till you are mine, or till you are the wife of some other man.
He spoke this fiercely, and even rudely. I was disgusted as much at his manner, as with his words.
I cannot, replied I, but congratulate myself on one felicity, since I have been in your company, Sir; and that is, That in this whole conversation, (and I think it much too long) I have not one thing to reproach myself with, or be sorry for.
Your servant, madam, bowing:—But I am of the contrary opinion. By heaven, madam [with anger, and an air of insolence] I think you have pride, madam.—
I thought it was staying to be insulted. All that Sir John Allestree had said of him came into my head.
Hold, Sir, (for he seemed to be going on) Pride, Cruelty, Ingratitude, are crimes black enough. If you think I am guilty of them, excuse me that I retire for the benefit of recollection.—And, making a low curtsy. I withdrew in haste. He besought me to return; and followed me to the stairs foot.
He showed his pride, and his ill-nature too, before my cousins, when I was gone. He bit his lip: He walked about the room; then sitting down, he lamented, defended, accused, and re-defended himself; and yet besought their interest with me.
He was greatly disturbed, he owned, that with such honourable intentions, with so much POWER to make me happy, and such a WILL to do so, he should be refused; and this without my assigning one reason for it.
And my cousins (to whom he again referred on that head) answering him, that they believed me disengaged in my affections—D—him, he said, if he could account then for my behaviour to him.
He, however, threatened Mr. Orme: Who (if any) he said, was the man I favoured. I had acknowledged, that neither Greville nor Fenwick were. My proud repulse had stung him, he owned. He begged, that they would send for me down in their names.
They liked not the humour he seemed to be in well enough to comply with his request; and he sent up in his own name.
But I returned my compliments: I was busy in writing [And so I was—to you, my Lucy]; I hoped Sir Hargrave, and my cousins, would excuse me. I put them in, to soften my refusal.
This still more displeased him. He besought their pardon, but he would haunt me like a ghost. In spite of man and devil I should be his, he had the presumption to repeat: And went away with a flaming face.
Don't you think, my dear, that my cousin Reeves was a little too mild in his own house; as I am under his guardianship? But perhaps he was the more patient for that very reason; and he is one of the best-natured men in England. And then 8000l. a year!—Yet why should a man of my cousin's independent fortune—But grandeur will have its charms!
Thus did Sir Hargrave confirm all that Sir John Allestree had said of his bad qualities: And I think I am more afraid of him than ever I was of any man before. I remember, that mischievous is one of the bad qualities Sir John attributed to him: And revengeful another. Should I ever see him again, on the same errand, I will be more explicit, as to my being absolutely disengaged in my affections, if I can be so without giving him hope, lest he should do private mischief to some one on my account. Upon my word, I would not, of all the men I have ever seen, be the wife of Sir Hargrave Pollexfen.
And so much for this first visit of his. I wish his pride may be enough piqued to make it the last.
But could you have thought he would have shown himself so soon?—Yet he had paraded so much, before I went down, to my cousins, and so little expected a direct and determined repulse, that a man of his self-consequence might, perhaps, be allowed to be the more easily piqued by it.
Lady Betty has sent us notice, that on Thursday next, there will be a ball at the Opera-house in the Hay-market. My cousins are to choose what they will be; but she insists, that my dress shall be left to her. I am not to know what it is to be, till the day before, or the very day. If I like it not, she will not put me to any expense about it.
You will easily imagine, upon such an alternative, I shall approve of it, be it what it will. I have only requested, that I may not be so remarkably dressed, as to attract the eyes of the company: If I am, I shall not behave with any tolerable presence of mind.
Volume I - lettera 17
MISS BYRON. CONTINUA
Volume I - Letter 18
MISS BYRON. IN CONTINUATION.
Friday, Feb. 10.
One of Mr. Greville's servants has just been here, with his master's compliments. So the wretch is come to town. I believe I shall soon be able to oblige him: He wishes, you know, to provoke me to say I hate him.
Surely I draw inconveniencies upon myself by being so willing to pay civility for esteem. Yet it is in my nature to do so, and I can't help it without committing a kind of violence on my temper. There is no merit, therefore, in my behaviour, on such occasions. Very pretty self-deception!—I study my own ease, and (before I consider) am ready to call myself patient, and good-humoured, and civil, and to attribute to myself I know not how many kind and complaisant things, when I ought, in modesty, to distinguish between the virtue and the necessity.
