Letters written during a short residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, by Mary Wollstonecraft

Letter XII.

I left East Rusoer the day before yesterday. The weather was very fine; but so calm that we loitered on the water near fourteen hours, only to make about six and twenty miles.

It seemed to me a sort of emancipation when we landed at Helgeraac. The confinement which everywhere struck me whilst sojourning amongst the rocks, made me hail the earth as a land of promise; and the situation shone with fresh lustre from the contrast — from appearing to be a free abode. Here it was possible to travel by land — I never thought this a comfort before — and my eyes, fatigued by the sparkling of the sun on the water, now contentedly reposed on the green expanse, half persuaded that such verdant meads had never till then regaled them.

I rose early to pursue my journey to Tonsberg. The country still wore a face of joy — and my soul was alive to its charms. Leaving the most lofty and romantic of the cliffs behind us, we were almost continually descending to Tonsberg, through Elysian scenes; for not only the sea, but mountains, rivers, lakes, and groves, gave an almost endless variety to the prospect. The cottagers were still carrying home the hay; and the cottages on this road looked very comfortable. Peace and plenty — I mean not abundance — seemed to reign around — still I grew sad as I drew near my old abode. I was sorry to see the sun so high; it was broad noon. Tonsberg was something like a home — yet I was to enter without lighting up pleasure in any eye. I dreaded the solitariness of my apartment, and wished for night to hide the starting tears, or to shed them on my pillow, and close my eyes on a world where I was destined to wander alone. Why has nature so many charms for me — calling forth and cherishing refined sentiments, only to wound the breast that fosters them? How illusive, perhaps the most so, are the plans of happiness founded on virtue and principle; what inlets of misery do they not open in a half-civilised society? The satisfaction arising from conscious rectitude, will not calm an injured heart, when tenderness is ever finding excuses; and self-applause is a cold solitary feeling, that cannot supply the place of disappointed affection, without throwing a gloom over every prospect, which, banishing pleasure, does not exclude pain. I reasoned and reasoned; but my heart was too full to allow me to remain in the house, and I walked, till I was wearied out, to purchase rest — or rather forgetfulness.

Employment has beguiled this day, and tomorrow I set out for Moss, on my way to Stromstad. At Gothenburg I shall embrace my Fannikin; probably she will not know me again — and I shall be hurt if she do not. How childish is this! still it is a natural feeling. I would not permit myself to indulge the “thick coming fears” of fondness, whilst I was detained by business. Yet I never saw a calf bounding in a meadow, that did not remind me of my little frolicker. A calf, you say. Yes; but a capital one I own.

I cannot write composedly — I am every instant sinking into reveries — my heart flutters, I know not why. Fool! It is time thou wert at rest.

Friendship and domestic happiness are continually praised; yet how little is there of either in the world, because it requires more cultivation of mind to keep awake affection, even in our own hearts, than the common run of people suppose. Besides, few like to be seen as they really are; and a degree of simplicity, and of undisguised confidence, which, to uninterested observers, would almost border on weakness, is the charm, nay the essence of love or friendship, all the bewitching graces of childhood again appearing. As objects merely to exercise my taste, I therefore like to see people together who have an affection for each other; every turn of their features touches me, and remains pictured on my imagination in indelible characters. The zest of novelty is, however, necessary to rouse the languid sympathies which have been hackneyed in the world; as is the factitious behaviour, falsely termed good-breeding, to amuse those, who, defective in taste, continually rely for pleasure on their animal spirits, which not being maintained by the imagination, are unavoidably sooner exhausted than the sentiments of the heart. Friendship is in general sincere at the commencement, and lasts whilst there is anything to support it; but as a mixture of novelty and vanity is the usual prop, no wonder if it fall with the slender stay. The fop in the play paid a greater compliment than he was aware of when he said to a person, whom he meant to flatter, “I like you almost as well as a NEW ACQUAINTANCE.” Why am I talking of friendship, after which I have had such a wild-goose chase. I thought only of telling you that the crows, as well as wild-geese, are here birds of passage.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30