Caleb Williams, by William Godwin

Chapter 7.

In no long time after the disclosure Mr. Falkland had made, Mr. Forester, his elder brother by the mother’s side, came to reside for a short period in our family. This was a circumstance peculiarly adverse to my patron’s habits and inclinations. He had broken off, as I have already said, all intercourse of visiting with his neighbours. He debarred himself every kind of amusement and relaxation. He shrunk from the society of his fellows, and thought he could never be sufficiently buried in obscurity and solitude. This principle was, in most cases, of no difficult execution to a man of firmness. But Mr. Falkland knew not how to avoid the visit of Mr. Forester. This gentleman was just returned from a residence of several years upon the continent; and his demand of an apartment in the house of his half-brother, till his own house at the distance of thirty miles should be prepared for his reception, was made with an air of confidence that scarcely admitted of a refusal. Mr. Falkland could only allege, that the state of his health and spirits was such, that lie feared a residence at his house would be little agreeable to his kinsman; and Mr. Forester conceived that this was a disqualification which would always augment in proportion as it was tolerated, and hoped that his society, by inducing Mr. Falkland to suspend his habits of seclusion, would be the means of essential benefit. Mr. Falkland opposed him no further. He would have been sorry to be thought unkind to a kinsman for whom he had a particular esteem; and the consciousness of not daring to assign the true reason, made him cautious of adhering to his objection.

The character of Mr. Forester was, in many respects, the reverse of that of my master. His very appearance indicated the singularity of his disposition. His figure was short and angular. His eyes were sunk far into his head, and were overhung with eye-brows, black, thick, and bushy. His complexion was swarthy, and his lineaments hard. He had seen much of the world; but, to judge of him from his appearance and manners, one would have thought that he had never moved from his fire-side.

His temper was acid, petulant, and harsh. He was easily offended by trifles, respecting which, previously to the offence, the persons with whom he had intercourse could have no suspicion of such a result. When offended, his customary behaviour was exceedingly rugged. He thought only of setting the delinquent right, and humbling him for his error; and, in his eagerness to do this, overlooked the sensibility of the sufferer, and the pains he inflicted. Remonstrance in such a case he regarded as the offspring of cowardice, which was to be extirpated with a steady and unshrinking hand, and not soothed with misjudging kindness and indulgence. As is usual in human character, he had formed a system of thinking to suit the current of his feelings. He held that the kindness we entertain for a man should be veiled and concealed, exerted in substantial benefits, but not disclosed, lest an undue advantage should be taken of it by its object.

With this rugged outside, Mr. Forester had a warm and generous heart. At first sight all men were deterred by his manner, and excited to give him an ill character. But the longer any one knew him, the more they approved him. His harshness was then only considered as habit; and strong sense and active benevolence were uppermost in the recollection of his familiar acquaintance. His conversation, when he condescended to lay aside his snappish, rude, and abrupt half-sentences, became flowing in diction, and uncommonly amusing with regard to its substance. He combined, with weightiness of expression, a dryness of characteristic humour, that demonstrated at once the vividness of his observation, and the force of his understanding. The peculiarities of this gentleman’s character were not undisplayed in the scene to which he was now introduced. Having much kindness in his disposition, he soon became deeply interested in the unhappiness of his relation. He did every thing in his power to remove it; but his attempts were rude and unskilful. With a mind so accomplished and a spirit so susceptible as that of Mr. Falkland, Mr. Forester did not venture to let loose his usual violence of manner; but, if he carefully abstained from harshness, he was however wholly incapable of that sweet and liquid eloquence of the soul, which would perhaps have stood the fairest chance of seducing Mr. Falkland for a moment to forget his anguish. He exhorted his host to rouse up his spirit, and defy the foul fiend; but the tone of his exhortations found no sympathetic chord in the mind of my patron. He had not the skill to carry conviction to an understanding so well fortified in error. In a word, after a thousand efforts of kindness to his entertainer, he drew off his forces, growling and dissatisfied with his own impotence, rather than angry at the obstinacy of Mr. Falkland. He felt no diminution of his affection for him, and was sincerely grieved to find that he was so little capable of serving him. Both parties in this case did justice to the merits of the other; at the same time that the disparity of their humours was such, as to prevent the stranger from being in any degree a dangerous companion to the master of the house. They had scarcely one point of contact in their characters. Mr. Forester was incapable of giving Mr. Falkland that degree either of pain or pleasure, which can raise the soul into a tumult, and deprive it for a while of tranquillity and self-command.