I never was uncivil, as I call it, but to one young gentleman; a man of quality (you know who I mean); and that was, because he wanted me to keep secret his addresses to me, for family considerations. The young woman who engages to keep her lover's secrets in this particular, is often brought into a plot against herself, and oftener still against those to whom she owes unreserved honour and duty: And is not such a conduct also an indirect confession, that you know you are engaging in something wrong and unworthy?
Mr. Greville's arrival vexes me. I suppose it will not be long before Mr. Fenwick comes too. I have a good mind to try to like the modest Mr. Orme the better, in spite.
Sat. Morn. Feb. 11.
I shall have nothing to trouble you with, I think, but scenes of courtship. Sir Rowland, Sir Hargrave, and Mr. Greville, all met just now at our breakfast-time.
Sir Rowland came first; a little before breakfast was ready. After enquiries of Mr. Reeves, whether I held in the same mind, or not; he desired to have the favour of one quarter of an hour's conversation with me alone.
Methinks I have a value for this honest knight. Honesty, my Lucy, is good sense, politeness, amiableness, all in one. An honest man must appear in every light with such advantages, as will make even singularity agreeable. I went down directly.
He met me; and taking my not-withdrawn hand, and peering in my face, Mercy, said he; the same kind aspect! The same sweet and obliging countenance! How can this be? But you must be gracious! You will. Say you will.
You must not urge me, Sir Rowland. You will give me pain if you lay me under a necessity to repeal—
Repeat what? Don't say a refusal. Dear madam, don't say a refusal! Will you not save a life? Why, madam, my poor boy is absolutely and bona fide broken-hearted. I would have had him come with me: But, no, he could not bear to tease the beloved of his soul! Why there's an instance of love now! Not for all his hopes, not for his life's sake, could he bear to tease you! None of your fluttering Jack-a dandy's, now, would have said this! And let not such succeed, where modest merit fails!—Mercy! You are struck with my plea! Don't, don't, God bless you now, don't harden your heart on my observation. I was resolved to set out in a day or two: But I will stay in town, were it a month, to see my boy made happy. And, let me tell you, I would not wish him to be happy unless he could make you so.—Come, come—
I was a little affected. I was silent.
Come, come, be gracious; be merciful. Dear lady, be as good as you look to be. One word of comfort for my poor boy. I could kneel to you for one word of comfort—Nay, I will kneel; taking hold of my other hand, as he still held one; and down on his knees dropped the honest knight.
I was surprised. I knew not what to say, what to do. I had not the courage to attempt to lift him up. Yet to see a man of his years, and who had given himself a claim to my esteem, kneel; and, with glistening eyes, looking up to me for mercy, as he called it, on his boy; how was I affected!—But, at last, Rise, dear Sir Rowland, rise, said I: You call out for mercy to me; yet have none upon me. O how you distress me!
I would have withdrawn my hands; but he held them fast. I stamped in tender passion [I am sure it was in tender passion] now with one foot, now with the other; Dear Sir Rowland, rise! I cannot bear this. I beseech you rise [And down I dropped involuntarily on one knee]. What can I say? Rise, dear Sir, on my knee I beg of you kneel not to me? Indeed, Sir, you greatly distress me! Pray let go my hands.
Tears ran down his cheeks—And do I distress you, madam! And do you vouchsafe to kneel to me?—I will not distress you: For the world I will not distress you.
He arose, and let go my hands, I arose too, abashed. He pulled out his handkerchief, and hastening from me to the window, wiped his eyes. Then turning to me, What a fool I am! What a mere child I make of myself! How can I blame my boy? O madam! have you not one word of comfort to send by me to my boy? Say, but, you will see him. Give him leave to wait on you: Yet, poor soul! (wiping his eyes again) he would not be able to say a word in his own behalf.—Bid me bring him to you: Bid us come together.
And so I could, and so I would, Sir Rowland, if no other expectations were to be formed than those of civility. But I will go farther to show my regard for you, Sir: Let me be happy in your friendship, and good opinion: Let me look upon you as my Father: Let me look upon Mr. Fowler as my Brother: I am not so happy, as to have either father or brother. And let Mr. Fowler own me as his Sister; and every visit you make me, you will both, in these characters, be dearer to me than before.—But, O my father! (already will I call you father!) Urge not your daughter to an impossibility!
