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Chapter 1

I AM the native of a sea-surrounded nook, a cloud-enshadowed land, which,
when the surface of the globe, with its shoreless ocean and trackless
continents, presents itself to my mind, appears only as an inconsiderable
speck in the immense whole; and yet, when balanced in the scale of mental
power, far outweighed countries of larger extent and more numerous
population. So true it is, that man's mind alone was the creator of all
that was good or great to man, and that Nature herself was only his first
minister. England, seated far north in the turbid sea, now visits my dreams
in the semblance of a vast and well-manned ship, which mastered the winds
and rode proudly over the waves. In my boyish days she was the universe to
me. When I stood on my native hills, and saw plain and mountain stretch out
to the utmost limits of my vision, speckled by the dwellings of my
countrymen, and subdued to fertility by their labours, the earth's very
centre was fixed for me in that spot, and the rest of her orb was as a
fable, to have forgotten which would have cost neither my imagination nor
understanding an effort.

My fortunes have been, from the beginning, an exemplification of the power
that mutability may possess over the varied tenor of man's life. With
regard to myself, this came almost by inheritance. My father was one of
those men on whom nature had bestowed to prodigality the envied gifts of
wit and imagination, and then left his bark of life to be impelled by these
winds, without adding reason as the rudder, or judgment as the pilot for
the voyage. His extraction was obscure; but circumstances brought him early
into public notice, and his small paternal property was soon dissipated in
the splendid scene of fashion and luxury in which he was an actor. During
the short years of thoughtless youth, he was adored by the high-bred
triflers of the day, nor least by the youthful sovereign, who escaped from
the intrigues of party, and the arduous duties of kingly business, to find
never-failing amusement and exhilaration of spirit in his society. My
father's impulses, never under his own controul, perpetually led him into
difficulties from which his ingenuity alone could extricate him; and the
accumulating pile of debts of honour and of trade, which would have bent to
earth any other, was supported by him with a light spirit and tameless
hilarity; while his company was so necessary at the tables and assemblies
of the rich, that his derelictions were considered venial, and he himself
received with intoxicating flattery.

This kind of popularity, like every other, is evanescent: and the
difficulties of every kind with which he had to contend, increased in a
frightful ratio compared with his small means of extricating himself. At
such times the king, in his enthusiasm for him, would come to his relief,
and then kindly take his friend to task; my father gave the best promises
for amendment, but his social disposition, his craving for the usual diet
of admiration, and more than all, the fiend of gambling, which fully
possessed him, made his good resolutions transient, his promises vain. With
the quick sensibility peculiar to his temperament, he perceived his power
in the brilliant circle to be on the wane. The king married; and the
haughty princess of Austria, who became, as queen of England, the head of
fashion, looked with harsh eyes on his defects, and with contempt on the
affection her royal husband entertained for him. My father felt that his
fall was near; but so far from profiting by this last calm before the storm
to save himself, he sought to forget anticipated evil by making still
greater sacrifices to the deity of pleasure, deceitful and cruel arbiter of
his destiny.

The king, who was a man of excellent dispositions, but easily led, had now
become a willing disciple of his imperious consort. He was induced to look
with extreme disapprobation, and at last with distaste, on my father's
imprudence and follies. It is true that his presence dissipated these
clouds; his warm-hearted frankness, brilliant sallies, and confiding
demeanour were irresistible: it was only when at a distance, while still
renewed tales of his errors were poured into his royal friend's ear, that
he lost his influence. The queen's dextrous management was employed to
prolong these absences, and gather together accusations. At length the king
was brought to see in him a source of perpetual disquiet, knowing that he
should pay for the short-lived pleasure of his society by tedious homilies,
and more painful narrations of excesses, the truth of which he could not
disprove. The result was, that he would make one more attempt to reclaim
him, and in case of ill success, cast him off for ever.