Our visitor was a man, notwithstanding appearances, of a peculiarly sociable disposition, and, where he was neither interrupted nor contradicted, considerably loquacious. He began to feel himself painfully out of his element upon the present occasion. Mr. Falkland was devoted to contemplation and solitude. He put upon himself some degree of restraint upon the arrival of his kinsman, though even then his darling habits would break out. But when they had seen each other a certain number of times, and it was sufficiently evident that the society of either would be a burthen rather than a pleasure to the other, they consented, by a sort of silent compact, that each should be at liberty to follow his own inclination. Mr. Falkland was, in a sense, the greatest gainer by this. He returned to the habits of his choice, and acted, as nearly as possible, just as he would have done if Mr. Forester had not been in existence. But the latter was wholly at a loss. He had all the disadvantages of retirement, without being able, as he might have done at his house, to bring his own associates or his own amusements about him.

In this situation lie cast his eyes upon me. It was his principle to do every thing that his thoughts suggested, without caring for the forms of the world. He saw no reason why a peasant, with certain advantages of education and opportunity, might not be as eligible a companion as a lord; at the same time that he was deeply impressed with the venerableness of old institutions. Reduced as he was to a kind of last resort, he found me better qualified for his purpose than any other of Mr. Falkland’s household.

The manner in which he began this sort of correspondence was sufficiently characteristical. It was abrupt; but it was strongly stamped with essential benevolence. It was blunt and humorous; but there was attractiveness, especially in a case of unequal intercourse, in that very rusticity by which he levelled himself with the mass of his species. He had to reconcile himself as well as to invite me; not to reconcile himself to the postponing an aristocratical vanity, for of that he had a very slender portion, but to the trouble of invitation, for he loved his ease. All this produced some irregularity and indecision in his own mind, and gave a whimsical impression to his behaviour.

On my part, I was by no means ungrateful for the distinction that was paid me. My mind had been relaxed into temporary dejection, but my reserve had no alloy of moroseness or insensibility. It did not long hold out against the condescending attentions of Mr. Forester. I became gradually heedful, encouraged, confiding. I had a most eager thirst for the knowledge of mankind; and though no person perhaps ever purchased so dearly the instructions he received in that school, the inclination was in no degree diminished. Mr. Forester was the second man I had seen uncommonly worthy of my analysis, and who seemed to my thoughts, arrived as I was at the end of my first essay, almost as much deserving to be studied as Mr. Falkland himself. I was glad to escape from the uneasiness of my reflections; and, while engaged with this new friend, I forgot the criticalness of the evils with which I was hourly menaced.

Stimulated by these feelings, I was what Mr. Forester wanted, a diligent and zealous hearer, I was strongly susceptible of impression; and the alternate impressions my mind received, visibly displayed themselves in my countenance and gestures. The observations Mr. Forester had made in his travels, the set of opinions he had formed, all amused and interested me. His manner of telling a story, or explaining his thoughts, was forcible, perspicuous, and original: his style in conversation had an uncommon zest. Every thing he had to relate delighted me; while, in return, my sympathy, my eager curiosity, and my unsophisticated passions, rendered me to Mr. Forester a most desirable hearer. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that every day rendered our intercourse more intimate and cordial.

Mr. Falkland was destined to be for ever unhappy; and it seemed as if no new incident could occur, from which he was not able to extract food for this imperious propensity. He was wearied with a perpetual repetition of similar impressions; and entertained an invincible disgust against all that was new. The visit of Mr. Forester he regarded with antipathy. He was scarcely able to look at him without shuddering; an emotion which his guest perceived, and pitied as the result of habit and disease, rather than of judgment. None of his actions passed unremarked; the most indifferent excited uneasiness and apprehension. The first overtures of intimacy between me and Mr. Forester probably gave birth to sentiments of jealousy in the mind of my master. The irregular, variable character of his visitor tended to heighten them, by producing an appearance of inexplicableness and mystery. At this time he intimated to me that it was not agreeable to him, that there should be much intercourse between me and this gentleman.

What could I do? Young as I was, could it be expected that I should play the philosopher, and put a perpetual curb upon my inclinations? Imprudent though I had been, could I voluntarily subject myself to an eternal penance, and estrangement from human society? Could I discourage a frankness so perfectly in consonance with my wishes, and receive in an ungracious way a kindness that stole away my heart?

Besides this, I was but ill prepared for the servile submission Mr. Falkland demanded. In early life I had been accustomed to be much my own master. When I first entered into Mr. Falkland’s service, my personal habits were checked by the novelty of my situation, and my affections were gained by the high accomplishments of my patron. To novelty and its influence, curiosity had succeeded: curiosity, so long as it lasted, was a principle stronger in my bosom than even the love of independence. To that I would have sacrificed my liberty or my life; to gratify it, I would have submitted to the condition of a West Indian negro, or to the tortures inflicted by North American savages. But the turbulence of curiosity had now subsided.