Mercy! Mercy! What will become of me! What will become of my boy, rather!
He turned from me, with his handkerchief at his eyes again, and even sobbed: Where are all my purposes! Irresistible Lady!—But must I give up my hopes? Must my boy be told—And yet, do you call me father; and do you plead for my indulgence as if you were my daughter?
Indeed I do; indeed I must. I have told Mr. Fowler, with so much regard for him, as an honest, as a worthy man—
Why that's the weapon that wounds him, that cuts him to the heart! Your gentleness, your openness—And are you determined? Can there be no hope?
Mr. Fowler is my brother, Sir; and you are my father.—Accept me in those characters.
Accept you! Mercy! Accept you?—Forgive me, madam (catching my hand, and pressing it with his lips) you do me honour in the appellation: But if your mind should change on consideration, and from motives of pity—
Indeed, indeed, Sir Rowland, it cannot change.
Why then, I, as well as my nephew, must acquiesce with your pleasure. But, madam, you don't know what a worthy creature he is. I will not, however, tease you?—But how, but how, shall I see Mr. Reeves? I am ashamed to see him with this baby in my face.
And I, Sir Rowland, must retire before I can appear. Excuse me, Sir (withdrawing); but I hope you will breakfast with us.
I will drink tea with you, madam, if I can make myself fit to be seen, were it but to claim you for my daughter: But yet had much rather you would be a farther remove in relation: Would to God you would let it be niece!
I curtsied, as a daughter might do, parting with her real father; and withdrew.
And now, my Lucy, will you not be convinced that one of the greatest pains (the loss of dear friends excepted) that a grateful mind can know, is to be too much beloved by a worthy heart, and not to be able to return his love?
My sheet is ended. With a new one I will begin another Letter.—Yet a few words in the margin—I tell you not, my dear, of the public entertainments to which lady Betty is continually contriving to draw me out. She intends by it to be very obliging, and is so: But my present reluctance to go so very often, must not be overcome, as it possibly would be too easily done, were I to give way to the temptation. If it be, your Harriet may turn gadfly, and never be easy but when she is forming parties, or giving way to them, that may make the home, that hitherto has been the chief scene of her pleasures, undelightful to her. Bad habits are sooner acquired than shaken off, as my grandmamma has often told us.
Volume I - lettera 18
MISS BYRON. CONTINUA
Volume I - Letter 19
MISS BYRON. IN CONTINUATION.
Who would have thought that a man of Sir Rowland's time of life, and a woman so young as I, could have so much discomposed each other? I obey'd the summons to breakfast, and enter'd the room at one door, as he came in at the other. In vain had I made use of the short retirement to conceal my emotion from my cousins. They also saw Sir Rowland's by his eyes, and looked at him, at me, and at each other.
Mercy! said Sir Rowland, in an accent that seem'd between crying and laughing, You, you, you, madam, are a surprising lady! I, I, I, never was so affected in my life. And he drew the back of his hand cross first one eye, then the other.
O Sir Rowland, said I, you are a good man. How affecting are the visible emotions of a manly heart!
My cousins still looked as if surpris'd; but said nothing.
O my cousins, said I, I have found a father in Sir Rowland; and I acknowledge a brother in Mr. Fowler.
Best of women! Most excellent of creatures! And do you own me? He snatched my hand, and kiss'd it. What pride do you give me in this open acknowledgement! If it must not be niece, why then I will endeavour to rejoice in my daughter, I think. But yet, my boy, my poor boy—But you are all goodness: And with him I say, I must not tease you.
What you have been saying to each other alone, said Mrs. Reeves, I cannot tell: But I long to know.
Why, madam, I will tell you—if I know how—You must know, that I, that I, came as an ambassador-extraordinary from my sorrowful boy: Yet not desired; not sent; I came of my own accord, in hopes of getting one word of comfort, and to bring matters on before I set out for Caermarthen.