Such a scene must have been one of deepest interest and high-wrought
passion. A powerful king, conspicuous for a goodness which had heretofore
made him meek, and now lofty in his admonitions, with alternate entreaty
and reproof, besought his friend to attend to his real interests,
resolutely to avoid those fascinations which in fact were fast deserting
him, and to spend his great powers on a worthy field, in which he, his
sovereign, would be his prop, his stay, and his pioneer. My father felt
this kindness; for a moment ambitious dreams floated before him; and he
thought that it would be well to exchange his present pursuits for nobler
duties. With sincerity and fervour he gave the required promise: as a
pledge of continued favour, he received from his royal master a sum of
money to defray pressing debts, and enable him to enter under good auspices
his new career. That very night, while yet full of gratitude and good
resolves, this whole sum, and its amount doubled, was lost at the
gaming-table. In his desire to repair his first losses, my father risked
double stakes, and thus incurred a debt of honour he was wholly unable to
pay. Ashamed to apply again to the king, he turned his back upon London,
its false delights and clinging miseries; and, with poverty for his sole
companion, buried himself in solitude among the hills and lakes of
Cumberland. His wit, his bon mots, the record of his personal attractions,
fascinating manners, and social talents, were long remembered and repeated
from mouth to mouth. Ask where now was this favourite of fashion, this
companion of the noble, this excelling beam, which gilt with alien
splendour the assemblies of the courtly and the gay--you heard that he
was under a cloud, a lost man; not one thought it belonged to him to repay
pleasure by real services, or that his long reign of brilliant wit deserved
a pension on retiring. The king lamented his absence; he loved to repeat
his sayings, relate the adventures they had had together, and exalt his
talents--but here ended his reminiscence.

Meanwhile my father, forgotten, could not forget. He repined for the loss
of what was more necessary to him than air or food--the excitements of
pleasure, the admiration of the noble, the luxurious and polished living of
the great. A nervous fever was the consequence; during which he was nursed
by the daughter of a poor cottager, under whose roof he lodged. She was
lovely, gentle, and, above all, kind to him; nor can it afford
astonishment, that the late idol of high-bred beauty should, even in a
fallen state, appear a being of an elevated and wondrous nature to the
lowly cottage-girl. The attachment between them led to the ill-fated
marriage, of which I was the offspring. Notwithstanding the tenderness and
sweetness of my mother, her husband still deplored his degraded state.
Unaccustomed to industry, he knew not in what way to contribute to the
support of his increasing family. Sometimes he thought of applying to the
king; pride and shame for a while withheld him; and, before his necessities
became so imperious as to compel him to some kind of exertion, he died. For
one brief interval before this catastrophe, he looked forward to the
future, and contemplated with anguish the desolate situation in which his
wife and children would be left. His last effort was a letter to the king,
full of touching eloquence, and of occasional flashes of that brilliant
spirit which was an integral part of him. He bequeathed his widow and
orphans to the friendship of his royal master, and felt satisfied that, by
this means, their prosperity was better assured in his death than in his
life. This letter was enclosed to the care of a nobleman, who, he did not
doubt, would perform the last and inexpensive office of placing it in the
king's own hand.

He died in debt, and his little property was seized immediately by his
creditors. My mother, pennyless and burthened with two children, waited
week after week, and month after month, in sickening expectation of a
reply, which never came. She had no experience beyond her father's cottage;
and the mansion of the lord of the manor was the chiefest type of grandeur
she could conceive. During my father's life, she had been made familiar
with the name of royalty and the courtly circle; but such things, ill
according with her personal experience, appeared, after the loss of him who
gave substance and reality to them, vague and fantastical. If, under any
circumstances, she could have acquired sufficient courage to address the
noble persons mentioned by her husband, the ill success of his own
application caused her to banish the idea. She saw therefore no escape from
dire penury: perpetual care, joined to sorrow for the loss of the wondrous
being, whom she continued to contemplate with ardent admiration, hard
labour, and naturally delicate health, at length released her from the sad
continuity of want and misery.

