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Chapter 2

I now come to my own story. During the early part of my life there is
little to relate, and I will be brief; but I must be allowed to dwell
a little on the years of my childhood that it may be apparent how when
one hope failed all life was to be a blank; and how when the only
affection I was permitted to cherish was blasted my existence was
extinguished with it.

I have said that my aunt was very unlike my father. I believe that
without the slightest tinge of a bad heart she had the coldest that
ever filled a human breast: it was totally incapable of any affection.
She took me under her protection because she considered it her duty;
but she had too long lived alone and undisturbed by the noise and
prattle of children to allow that I should disturb her quiet. She had
never been married; and for the last five years had lived perfectly
alone on an estate, that had descended to her through her mother, on
the shores of Loch Lomond in Scotland. My father had expressed a wish
in his letters that she should reside with me at his family mansion
which was situated in a beautiful country near Richmond in Yorkshire.
She would not consent to this proposition, but as soon as she had
arranged the affairs which her brother's departure had caused to fall
to her care, she quitted England and took me with her to her scotch

The care of me while a baby, and afterwards untill I had reached my
eighth year devolved on a servant of my mother's, who had accompanied
us in our retirement for that purpose. I was placed in a remote part
of the house, and only saw my aunt at stated hours. These occurred
twice a day; once about noon she came to my nursery, and once after
her dinner I was taken to her. She never caressed me, and seemed all
the time I staid in the room to fear that I should annoy her by some
childish freak. My good nurse always schooled me with the greatest
care before she ventured into the parlour--and the awe my aunt's cold
looks and few constrained words inspired was so great that I seldom
disgraced her lessons or was betrayed from the exemplary stillness
which I was taught to observe during these short visits.[11]

Under my good nurse's care I ran wild about our park and the
neighbouring fields. The offspring of the deepest love I displayed
from my earliest years the greatest sensibility of disposition. I
cannot say with what passion I loved every thing even the inanimate
objects that surrounded me. I believe that I bore an individual
attachment to every tree in our park; every animal that inhabited it
knew me and I loved them. Their occasional deaths filled my infant
heart with anguish. I cannot number the birds that I have saved during
the long and severe winters of that climate; or the hares and rabbits
that I have defended from the attacks of our dogs, or have nursed when
accidentally wounded.

When I was seven years of age my nurse left me. I now forget the cause
of her departure if indeed I ever knew it. She returned to England,
and the bitter tears she shed at parting were the last I saw flow for
love of me for many years. My grief was terrible: I had no friend but
her in the whole world. By degrees I became reconciled to solitude but
no one supplied her place in my affections. I lived in a desolate
country where

------ there were none to praise
And very few to love.[A]

It is true that I now saw a little more of my aunt, but she was in
every way an unsocial being; and to a timid child she was as a plant
beneath a thick covering of ice; I should cut my hands in endeavouring
to get at it. So I was entirely thrown upon my own resourses. The
neighbouring minister was engaged to give me lessons in reading,
writing and french, but he was without family and his manners even to
me were always perfectly characteristic of the profession in the
exercise of whose functions he chiefly shone, that of a schoolmaster.
I sometimes strove to form friendships with the most attractive of the
girls who inhabited the neighbouring village; but I believe I should
never have succeeded [even] had not my aunt interposed her authority
to prevent all intercourse between me and the peasantry; for she was
fearful lest I should acquire the scotch accent and dialect; a little
of it I had, although great pains was taken that my tongue should not
disgrace my English origin.

As I grew older my liberty encreased with my desires, and my
wanderings extended from our park to the neighbouring country. Our
house was situated on the shores of the lake and the lawn came down to
the water's edge. I rambled amidst the wild scenery of this lovely
country and became a complete mountaineer: I passed hours on the steep
brow of a mountain that overhung a waterfall or rowed myself in a
little skiff to some one of the islands. I wandered for ever about
these lovely solitudes, gathering flower after flower

Ond' era pinta tutta la mia via[B]

singing as I might the wild melodies of the country, or occupied by
pleasant day dreams. My greatest pleasure was the enjoyment of a
serene sky amidst these verdant woods: yet I loved all the changes of
Nature; and rain, and storm, and the beautiful clouds of heaven
brought their delights with them. When rocked by the waves of the lake
my spirits rose in triumph as a horseman feels with pride the motions
of his high fed steed.

But my pleasures arose from the contemplation of nature alone, I had
no companion: my warm affections finding no return from any other
human heart were forced to run waste on inanimate objects.[12]
Sometimes indeed I wept when my aunt received my caresses with
repulsive coldness, and when I looked round and found none to love;
but I quickly dried my tears. As I grew older books in some degree
supplied the place of human intercourse: the library of my aunt was
very small; Shakespear, Milton, Pope and Cowper were the strangley
[_sic_] assorted poets of her collection; and among the prose authors
a translation of Livy and Rollin's ancient history were my chief
favourites although as I emerged from childhood I found others highly
interesting which I had before neglected as dull.

When I was twelve years old it occurred to my aunt that I ought to
learn music; she herself played upon the harp. It was with great
hesitation that she persuaded herself to undertake my instruction; yet
believing this accomplishment a necessary part of my education, and
balancing the evils of this measure or of having some one in the house
to instruct me she submitted to the inconvenience. A harp was sent for
that my playing might not interfere with hers, and I began: she found
me a docile and when I had conquered the first rudiments a very apt
scholar. I had acquired in my harp a companion in rainy days; a sweet
soother of my feelings when any untoward accident ruffled them: I
often addressed it as my only friend; I could pour forth to it my
hopes and loves, and I fancied that its sweet accents answered me. I
have now mentioned all my studies.

I was a solitary being, and from my infant years, ever since my dear
nurse left me, I had been a dreamer. I brought Rosalind and Miranda
and the lady of Comus to life to be my companions, or on my isle acted
over their parts imagining myself to be in their situations. Then I
wandered from the fancies of others and formed affections and
intimacies with the aerial creations of my own brain--but still
clinging to reality I gave a name to these conceptions and nursed them
in the hope of realization. I clung to the memory of my parents; my
mother I should never see, she was dead: but the idea of [my] unhappy,
wandering father was the idol of my imagination. I bestowed on him all
my affections; there was a miniature of him that I gazed on
continually; I copied his last letter and read it again and again.
Sometimes it made me weep; and at other [times] I repeated with
transport those words,--"One day I may claim her at your hands." I was
to be his consoler, his companion in after years. My favourite vision
was that when I grew up I would leave my aunt, whose coldness lulled
my conscience, and disguised like a boy I would seek my father through
the world. My imagination hung upon the scene of recognition; his
miniature, which I should continually wear exposed on my breast, would
be the means and I imaged the moment to my mind a thousand and a
thousand times, perpetually varying the circumstances. Sometimes it
would be in a desart; in a populous city; at a ball; we should perhaps
meet in a vessel; and his first words constantly were, "My daughter, I
love thee"! What extactic moments have I passed in these dreams! How
many tears I have shed; how often have I laughed aloud.[13]

This was my life for sixteen years. At fourteen and fifteen I often
thought that the time was come when I should commence my pilgrimage,
which I had cheated my own mind into believing was my imperious duty:
but a reluctance to quit my Aunt; a remorse for the grief which, I
could not conceal from myself, I should occasion her for ever
withheld me. Sometimes when I had planned the next morning for my
escape a word of more than usual affection from her lips made me
postpone my resolution. I reproached myself bitterly for what I called
a culpable weakness; but this weakness returned upon me whenever the
critical moment approached, and I never found courage to depart.[14]

[A] Wordsworth

[B] Dante

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