The servant coming in, and a loud rap, rap, rap, on the footman's musical instrument, the knocker of the door, put a stop to Sir Rowland's narrative. In apprehension of company, I breathed on my hand, and put it to either eye; and Sir Rowland hemmed twice or thrice, and rubbed his, the better to conceal their redness, tho' it made them redder than before. He got up, look'd at the glass: Would have sung. Toll, doll—Hem, said he; as if the muscles of his face were in the power of his voice. Mercy! All the infant still in my eye—Toll, doll—Hem!—I would sing it away if I could.
Sir Hargrave enter'd bowing, scraping to me, and with an air not ungraceful.
Servant, Sir, said the knight (to Sir Hargrave's silent salute to him) bowing, and looking at the baronet's genteel morning dress, and then at his own—Who the deuce is he! whispering to Mr. Reeves; Who then presented each to the other by name.
The baronet approached me; I have, madam, a thousand pardons to ask—
Not one, Sir.
Indeed I have—And most heartily do I beg—
You are forgiven, Sir—
But I will not be so easily forgiven.
Mercy! whispered the knight to Mr. Reeves, I don't liken, Ah! my poor boy: No wonder at this rate!—
You have not much to fear, Sir Rowland, (rewhisper'd my cousin) on this gentleman's account.
Thank you, thank you—And yet 'tis a fine figure of a man! whisper'd again Sir Rowland: Nay, if she can withstand him—But a word to the wise, Mr. Reeves!—Hem!—I am a little easier than I was.
He turned from my cousin with such an air, as if from contrasted pleasure and pain, he would again have sung Toll, doll.
The servant came in with the breakfast: And we had no sooner sat down, as before, than we were alarmed by another modern rapping. Mr. Reeves was called out, and return'd, introducing Mr. Greville.
Who the deuce is he? whisper'd to me Sir Rowland (as he sat next me) before Mr. Reeves could name him.
Mr. Greville profoundly bowed to me. I asked after the health of all our friends in Northamptonshire.
Have you seen Fenwick, madam?
A dog! I thought he had played me a trick. I missed him for three days—But (in a low voice) if you have not seen him, I have stolen a march upon him!—Well, I had rather ask his pardon than he should ask mine. I rejoice to see you well, madam! (raising his voice)—But what!—looking at my eyes.
Colds are very rife in London, Sir—
I am glad it is no worse; for your grandmamma, and all friends in the country, are well.
I have found a papa, Mr. Greville (referring to Sir Rowland) since I came to town. This good gentleman gives me leave to call him father.
No son!—I hope, Sir Rowland, you have no son, said Mr. Greville; The relation comes not about that way, I hope. And laughed, as he used to do, at his own smartness.
The very question, I was going to put, by my soul, said the baronet.
No!—said the knight: But I have a nephew, gentlemen—A very pretty young fellow! And I have this to say before ye all (I am downright Dunstable) I had much rather call this Lady niece, than daughter. And then the knight forced a laugh, and looked round upon us all.
O Sir Rowland, replied I, I have uncles, more than one—I am a niece: But I have not had for many years till now the happiness of a father.
And do you own me, madam, before all this gay company?—The first time I beheld you, I remember I called you a perfect paragon. Why, madam, you are the most excellent of women!
We are so much convinced of this, Sir Rowland, said the Baronet, that I don't know, but Miss Byron's choosing you for a father, instead of an uncle, may have saved two or three throats. And then he laugh'd. His laugh was the more seasonable, as it soften'd the shockingness of his expression.
Mr. Greville and the Baronet had been in company twice before in Northamptonshire at the races: But now-and-then look'd upon each other with envious eyes; and once or twice were at cross-purposes: But my particular notice of the knight made all pass lightly over.
Sir Rowland went first away. He claimed one word with his daughter, in the character of a father.
I withdrew with him to the farther end of the room.
Not one word of comfort? not one word, madam?—to my boy? whisper'd he.
My compliments (speaking low) to my brother, Sir. I wish him as well and as happy as I think he deserves to be.
Well but—Well but—
Only remember, Sir Rowland, that you act in character. I followed you hither, on the strength of your authority, as a father; I beg, Sir, that you will preserve to me that character.
