Miss Trentham never knew the blessing of a mother’s care, hers died the same month which gave her daughter birth; and Mr Trentham survived his wife but eight years. He left his little girl eleven thousand pounds, recommending both her person and fortune to his mother, Mrs Alworth.
Mrs Alworth was an old lady of good sense and merit. She had felt the most melancholy, but not unusual effect of long life, having outlived all her children. This misfortune she alleviated in the best manner she was able, by receiving her grandchildren into her family. Her son by her second husband left behind him a boy and girl, the former at the time I speak of about eleven years old, the latter ten. Her daughter had married Mr Denham and at her death left two girls. Mr Denham entering into wedlock a second time, very willingly complied with Mrs Alworth’s desire of having his two daughters. The eldest of these was twelve years old, the youngest eleven.
These children had lived with the old lady some years, when she took home Harriot Trentham. As their grandmother was rich, there had been a strong contention among them for her favour, and they could not without great disgust see another rival brought to the house. Harriot was extremely handsome and engaging. The natural sweetness of her temper rendered her complying and observant; but having been bred under the care of a sensible and indulgent father, she had never been taught the little arts of behaviour which mothers too commonly inculcate with so much care that children are as void of simplicity at eight as at eight and twenty years old. The first thing a girl is taught is to hide her sentiments, to contradict the thoughts of her heart, and tell all the civil lies which custom has sanctified, with as much affectation and conceit as her mother; and when she has acquired all the folly and impertinence of a riper age, and apes the woman more ungracefully than a monkey does a fine gentleman, the parents congratulate themselves with the extremest complacency on the charming education they have given their daughter.
Harriot had been taught no such lessons. Her father had a strong dislike to prematurity, and feared that communication with the world would too soon teach her art and disguise, the last things he would have chosen to anticipate.
By teaching her humanity, he initiated her into civility of manners. She had learnt that to give pain was immoral; and could no more have borne to have shocked any person’s mind than to have racked his body. Any thought therefore that could hurt she suppressed as an indispensable duty, and to please by her actions and not offend by her words was an essential part of the religion in which she was educated: but in every thing whereby no one could suffer she was innocence and simplicity itself; and in her nature shone pure and uncorrupted either by natural or acquired vices.
Mrs Alworth, though fond of all her grandchildren, could not conquer a degree of partiality for Harriot, whose attractions, both personal and mental, were very superior to those of her cousins. Her beauty secured her the particular attention of all strangers, she gained their favour at first sight, and secured it by her amiable disposition when they became more acquainted with her.
Envy is one of the first passions that appears in the human mind. Had Miss Alworth and the Miss Denhams been much younger, Harriot would not have passed unenvied. Every day increased their dislike to her as she grew daily more beloved by others, and they let no opportunity escape of making her feel the effects of their little malice. Their hatred to her produced a union among themselves; for the first time they found something in which they all agreed. They were continually laying little plots to lessen her in their grandmother’s opinion; frequent were the accusations against her, but her innocence always triumphed though it never discouraged them from repeating the same unsuccessful attempts. Mrs Alworth was extremely fond of them all, but yet she saw through their malice and their behaviour only served to endear Harriot the more, who defended herself without anger and retained no rancour in her mind. Free from resentment or suspicion she was ever open to their arts, and experience did not teach her to be on her guard against them, which often occasioned their having appearances on their side, and might have raised prejudices against her in Mrs Alworth’s mind had she not found a defender in Master Alworth, who alone of all her cousins was free from envy. He was naturally of an honest and sweet disposition, and being fond of Harriot, for beauty has charms for all ages, felt great indignation at the treatment she received and would often express a resentment from which she was wholly free. Mrs Alworth’s great fondness for her grandson and strong prejudices against schools, from a belief that boys acquire there more vice than learning, had determined on a private education. She therefore provided a tutor for him before he was seven years old; a man of learning and sense, with a great deal of religion and good humour and who was very attentive to the employment for which he had been chosen.
Master Alworth, by being thus kept at home, had frequent opportunities of observing the malice of his sister and Miss Denham against Harriot and never failed exposing their practices to his grandmother; who from thence learnt to suspect their reports about things which passed in his absence and consequently could not be cleared up by him. His fondness for Harriot soon made him beloved by her, and as she found little pleasure in the society of her other cousins, she sought his company, but as he was much engaged by his studies she seldom found him at leisure to play. The tutor, greatly delighted with her, tried to awaken in her mind a desire of improvement and found it an easy task; she was inclined to learn and capable of doing it with great quickness. Mrs Alworth readily entered into the good man’s views, and was pleased with the eagerness of Harriot’s application. Master Alworth was far enough advanced in learning to assist his favourite, and from him she received instruction with double pleasure and more easily comprehended his explanations than those of their tutor, who found it difficult to divest himself sufficiently of scientific terms, which greatly retard the increase of knowledge in a youthful mind.
Thus beloved by her grandmother and Mr Alworth, and hated and traduced by her female cousins, Harriot lived till she was sixteen. Years had still improved her person and she had made considerable progress in learning, when Mrs Alworth judged it proper that her grandson should go abroad to complete an education which she flattered herself was hitherto faultless. He had no objection to the scheme but what arose from his unwillingness to leave Harriot, who saw his departure approach with great concern. She loved and respected her grandmother, but Mr Alworth was the only person whom she could look upon in the tender and equal light of a friend. To be deprived of his society was losing the chief pleasure of her life and her best guardian against her enemies.
