The History of Miss Williams
‘My father was an eminent merchant in the city who having, in the course of trade, suffered very considerable losses, retired in his old age with his wife to a small estate in the country, which he had purchased with the remains of his fortune. At that time, I being but eight years of age, was left in town for the convenience of education, boarded with an aunt, who was a rigid presbyterian, and confined me so closely to what she called the duties of religion, that in time I grew weary of her doctrines, and by degrees received an aversion for the good books, she daily recommended to my perusal. As I increased in age, and appeared with a person not disagreeable, I contracted a good deal of acquaintance among my own sex; one of whom, after having lamented the restraint I was under from the narrowness of my aunt’s sentiments, told me I must now throw off the prejudices of opinion imbibed under her influence and example, and learn to think for myself; for which purpose she advised me to read Shaftsbury, Tindal, Hobbes, and all the authors that are remarkable for their deviation from the old way of thinking, and by comparing one with the other, I should soon be able to form a system of my own. I followed her advice; and whether it was owing to my prepossession against what I had formerly read, or the clearness of argument in these my new instructors, I know not; but I studied them with pleasure, and in a short time became a professed freethinker. Proud of my improvement, I argued in all companies, and that with such success, that I soon acquired the reputation of a philosopher, and few people durst undertake me in a dispute. I grew vain upon my good fortune, and at length pretended to make my aunt a proselyte to my opinion; but she no sooner perceived my drift than, taking the alarm, she wrote to my father an account of my heresy, and conjured him, as he tendered the good of my soul, to remove me immediately from the dangerous place where I had contracted such sinful principles. Accordingly, my father ordered me into the country, where I arrived in the fifteenth year of my age, and, by his command gave him a detail of all the articles of my faith, which he did not find so unreasonable as they had been represented. Finding myself suddenly deprived of the company and pleasures of the town, I grew melancholy and it was some time before I could relish my situation. But solitude became every day more and more familiar to me and I consoled myself in my retreat with the enjoyment of a good library, at such times as were not employed in the management of the family (for my mother had been dead three years), in visiting, or some other party of rural diversion. Having more imagination than judgment, I addicted myself too much to poetry and romance; and, in short, was looked upon as a very extraordinary person by everybody in the country where I resided.
‘I had one evening strayed, with a book in my hand, into a wood that bordered on the high road, at a little distance from my father’s house, when a certain drunken squire, riding by, perceived me, and crying, “Holloa, there’s a charming creature!” alighted in a moment, caught me in his arms, and treated me so rudely that I shrieked as loud as I could, and in the meantime opposed his violence with all the strength that rage and resentment could inspire. During this struggle, another horseman came up, who, seeing a lady so unworthily used, dismounted, and flew to my assistance. The squire, mad with disappointment, or provoked with the reproaches of the other gentleman, quitted me, and running to his horse, drew a pistol from the saddle, and fired it at my protector, who happily receiving no damage, went up, and, with the butt-end of his whip laid him prostrate on the ground before he could use the other, which his antagonist immediately seized, and, clapping to the squire’s breast, threatened to put him to death for his cowardice and treachery. In this dilemma I interposed and begged his life, which was granted to my request, after he had asked pardon, and swore his intention was only to obtain a kiss. However, my defender thought proper to unload the other pistol, and throw away the flints, before he gave him his liberty. This courteous stranger conducted me home, where my father having learned the signal service he had done me, loaded him with caresses, and insisted on his lodging that night at our house. If the obligation he had conferred upon me justly inspired me with sentiments of gratitude, his appearance and conversation seemed to entitle him to somewhat more, He was about the age of two-and-twenty, among the tallest of the middle size; had chestnut-coloured hair, which he wore tied up in a ribbon; a high polished forehead, a nose inclining to the aquiline, lively blue eyes, red pouting lips, teeth as white as snow, and a certain openness of countenance — but why need I describe any more particulars of his person? I hope you will do me the justice to believe I do not flatter, when I say he was the exact resemblance of you; and if I had not been well acquainted with his family and degree, I should have made no scruple of concluding that you was his brother. He spoke and seemed to have no reserve: for what he said was ingenuous, sensible, and uncommon. In short,” said she, bursting into tears, “he was formed for the ruin of our sex. His behaviour was modest and respectful, but his looks were so significant, that I could easily observe he secretly blessed the occasion that introduced him to my acquaintance. We learned from his discourse that he was the eldest son of a wealthy gentleman in the neighbourhood, to whose name we were no strangers — that he had been to visit an acquaintance in the country, from whose house he was returning home, when my shrieks brought him to my rescue.
