Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter lxvii.

Mr. Villars to Evelina.

Berry Hill, Sept. 28th.

DEAD to the world, and equally insensible to its pleasures or its pains, I long since bad adieu to all joy, and defiance to all sorrow, but what should spring from my Evelina — sole source, to me, of all earthly felicity. How strange, then, is it, that the letter in which she tells me she is the happiest of human beings, should give me most mortal inquietude!

Alas, my child! — that innocence, the first, best gift of Heaven, should, of all others, be the blindest to its own danger — the most exposed to treachery — and the least able to defend itself, in a world where it is little known, less valued, and perpetually deceived!

Would to Heaven you were here! — then, by degrees, and with gentleness, I might enter upon a subject too delicate for distant discussion. Yet is it too interesting, and the situation too critical, to allow of delay. — Oh, my Evelina, your situation is critical indeed! — your peace of mind is at stake, and every chance for your future happiness may depend upon the conduct of the present moment.

Hitherto I have forborne to speak with you upon the most important of all concerns, the state of your heart:— alas, I need no information! I have been silent, indeed, but I have not been blind.

Long, and with the deepest regret, have I perceived the ascendancy which Lord Orville has gained upon your mind. — You will start at the mention of his name — you will tremble every word you read; — I grieve to give pain to my gentle Evelina, but I dare not any longer spare her.

Your first meeting with Lord Orville was decisive. Lively, fearless, free from all other impressions, such a man as you describe him could not fail of exciting your admiration; and the more dangerously, because he seemed as unconscious of his power as you of your weakness; and therefore you had no alarm, either from his vanity of your own prudence.

Young, animated, entirely off your guard, and thoughtless of consequences, Imagination took the reins; and Reason, slow-paced, though sure-footed, was unequal to the race of so eccentric and flighty a companion. How rapid was then my Evelina’s progress through those regions of fancy and passion whither her new guide conducted her! — She saw Lord Orville at a ball — and he was the most amiable of men! — She met him again at another — and he had every virtue under Heaven!

I mean not to depreciate the merit of Lord Orville, who, one mysterious instance alone excepted, seems to have deserved the idea you formed of his character; but it was not time, it was not the knowledge of his worth, obtained your regard: your new comrade had not patience to wait any trial; her glowing pencil, dipt in the vivid colours of her creative ideas, painted to you, at the moment of your first acquaintance, all the excellencies, all the good and rare qualities, which a great length of time and intimacy could alone have really discovered.

You flattered yourself that your partiality was the effect of esteem, founded upon a general love of merit, and a principle of justice; and your heart, which fell the sacrifice of your error, was totally gone ere you expected it was in danger.

A thousand times have I been upon the point of showing you the perils of your situation; but the same inexperience which occasioned your mistake, I hoped, with the assistance of time and absence, would effect a cure: I was, indeed, most unwilling to destroy your illusion, while I dared hope it might itself contribute to the restoration of your tranquillity; since your ignorance of the danger, and force of your attachment, might possibly prevent that despondency with which young people, in similar circumstances, are apt to persuade themselves, that what is only difficult, is absolutely impossible.

But, now, since you have again met, and have become more intimate than ever, all my hope from silence and seeming ignorance is at an end.

Awake then, my dear, my deluded child, awake to the sense of your danger, and exert yourself to avoid the evils with which it threatens you:— evils which, to a mind like yours, are most to be dreaded; secret repining, and concealed, yet consuming regret! Make a noble effort for the recovery of your peace, which now, with sorrow I see it, depends wholly upon the presence of Lord Orville. This effort may indeed be painful; but trust to my experience, when I assure you it is requisite.

You must quit him! — his sight is baneful to your repose, his society is death to your future tranquillity! Believe me, my beloved child, my heart aches for your suffering, while it dictates its necessity.

Could I flatter myself that Lord Orville would, indeed, be sensible of your worth, and act with a nobleness of mind which should prove it congenial to your own, then would I leave my Evelina to the unmolested enjoyment of the cheerful society, and increasing regard, of a man she so greatly admires: but this is not an age in which we may trust to appearances; and imprudence is much sooner regretted than repaired. Your health, you tell me, is much mended:— Can you then consent to leave Bristol? — not abruptly, that I do not desire, but in a few days from the time you receive this? I will write to Mrs. Selwyn, and tell her how much I wish your return; and Mrs. Clinton can take sufficient care of you.

I have meditated upon every possible expedient that might tend to your happiness, ere I fixed upon exacting from you a compliance which I am convinced will be most painful to you; but I can satisfy myself in none. This will at least be safe; and as to success — we must leave it to time.

I am very glad to hear of Mr. Macartney’s welfare.

Adieu, my dearest child! Heaven preserve and strengthen you! A.V.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burney/fanny/evelina/letter67.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32