« EelmineJätka »
HISTORY OF AMELIA HARLEY.
Iritten by Herself.
Was the only daughter, and sole delight, of the vicar of B
small village in Oxfordshire, whose income was barely sufficient to support his family, and the dignity of his profession; and which was yet considerably reduced by a benevolent disposition, and unbounded charity; which, however commendable in the pluralist, and opulent, in him bordered on want of consideration. Under my father's tuition, I spent my early years in imbibing every wholesome precept, and cultivating every amiable virtue. I applied myself to literary pursuits with sincere pleasure, and unwearied assiduity; and, before I was fourteen years of age, was mistress of every useful and elegant accomplishment that learning can confer on female genius. Nor did my dear mother neglect to accompany my father's instructions with a necessary insight into every branch of domestic economy. I could use the needle and the pen with equal applause; though, to confess the truth, I regarded the drudgery of houshold employ as derogatory to my genius, and far beneath the notice of one who was conscious of her own superior acquirements.
Happy days! Could I arrest the hand of Time, and recal your past delight!
My parents now thought it necessary to compleat the list of my accomplishments, by sending me to learn to dance. To,a dancing-school I was accordingly sent, once a week, at W
our nearest market town ; and as music, of which, under my mother's care, I had already become a competent mistress, has a near affinity with dancing, I soon made a rapid progress in that art which fashion has deemed necessary to confer grace, and to excite admiration; and was complimented by my master, and by every one whom curiosity brought to see our performances, as the genteelest figure, and the best dancer, among my companions.
This heart, which has since felt so many throbs of anguish, used, I can well remember, to exult with joy, at the welcome breath of adulation, and to believe that every tongue must be sincere in praising those accomplishments, which a vanity natural to our sex taught me to think myself possessed of in an eminent degree.
Among those who frequented our weekly assembly, was the young and elegant Sir William B-, whose father, having lately died, had left him, at the age of twenty, sole manager of his own affairs. This gentleman sat whole hours looking earnestly at me while I was dancing; and I frequently observed him discoursing with my master, apparently in my favour, as his eyes constantly endeavoured to meet mine on those occasions. At length, he one day ventured to solicit
my hand as a partner, and complimented me on the great taste I always displayed in the choice of my dances, as well as the elegant precision with which I performed them.
My little heart fluttered with fear and pleasure at his evident partiality; while my companions, who were most of them older than myself, were incapable of concealing the envy of their dispositions, which they failed not to signify by the most malicious sneers, and affected whispers to each other.
During the dance, Sir William tried every method that art, and an acquaintance with the world, which he had early acquired, could invent, to engage my attention and approbation. His praises of my person were oblique, and by comparison." He was too well practised in deceit, not to know, that direct flattery would shock the simplicity of innocence, and of course defeat his intentions.
As I always walked home with my father's servant, who was sent on purpose to attend me, Sir William begged that he might have the pleasure of waiting on me home himself; as he was desirous of communicating something of importance to my father, and intended, in consideration of the universal esteem in which he was held, and his exemplary piety, to present him to a benefice which every day was expected to become vacant by the death of the incumbent. I thanked him very cordially for his benevolent intentions respecting my father; but requested he would take some other opportunity of seeing him. In the most humble and persuasive manner, he repeated his request to be permitted to accompany me; a blush of the deepest scarlet diffused itself over my face; and as he was no stranger to the language of the countenance, he immediately seized my hand, and pressing it in the most respectful manner to his lips, placed it under his arm ; and from the time of our setting out, till we reached the vicarage, I hardly knew how I walked, so entirely was I overcome by fear, shame, vanity, and adulation.
My worthy father received Sir William, with a civility, which is better felt than expressed; not the effect of form, but of sentiment: and Sir William having complimented him on his very amiable daughter, as he called me, explained the pretended motive of this intrusion, requesting his acceptance of the living of w on the incumbent's demise.
With all the gratitude of a man who felt for his own wants, but more for those of his family, my father thanked him again and again. My mother was overcome with his goodness, and pressed him to stay and partake of our humble meal; to which he readily assented, though his seat was at some distance, and he had neither servant nor carriage with him.
Such is the turpitude of vice, and the meanness to which it will condescend, that for the gratification of an unruly passion, by the destruc,
tion of innocence, and the murder of domestic peace, it will submit to any difficulty, and encounter all opposition.
Sir William staid late, and appeared to my father as a prodigy of virtue and regularity. When he talked of or to me, it was always with the most distant though pointed respect; yet his eyes continually wandered over me, and occasioned a confusion which I could neither prevent por conceal.
From this period I must date my misfortunes...... And here let me review the former part of my life, as a delightful vision ; but hide me, gracious Heaven! from the recollection of what succeeds...... Alas! it is not possible. This heart, with all its sensibility, and all its sufferings, has still proved too stubborn to break, or misfortune would long ere this have produced that happy effect, and screened me from the daily reproaches of my internal monitor!
I now began to struggle with the first impulse of a real affection. My heart was naturally susceptible of tender impressions, and the vanity of my parents too strongly co-operated with my own, to leave me room to doubt that Sir William was become my captive. What we wish, we often rashly believe. He met me again and again at the dance; renewed every art, proceeded with unwearied assiduity, and perfect caution; frequently attended me home, and established his apparent sincerity beyond the distrust of youthful innocence, and unsuspecting honour.
My parents, from their natural partiality for me, and their extreme credulity, encouraged the baronet's visits, and gave us frequent opportunities of being alone. Those moments were not ill employed for his purpose. The softest expressions, and the most persuasive eloquence, were poured out with all the emphatic looks of genuine affection. I
ill fitted, at fifteen, to combat consummate hypocrisy, and deep-laid design, and confessed my heart was his, before I well knew that I had one to bestow.