‘All night long my imagination formed a thousand ridiculous expectations: there was so much of knight-errantry in this gentleman’s coming to the relief of a damsel in distress, with whom he immediately became enamoured, that all I had read of love and chivalry recurred to my fancy; and I looked upon myself as a princess in some region of romance, who being delivered from the power of some brutal giant or satyr, by a generous Oroondates, was bound in gratitude, as well as led by inclination, to yield up my affections to him without reserve. In vain did I endeavour to chastise these foolish conceits by reflections more reasonable and severe: the amusing images took full possession of my mind, and my dreams represented my hero sighing at my feet, in the language of a despairing lover. Next morning after breakfast he took his leave, when my father begged the favour of further acquaintance with him; to which request he replied by a compliment to him, and a look to me so full of eloquence and tenderness, that my whole soul received the soft impression. In a short time he repeated his visit; and as a recital of the particular steps he pursued to ruin me would be tedious and impertinent, let it suffice to say, he made it his business to insinuate himself into my esteem, by convincing me of his own good sense, and at the same time flattering my understanding. This task he performed in the most artful manner, by seeming to contradict me often through misapprehension, that I might have an opportunity of clearing myself the more to my own honour. Having thus secured my good opinion, he began to give me some tokens of a particular passion, founded on a veneration of the qualities of my mind, and, as an accidental ornament, admired the beauties of my person; till at being fully persuaded of his conquest, he chose a proper season for the theme, and disclosed his love in terms so ardent and sincere, that it was impossible for me to disguise the sentiments of my heart, and he received my approbation with the most lively transport. After this mutual declaration, we contrived to meet more frequently in private interviews, where we enjoyed the conversation of one another, in all the elevation of fancy and impatience of hope that reciprocal adoration can inspire. He professed his honourable intentions, of which I made no question; lamented the avaricious disposition of his father, who had destined him for the arms of another, and vowed eternal fidelity with such an appearance of candour and devotion — that I became a dupe to his deceit. Cursed be the day on which I gave away my innocence and peace! Cursed be my beauty that first attracted the attention of the seducer! Cursed be my education, that, by refining my sentiments, made my heart the more susceptible! Cursed be my good sense, that fixed me to one object, and taught me the preference I enjoyed was but my due! Had I been ugly, nobody would have tempted me; had I been ignorant, the charms of my person would not have atoned for the coarseness of my conversation; had I been giddy, my vanity would have divided my inclinations, and my ideas would have been so diffused, that I should never have listened to the enchantments of one alone.
But to return to my unfortunate story. After some months, the visits of my lover became less frequent, and his behaviour less warm: I perceived his coldness, my heart took the alarm, my tears reproached him, and I insisted upon the performance of his promise to espouse me, that, whatever should happen, my reputation might be safe. He seemed to acquiesce in my proposal, and left me on pretence of finding a proper clergyman to unite us in the bands of wedlock. But alas! the inconstant had no intention to return. I waited a whole week with the utmost impatience; sometimes doubting his honour, at other times inventing excuses for him, and condemning myself for harbouring suspicions of his faith. At length I understood from a gentleman who dined at our house, that this perfidious wretch was on the point of setting out for London with his bride, to buy clothes for their approaching nuptials. This information distracted me! Rage took possession of my soul; I denounced a thousand imprecations, and formed as many schemes of revenge against the traitor who had undone me. Then my resentment would subside to silent sorrow. I recalled the tranquillity I lost, I wept over my infatuation, and sometimes a ray of hope would intervene, and for a moment cheer my drooping heart; I would revolve all the favourable circumstances of his character, repeat the vows he made, ascribe his absence to the vigilance of a suspicious father who compelled him to a match his soul abhorred, and comfort myself with the expectation of seeing him before the thing should be brought to any terms of agreement. But how vain was my imagination! That villain left me without remorse, and in a few days the news of his marriage were spread all over the country. My horror was then inconceivable; and had not the desire of revenge diverted the resolution, I should infallibly have put an end to my miserable life. My father observed the symptoms of my despair: and though I have good reason to believe he guessed the cause, was at a great deal of pains to seem ignorant of my affliction, while he endeavoured with parental fondness to alleviate my distress. I saw his concern, which increased my anguish, and raised my fury against the author of my calamity to an implacable degree.