Mrs Alworth was pleased with the affection which so evidently appeared between these two young people, she hoped to see a happy union arise from it. Their fortunes and ages were properly suited, and a love which had taken root in childhood and grown with their increasing years seemed to promise a lasting harmony, of which the sweetness of their dispositions would be no bad security. These pleasing ideas amused this worthy woman, but the two friends themselves had not extended their views so far. Bred up like brother and sister, a tenderer degree of relation had not entered their thoughts, nor did any thing more appear necessary to their happiness than a constant enjoyment of each other’s friendship. In this disposition they parted when Mr Alworth went abroad. His tutor thinking himself not properly qualified to conduct him in his travels, recommended another gentleman, and Mr Alworth, at Harriot’s request, prevailed with their grandmother to detain his old tutor till Harriot’s education was completed.
Mr Alworth continued abroad two years, during which time Harriot had applied with such unwearied diligence that she was perfect mistress of the living languages and no less acquainted with Greek and Latin. She was well instructed in the ancient and modern philosophy, and in almost every branch of learning.
Mr Alworth found his cousin not alone improved in understanding, her beauty was just then in its perfection and it was scarcely possible to conceive any thing handsomer. She had great elegance of manner, a point wherein her grandmother excelled, and was as far removed from conceit as from ignorance. Her situation was much mended by the marriage of the eldest Miss Denham; and Miss Alworth waited only for her brother’s arrival and approbation to enter into the same state. The gentleman to whom she was going to be married had first made his address to Harriot but, as well as several others, was refused by her. She was not inclined to change her situation, or this gentleman’s fortune, person and character were unexceptionable; however, one circumstance without any other objection would have been sufficient to have rendered his suit unsuccessful; she perceived that Miss Alworth was in love with him, and though she had little reason to have much regard for her, yet good nature made her anxious for the success of a passion which she saw was deeply rooted.
She therefore, while she discouraged his addresses, took every means of recommending Miss Alworth, whose treatment of her she believed rather proceeded from compliance with Miss Denham’s than from ill temper.
This gave her hopes that she might make a good wife to Mr Parnel, the object of her affections. He soon perceived that Miss Alworth did not behold him with indifference, but as he was much captivated by Harriot’s charms, it at first had no other effect than leading him to indulge in complaints of her cruelty to Miss Alworth, who listened with compassion. Harriot often represented to him how little he ought to wish for her consent to marry him, which he so strongly solicited; for should she grant it, he would be miserable with a wife who did not love him. She told him that were he indifferent, her being so might do very well, and they live on together in that eternal ennui which must ever subsist between a married couple who have no affection for each other, and while natural good temper and prudence enabled them to dream away a dull life in peace and dead insensibility, the world might call them happy; but that if he really loved her, her indifference would render him more wretched than the most blamable conduct. She would then represent the advantages of marrying a woman whose sole affections he possessed, though at first he felt for her only esteem and gratitude; and advised him by all means to seek for one whose heart was in that situation, which he was well qualified to find.
Though Harriot forbore to mention Miss Alworth’s name, Mr Parnel well understood to whom she alluded, but found it difficult to take her advice. At length, however, deprived of all hope of obtaining the woman he loved, and moved to compassion by the visible unhappiness of one who loved him, he began to listen to it and frankly told Harriot that he understood the aim of what she had said. She was not sorry to throw off all restraint as it gave her the power of speaking more to the purpose and at length brought him to say that he should not be unwilling to marry her. Harriot feared lest the belief of Mr Parnel’s still retaining an affection for her might render Miss Alworth uneasy, and therefore advised him gradually to slacken his addresses to her and at the same time to increase in proportion his attentions for Miss Alworth, that he might appear to prefer her, since a symptom of inconstancy she knew would not so much affect her as any sign of indifference, and Harriot’s generosity so far exceeded her vanity that she very sincerely desired to be thought neglected rather than give any alloy to the happiness of her cousin.
There was the more colour for this supposition as Mr Parnel had never been publicly discarded by her, since for the completion of her views she had found it necessary to preserve his acquaintance.
Miss Alworth was happy beyond expression when she found herself the object of Mr Parnel’s addresses. Her wishes so far blinded her that she really believed Harriot was neglected for her; but yet knew she had long been endeavouring to serve her and was obliged to her for some instructions how to behave so to Mr Parnel as to secure his esteem and confidence, the best foundation for love. As her brother was then soon expected over, Mrs Alworth thought that to wait for his approbation was a proper compliment.
Mr Alworth was not at all inclined to object to so good a match, especially as it was much desired by his sister, and the marriage was celebrated soon after his return. This ceremony did not so engage his attention as to render him less sensible of the pleasure of renewing his friendship with Harriot, who received him with the sincerest joy. He found her greatly improved and every hour passed agreeably that was spent in her company. They were continually together and never happy but when they were so. Every one talked of their mutual passion; and they were so often told of it that they began to fancy it was true, but surprised to find that name should be given to an affection calm and rational as theirs, totally free from that turbulency and wildness which had always appeared to them the true characteristics of love. They were sensible, however, that nothing was so dear to them as each other, they were always sorry to part, uneasy asunder, and rejoiced to meet; a walk was doubly pleasing when they both shared it; a book became more entertaining if they read together, everything was insipid that they did not mutually enjoy. When they considered these symptoms, they were inclined to think the general opinion was just and that their affection, being free from passion, proceeded from some peculiarity of temper.