Why God in heaven bless my daughter, if only daughter you can be. Too well do I understand you! I will see how my poor nephew will take it. If it can be no otherwise, I will prevail upon him, I think, to go down with me to Caermarthen for a few months.—But as to those two fine gentlemen, madam—It would grieve me ('tis a folly to deny it) to say I have seen the man that is to supplant my nephew.
I will act in character, Sir Rowland: As your daughter, you have a right to know my sentiments on this subject—You have not yet seen the man you seem to be afraid of.
You are all goodness, madam—my daughter—and I cannot bear it!
He spoke this loud enough to be heard; and Mr. Greville and the baronet both, with some emotion, rose, and turned about to us.
Once more, Sir Rowland, said I, my compliments to my brother—Adieu!
God in heaven bless you, madam, that's all—Gentlemen, your servant; Mrs. Reeves, your most obedient humble servant. Madam, to me, you will allow me, and my nephew too, one more visit, I hope before I set out for Caermarthen.
I curtsied, and joined my cousins. Away went the knight, brushing the ground with his hat, at his going out. Mr. Reeves waited on him to the outward door.
'Bye, 'bye, to you, Mr. Reeves—with some emotion (as my cousin told me afterwards)—A wonderful creature! By mercy, a wonderful creature!—I go away with my heart full; yet am pleased; I know not why, neither, that's the jest of it—'Bye, Mrs. Reeves: I can stay no longer.
An odd mortal! said the man of the town—But he seems to know on which side his bread is buttered.
A whimsical old fellow! said the man of the country. But I rejoice that he has not a son; that's all.
A good many frothy things passed not worth relating.
I wanted them both to be gone. They seemed each to think it time; but looked as if neither cared to leave the other behind him.
At last, Mr. Greville, who hinted to me, that he knew I loved not too long an intrusion, bowed, and, politely enough, took his leave. And then the Baronet began, with apologising for his behaviour at taking leave on his last visit.
Some gentlemen, I said, had one way, some another, of expressing themselves on particular occasions. He had thought fit to show me what was his.
He seemed a little disconcerted. But quickly recovering himself, he could not indeed excuse himself, he said, for having then called me cruel—Cruel, he hoped he should not find me—Proud—I knew not what pride was. Ungrateful—I could not be guilty of ingratitude. He begged me to forgive his peremptoriness—He had hoped (as he had been assured, that my affections were absolutely disengaged) that the proposals he had to make, would have been acceptable; and so positive a refusal, without any one reason assigned, and on his first visit, had indeed hurt his pride (he owned, he said, that he had some pride) and made him forget that he was addressing himself to a woman who deserved, and met with, the veneration of every one who approached her. He next expressed himself with apprehensions on Mr. Greville's arrival in town. He spoke slightly of him. Mr. Greville, I doubt not, will speak as slightly of Sir Hargrave. And if I believe them both, I fancy I shall not injure either.
Mr. Greville's arrival, I said, ought not to concern me. He was to do as he thought fit. I was only desirous to be allowed the same free agency that I was ready to allow to others.
That could not be, he said. Every man who saw me must wish me to be his; and endeavour to obtain his wishes.
And then making vehement professions of Love, he offered me large settlements; and to put it in my power to do all the good that he knew it was in my heart to do—And that I should prescribe to him in every thing as to place of residence, excursions, even to the going abroad to France, to Italy, and wherever I pleased.
To all which I answered as before; and when he insisted upon my reasons for refusing him, I frankly told him, tho' I owned it was with some reluctance, that I had not the opinion of his morals that I must have of those of the man to whom I gave my hand in marriage.
Of my morals, madam! (starting; and his colour went and came) My morals, madam!—I thought he looked with malice: But I was not intimidated: And yet my cousins looked at me with some little surprise for my plain dealing, tho' not as blaming me.
Be not displeased, Sir, with my freedom. You call upon me to make objections. I mean not to upbraid you; that is not my business; but thus called upon, I must repeat—I stopped.
Proceed, madam; angrily.
Indeed, Sir Hargrave, you must pardon me on this occasion, if I repeat that I have not that opinion of your morals—
Very well, madam—
That I must have of those of the man on whose worthiness I must build my hopes of present happiness, and to whose guidance intrust my future. This, Sir, is a very material consideration with me, tho' I am not fond of talking upon it, except on proper occasions, and to proper persons: But, Sir, let me add, that I am determined to live longer single. I think it too early to engage in a life of care: And if I do not meet with a man to whom I can give my whole heart, I never will marry at all [O how maliciously looked the man!]—You are angry, Sir Hargrave, added I; but you have no right to be so. You address me as one who is her own mistress. And tho' I would not be thought rude, I value myself on my openness of heart.
