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Chapter 9

Thus I passed two years. Day after day so many hundreds wore on; they
brought no outward changes with them, but some few slowly operated on
my mind as I glided on towards death. I began to study more; to
sympathize more in the thoughts of others as expressed in books; to
read history, and to lose my individuallity among the crowd that had
existed before me. Thus perhaps as the sensation of immediate
suffering wore off, I became more human. Solitude also lost to me some
of its charms: I began again to wish for sympathy; not that I was ever
tempted to seek the crowd, but I wished for one friend to love me. You
will say perhaps that I gradually became fitted to return to society.
I do not think so. For the sympathy that I desired must be so pure, so
divested of influence from outward circumstances that in the world I
could not fail of being balked by the gross materials that perpetually
mingle even with its best feelings. Believe me, I was then less fitted
for any communion with my fellow creatures than before. When I left
them they had tormented me but it was in the same way as pain and
sickness may torment; somthing extraneous to the mind that galled it,
and that I wished to cast aside. But now I should have desired
sympathy; I should wish to knit my soul to some one of theirs, and
should have prepared for myself plentiful draughts of disappointment
and suffering; for I was tender as the sensitive plant, all nerve. I
did not desire sympathy and aid in ambition or wisdom, but sweet and
mutual affection; smiles to cheer me and gentle words of comfort. I
wished for one heart in which I could pour unrestrained my plaints,
and by the heavenly nature of the soil blessed fruit might spring from
such bad seed. Yet how could I find this? The love that is the soul of
friendship is a soft spirit seldom found except when two amiable
creatures are knit from early youth, or when bound by mutual suffering
and pursuits; it comes to some of the elect unsought and unaware; it
descends as gentle dew on chosen spots which however barren they were
before become under its benign influence fertile in all sweet plants;
but when desired it flies; it scoffs at the prayers of its votaries;
it will bestow, but not be sought.

I knew all this and did not go to seek sympathy; but there on my
solitary heath, under my lowly roof where all around was desart, it
came to me as a sun beam in winter to adorn while it helps to dissolve
the drifted snow.--Alas the sun shone on blighted fruit; I did not
revive under its radiance for I was too utterly undone to feel its
kindly power. My father had been and his memory was the life of my
life. I might feel gratitude to another but I never more could love or
hope as I had done; it was all suffering; even my pleasures were
endured, not enjoyed. I was as a solitary spot among mountains shut in
on all sides by steep black precipices; where no ray of heat could
penetrate; and from which there was no outlet to sunnier fields. And
thus it was that although the spirit of friendship soothed me for a
while it could not restore me. It came as some gentle visitation; it
went and I hardly felt the loss. The spirit of existence was dead
within me; be not surprised therefore that when it came I welcomed not
more gladly, or when it departed I lamented not more bitterly the best
gift of heaven--a friend.

The name of my friend was Woodville.[51] I will briefly relate his
history that you may judge how cold my heart must have been not to be
warmed by his eloquent words and tender sympathy; and how he also
being most unhappy we were well fitted to be a mutual consolation to
each other, if I had not been hardened to stone by the Medusa head of
Misery. The misfortunes of Woodville were not of the hearts core like
mine; his was a natural grief, not to destroy but to purify the heart
and from which he might, when its shadow had passed from over him,
shine forth brighter and happier than before.

Woodville was the son of a poor clergyman and had received a classical
education. He was one of those very few whom fortune favours from
their birth; on whom she bestows all gifts of intellect and person
with a profusion that knew no bounds, and whom under her peculiar
protection, no imperfection however slight, or disappointment however
transitory has leave to touch. She seemed to have formed his mind of
that excellence which no dross can tarnish, and his understanding was
such that no error could pervert. His genius was transcendant, and
when it rose as a bright star in the east all eyes were turned towards
it in admiration. He was a Poet. That name has so often been degraded
that it will not convey the idea of all that he was. He was like a
poet of old whom the muses had crowned in his cradle, and on whose
lips bees had fed. As he walked among other men he seemed encompassed
with a heavenly halo that divided him from and lifted him above them.
It was his surpassing beauty, the dazzling fire of his eyes, and his
words whose rich accents wrapt the listener in mute and extactic
wonder, that made him transcend all others so that before him they
appeared only formed to minister to his superior excellence.

He was glorious from his youth. Every one loved him; no shadow of envy
or hate cast even from the meanest mind ever fell upon him. He was, as
one the peculiar delight of the Gods, railed and fenced in by his own
divinity, so that nought but love and admiration could approach him.
His heart was simple like a child, unstained by arrogance or vanity.
He mingled in society unknowing of his superiority over his
companions, not because he undervalued himself but because he did not
perceive the inferiority of others. He seemed incapable of conceiving
of the full extent of the power that selfishness & vice possesses in
the world: when I knew him, although he had suffered disappointment in
his dearest hopes, he had not experienced any that arose from the
meaness and self love of men: his station was too high to allow of his
suffering through their hardheartedness; and too low for him to have
experienced ingratitude and encroaching selfishness: it is one of the
blessings of a moderate fortune, that by preventing the possessor from
confering pecuniary favours it prevents him also from diving into the
arcana of human weakness or malice--To bestow on your fellow men is a
Godlike attribute--So indeed it is and as such not one fit for
mortality;--the giver like Adam and Prometheus, must pay the penalty
of rising above his nature by being the martyr to his own excellence.
Woodville was free from all these evils; and if slight examples did
come across him[52] he did not notice them but passed on in his course
as an angel with winged feet might glide along the earth unimpeded by
all those little obstacles over which we of earthly origin stumble. He
was a believer in the divinity of genius and always opposed a stern
disbelief to the objections of those petty cavillers and minor critics
who wish to reduce all men to their own miserable level--"I will make
a scientific simile" he would say, "[i]n the manner, if you will, of
Dr. Darwin--I consider the alledged errors of a man of genius as the
aberrations of the fixed stars. It is our distance from them and our
imperfect means of communication that makes them appear to move; in
truth they always remain stationary, a glorious centre, giving us a
fine lesson of modesty if we would thus receive it."[53]