Mrs Alworth thought she should give them great satisfaction in proposing a speedy marriage; and rejoiced to see the first wish of her heart, which had been for their union, so nearly completed. The old lady’s proposal made them a little thoughtful; they saw no very good reason for their marrying; they enjoyed each other’s society already and did not wish for any more intimate tie. But neither knew how to refuse, since the other might take it for an affront, and they would not for the world have had the sincerity and tenderness of their affection brought into doubt. Besides they began to think that as their love was so generally looked upon as certain, it might become difficult to continue the same degree of intimacy without exposing themselves to censure. This thought was sufficient to determine them to marry; and their entire affection for and confidence in each other convinced them they ran no hazard in this step; and that they could not fail of being happy as man and wife who had so long enjoyed great felicity in the most intimate friendship.
In consequence of this resolution, lawyers were employed to draw up settlements and every thing requisite for a proper appearance on their marriage was ordered; but they were so very patient on the subject that the preparations went on slowly. Some who hoped to have their diligence quickened in a manner usual on such occasions, affected delays, but were surprised to find that no complaint ensued. They grew still more dilatory, but the only consequence that arose from it was a decent solicitation to dispatch, without any of those more effectual means being used, which impatient love or greedy avarice suggest.
These young people were perfectly happy and contented and therefore waited with composure for the conclusion of preparations, which however slowly did however proceed. The old lady indeed was less patient, but a grandmother’s solicitations have no very powerful effect on lawyers; therefore hers availed little.
During these delays Mrs Tonston, formerly the eldest Miss Denham, having been extremely ill, was sent to Buxton for the recovery of her health. As this place was but a day’s journey from Mrs Alworth’s house, she expressed a desire to see her grand-daughter, and Mr Alworth and Harriot, as well as Miss Denham, very readily accompanied her thither.
The accommodations at Buxton allow very little seclusion; and as Mrs Tonston was sufficiently recovered to conform to the customs of the place, they joined in the general society. The first day at dinner Mr Alworth’s attention was much engrossed by Miss Melman, a very pretty woman. She was far from a perfect beauty, but her countenance expressed an engaging vivacity, and great good humour, though a wandering unfixed look indicated a light and unsteady mind. Her person was little but elegant; there was a sprightliness in her whole figure which was very attractive: her conversation was suitable to it, she had great life and spirit, all the common routine of discourse and a fashionable readiness to skim lightly over all subjects. Her understanding was sufficiently circumscribed, but what she wanted in real sense she made up in vivacity, no unsuccessful substitute in general estimation.
This young lady was almost a new character to Mr Alworth. He had lived constantly at his grandmother’s till he went abroad, and as soon as he returned into the kingdom he went thither; from which, as it was the middle of summer and consequently London had no temptations, he had never stirred. He therefore had been little used to any woman but his sober and sensible grandmother, two cousins who were pretty enough, but had no great charms of understanding; a sister rather silly; and the incomparable Harriot, whose wit was as sound as her judgement solid and sterling, free from affectation and all little effeminate arts and airs. Reason governed her thoughts and actions, nor could the greatest flow of spirits make her for a moment forget propriety. Every thing in her was natural grace, she was always consistent and uniform, and a stranger to caprice.
Miss Melman was a complete coquette, capricious and fantastical. As Mr Alworth was the prettiest man at the place and known to have a good fortune, she soon singled him out as a conquest worthy of her and successfully played off all her arts. By appearing to like him, she enticed him to address her; and by a well managed capriciousness of behaviour kept up the spirit of a pursuit. She frequently gave him reason to believe her favourably disposed towards him, and as often, by obliging him to doubt of it, increased his desire to be certain it was true. She kept him in a state of constant anxiety, and made him know her consequence by the continual transition from pleasure to pain in which he lived.
He had not been much more than a fortnight at Buxton when his attachment to Miss Melman became apparent. Harriot saw an assiduity in his behaviour very different from what he had ever shewn to her. He felt that in the circumstances wherein he and Harriot then were, his conduct must appear injurious, and shame and the secret reproaches of his conscience made him take all possible opportunities of avoiding her presence: if he was obliged to converse with her, it was with an air so restrained and inattentive as made her fear his regard for her was entirely vanished. The sincere affection she had for him rendered this apprehension extremely painful. She would have been contented to have seen another woman his wife, but could not bear the thought of losing his friendship. At first she passed over this change in silence and appeared even not to observe it; but when they received an account that the marriage writings were finished, she thought an affected blindness highly unseasonable and told him, in the most friendly and generous manner, that nothing remained to be done but to cancel them, that she plainly perceived another had obtained the heart she never possessed; that the measures taken for their marriage were of no sort of consequence, and she flattered herself she might retain his friendship though he gave his hand to another.
Mr Alworth at first appeared confounded, but recovering himself, confessed to her frankly he never knew the weakness and folly of the human heart till his own convinced him of it; that he had always felt for her the most perfect esteem, joined with the tenderest affection, but his passions had had no share in his attachment. On the contrary, he found them strongly engaged on the side of Miss Melman, and felt an ardour for her which he had never before experienced. That he could not think of being her husband without rapture, though he saw plainly she was inferior to his Harriot both in beauty and understanding; and as for her principles, he was totally ignorant of them. He now, he said, perceived the difference between friendship and love, and was convinced that esteem and passion were totally independent, since she entirely possessed the one, while Miss Melman totally engrossed the other.
Harriot was pleased with the frankness of Mr Alworth’s confession and wished only to be secure of his esteem, but she saw him so wholly taken up with Miss Melman that she was convinced passion had greater power over his sex than esteem, and that while his mind was under the tumultuous influence of love, she must expect very little satisfaction from his friendship.
