Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 11

It is a strange circumstance but it often occurs that blessings by
their use turn to curses; and that I who in solitude had desired
sympathy as the only relief I could enjoy should now find it an
additional torture to me. During my father's life time I had always
been of an affectionate and forbearing disposition, but since those
days of joy alas! I was much changed. I had become arrogant, peevish,
and above all suspicious. Although the real interest of my narration
is now ended and I ought quickly to wind up its melancholy
catastrophe, yet I will relate one instance of my sad suspicion and
despair and how Woodville with the goodness and almost the power of an
angel, softened my rugged feelings and led me back to gentleness.[65]

He had promised to spend some hours with me one afternoon but a
violent and continual rain[66] prevented him. I was alone the whole
evening. I had passed two whole years alone unrepining, but now I was
miserable. He could not really care for me, I thought, for if he did
the storm would rather have made him come even if I had not expected
him, than, as it did, prevent a promised visit. He would well know
that this drear sky and gloomy rain would load my spirit almost to
madness: if the weather had been fine I should not have regretted his
absence as heavily as I necessarily must shut up in this miserable
cottage with no companions but my own wretched thoughts. If he were
truly my friend he would have calculated all this; and let me now
calculate this boasted friendship, and discover its real worth. He got
over his grief for Elinor, and the country became dull to him, so he
was glad to find even me for amusement; and when he does not know what
else to do he passes his lazy hours here, and calls this
friendship--It is true that his presence is a consolation to me, and
that his words are sweet, and, when he will he can pour forth thoughts
that win me from despair. His words are sweet,--and so, truly, is the
honey of the bee, but the bee has a sting, and unkindness is a worse
smart that that received from an insect's venom. I will[67] put him to
the proof. He says all hope is dead to him, and I know that it is dead
to me, so we are both equally fitted for death. Let me try if he will
die with me; and as I fear to die alone, if he will accompany [me] to
cheer me, and thus he can shew himself my friend in the only manner my
misery will permit.[68]

It was madness I believe, but I so worked myself up to this idea that
I could think of nothing else. If he dies with me it is well, and
there will be an end of two miserable beings; and if he will not, then
will I scoff at his friendship and drink the poison before him to
shame his cowardice. I planned the whole scene with an earnest heart
and franticly set my soul on this project. I procured Laudanum and
placing it in two glasses on the table, filled my room with flowers
and decorated the last scene of my tragedy with the nicest care. As
the hour for his coming approached my heart softened and I wept; not
that I gave up my plan, but even when resolved the mind must undergo
several revolutions of feeling before it can drink its death.

Now all was ready and Woodville came. I received him at the door of my
cottage and leading him solemnly into the room, I said: "My friend, I
wish to die. I am quite weary of enduring the misery which hourly I do
endure, and I will throw it off. What slave will not, if he may,
escape from his chains? Look, I weep: for more than two years I have
never enjoyed one moment free from anguish. I have often desired to
die; but I am a very coward. It is hard for one so young who was once
so happy as I was; [_sic_] voluntarily to divest themselves of all
sensation and to go alone to the dreary grave; I dare not. I must die,
yet my fear chills me; I pause and shudder and then for months I
endure my excess of wretchedness. But now the time is come when I may
quit life, I have a friend who will not refuse to accompany me in this
dark journey; such is my request:[69] earnestly do I entreat and
implore you to die with me. Then we shall find Elinor and what I have
lost. Look, I am prepared; there is the death draught, let us drink it
together and willingly & joyfully quit this hated round of daily
life[.]

"You turn from me; yet before you deny me reflect, Woodville, how
sweet it were to cast off the load of tears and misery under which we
now labour: and surely we shall find light after we have passed the
dark valley. That drink will plunge us in a sweet slumber, and when we
awaken what joy will be ours to find all our sorrows and fears past.
_A little patience, and all will be over_; aye, a very little
patience; for, look, there is the key of our prison; we hold it in our
own hands, and are we more debased than slaves to cast it away and
give ourselves up to voluntary bondage? Even now if we had courage we
might be free. Behold, my cheek is flushed with pleasure at the
imagination of death; all that we love are dead. Come, give me your
hand, one look of joyous sympathy and we will go together and seek
them; a lulling journey; where our arrival will bring bliss and our
waking be that of angels. Do you delay? Are you a coward, Woodville?
Oh fie! Cast off this blank look of human melancholy. Oh! that I had
words to express the luxury of death that I might win you. I tell you
we are no longer miserable mortals; we are about to become Gods;
spirits free and happy as gods. What fool on a bleak shore, seeing a
flowery isle on the other side with his lost love beckoning to him
from it would pause because the wave is dark and turbid?