As long as the threats of Mr. Falkland had been confined to generals, I endured it. I was conscious of the unbecoming action I had committed, and this rendered me humble. But, when he went further, and undertook to prescribe to every article of my conduct, my patience was at an end. My mind, before sufficiently sensible to the unfortunate situation to which my imprudence had reduced me, now took a nearer and a more alarming view of the circumstances of the case. Mr. Falkland was not an old man; he had in him the principles of vigour, however they might seem to be shaken; he might live as long as I should. I was his prisoner; and what a prisoner! All my actions observed; all my gestures marked. I could move neither to the right nor the left, but the eye of my keeper was upon me. He watched me; and his vigilance was a sickness to my heart. For me there was no more freedom, no more of hilarity, of thoughtlessness, or of youth. Was this the life upon which I had entered with such warm and sanguine expectation? Were my days to be wasted in this cheerless gloom; a galley-slave in the hands of the system of nature, whom death only, the death of myself or my inexorable superior, could free?

I had been adventurous in the gratification of an infantine and unreasonable curiosity; and I resolved not to be less adventurous, if need were, in the defence of every thing that can make life a blessing. I was prepared for an amicable adjustment of interests: I would undertake that Mr. Falkland should never sustain injury through my means; but I expected in return that I should suffer no encroachment, but be left to the direction of my own understanding.

I went on, then, to seek Mr. Forester’s society with eagerness; and it is the nature of an intimacy that does not decline, progressively to increase. Mr. Falkland observed these symptoms with visible perturbation. Whenever I was conscious of their being perceived by him, I betrayed tokens of confusion: this did not tend to allay his uneasiness. One day he spoke to me alone; and, with a look of mysterious but terrible import, expressed himself thus:—

“Young man, take warning! Perhaps this is the last time you shall have an opportunity to take it! I will not always be the butt of your simplicity and inexperience, nor suffer your weakness to triumph over my strength! Why do you trifle with me? You little suspect the extent of my power. At this moment you are enclosed with the snares of my vengeance unseen by you, and, at the instant that you flatter yourself you are already beyond their reach, they will close upon you. You might as well think of escaping from the power of the omnipresent God, as from mine! If you could touch so much as my finger, you should expiate it in hours and months and years of a torment, of which as yet you have not the remotest idea. Remember! I am not talking at random! I do not utter a word, that, if you provoke me, shall not be executed to the severest letter!”

It may be supposed that these menaces were not without their effect. I withdrew in silence. My whole soul revolted against the treatment I endured, and yet I could not utter a word. Why could not I speak the expostulations of my heart, or propose the compromise I meditated? It was inexperience, and not want of strength, that awed me. Every act of Mr. Falkland contained something new, and I was unprepared to meet it. Perhaps it will be found that the greatest hero owes the propriety of his conduct to the habit of encountering difficulties, and calling out with promptness the energies of his mind.

I contemplated the proceedings of my patron with the deepest astonishment. Humanity and general kindness were fundamental parts of his character; but in relation to me they were sterile and inactive. His own interest required that he should purchase my kindness; but he preferred to govern me by terror, and watch me with unceasing anxiety. I ruminated with the most mournful sensations upon the nature of my calamity. I believed that no human being was ever placed in a situation so pitiable as mine. Every atom of my frame seemed to have a several existence, and to crawl within me. I had but too much reason to believe that Mr. Falkland’s threats were not empty words. I knew his ability; I felt his ascendancy. If I encountered him, what chance had I of victory? If I were defeated, what was the penalty I had to suffer? Well then, the rest of my life must be devoted to slavish subjection. Miserable sentence! And, if it were, what security had I against the injustice of a man, vigilant, capricious, and criminal? I envied the condemned wretch upon the scaffold; I envied the victim of the inquisition in the midst of his torture. They know what they have to suffer. I had only to imagine every thing terrible, and then say, “The fate reserved for me is worse than this!”

It was well for me that these sensations were transient: human nature could not long support itself under what I then felt. By degrees my mind shook off its burthen. Indignation succeeded to emotions of terror. The hostility of Mr. Falkland excited hostility in me. I determined I would never calumniate him in matters of the most trivial import, much less betray the grand secret upon which every thing dear to him depended. But, totally abjuring the offensive, I resolved to stand firmly upon the defensive. The liberty of acting as I pleased I would preserve, whatever might be the risk. If I were worsted in the contest, I would at least have the consolation of reflecting that I had exerted myself with energy. In proportion as I thus determined, I drew off my forces from petty incursions, and felt the propriety of acting with premeditation and system. I ruminated incessantly upon plans of deliverance, but I was anxious that my choice should not be precipitately made.

It was during this period of my deliberation and uncertainty that Mr. Forester terminated his visit. He observed a strange distance in my behaviour, and, in his good-natured, rough way, reproached me for it. I could only answer with a gloomy look of mysterious import, and a mournful and expressive silence. He sought me for an explanation, but I was now as ingenious in avoiding as I had before been ardent to seek him; and he quitted our house, as he afterwards told me, with an impression, that there was some ill destiny that hung over it, which seemed fated to make all its inhabitants miserable, without its being possible for a bystander to penetrate the reason.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37