She took upon herself the task of breaking off their treaty of marriage and acquainted her grandmother with her resolution, who saw too plainly the reason for her doing so to blame her conduct, though she grieved at the necessity for it and could not sincerely forgive her grandson’s levity and want of judgement in preferring a wild fantastic girl to the extreme beauty and solid well-known merit of Harriot, an error for which she prophetically saw he would in time be severely punished.
Harriot, from the intended bride, now became the confidante of Mr Alworth, though with an aching heart; for she feared that after experiencing the more active sensations of a strong passion, friendship would appear too insipid to have any charms for him. She accompanied Mrs Alworth home before the lovers chose to leave Buxton, but not till she had prevailed with her grandmother to consent that the marriage between Miss Melman and Mr Alworth should be celebrated at her house.
When everything requisite for the ceremony was ready, they came to Mrs Alworth’s, where the indissoluble knot was tied and in the bridegroom’s opinion the most perfect happiness secured to his future years. They stayed but a few days after the marriage and then went to her father’s house, till the approaching winter called them to London.
Harriot found a great loss of a friend she so sincerely loved, but she hoped he would be as happy as he expected and had the satisfaction of believing he retained a tender regard for her. They corresponded frequently and his letters assured her of his felicity. After he had been some time fixed in London, he grew indeed less eloquent on the subject, which did not surprise her as the variety of his engagements shortened his letters and denied him leisure to expatiate on the most pleasing topics.
Miss Denham had accompanied her sister home, and in the winter Mrs Alworth was informed by Mrs Tonston that Miss Denham had received a proposal from a gentleman of a good estate, but he insisted on a fortune of nine thousand pounds, which was two more than she was possessed of; and as they wished the old lady to make that addition, Mrs Tonston as an inducement added that the gentleman was extremely agreeable to her sister.
Mrs Alworth was not inclined to comply with their views, and made no other answer to all Harriot urged to prevail with her to give the requisite sum than that it was more than perhaps would at her death fall to Miss Denham’s share and she saw no temptation to purchase so mercenary a man. When Harriot found that all she could say was unavailing, she told Mrs Alworth that if she would give her leave, she was determined to make the required addition out of her fortune; for she could not bear her cousin should be disappointed in a particular she thought essential to her happiness by the want of a sum of money which she could very well spare; adding that the treatment she had received from her cousins she attributed to childishness and folly and should be far worse than they were if she could remember it with resentment.
Mrs Alworth was greatly touched with this instance of Harriot’s generosity, and finding that nothing but the exertion of her authority, which her grand-daughter acknowledged absolute and always obeyed implicitly, could prevent her from performing her purpose, she determined to take the most effectual means of hindering it by advancing the money herself, and invited Miss Denham and her lover to her house; where the marriage was performed, and they departed.
Mrs Alworth began to feel the infirmities of age, and now that she and Harriot were left to continual tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte, absolute quiet might have degenerated into something like dullness; but the disturbance they found not at home reached them from abroad. Mr Parnel was wearied with his wife’s fondness, who not considering that he had married her more out of gratitude than affection, had disgusted him with the continual professions of a love to which his heart would not make an equal return. This fondness teased a temper naturally good into peevishness and was near converting indifference into dislike. Mrs Parnel, distressed beyond measure at an effect so contrary to what she intended, reproached him with ingratitude and tormented him with tears and complaints.
Harriot, who considered this match as in a great measure her own work, was particularly desirous of redressing these grievances and took great pains to persuade Mrs Parnel to restrain her fondness, and suppress her complaints, while she endeavoured to make her husband sensible that he ought, in consideration for the cause, to pardon the troublesome effects and not to suffer himself to be disgusted by that affection in his wife which to most husbands would appear a merit. Mrs Alworth joined to Harriot’s persuasion the influence her age and respectable character gave her, and though not without great difficulty, they at last saw Mr and Mrs Parnel live in peace and amity, without any of the pleasures arising from strong and delicate affections or the sufferings occasioned by ill humour and hatred; and whatever void they might find in their hearts, they were so happy as to have well filled by two very fine children which Mrs Parnel brought her husband, who always treated her with great indulgence in hopes of fixing Harriot’s good opinion; for though despair had damped his passion, yet he still loved her with the tenderest respect and reverence.
Towards the latter end of the second year of Mr Alworth’s marriage, his grandmother died, much regretted by Harriot, whom she left mistress of her own fortune with the addition of four thousand pounds, part of it the accumulated interest of her paternal inheritance, the rest Mrs Alworth’s legacy. Her grandson succeeded to her house and intreated Harriot that he might find her there when he came to take possession.
Their correspondence had been regular but they had never met since his marriage. Mrs Alworth was not fond of the conversation of an old lady; and from seeing herself not very agreeable to her grandmother, felt an uncommon awe in her presence. Harriot had received repeated invitations from them, but could not be prevailed with to leave old Mrs Alworth, who had no other companion.