“Having furnished myself with a little money, I made an elopement from this unhappy parent in the night-time, and about break of day arrived at a small town, from whence a stage coach set out for London, in which I embarked, and next day alighted in town; the spirit of revenge having supported me all the way against every other reflection, My first care was to hire a lodging, in which I kept myself very retired, assumed a feigned name, that my character and situation might be better concealed. It was not long before I found out the house of my lover, whither I immediately repaired in a transport of rage, determined to act some desperate deed for the satisfaction of my despair, though the hurry of my spirits would not permit me to concert or resolve upon a particular plan. When I demanded admission to Lothario (so let me call him), I was desired to send up my name and business; but this I refused, telling the porter I had business for his master’s private ear; upon which I was conducted into a parlour until he should be informed of my request. There I remained about a quarter of an hour, when a servant entered and told me his master was engaged with company, and begged to be excused at that time. My temper could hold out no longer. I pulled out a poniard from my bosom, where I had concealed it, and rushing out flew up stairs like a fury, exclaiming, “Where’s this perfidious villain? could I plunge this dagger into his false heart, I should then die satisfied!” The noise I made alarmed not only the servants, but the company also, who hearing my threats came forward to the staircase to see was the matter. I was seized, disarmed, and withheld by two footmen; and in this situation felt the most exquisite torture in beholding my undoer approach with his young wife. I could not endure the sight, was deprived of my senses, and fell into a severe fit, during which I know not how I was treated; but when I recovered the use of reflection, found myself on a bed in a paltry apartment, where I was attended by an old woman, who asked a thousand impertinent questions relating to my condition, and informed me that my behaviour had thrown the whole family into confusion; that Lothario affirmed I was mad, and proposed to have me sent to Bedlam; but my lady persuaded herself there was more in my conduct than he cared should be known, and had taken to her bed on bare suspicion, having first ordered that I should be narrowly looked to. I heard all she said without making any other reply than desiring she would do me the favour to call a chair; but this she told me could not be done without her master’s consent, which, however, was easily procured, and I was conveyed to my lodgings in a state of mind that baffles all description. The agitation of my thoughts produced a fever, which brought on a miscarriage; and I believe it is well for my conscience that heaven thus disposed of my burden; for let me own to you with penitence and horror, if I had brought a living child into the world, my frenzy would have prompted me to sacrifice the little innocent to my resentment of the father’s infidelity.
“After this event my rage abated, and my hate became more deliberate and calm: when one day my landlady informed me that there was a gentleman below who desired to see me, he having something of consequence to impart, which he was sure would contribute to my peace of mind. I was exceedingly alarmed at this declaration, which I attempted to interpret a thousand ways; and before I came to any determination he entered my room, with an apology for intruding without my knowledge or consent. I surveyed him some time, and not being able to recollect his face, demanded, with a faltering accent, what his business was with me? Upon which he desired I would give him a particular audience, and he did not doubt of communicating something that would conduce to my satisfaction and repose. As I thought myself sufficiently guarded against any violence, I granted his request, and bade the woman withdraw. The stranger, then advancing, gave me to understand that he was well acquainted with the particulars of my story, having been informed of them from Lothario’s own mouth — that from the time he knew my misfortunes he had entertained a detestation for the author of them, which had of late been increased and inflamed to a desire of revenge, by a piece of dishonourable conduct towards him — that hearing of my melancholy situation, he had come with an intention of offering his assistance and comfort, and was ready to espouse my quarrel, and forthwith take vengeance on my seducer, provided I would grant him one consideration, which, he hoped, I should see no reason to refuse. Had all the artifice of hell been employed in composing a persuasive, it could not have had a more instantaneous or favourable effect than this discourse had upon me. I was transported with a delirium of gloomy joy. The contract was made; he devoted himself to my revenge, undertook to murder Lothario that very night, and to bring me an account of his death before morning. Accordingly, about two of the clock, he was introduced to my chamber, and assured me that my perfidious lover was no more: that although he was not entitled to such an honourable proceeding, he had fairly challenged him to the field, where he upbraided him with his treachery towards me, for whom, he told me, his sword was drawn, and after a few passes left him weltering in his blood. I was so savaged by my wrongs, that I delighted in the recital of this adventure, made him repeat the particulars. and feasted my eyes on the blood that remained on his clothes and sword. My imagination was so engrossed by these ideas, that in my sleep I dreamed Lothario appeared before me pale, mangled, and bloody, blamed my rashness, protested his innocence, and pleaded his cause so pathetically, that I was convinced of his fidelity, and waked in a fit of horror and remorse. I dropped asleep again, and the same apparition recurred to my fancy. In short, I passed the night in great misery, and looked upon my avenger with such abhorrence, that in the morning, perceiving my aversion, he insinuated there was still a possibility of Lothario’s recovery: it was quite true he left him wounded on the ground, but not quite dead, and perhaps his hurts might not be mortal. At these words I started up, bade him fly for intelligence, and if he could not bring me tidings of Lothario’s safety, at least consult his own, and never return; for I was resolved to surrender myself to justice, and declare all I knew of the affair, that, if possible I might expiate my own guilt, by incurring the rigours of a sincere repentance and ignominious death. He very coolly represented the unreasonableness of my prejudice against him, who had done nothing but what his love of me inspired, and honour justified: that now he had, at the risk of his life, been subservient to my revenge, I was about to discard him as an infamous agent, occasionally necessary; and that, even if he should be so lucky as to bring news of Lothario’s safety, it was probable my former resentment might revive, and I would upbraid him with having failed in his undertaking. I assured him, that on the contrary, he should be dearer to me than ever, as I then should be convinced he acted more on the principles of a man of honour than on those of a mercenary assassin, and scorned to take away the life of an adversary, how inveterate soever, which fortune had put in his power. “Well, then madam,” said he, whatever may have happened, I shall find it no difficult matter to acquit myself in point of honour;” and took his leave in order to inquire into the consequences of his duel. I was now more sensible than ever of the degrees of guilt and misery; all the affliction I had suffered hitherto was owing to my own credulity and weakness, and my conscience could only accuse me of venial crimes; but now that I looked upon myself as a murderer, it is impossible to express the terrors of my imagination, which was incessantly haunted by the image of the deceased, and my bosom stung with the most exquisite agonies, of which I saw no end. At length, Horatio (for so I shall call my new friend) returned, and telling me I had nothing to fear, delivered into my hands a billet containing these words.