He arose from his seat. He walked about the room muttering, "You have no opinion of my morals"—By heaven, madam!—But I will bear it all—Yet, "No opinion of my morals!"—I cannot bear that—
He then clenched his fist, and held it up to his head; and snatching up his hat, bowing to the ground to us all, his face crimsoned over (as the time before) he withdrew.
Mr. Reeves attended him to the door—"Not like my morals!" said he—I have enemies, Mr. Reeves—"Not like my morals!"—Miss Byron treats politely every body but me, Sir. Her scorn may be repaid—Would to God I could say with scorn, Mr. Reeves.—Adieu. Excuse my warmth.—Adieu.
And into his chariot he stepped, pulling up the glasses with violence; and, as Mr. Reeves told us, rearing up his head to the top of it, as he sat swelling. And away it drove.
His menacing airs, and abrupt departure, terrified me. I did not recover myself in an hour.
A fine husband for your Harriet would this half madman make!—O Mr. Fowler, Sir Rowland, Mr. Orme, what good men are you to Sir Hargrave! Should I have known half so much as I do of his ill qualities, had I not refused him? Drawn in by his professions of Love, and by 8000l. a year, I might have married him; and, when too late, found myself miserable, yoked with a tyrant and madman, for the remainder of a life begun with happy prospects, and glorying in every one's Love!
Volume I - lettera 19
MISS BYRON. CONTINUA
Volume I - Letter 20
MISS BYRON. IN CONTINUATION.
Monday, February 13.
I have received my uncle's long Letter: And I thank him for the pains he has taken with me. He is very good: But my grandmamma and my aunt are equally so, and, in the main, much kinder, in acquitting me of some charges which he is pleased to make upon his poor Harriet. But, either for caution, or reproof, I hope to be the better for his Letter.
James is set out for Northamptonshire: Pray receive him kindly. He is honest: And Sally has given me an hint, as if a sweet-heart is in his head: If so, his impatience to leave London may be accounted for. My grandmamma has observed, that young people of small or no fortunes should not be discouraged from marrying: Who that could be masters or mistresses would be servants? The honest poor, as she has often said, are a very valuable part of the creation.
Mr. Reeves has seen several footmen, but none that he gave me the trouble of speaking to, till just now; when a well-looking young man, about twenty-six years of age, offered himself, and whom I believe I shall like. Mrs. Reeves seems mightily taken with him. He is well-behaved, has a very sensible look, and seems to merit a better service.
Mr. Reeves has written for a character of him to the last master he lived with; Mr. Bagenhall, a young gentleman in the neighbourhood of Reading: Of whom he speaks well in the main; but modestly objected to his hours, and free way of life. The young man came to town but yesterday, and is with a widow sister, who keeps an inn in Smithfield. I have a mind to like him, and this makes me more particular about him.
His name is William Wilson: He asks pretty high wages: But wages to a good servant are not to be stood upon. What signify forty or fifty shillings a year? An honest servant should be enabled to lay up something for age and infirmity. Hire him at once, Mrs. Reeves says. She will be answerable for his honesty, from his looks, and from his answers to the questions asked him.
Sir Hargrave has been here again. Mrs. Revees, Miss Dolyns, Miss Clements, and I, were in the back room together. We had drank tea; and I excused myself to his message, as engaged.
He talked a good deal to Mr. Reeves: Sometimes high, sometimes humble. He had not intended, he said, to have renewed his visits. My disdain had stung him to the heart: Yet he could not keep away. He called himself names. He was determined I should be his; and swore to it. A man of his fortune to be refused, by a Lady who had not (and whom he wished not to have) an answerable fortune, and no preferable liking to any other man [There Sir Hargrave was mistaken; for I like almost every man I know, better than him]; his person not contemptible [And then, my cousin says, he surveyed himself from head to foot in the glass]; was very, very unaccountable.
He asked if Mr. Greville came up with any hopes?