The only relief she found in her affliction for the loss of so worthy a parent was putting the house, and all belonging to it, in order for the reception of her first friend, in whose society she expected to renew the happiness she had so long enjoyed from it. Nor was she disappointed in her hopes of finding him still her friend; they met with mutual joy, and Mrs Alworth seemed at first as much pleased with her new possession as they were with each other. But Harriot soon found her happiness considerably damped. Mr Alworth, unwilling to let his grandmother know the ill success of a union which he was sensible she disapproved, had been silent on that subject in his letters, but he was too well acquainted with the generosity of Harriot’s temper to fear she would triumph at the natural consequence of his ill-grounded passion, and therefore concealed not from her any part of the uneasiness which his wife’s disposition gave him. He too late saw the difference between sensible vivacity and animal spirits and found Mrs Alworth a giddy coquette, too volatile to think, too vain to love; pleased with admiration, insensible to affection, fond of flattery but indifferent to true praise; imprudently vivacious in mixed companies, lifeless when alone with him; and desirous of charming all mankind except her husband, who of his whole sex seemed the only person of no consequence to her. As her view was to captivate in public, she covered a very pretty complexion with pearl-powder and rouge because they made her more resplendent by candle-light and in public places. Mr Alworth had in strong terms expressed his abhorence of that practice, but she was surprised he should intermeddle in an affair that was no business of his, surely she might wear what complexion she pleased. The natural turn of his temper inclined him to rational society, but in that his wife could bear no part. The little time she was at home was employed in dressing and a multitude of coxcombs attended her toilet. Mr Alworth’s extreme fondness for her made him at first very wretched; he soon found himself the most disregarded of all mankind and every man appeared his rival; but on nearer observation he perceived his jealousy was groundless and that she was too giddy to love any thing. This made his pride easy, but his tenderness still had much to endure, till at length contempt produced some degree of indifference and his sufferings became less acute, though he lived in continual grief at finding himself disappointed of all his airy hopes of happiness.
Harriot was scarcely less afflicted than himself, she endeavoured to render him more contented with his situation, and attempted to teach Mrs Alworth to think, but in both was equally unsuccessful. However, this was not all she had to endure. When Mr Alworth began with unprejudiced eyes to compare her he had lost with the woman for whom he relinquished her; when he saw how greatly Harriot’s natural beauty eclipsed Mrs Alworth’s notwithstanding the addition of all her borrowed charms, he wondered what magic had blinded him to her superiority. But when he drew a comparison between the admirable understanding of the one, her great fund of knowledge, the inexhaustible variety in her conversation, with the insipid dullness or unmeaning vivacity of the other, he was still more astonished and could not forgive his strange infatuation. This train of thought perhaps had no small share in giving rise to a passion for Harriot which he had never felt, while it might have been the source of much happiness to them both. In short, he became violently in love with her and fell a prey to the most cruel regret and despair, sensible that all he suffered was the consequence of his own folly.
Respect for Harriot made Mr Alworth endeavour to conceal his passion, but could not prevent its daily increase. At this time I became acquainted with her, during a visit I made in the neighbourhood; and as the natural openness both of her disposition and mine inclined us to converse with much freedom, I one day took the liberty to tell her how much Mr Alworth was in love with her. She had not the least suspicion of it, the entire affection which had always subsisted between them she imagined sufficient to lead me into that error but told me the thing was impossible; and to prove it, related all the circumstances of their intended union. Appearances were too strong to suffer me to be persuaded that I was mistaken; I acknowledged that what she urged seemed to contradict my opinion, but that it was no proof; for the perverseness of human nature was such that it did not appear to me at all improbable that the easiness of obtaining her, when they had both been, as it were, bred up with that view, might be the sole occasion of his indifference; and the impossibility of ever possessing her now would only serve to inflame his passion.
Harriot accused me of representing human nature more perverse and absurd than it really was, and continued firm in the persuasion of my being mistaken. Whatever glaring signs of Mr Alworth’s love appeared, she set them all down to the account of friendship; till at length his mind was so torn with grief and despair that no longer able to conceal the cause of his greatest sufferings he begged her to teach him how to conquer a passion which, while it existed, must make him wretched; and with the greatest confusion told her how unaccountably unfortunate he was, both in not loving, and in loving, each equally out of season. Almost distracted with the distressful state of his mind, he was in the utmost horror lest this declaration should offend her; and throwing himself at her feet with a countenance and manner which shewed him almost frantic with despair, terrified her so much that she did not feel half the shock this declaration would have given her had it been made with more calmness.
She strove to silence him; she endeavoured to raise him from her feet, but to no purpose; she could not abate the agonies of his mind, without assuring him she forgave him. Her spirits were in extreme agitation till she saw him a little composed, for she feared his senses were affected; but when her alarm began to abate, the effect of her terrors and her grief appeared in a flood of tears; Mr Alworth found them infectious, and she was obliged to dry them up in order to comfort him. When he grew more composed, Harriot ventured, after expressing her concern for his having conceived so unfortunate a passion, to intimate that absence was the best remedy and that there was nothing to be done but for her to leave the house.
Mr Alworth was not able to support the mention of her going away and intreated her at least to give him time to arm himself against the greatest misfortune that could befall him, the loss of her society. She dared not control him in any thing material while his mind continued in that desperate situation and therefore consented to stay some time longer. She found it very difficult to make him think that there ever was a proper time for her to depart, though passion was much less tormenting since he had ventured to declare it; and what before arose nearly to distraction, sunk now into a soft melancholy. Mrs Alworth paid so little attention to her husband that she had not perceived the conflict in his mind. She was wearied with the country to the greatest degree, and made the tiresome days as short as she could by not rising till noon; from that time till dinner her toilet found her sufficient employment. As the neighbourhood was large, she very frequently contrived to make a party at cards; but as her company was not used to play high, this afforded her little relief except she could find somebody to bet with her, which was not very difficult as she was contented to do it to a disadvantage.
In this way she contrived, just, as she called it, to drag on life; and wondered how so fine a woman as Harriot could have so long buried herself in that place, scarcely more lively than the family vault.