The condition of her orphan children was peculiarly desolate. Her own
father had been an emigrant from another part of the country, and had died
long since: they had no one relation to take them by the hand; they were
outcasts, paupers, unfriended beings, to whom the most scanty pittance was
a matter of favour, and who were treated merely as children of peasants,
yet poorer than the poorest, who, dying, had left them, a thankless
bequest, to the close-handed charity of the land.

I, the elder of the two, was five years old when my mother died. A
remembrance of the discourses of my parents, and the communications which
my mother endeavoured to impress upon me concerning my father's friends, in
slight hope that I might one day derive benefit from the knowledge, floated
like an indistinct dream through my brain. I conceived that I was different
and superior to my protectors and companions, but I knew not how or
wherefore. The sense of injury, associated with the name of king and noble,
clung to me; but I could draw no conclusions from such feelings, to serve
as a guide to action. My first real knowledge of myself was as an
unprotected orphan among the valleys and fells of Cumberland. I was in the
service of a farmer; and with crook in hand, my dog at my side, I
shepherded a numerous flock on the near uplands. I cannot say much in
praise of such a life; and its pains far exceeded its pleasures. There was
freedom in it, a companionship with nature, and a reckless loneliness; but
these, romantic as they were, did not accord with the love of action and
desire of human sympathy, characteristic of youth. Neither the care of my
flock, nor the change of seasons, were sufficient to tame my eager spirit;
my out-door life and unemployed time were the temptations that led me early
into lawless habits. I associated with others friendless like myself; I
formed them into a band, I was their chief and captain. All shepherd-boys
alike, while our flocks were spread over the pastures, we schemed and
executed many a mischievous prank, which drew on us the anger and revenge
of the rustics. I was the leader and protector of my comrades, and as I
became distinguished among them, their misdeeds were usually visited upon
me. But while I endured punishment and pain in their defence with the
spirit of an hero, I claimed as my reward their praise and obedience.

In such a school my disposition became rugged, but firm. The appetite for
admiration and small capacity for self-controul which I inherited from my
father, nursed by adversity, made me daring and reckless. I was rough as
the elements, and unlearned as the animals I tended. I often compared
myself to them, and finding that my chief superiority consisted in power, I
soon persuaded myself that it was in power only that I was inferior to the
chiefest potentates of the earth. Thus untaught in refined philosophy, and
pursued by a restless feeling of degradation from my true station in
society, I wandered among the hills of civilized England as uncouth a
savage as the wolf-bred founder of old Rome. I owned but one law, it was
that of the strongest, and my greatest deed of virtue was never to submit.

Yet let me a little retract from this sentence I have passed on myself. My
mother, when dying, had, in addition to her other half-forgotten and
misapplied lessons, committed, with solemn exhortation, her other child to
my fraternal guardianship; and this one duty I performed to the best of my
ability, with all the zeal and affection of which my nature was capable. My
sister was three years younger than myself; I had nursed her as an infant,
and when the difference of our sexes, by giving us various occupations, in
a great measure divided us, yet she continued to be the object of my
careful love. Orphans, in the fullest sense of the term, we were poorest
among the poor, and despised among the unhonoured. If my daring and courage
obtained for me a kind of respectful aversion, her youth and sex, since
they did not excite tenderness, by proving her to be weak, were the causes
of numberless mortifications to her; and her own disposition was not so
constituted as to diminish the evil effects of her lowly station.

She was a singular being, and, like me, inherited much of the peculiar
disposition of our father. Her countenance was all expression; her eyes
were not dark, but impenetrably deep; you seemed to discover space after
space in their intellectual glance, and to feel that the soul which was
their soul, comprehended an universe of thought in its ken. She was pale
and fair, and her golden hair clustered on her temples, contrasting its
rich hue with the living marble beneath. Her coarse peasant-dress, little
consonant apparently with the refinement of feeling which her face
expressed, yet in a strange manner accorded with it. She was like one of
Guido's saints, with heaven in her heart and in her look, so that when you
saw her you only thought of that within, and costume and even feature were
secondary to the mind that beamed in her countenance.