"What if some little payne the passage have
That makes frayle flesh to fear the bitter wave?
Is not short payne well borne that brings long ease,
And lays the soul to sleep in quiet grave?[F]

"Do you mark my words; I have learned the language of despair: I have
it all by heart, for I am Despair; and a strange being am I, joyous,
triumphant Despair. But those words are false, for the wave may be
dark but it is not bitter. We lie down, and close our eyes with a
gentle good night, and when we wake, we are free. Come then, no more
delay, thou tardy one! Behold the pleasant potion! Look, I am a spirit
of good, and not a human maid that invites thee, and with winning
accents, (oh, that they would win thee!) says, Come and drink."[70]

As I spoke I fixed my eyes upon his countenance, and his exquisite
beauty, the heavenly compassion that beamed from his eyes, his gentle
yet earnest look of deprecation and wonder even before he spoke
wrought a change in my high strained feelings taking from me all the
sterness of despair and filling me only with the softest grief. I saw
his eyes humid also as he took both my hands in his; and sitting down
near me, he said:[71]

"This is a sad deed to which you would lead me, dearest friend, and
your woe must indeed be deep that could fill you with these unhappy
thoughts. You long for death and yet you fear it and wish me to be
your companion. But I have less courage than you and even thus
accompanied I dare not die. Listen to me, and then reflect if you
ought to win me to your project, even if with the over-bearing
eloquence of despair you could make black death so inviting that the
fair heaven should appear darkness. Listen I entreat you to the words
of one who has himself nurtured desperate thoughts, and longed with
impatient desire for death, but who has at length trampled the phantom
under foot, and crushed his sting. Come, as you have played Despair
with me I will play the part of Una with you and bring you hurtless
from his dark cavern. Listen to me, and let yourself be softened by
words in which no selfish passion lingers.

"We know not what all this wide world means; its strange mixture of
good and evil. But we have been placed here and bid live and hope. I
know not what we are to hope; but there is some good beyond us that we
must seek; and that is our earthly task. If misfortune come against us
we must fight with her; we must cast her aside, and still go on to
find out that which it is our nature to desire. Whether this prospect
of future good be the preparation for another existence I know not; or
whether that it is merely that we, as workmen in God's vineyard, must
lend a hand to smooth the way for our posterity. If it indeed be that;
if the efforts of the virtuous now, are to make the future inhabitants
of this fair world more happy; if the labours of those who cast aside
selfishness, and try to know the truth of things, are to free the men
of ages, now far distant but which will one day come, from the burthen
under which those who now live groan, and like you weep bitterly; if
they free them but from one of what are now the necessary evils of
life, truly I will not fail but will with my whole soul aid the work.
From my youth I have said, I will be virtuous; I will dedicate my life
for the good of others; I will do my best to extirpate evil and if the
spirit who protects ill should so influence circumstances that I
should suffer through my endeavour, yet while there is hope and hope
there ever must be, of success, cheerfully do I gird myself to my
task.

"I have powers; my countrymen think well of them. Do you think I sow
my seed in the barren air, & have no end in what I do? Believe me, I
will never desert life untill this last hope is torn from my bosom,
that in some way my labours may form a link in the chain of gold with
which we ought all to strive to drag Happiness from where she sits
enthroned above the clouds, now far beyond our reach, to inhabit the
earth with us. Let us suppose that Socrates, or Shakespear, or
Rousseau had been seized with despair and died in youth when they were
as young as I am; do you think that we and all the world should not
have lost incalculable improvement in our good feelings and our
happiness thro' their destruction. I am not like one of these; they
influenced millions: but if I can influence but a hundred, but ten,
but one solitary individual, so as in any way to lead him from ill to
good, that will be a joy to repay me for all my sufferings, though
they were a million times multiplied; and that hope will support me to
bear them[.]