When Harriot thought she had sufficiently convinced Mr Alworth of the necessity of her absence, she took her leave with much greater concern than she would suffer to appear, though she did not affect indifference; but the truth was, Mr Alworth’s passionate tenderness for her had made an impression on her heart which without it all his merit could not effect. The melancholy languor which overspread his countenance gave it charms she had never before discovered in it; the soft accents in which he breathed the most delicate love penetrated to her very soul, and she no longer found that indifference which had been so remarkable a part of her character. But she carefully concealed these new sensations in hopes that he would more easily conquer his passion for not thinking it returned.
Though the winter was scarcely begun, yet having no inducement to go to any other place, she went to London; and as I had prolonged my stay in the country only to gratify my inclination for her company, I went with her to town. Mrs Alworth did not continue there a month after us; but her husband, whose health was by no means in a good state, went to Bath; and that he might not be quite destitute of pleasure, he carried his little boy with him, though but a year and a quarter old. His wife did not contend with him for this privilege, she would have seen little more of the babe had it been in London.
Harriot Trentham was at her first arrival in very low spirits, and every letter she received from Mr Alworth increased her dejection, as it painted his in very strong colours. As the town filled she began to try if dissipation could dispel her melancholy. Her beauty, the fineness of her person, and her being known to have a large fortune, which fame even exaggerated, procured her many lovers and she became the most admired woman in town. This was a new source of pleasure to her. She had lived where she saw not many single men, and though few of these who dared to flatter themselves with hopes, had failed paying their addresses to her, yet these successive courtships were very dull when compared with all the flutter of general admiration. Her books were now neglected, and to avoid thinking on a subject which constantly afflicted her, she forced herself into public and was glad to find that the idleness of the men and her own vanity could afford her entertainment.
She was not however so totally engrossed by this pleasing dissipation as to neglect any means of serving the distressed. Mrs Tonston, exerting the genius she had so early shewn for traducing others, set her husband and his family at variance, till at length the falsehoods by which she had effected it came to be discovered. Her husband and she had never lived well together, and this proof of her bad heart disgusted him so entirely that he turned her out of his house, allowing her a mere trifle for her support. In this distress she applied to Harriot, who she knew was ever ready to serve even those who had most injured her.
Her application was not unsuccessful. Harriot sent her a considerable present for her immediate convenience and then went into the country to Mr Tonston, to whom she represented so effectually his ungenerous treatment, since the fortune his wife brought him gave her a right to a decent maintenance, that he made a proper settlement upon her and gave the writings into Harriot’s hands, who not only saw the money paid regularly, but took so much pains to convince Mrs Tonston of the malignity of her disposition that she brought her to a due sense of it, and by applying for his assistance to mend her heart, who best knew its defects, she became so altered in temper that five years after her separation from her husband Harriot effected a reconciliation, and they now live in great amity together, gratefully acknowledging their obligations to her.
I have anticipated this fact in order to render my narrative less tedious, or I should have stopped at Harriot’s procuring a settlement for Mrs Tonston, and have told you that by lying in her return at an inn where the smallpox then was she caught that distemper, and soon after she arrived in London it appeared. I need not say that she had it to a very violent degree. Being then in town I had the good fortune to nurse her and flatter myself that my care was not useless; for in cases so dangerous, no one who does not feel all the tender solicitude of a friend can be a proper nurse.
Mrs Alworth wrote her husband word of Harriot’s illness, who came post to London, filled with the extremest anxiety, and shared the fatigue of nursing with me; she was all the time delirious. When she came to her senses, she at first seemed mortified to think Mr Alworth had seen her in that disfigured condition; but on reflection told me she rejoiced in it, as she thought it must totally extinguish his passion; and her greatest solicitude was for his happiness. But she afterwards found her expectation was ill grounded.
When she recovered, she perceived that the smallpox had entirely destroyed her beauty. She acknowledged she was not insensible to this mortification; and to avoid the observation of the envious or even of the idly curious she retired, as soon as she was able to travel, to a country house which I hired for her.
In a very short time she became perfectly contented with the alteration this cruel distemper had made in her. Her love for reading returned, and she regained the quiet happiness of which flutter and dissipation had deprived her without substituting any thing so valuable in its place. She has often said she looks on this accident as a reward for the good she had done Mrs Tonston, and that few benevolent actions receive so immediate a recompense, or we should be less remiss in our duties though not more meritorious in performing them. She found retirement better calculated for overcoming a hopeless passion than noise and flutter. She had indeed by dissipation often chased Mr Alworth from her thoughts, but at the first moment of leisure his idea returned in as lively colours as if it had always kept possession of her mind. In the country she had time to reflect on the necessity of conquering this inclination if she wished to enjoy any tolerable happiness; and therefore took proper measures to combat it. Reason and piety, when united, are extremely prevalent, and with their assistance she restrained her affection once more within its ancient bounds of friendship. Her letters to Mr Alworth were filled with remonstrances against the indulgence of his love, and the same means she had found effectual she recommended to him and with satisfaction learnt that though they had not entirely succeeded, yet he had acquired such a command over his heart that he was as little wretched as a man can be who is a living monument of the too common folly of being captivated by a sudden glare of person and parts; and of the fatal error of those men who seek in marriage for an amusing trifler rather than a rational and amiable companion, and too late find that the vivacity which pleases in the mistress is often a fatal vice in a wife. He lives chiefly in the country, has generally a few friends in the house with him, and takes a great deal of pains in the education of his two sons; while their mother spends almost the whole year in town, immersed in folly and dissipation.