“As I understand it is of consequence to your peace, I take this liberty to inform you, that the wounds I received from Horatio are not mortal. This satisfaction my humanity could not deny, even to a person who has endeavoured to disturb the repose as well as the life of
‘Being well acquainted with this hand, I had no reason to suspect an imposition in this letter, which I read over and over with a transport of joy, and caressed Horatio so much that he appeared the happiest man alive. Thus was I won from despair by the menaces of a greater misfortune than that which depressed me. Griefs are like usurpers, — the most powerful deposes all the rest. But my raptures were not lasting: that very letter which in a manner re-established my tranquillity, in a little time banished my peace. His unjust reproaches, while they waked my resentment, recalled my former happiness, and filled my soul with rage and sorrow. Horatio, perceiving the situation of my mind, endeavoured to divert my chagrin, by treating me with all the amusements and entertainments of the town. I was gratified with every indulgence I could desire; introduced into the company of women in my own situation, by whom an uncommon deference was paid to me; and I began to lose all remembrance of my former condition, when an accident brought it back to my view with all its interesting circumstances. Diverting myself one day with some newspapers, which I had not before perused, the following advertisement attracted my attention:
‘“Whereas a young gentlewoman disappeared from her father’s house in the county of — about the end of September, on account (as is supposed) of some uneasiness of mind, and has not been as yet heard of. Whoever will give any information about her to Mr. — of Gray’s Inn, shall be handsomely rewarded; or if she will return to the arms of her disconsolate parent, she will be received with the utmost tenderness, whatever reason she may have to think otherwise, and may be the means of prolonging the life of a father already weighed down almost to the grave with age and sorrow.”
‘This pathetic remonstrance had such an effect on me, that I was fully resolved to return, like the prodigal son, and implore the forgiveness of him who gave me life; but, alas! Upon inquiry, I found he had paid his debt to nature a month before, lamenting my absence to his last hour, having left his fortune to a stranger, as a mark of his resentment of my unkind and undutiful behaviour. Penetrated with remorse on this occasion, I sank into the most profound melancholy, and considered myself as the immediate cause of his death. I lost all relish for company; and, indeed, most of my acquaintances no sooner perceived my change of temper, than they abandoned me. Horatio, disgusted at my insensibility, or from some other cause, became colder and colder every day, till at last he left me altogether, without making any apology for his conduct, or securing me against the miseries of want, as a man of honour ought to have done, considering the share he had in my ruin; for I afterwards learned, that the quarrel between Lothario and him was a story trumped up to rid the one of my importunities, and give the other a recommendation to me, which, it seems, he desired, upon seeing me at the house of my seducer. Reduced to this extremity, I cursed my own simplicity, uttered horrid imprecations against the treachery of Horatio; and. as I became every day more and more familiarised to the loss of innocence, resolved to be revenged on the sex in general, by practising their own arts upon themselves. Nor was an opportunity long wanting: an old gentlewoman, under pretence of sympathising, visited me, and after having condoled me on my misfortunes, and professed a disinterested friendship, began to display the art of her occupation, in encomiums on my beauty, and invectives against the wretch who had forsaken me; insinuating withal, that it would be my own fault if I did not still make my fortune by the extraordinary qualifications with which nature had endowed me. I soon understood her drift, and gave her such encouragement to explain herself, that we came to an agreement immediately to divide whatever profits might accrue from such gallants as she should introduce to my acquaintance. The first stroke of my dissimulation was practised upon a certain judge, to whom I was recommended by this matron as an innocent creature just arrived from the country.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00