My parents, as well as my own regard, encouraged the deceit: they were continually talking of young men of fortune, who had matched far more beneath them. The ashes of my ancestors were raked up, and some names were recorded of equal if not superior rank to that of Sir William. Besides, the education I had received, might in their opinion, well justify the sacrifice of additional fortune, to a man who did not want it. These were the delusive arguments that lulled the vigilance of parental attention, and rivetted my fatal attachment.
Sir William, when I had once confessed my affection, burst into the most extravagant raptures : he called himself the happiest of mortals; and declared, if I would condescend to be immediately his, his life and fortune should be entirely devoted to me. He then intreated me to set out with him to Scotland that very evening; exclaimed against the seVerity of our laws, that rendered such an expedition necessary to minors, and painted the prospect of our future bliss in such alluring colours, that I-too fatally fell into the snare, and at length consented to a private elopement.
Eternal Father! forgive me that I so easily beca ne the victim of vanity and credulity; that I proved undutiful to the most affectionate of parents, and plunged both them and myself into irreparable quin:
That very night, Sir William's carriage waited at a small distance from my father's house, to receive us. I left my home at midnight, without the least idea of future remorse. Those only who are practiced in the arts of seduction, can imagine the apparent fondness with which I was received; Sir William ordered the coach to drive on, and protested he should soon be the happiest of men, by his union with me; and would endeavour to make my felicity exceed that of every other woman, as much, if possible, as my
deserts. For two days we drove with inconceivable speed; till at length he informed me we were on the borders of Scotland, and that he had previously dispatched a servant for a minister to perform the ceremony.
During our journey, he had behaved with the most affectionate respect; neither alarming me by his indifference, nor by attempting the least indecorum. Night arrived, when we drove up to an inn of mean appearance, which he told me was the principal in that village which is well known to matrimonial adventurers.
I was seized with an universal tremor; and my agitation was 50 excessive that I could with difficulty support myselfparents, my home, and my relations, all presented themselves to my imagination; and the idea of their sufferings gave a poignancy to my distress.
Sir William did not fail, on this occasion, to allay, by the most soothing expressions the tumult of my spirits, but in vain.
The ceremony was performed while I was in this state, by a person who appeared to be a clergyman.What happened afterwards I know not: but judge my surprise and despair, when in the morning I found myself alone, and learned that I was in a remote part of Cornwall.
My youth, and apparent innocence, interested the mistress of the house in my favour; she exclaimed bitterly against my betrayer, informed me that a villain had been bribed to assume the dress of the sacred profession, and that Sir William had set out early that morning with his whole retinue. I could hear no more. I fell into strong convulsions; and, in all the distraction and despair that shame and misery could occasion, burst at intervals into unmeaning exclamations, and wild expressions.
For twelve days, I did not possess reason enough to satisfy the constant enquiries of my hostess, by informing her who I was, and from whence I came. The utmost violence of grief, unless it totally ends our being, will however, in time, subside into settled despondency. By degrees I waked from my delirium, and begged to see my parents, to whose residence I was now capable of directing. In consequence of this information, the arrival of my father was in a few days announced; and, at his sight, I was again overwhelmed with shame, remorse, and despair.
My father, the tears gushing from his eyes, ran to embrace me; and by every parental endearment, tried to console my affliction. He told me that Heaven would forgive me, and that he would not be more inexorable. But what was the renewed horror of my situation, when he ventured, after supposing me sufficiently recovered, to inform me that my fond, my affectionate mother, was no more. Alas! I had then too much reason to fear what was afterwards fully confirmed, that my con. duct had been the fatal cause of her untimely death. I relapsed into insensibility, and loss of reason; talked with my mother as if she had been present, and solemnly conjured Sir William not murder
My distress drew tears from every eye; and though I at times recovered some small share of reason, the sight of my father constantly plunged me into my former situation. Upwards of a month passed in misery of this kind, before I was judged capable of attending my father to our little habitation. He reminded me that I was now his only consolation ; and kindly taking upon himself the whole blame of my misfortune, in permitting the addresses of a person so much our superior, endeavoured to persuade me I should yet be happy.
Good old man! thy fond and paternal blandishments rendered life tolerable; but happiness is a sensation which I can only experience beyond the grave!
For five years I superintended the small arrangements of his family, and in all that time would not behold the face of a former acquaintance. At the expiration of this period, a fit of apoplexy snatched him to a better world, to receive the reward of his virtues; and left my heart to bleed anew for its misfortunes.” As I was sole executrix, I turned my little fortune into money, amounting to about 6001. and having placed it in the funds, I retired to a village at some distance, where I determined to seclude myself from the world, and devote my future days to the service of Heaven. For though I was still in the bloom of my youth, and grief had not wholly effaced my former beauty, I religiously ad. hered to my resolution, of admitting no suitor, though several wished to solicit my hand; being firmly persuaded, that marriage without innocence is at best but legal prostitution, and that none can be happy under that sacred institution whose lives have not been uniformly spent in virtue, prudence, and honour. In this retirement I have lived near twenty years: books have been my only earthly consolation ; and as the occurrences must be few in such a situation, their recital would of consequence be uninteresting.
I have heard that Sir William was married some years ago to a lady of great fortune, who shortly after eloped with his footman; and that he never heard my name mentioned, without the strongest indications of sorrow and remorse.
A constitution naturally good, I feel daily giving way to the secret attacks of fate; but, as my life has been marked with misery, I can resign it without pain; and, I hope, without fear. May my fate be a warning to parents, not to be flattered by the attentions of opulence to their offspring; and to the young, the innocent, and the gay, carefully to avoid the snares of temptation ; lest they equal my guilt, and inear my punishment !