About fourteen years ago Harriot, who I ought to begin to call Miss Trentham, came to see a lady in this neighbourhood and thus was first known to the inhabitants of this mansion. They were much pleased with her acquaintance and when she had performed her visit, invited her to pass a little time with them. She required no solicitation, for it was the very thing she wished, and here she has remained ever since. When Mr Maynard died, leaving me but a small jointure, Miss Trentham was indulged in her inclination of asking me to spend the first part of my widowhood with her and her friends; and I have been fortunate enough to recommend myself so effectually that they have left me no room to doubt they choose I should continue with them, and indeed I think I could scarcely support life were I banished from this heavenly society. Miss Trentham and Mr Alworth keep up a constant correspondence by letters, but avoid meeting. His wife has brought him one daughter, and Miss Trentham’s happiness has been rendered complete by obtaining from her permission to educate this child; a favour which contrary to what is usual is esteemed very small by her who granted and very great by the person that received it. This girl is now ten years old, and the most accomplished of her age of any one, perhaps, in the kingdom. Her person is fine, and her temper extremely engaging. She went about a week ago to her father, whom she visits for about three weeks twice in a year, and never returns unimproved.
As Miss Trentham’s fortune made a good addition to the income of the society, they on this occasion established in the parish a manufacture of carpets and rugs which has succeeded so well as to enrich all the country round about.
As the morning was not very far advanced, I asked Mrs Maynard to conduct us to this manufacture, as in my opinion there is no sight so delightful as extensive industry. She readily complied, and led us to a sort of street, the most inhabited part of the village, above half a mile from Millenium Hall. Here we found several hundreds of people of all ages, from six years old to four score, employed in the various parts of the manufacture, some spinning, some weaving, others dying the worsted, and in short all busy, singing and whistling, with the appearance of general cheerfulness, and their neat dress shewed them in a condition of proper plenty.
The ladies, it seems, at first hired persons to instruct the neighbourhood, which was then burdened with poor and so over stocked with hands that only a small part of them could find work. But as they feared an enterprising undertaker might ruin their plan, they themselves undertook to be stewards; they stood the first expense, allowed a considerable profit to the directors, but kept the distribution of the money entirely in their own hands: thus they prevent the poor from being oppressed by their superiors, for they allow them great wages and by their very diligent inspection hinder any frauds. I never was more charmed than to see a manufacture so well ordered that scarcely any one is too young or too old to partake of its emoluments. As the ladies have the direction of the whole, they give more to the children and the aged, in proportion to the work they do, than to those who are more capable, as a proper encouragement and reward for industry in those seasons of life in which it is so uncommon.
We were so taken up with observing these people, that we got home but just as dinner was carrying in.
In the afternoon we informed the ladies how we had spent the latter part of the morning, and in the course of conversation Lamont told them that they were the first people he ever knew who lived entirely for others, without any regard to their own pleasure; and that were he a Roman Catholic, he should beg of them to confer on him the merit of some of their works of supererogation.
‘I do not know where you could find them,’ replied Miss Mancel, ‘I believe we have not been able to discover any such; on the contrary, we are sensible of great deficiencies in the performance of our duty.’
‘Can you imagine, Madam,’ interrupted Lamont, ‘that all you do here is a duty?’
‘Indispensably so,’ answered Miss Mancel, ‘we are told by him who cannot err that our time, our money and our understandings are entrusted with us as so many talents for the use of which we must give a strict account. How we ought to use them he has likewise told us; as to our fortunes in the most express terms, when he commands us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to relieve the prisoner, and to take care of the sick. Those who have not an inheritance that enables them to do this are commanded to labour in order to obtain means to relieve those who are incapable of gaining the necessaries of life. Can we then imagine that every one is not required to assist others to the utmost of his power, since we are commanded even to work for the means of doing so? God’s mercy and bounty is universal, it flows unasked and unmerited; we are bid to endeavour to imitate him as far as our nature will enable us to do it. What bounds then ought we to set to our good offices, but the want of power to extend them further? Our faculties and our time should be employed in directing our donations in a manner the most conducive to the benefit of mankind, the most for the encouragement of virtue and the suppression of vice; to assist in this work is the business of speech, of reason and of time. These ought to be employed in seeking out opportunities of doing good and in contriving means for regulating it to the best purpose. Shall I allow much careful thought towards settling the affairs of my household with economy, and be careless how I distribute my benefactions to the poor, to whom I am only a steward, and of whose interests I ought to be as careful as of my own? By giving them my money I may sacrifice my covetousness, but by doing it negligently I indulge my indolence, which I ought to endeavour to conquer as much as every other vice. Each state has its trials; the poverty of the lower rank of people exercises their industry and patience; the riches of the great are trials of their temperance, humility and humanity. Theirs is perhaps the more difficult part, but their present reward is also greater if they acquit themselves well; as for the future, there may probably be no inequality.’
‘You observed, sir,’ said Miss Trentham ‘that we live for others, without any regard to our own pleasure, therefore I imagine you think our way of life inconsistent with it; but give me leave to say you are mistaken. What is there worth enjoying in this world that we do not possess? We have all the conveniences of life, nay, all the luxuries that can be included among them. We might indeed keep a large retinue; but do you think the sight of a number of useless attendants could afford us half the real satisfaction that we feel from seeing the money which must be lavished on them expended in supporting the old and decrepit, or nourishing the helpless infant? We might dress with so much expense that we could scarcely move under the burden of our apparel; but is that more eligible than to see the shivering wretch clad in warm and comfortable attire? Can the greatest luxury of the table afford so true a pleasure as the reflection that instead of its being over-charged with superfluities, the homely board of the cottager is blessed with plenty? We might spend our time in going from place to place, where none wish to see us except they find a deficiency at the card-table, perpetually living among those whose vacant minds are ever seeking after pleasures foreign to their own tastes and pursue joys which vanish as soon as possessed; for these would you have us leave the infinite satisfaction of being beheld with gratitude and love, and the successive enjoyments of rational delights, which here fill up every hour? Should we do wisely in quitting a scene where every object exalts our mind to the great Creator, to mix among all the folly of depraved nature?