Yet though lovely and full of noble feeling, my poor Perdita (for this was
the fanciful name my sister had received from her dying parent), was not
altogether saintly in her disposition. Her manners were cold and repulsive.
If she had been nurtured by those who had regarded her with affection, she
might have been different; but unloved and neglected, she repaid want of
kindness with distrust and silence. She was submissive to those who held
authority over her, but a perpetual cloud dwelt on her brow; she looked as
if she expected enmity from every one who approached her, and her actions
were instigated by the same feeling. All the time she could command she
spent in solitude. She would ramble to the most unfrequented places, and
scale dangerous heights, that in those unvisited spots she might wrap
herself in loneliness. Often she passed whole hours walking up and down the
paths of the woods; she wove garlands of flowers and ivy, or watched the
flickering of the shadows and glancing of the leaves; sometimes she sat
beside a stream, and as her thoughts paused, threw flowers or pebbles into
the waters, watching how those swam and these sank; or she would set afloat
boats formed of bark of trees or leaves, with a feather for a sail, and
intensely watch the navigation of her craft among the rapids and shallows
of the brook. Meanwhile her active fancy wove a thousand combinations; she
dreamt "of moving accidents by flood and field"--she lost herself
delightedly in these self-created wanderings, and returned with unwilling
spirit to the dull detail of common life. Poverty was the cloud that veiled
her excellencies, and all that was good in her seemed about to perish from
want of the genial dew of affection. She had not even the same advantage as
I in the recollection of her parents; she clung to me, her brother, as her
only friend, but her alliance with me completed the distaste that her
protectors felt for her; and every error was magnified by them into crimes.
If she had been bred in that sphere of life to which by inheritance the
delicate framework of her mind and person was adapted, she would have been
the object almost of adoration, for her virtues were as eminent as her
defects. All the genius that ennobled the blood of her father illustrated
hers; a generous tide flowed in her veins; artifice, envy, or meanness,
were at the antipodes of her nature; her countenance, when enlightened by
amiable feeling, might have belonged to a queen of nations; her eyes were
bright; her look fearless.

Although by our situation and dispositions we were almost equally cut off
from the usual forms of social intercourse, we formed a strong contrast to
each other. I always required the stimulants of companionship and applause.
Perdita was all-sufficient to herself. Notwithstanding my lawless habits,
my disposition was sociable, hers recluse. My life was spent among tangible
realities, hers was a dream. I might be said even to love my enemies, since
by exciting me they in a sort bestowed happiness upon me; Perdita almost
disliked her friends, for they interfered with her visionary moods. All my
feelings, even of exultation and triumph, were changed to bitterness, if
unparticipated; Perdita, even in joy, fled to loneliness, and could go on
from day to day, neither expressing her emotions, nor seeking a
fellow-feeling in another mind. Nay, she could love and dwell with
tenderness on the look and voice of her friend, while her demeanour
expressed the coldest reserve. A sensation with her became a sentiment, and
she never spoke until she had mingled her perceptions of outward objects
with others which were the native growth of her own mind. She was like a
fruitful soil that imbibed the airs and dews of heaven, and gave them forth
again to light in loveliest forms of fruits and flowers; but then she was
often dark and rugged as that soil, raked up, and new sown with unseen
seed.

