Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 27

Love in Memory

Il faut avoir aimé une fois en sa vie, non pour le moment où l’on aime, car on n’éprouve alors que des tourmens, des regrets, de la jalousie: mais peu à peu ces tourmens-là deviennent des souvenirs, qui charment notre arrière saison: . . . et quand vous verrez la vieillesse douce, facile et tolérante, vous pourrez dire comme Fontenelle: L’amour a passé parla.

— Scribe: La Vieille.

Miss Gryll carefully avoided being alone with Mr. Falconer, in order not to give him an opportunity of speaking on the forbidden subject. She was confident that she had taken the only course which promised to relieve her from a life of intolerable suspense; but she wished to subject her conduct to dispassionate opinion, and she thought she could not submit it to a more calmly-judging person than her old spinster friend, Miss Ilex, who had, moreover, the great advantage of being a woman of the world. She therefore took an early opportunity of telling her what had passed between herself and Mr. Falconer, and asking her judgment on the point.

Miss Ilex. Why, my dear, if I thought there had been the slightest chance of his ever knowing his own mind sufficiently to come to the desired conclusion himself, I should have advised your giving him a little longer time; but as it is clear to me that he never would have done so, and as you are decidedly partial to him, I think you have taken the best course which was open to you. He had all but declared to you more than once before; but this ‘all but’ would have continued, and you would have sacrificed your life to him for nothing.

Miss Gryll. But do you think you would in my case have done as I did?

Miss Ilex. No, my dear, I certainly should not; for, in a case very similar, I did not. It does not follow that I was right. On the contrary, I think you are right, and I was wrong. You have shown true moral courage where it was most needed.

Miss Gryll. 1 hope I have not revived any displeasing recollections.

Miss Ilex. No, my dear, no; the recollections are not displeasing. The day-dreams of youth, however fallacious, are a composite of pain and pleasure: for the sake of the latter the former is endured, nay, even cherished in memory.

Miss Gryll. Hearing what I hear you were, seeing what I see you are, observing your invariable cheerfulness, I should not have thought it possible that you could have been crossed in love, as your words seem to imply.

Miss Ilex. I was, my dear, and have been foolish enough to be constant all my life to a single idea; and yet I would not part with this shadow for any attainable reality.

Miss Gryll. If it were not opening the fountain of an ancient sorrow, I could wish to know the story, not from idle curiosity, but from my interest in you.

Miss Ilex. Indeed, my dear Morgana, it is very little of a story: but such as it is, I am willing to tell it you. I had the credit of being handsome and accomplished. I had several lovers; but my inner thoughts distinguished only one; and he, I think, had a decided preference for me, but it was a preference of present impression. If some Genius had commanded him to choose a wife from any company of which I was one, he would, I feel sure, have chosen me; but he was very much of an universal lover, and was always overcome by the smiles of present beauty. He was of a romantic turn of mind: he disliked and avoided the ordinary pursuits of young men: he delighted in the society of accomplished young women, and in that alone. It was the single link between him and the world. He would disappear for weeks at a time, wandering in forests, climbing mountains, and descending into the dingles of mountain-streams, with no other companion than a Newfoundland dog; a large black dog, with a white breast, four white paws, and a white tip to his tail: a beautiful affectionate dog: I often patted him on the head, and fed him with my hand. He knew me as well as Bajardo1 knew Angelica.

Tears started into her eyes at the recollection of the dog. She paused for a moment.

Miss Gryll. I see the remembrance is painful Do not proceed.

Miss Ilex. No, my dear. I would not, if I could, forget that dog. Well, my young gentleman, as I have said, was a sort of universal lover, and made a sort of half-declaration to half the young women he knew: sincerely for the moment to all: but with more permanent earnestness, more constant return, to me than to any other. If I had met him with equal earnestness, if I could have said or implied to him in any way, ‘Take me while you may, or think of me no more,’ I am persuaded I should not now write myself spinster. But I wrapped myself up in reserve. I thought it fitting that all advances should come from him: that I should at most show nothing more than willingness to hear, not even the semblance of anxiety to receive them. So nothing came of our love but remembrance and regret. Another girl, whom I am sure he loved less, but who understood him better, acted towards him as I ought to have done, and became his wife. Therefore, my dear, I applaud your moral courage, and regret that I had it not when the occasion required it.

Miss Gryll. My lover, if I may so call him, differs from yours in this: that he is not wandering in his habits, nor versatile in his affections.

Miss Ilex. The peculiar system of domestic affection in which he was brought up, and which his maturer years have confirmed, presents a greater obstacle to you than any which my lover’s versatility presented to me, if I had known how to deal with it.

Miss Gryll. But how was it, that, having so many admirers as you must have had, you still remained single?

Miss Ilex. Because I had fixed my heart on one who was not like any one else. If he had been one of a class, such as most persons in this world are, I might have replaced the first idea by another; but his soul was like a star, and dwelt apart.

Miss Gryll. A very erratic star, apparently. A comet, rather.

Miss Ilex. No, For the qualities which he loved and admired in the object of his temporary affection existed more in his imagination than in her. She was only the framework of the picture of his fancy. He was true to his idea, though not to the exterior semblance on which he appended it, and to or from which he so readily transferred it. Unhappily for myself, he was more of a reality to me than I was to him.

Miss Gryll. His marriage could scarcely have been a happy one. Did you ever meet him again?

Miss Ilex. Not of late years, but for a time occasionally in general society, which he very sparingly entered. Our intercourse was friendly; but he never knew, never imagined, how well I loved him, nor even, perhaps, that I had loved him at all. I had kept my secret only too well He retained his wandering habits, disappearing from time to time, but always returning home, I believe he had no cause to complain of his wife. Yet I cannot help thinking that I could have fixed him and kept him at home. Your case is in many respects similar to mine; but the rivalry to me was in a wandering fancy: to you it is in fixed domestic affections. Still, you were in as much danger as I was of being the victim of an idea and a punctilio: and you have taken the only course to save you from it. I regret that I gave in to the punctilio: but I would not part with the idea. I find a charm in the recollection far preferable to

The waveless calm, the slumber of the dead which weighs on

the minds of those who have never loved, or never earnestly.

1 Rinaldo’s horse: he had escaped from his master, and had revelled Sacripante with his heels:—

. . . . Indi va mansueto alia donzella,

Con umile sembiante e gesto umano:

Come intorno al padrone il can saltella,

Che sia due giorni o tre stato lontano.

Bajardo ancora avea memoria d’ ella,

Che in Albracca il servia già di sua mano.

— Orlando Furioso, c. i. s. 75.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24