‘If we take it in a more serious light still, we shall perceive a great difference in the comforts arising from the reflections on a life spent in an endeavour to obey our Maker and to correct our own defects in a constant sense of our offences, and an earnest desire to avoid the commission of them for the future, from a course of hurry and dissipation which will not afford us leisure to recollect our errors, nor attention to attempt amending them.’
‘The difference is indeed striking,’ said Lamont, ‘and there can be no doubt which is most eligible; but are you not too rigid in your censures of dissipation? You seem to be inclined to forbid all innocent pleasures.’
‘By no means,’ replied Miss Trentham, ‘but things are not always innocent because they are trifling. Can any thing be more innocent than picking of straws, or playing at push-pin; but if a man employs himself so continually in either that he neglects to serve a friend or to inspect his affairs, does it not cease to be innocent? Should a schoolboy be found whipping a top during school hours, would his master forbear correction because it is an innocent amusement? And yet thus we plead for things as trifling, tho’ they obstruct the exercise of the greatest duties in life. Whatever renders us forgetful of our Creator, and of the purposes for which he called us into being, or leads us to be inattentive to his commands, or neglectful in the performance of them, becomes criminal, however innocent in its own nature. While we pursue these things with a moderation which prevents such effects they are always innocent and often desirable, the excess only is to be avoided.’
‘I have nothing left me to say,’ answered Lamont, ‘than that your doctrine must be true and your lives are happy; but may I without impertinence observe that I should imagine your extensive charities require an immense fortune.’
‘Not so much, perhaps,’ said Mrs Morgan, ‘as you suppose. We keep a very regular account, and at an average, for every year will not be exactly the same, the total stands thus. The girls’ school four hundred pounds a year, the boys’ a hundred and fifty, apprenticing some and equipping others for service one hundred. The clothing of the girls in the house forty. The almshouses two hundred. The maintenance of the monsters a hundred and twenty. Fortunes and furniture for such young persons as marry in this and the adjoining parishes, two hundred. All this together amounts only to twelve hundred and ten pounds a year, and yet affords all reasonable comforts. The expenses of ourselves and household, in our advantageous situation, come within eight hundred a year. Finding so great a balance in our favour, we agreed to appropriate a thousand a year for the society of gentlewomen with small or no fortunes; but it has turned out in such a manner that they cost us a trifle. We then dedicated that sum to the establishment of a manufacture, but since the fourth year it has much more than paid its expenses, though in many respects we do not act with the economy usual in such cases, but give very high wages, for our design being to serve a multitude of poor destitute of work, we have no nice regard to profit. As we did not mean to drive a trade, we have been at a loss what to do with the profits. We have out of it made a fund for the sick and disabled from which they may receive a comfortable support, and intend to secure it to them to perpetuity in the best manner we can.’
‘How few people of fortune are there,’ said Lamont, ‘who could not afford Â£1200 a year, with only retrenching superfluous and burdensome expenses? But if they would only imitate you in any one branch, how much greater pleasure would they then receive from their fortunes than they now enjoy?’
While he was engaged in discourse with the ladies, I observed to Mrs Maynard that by the account she had given me of their income, their expenses fell far short of it. She whispered me that their accidental charities were innumerable, all the rest being employed in that way. Their acquaintance know they cannot so much oblige as by giving them an opportunity of relieving distress. They receive continual applications and though they give to none indiscriminately, yet they never refuse any who really want. Their donations sometimes are in great sums, where the case requires such extraordinary assistance. If they hear of any gentleman’s family oppressed by too many children, or impoverished by sickness, they contrive to convey an adequate present privately, or will sometimes ask permission to put some of their children into business, or buy them places or commissions.
We acquainted the ladies that we should trouble them no longer than that night, and with regret saw it so soon ended. The next morning, upon going into Lamont’s room, I found him reading the New Testament; I could not forbear expressing some pleasure and surprise at seeing him thus uncommonly employed.
He told me he was convinced by the conduct of the ladies of this house that their religion must be the true one. When he had before considered the lives of Christians, their doctrine seemed to have so little influence on their actions that he imagined there was no sufficient effect produced by Christianity to warrant a belief, that it was established by a means so very extraordinary; but he now saw what that religion in reality was, and by the purity of its precepts was convinced its original must be divine. It now appeared evidently to be worthy of its miraculous institution. He was resolved to examine whether the moral evidences concurred with that divine stamp which was so strongly impressed upon it and he had risen at day break to get a Bible out of the parlour that he might study precepts which could thus exalt human nature almost to divine.
It was with great joy I found him so seriously affected; and when we went to breakfast could not forbear communicating my satisfaction to my cousin, who sincerely shared in it. As soon as breakfast was over we took leave of the ladies, though not till they had made us promise a second visit, to which we very gladly agreed, for could we with decency have prolonged this, I know not when we should have departed.
You, perhaps, wish we had done it sooner and may think I have been too prolix in my account of this society; but the pleasure I find in recollection is such that I could not restrain my pen within moderate bounds. If what I have described may tempt any one to go and do likewise, I shall think myself fortunate in communicating it. For my part, my thoughts are all engaged in a scheme to imitate them on a smaller scale.
I am, Sir.
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