I have said that he was a poet: when he was three and twenty years of
age he first published a poem, and it was hailed by the whole nation
with enthusiasm and delight. His good star perpetually shone upon him;
a reputation had never before been made so rapidly: it was universal.
The multitude extolled the same poems that formed the wonder of the
sage in his closet: there was not one dissentient voice.[54]

It was at this time, in the height of his glory, that he became
acquainted with Elinor. She was a young heiress of exquisite beauty
who lived under the care of her guardian: from the moment they were
seen together they appeared formed for each other. Elinor had not the
genius of Woodville but she was generous and noble, and exalted by her
youth and the love that she every where excited above the knowledge of
aught but virtue and excellence. She was lovely; her manners were
frank and simple; her deep blue eyes swam in a lustre which could only
be given by sensibility joined to wisdom.

They were formed for one another and they soon loved. Woodville for
the first time felt the delight of love; and Elinor was enraptured in
possessing the heart of one so beautiful and glorious among his fellow
men. Could any thing but unmixed joy flow from such a union?

Woodville was a Poet--he was sought for by every society and all eyes
were turned on him alone when he appeared; but he was the son of a
poor clergyman and Elinor was a rich heiress. Her guardian was not
displeased with their mutual affection: the merit of Woodville was too
eminent to admit of cavil on account of his inferior wealth; but the
dying will of her father did not allow her to marry before she was of
age and her fortune depended upon her obeying this injunction. She had
just entered her twentieth year, and she and her lover were obliged to
submit to this delay. But they were ever together and their happiness
seemed that of Paradise: they studied together: formed plans of future
occupations, and drinking in love and joy from each other's eyes and
words they hardly repined at the delay to their entire union.
Woodville for ever rose in glory; and Elinor become more lovely and
wise under the lessons of her accomplished lover.

In two months Elinor would be twenty one: every thing was prepared for
their union. How shall I relate the catastrophe to so much joy; but
the earth would not be the earth it is covered with blight and sorrow
if one such pair as these angelic creatures had been suffered to exist
for one another: search through the world and you will not find the
perfect happiness which their marriage would have caused them to
enjoy; there must have been a revolution in the order of things as
established among us miserable earth-dwellers to have admitted of such
consummate joy. The chain of necessity ever bringing misery must have
been broken and the malignant fate that presides over it would not
permit this breach of her eternal laws. But why should I repine at
this? Misery was my element, and nothing but what was miserable could
approach me; if Woodville had been happy I should never have known
him. And can I who for many years was fed by tears, and nourished
under the dew of grief, can I pause to relate a tale of woe and
death?[55]

Woodville was obliged to make a journey into the country and was
detained from day to day in irksome absence from his lovely bride. He
received a letter from her to say that she was slightly ill, but
telling him to hasten to her, that from his eyes she would receive
health and that his company would be her surest medecine. He was
detained three days longer and then he hastened to her. His heart, he
knew not why prognosticated misfortune; he had not heard from her
again; he feared she might be worse and this fear made him impatient
and restless for the moment of beholding her once more stand before
him arrayed in health and beauty; for a sinister voice seemed always
to whisper to him, "You will never more behold her as she was."

When he arrived at her habitation all was silent in it: he made his
way through several rooms; in one he saw a servant weeping bitterly:
he was faint with fear and could hardly ask, "Is she dead?" and just
listened to the dreadful answer, "Not yet." These astounding words
came on him as of less fearful import than those which he had
expected; and to learn that she was still in being, and that he might
still hope was an alleviation to him. He remembered the words of her
letter and he indulged the wild idea that his kisses breathing warm
love and life would infuse new spirit into her, and that with him near
her she could not die; that his presence was the talisman of her life.

He hastened to her sick room; she lay, her cheeks burning with fever,
yet her eyes were closed and she was seemingly senseless. He wrapt her
in his arms; he imprinted breathless kisses on her burning lips; he
called to her in a voice of subdued anguish by the tenderest names;
"Return Elinor; I am with you; your life, your love. Return; dearest
one, you promised me this boon, that I should bring you health. Let
your sweet spirit revive; you cannot die near me: What is death? To
see you no more? To part with what is a part of myself; without whom I
have no memory and no futurity? Elinor die! This is frenzy and the
most miserable despair: you cannot die while I am near."

And again he kissed her eyes and lips, and hung over her inanimate
form in agony, gazing on her countenance still lovely although
changed, watching every slight convulsion, and varying colour which
denoted life still lingering although about to depart. Once for a
moment she revived and recognized his voice; a smile, a last lovely
smile, played upon her lips. He watched beside her for twelve hours
and then she died.[56]

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