"And those who do not work for posterity; or working, as may be my
case, will not be known by it; yet they, believe me, have also their
duties. You grieve because you are unhappy[;] it is happiness you seek
but you despair of obtaining it. But if you can bestow happiness on
another; if you can give one other person only one hour of joy ought
you not to live to do it? And every one has it in their power to do
that. The inhabitants of this world suffer so much pain. In crowded
cities, among cultivated plains, or on the desart mountains, pain is
thickly sown, and if we can tear up but one of these noxious weeds, or
more, if in its stead we can sow one seed of corn, or plant one fair
flower, let that be motive sufficient against suicide. Let us not
desert our task while there is the slightest hope that we may in a
future day do this.

"Indeed I dare not die. I have a mother whose support and hope I am. I
have a friend who loves me as his life, and in whose breast I should
infix a mortal sting if I ungratefully left him. So I will not die.
Nor shall you, my friend; cheer up; cease to weep, I entreat you. Are
you not young, and fair, and good? Why should you despair? Or if you
must for yourself, why for others? If you can never be happy, can you
never bestow happiness[?] Oh! believe me, if you beheld on lips pale
with grief one smile of joy and gratitude, and knew that you were
parent of that smile, and that without you it had never been, you
would feel so pure and warm a happiness that you would wish to live
for ever again and again to enjoy the same pleasure[.]

"Come, I see that you have already cast aside the sad thoughts you
before franticly indulged. Look in that mirror; when I came your brow
was contracted, your eyes deep sunk in your head, your lips quivering;
your hands trembled violently when I took them; but now all is
tranquil and soft. You are grieved and there is grief in the
expression of your countenance but it is gentle and sweet. You allow
me to throw away this cursed drink; you smile; oh, Congratulate me,
hope is triumphant, and I have done some good."

These words are shadowy as I repeat them but they were indeed words of
fire and produced a warm hope in me (I, miserable wretch, to hope!)
that tingled like pleasure in my veins. He did not leave me for many
hours; not until he had improved the spark that he had kindled, and
with an angelic hand fostered the return of somthing that seemed like
joy. He left me but I still was calm, and after I had saluted the
starry sky and dewy earth with eyes of love and a contented good
night, I slept sweetly, visited by dreams, the first of pleasure I had
had for many long months.

But this was only a momentary relief and my old habits of feeling
returned; for I was doomed while in life to grieve, and to the natural
sorrow of my father's death and its most terrific cause, immagination
added a tenfold weight of woe. I believed myself to be polluted by the
unnatural love I had inspired, and that I was a creature cursed and
set apart by nature. I thought that like another Cain, I had a mark
set on my forehead to shew mankind that there was a barrier between me
and they [_sic_].[72] Woodville had told me that there was in my
countenance an expression as if I belonged to another world; so he had
seen that sign: and there it lay a gloomy mark to tell the world that
there was that within my soul that no silence could render
sufficiently obscure. Why when fate drove me to become this outcast
from human feeling; this monster with whom none might mingle in
converse and love; why had she not from that fatal and most accursed
moment, shrouded me in thick mists and placed real darkness between me
and my fellows so that I might never more be seen?, [_sic_] and as I
passed, like a murky cloud loaded with blight, they might only
perceive me by the cold chill I should cast upon them; telling them,
how truly, that something unholy was near? Then I should have lived
upon this dreary heath unvisited, and blasting none by my unhallowed
gaze. Alas! I verily believe that if the near prospect of death did
not dull and soften my bitter [fe]elings, if for a few months longer I
had continued to live as I then lived, strong in body, but my soul
corrupted to its core by a deadly cancer[,] if day after day I had
dwelt on these dreadful sentiments I should have become mad, and
should have fancied myself a living pestilence: so horrible to my own
solitary thoughts did this form, this voice, and all this wretched
self appear; for had it not been the source of guilt that wants a
name?[73]

This was superstition. I did not feel thus franticly when first I knew
that the holy name of father was become a curse to me: but my lonely
life inspired me with wild thoughts; and then when I saw Woodville &
day after day he tried to win my confidence and I never dared give
words to my dark tale, I was impressed more strongly with the
withering fear that I was in truth a marked creature, a pariah, only
fit for death.


[F] Spencer's Faery Queen Book 1--Canto [9]

Sorry, no summary available yet.