Mr. Reeves told him that I was offended at his coming; and he was sure he would not be the better for his journey.
He was glad of that, he said. There were two or three free things, proceeded he, said to me in conversation by Mr. Greville; which I knew not well what to make of: But they shall pass, if he has no more to boast of than I. I know Mr. Greville's blustering character; but I wish the carrying of Miss Byron were to depend upon the sword's point between us. I would not come into so paltry a compromise with him as Fenwick has done. But still the imputing want of morals to me, sticks with me. Surely I am a better man in point of morals, than either Greville or Fenwick. What man on earth does not take liberties with the Sex? Hay, you know, Mr. Reeves! Women were made for us: And they like us not the worse for loving them. Want of morals!—And objected to me by a lady!—Very extraordinary, by my soul!—Is it not better to sow all one's wild oats before matrimony, than run riot afterwards?—What say you, Mr. Reeves?
Mr. Reeves was too patient with him. He is a mild man: Yet wants not spirit, my cousin says, on occasion. He gave Sir Hargrave the hearing; who went away, swearing, that I should be his, in spite of man or devil.
Mr. Greville came in the Evening. He begged to be allowed but ten words with me in the next room. I desired to be excused. You know, Sir, said I, that I never complied with a request of this nature, at Selby-house. He looked hard at my cousins; and first one, then the other, went out. He then was solicitous to know what were Sir Hargrave's expectations from me. He expressed himself uneasy upon his account. He hoped such a man as that would not be encouraged. Yet his ample fortune—Woman! woman!—But he was neither a wiser nor a better man than himself: And he hoped Miss Byron would not give a preference to fortune merely, against a man who had been her admirer for so long a time; and who wanted neither will nor power to make her happy.
It was very irksome to me, I answered, to be obliged so often to repeat the same things to him. I would not be thought affronting to any-body, especially to a neighbour with whom my friends were upon good terms: But I did not think myself answerable to him, or to any one out of my own family, for my visitors; or for whom my cousin Reeves's thought fit to receive as theirs.
Would I give him an assurance, that Sir Hargrave should have no encouragement?
No, Sir, I will not. Would not that be to give you indirectly a kind of control over me? Would not that be to encourage an hope, that I never will encourage?
I love not my own soul, madam, as I love you: I must, and will persevere. If I thought Sir Hargrave had the least hope, by the great God of heaven, I would pronounce his days numbered.
I am but too well acquainted with your rashness, Mr. Greville. What formerly passed between you and another gentleman, gave me pain enough. In such an enterprise your own days might be numbered as well as another's. But I enter not into this subject—Henceforth be so good as not to impute incivility to me, if I deny myself to your visits.
I would have withdrawn—
Dear Miss Byron (stepping between me and the door) leave me not in anger. If matters must stand as they were, I hope you can, I hope you will, assure me, that this Sir Fopling—
What right have you, Sir, to any assurance of this nature from me?
None, madam.—But from your goodness—Dear Miss Byron, condescend to say, that this Sir Hargrave shall not make any impression on your heart. For his sake say it, if not for mine. I know you care not what becomes of me; yet let not this milk-faced, and tiger-hearted fop, for that is his character, obtain favour from you. Let your choice, if it must fall on another man, and not on me, fall on one to whose superior merit, and to whose good fortune, I can subscribe. For your own fame's sake, let a man of unquestionable honour be the happy man; and vouchsafe as to a neighbour, and as to a well-wishing friend, only (I ask it not in the light of a Lover) to tell me that Sir Hargrave Pollexfen shall not be the man?
What, Mr. Greville, let me ask you, is your business in town?
My chief business, madam, you may guess at. I had an hint of this man's intentions given me; and that he has the vanity to think he shall succeed. But if I can be assured, that you will not be prevailed upon in favour of a man whose fortune is so ample—
You will then return to Northamptonshire?
Why, madam, I can't but say that now I am in town, and that I have bespoke a new equipage, and so-forth—
Nay, Sir, it is nothing to me, what you will or will not do: Only be pleased to remember, that as in Northamptonshire your visits were to my uncle Selby, not to me, they will be here in London, to my cousin Reeves's only.
Too well do I know that you can be cruel if you will: But is it your pleasure that I return to the country?