She dwelt in a cottage whose trim grass-plat sloped down to the waters of
the lake of Ulswater; a beech wood stretched up the hill behind, and a
purling brook gently falling from the acclivity ran through poplar-shaded
banks into the lake. I lived with a farmer whose house was built higher up
among the hills: a dark crag rose behind it, and, exposed to the north, the
snow lay in its crevices the summer through. Before dawn I led my flock to
the sheep-walks, and guarded them through the day. It was a life of toil;
for rain and cold were more frequent than sunshine; but it was my pride to
contemn the elements. My trusty dog watched the sheep as I slipped away to
the rendezvous of my comrades, and thence to the accomplishment of our
schemes. At noon we met again, and we threw away in contempt our peasant
fare, as we built our fire-place and kindled the cheering blaze destined to
cook the game stolen from the neighbouring preserves. Then came the tale of
hair-breadth escapes, combats with dogs, ambush and flight, as gipsey-like
we encompassed our pot. The search after a stray lamb, or the devices by
which we elude or endeavoured to elude punishment, filled up the hours of
afternoon; in the evening my flock went to its fold, and I to my sister.

It was seldom indeed that we escaped, to use an old-fashioned phrase, scot
free. Our dainty fare was often exchanged for blows and imprisonment. Once,
when thirteen years of age, I was sent for a month to the county jail. I
came out, my morals unimproved, my hatred to my oppressors encreased
tenfold. Bread and water did not tame my blood, nor solitary confinement
inspire me with gentle thoughts. I was angry, impatient, miserable; my only
happy hours were those during which I devised schemes of revenge; these
were perfected in my forced solitude, so that during the whole of the
following season, and I was freed early in September, I never failed to
provide excellent and plenteous fare for myself and my comrades. This was a
glorious winter. The sharp frost and heavy snows tamed the animals, and
kept the country gentlemen by their firesides; we got more game than we
could eat, and my faithful dog grew sleek upon our refuse.

Thus years passed on; and years only added fresh love of freedom, and
contempt for all that was not as wild and rude as myself. At the age of
sixteen I had shot up in appearance to man's estate; I was tall and
athletic; I was practised to feats of strength, and inured to the
inclemency of the elements. My skin was embrowned by the sun; my step was
firm with conscious power. I feared no man, and loved none. In after life I
looked back with wonder to what I then was; how utterly worthless I should
have become if I had pursued my lawless career. My life was like that of an
animal, and my mind was in danger of degenerating into that which informs
brute nature. Until now, my savage habits had done me no radical mischief;
my physical powers had grown up and flourished under their influence, and
my mind, undergoing the same discipline, was imbued with all the hardy
virtues. But now my boasted independence was daily instigating me to acts
of tyranny, and freedom was becoming licentiousness. I stood on the brink
of manhood; passions, strong as the trees of a forest, had already taken
root within me, and were about to shadow with their noxious overgrowth, my
path of life.

I panted for enterprises beyond my childish exploits, and formed
distempered dreams of future action. I avoided my ancient comrades, and I
soon lost them. They arrived at the age when they were sent to fulfil their
destined situations in life; while I, an outcast, with none to lead or
drive me forward, paused. The old began to point at me as an example, the
young to wonder at me as a being distinct from themselves; I hated them,
and began, last and worst degradation, to hate myself. I clung to my
ferocious habits, yet half despised them; I continued my war against
civilization, and yet entertained a wish to belong to it.

I revolved again and again all that I remembered my mother to have told me
of my father's former life; I contemplated the few relics I possessed
belonging to him, which spoke of greater refinement than could be found
among the mountain cottages; but nothing in all this served as a guide to
lead me to another and pleasanter way of life. My father had been connected
with nobles, but all I knew of such connection was subsequent neglect. The
name of the king,--he to whom my dying father had addressed his latest
prayers, and who had barbarously slighted them, was associated only with
the ideas of unkindness, injustice, and consequent resentment. I was born
for something greater than I was--and greater I would become; but
greatness, at least to my distorted perceptions, was no necessary associate
of goodness, and my wild thoughts were unchecked by moral considerations
when they rioted in dreams of distinction. Thus I stood upon a pinnacle, a
sea of evil rolled at my feet; I was about to precipitate myself into it,
and rush like a torrent over all obstructions to the object of my wishes--
when a stranger influence came over the current of my fortunes, and changed
their boisterous course to what was in comparison like the gentle
meanderings of a meadow-encircling streamlet.

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