My pleasure, Sir! Mr. Greville is surely to do as he pleases. I only wish to be allowed the same liberty.
You are so very delicate, Miss Byron! So very much afraid of giving the least advantage—
And men are so ready to take advantage—But yet, Mr. Greville, not so delicate as just. I do assure you, that if I were not determined—
Determined!—Yes, yes! You can be steady, as Mr. Selby calls it! I never knew so determined a woman in my life. I own, it was a little inconvenient for me to come to town just now: And say, that you would wish me to leave London; and that neither this Sir Hargrave, nor that other man, your new father's nephew (What do you call him? Fore-gad, madam, I am afraid of these new relations) shall make any impression on your heart; and that you will not withdraw when I come here; and I will set out next week; and write this very night to let Fenwick know how matters stand, and that I am coming down but little the better for my journey: And this may save you seeing your other tormentor, as your cousin Lucy says you once called that poor devil, and the still poorer devil before you.
You are so rash a man, Mr. Greville (and other men may be as rash as you) that I cannot say but it would save me some pain—
O take care, take care, Miss Byron, that you express yourself so cautiously, as to give no advantage to a poor dog, who would be glad to take a journey to the farthest part of the globe to oblige you. But what say you about this Sir Hargrave, and about your new brother?—Let me tell you, madam, I am so much afraid of those whining, insinuating, creeping dogs, attacking you on the side of your compassion, and be d—n'd to them (Orme for that) that I must have a declaration. And now, madam, can't you give it with your usual caution? Can't you give it, as I put it, as to a neighbour, as to a well wisher, and so-forth, not as to a Lover!
Well then, Mr. Greville, as a neighbour, as a well-wisher; and since you own it was inconvenient to your affairs to come up—I advise you to go down again.
The devil! how you have hit it! Your delicacy ought to thank me for the loop-hole. The condition, madam, The condition; if I take your neighbourly advice?
Why, Mr. Greville, I do most sincerely declare to you, as to a neighbour and well-wisher, that I never, yet, have seen the man to whom I can think of giving my hand.
Yes, you have! By heaven you have (snatching my hand): You shall give it to me!—And the strange wretch pressed it so hard to his mouth, that he made prints upon it with his teeth.
Oh! cried I, withdrawing my hand, surprised, and my face, as I could feel, all in a glow.
And Oh! said he, mimicking (and snatching my other hand, as I would have run from him) and patting it, speaking thro' his closed teeth, You may be glad you have an hand left. By my soul, I could eat you.
This was your disconsolate, fallen-spirited, Greville, Lucy!
I rushed into the company in the next room. He followed me with an air altogether unconcerned, and begged to look at my hand; whispering to Mrs. Reeves; By Jupiter, said he, I had like to have eaten up your lovely cousin. I was beginning with her hand.
I was more offended with this instance of his assurance and unconcern, than with the freedom itself; because that had the appearance of his usual gaiety with it. I thought it best, however, not to be too serious upon it. But the next time he gets me by himself, he shall eat up both my hands.
At taking leave, he hoped his mad flight had not discomposed me. See, Miss Byron, said he, what you get by making an honest fellow desperate!—But you insist upon my leaving the town? As a neighbour, as a well-wisher, you advise it, madam? Come, come, don't be afraid of speaking after me, when I endeavour to hit your cue.
I do advise you—
Conditions, remember! You know what you have declared—Angel of a woman! said he again thro' his shut teeth.
I left him, and went up stairs; glad I had got rid of him.
He has since seen Mr. Reeves, and told him, he will make me one visit more before he leaves London: And pray tell her, said he, that I have actually written to my brother-tormentor Fenwick, that I am returning to Northamptonshire.
I told you, that Miss Clements was with me when Sir Hargrave came last. I like her every time I see her, better than before. She has a fine understanding, and if languages, according to my grandfather's observation, need not be deemed an indispensable part of learning, she may be looked upon as learned.
She has engaged me to breakfast with her to-morrow morning; when she is to show me her books, needleworks, and other curiosities. Shall I not fancy myself in my Lucy's closet? How continually, amid all this fluttering scene, do I think of my dear friends in Northamptonshire! Express for me love, duty, gratitude, every sentiment that fills the heart of Your
Volume I - lettera 20
MISS BYRON. CONTINUA