« EelmineJätka »
because their fathers and grandfathers did so before them; without considering that they are thereby reechoing the watchword of infidelity, and strengthening the hands of the arch enemy of mankind himself.
I do not precisely recollect the words of this panegyric; but its tendency was to exalt the heathen character, the heathen genius, the heathen taste, and even the heathen morals, above those of the Christian world. He represented their mythology as having something in it of an inspiring and animating nature; and, looking up to the temple of Apollo, whose polished columns were richly illuminated by the lights beneath, the figure of the god himself being made more prominent by the disposal of the lights, he added, with a kind of affected fire, · And, in truth, if I must needs pay my adoration to blocks of wood and marble, I know not whether I should not be quite as well disposed to bestow them at yonder shrine, as to kneel before St. Antoine de la Barbé Salé, or le Bon St. Nicolas.'
oc' Hush !' said his sister at this bold speech : you are not required to make
these different divinities.'
“ In reply to this remark of his sister's, the count returned an answer by which, instead of retracting what he had before said, he ventured to implicate names infinitely more honourable and more dear to the real Christian than those before mentioned, yet with an ease and lightness of manner which might almost have led to the supposition that he spoke more from thoughtlessness than design.
“ Had my education been wisely directed to the study of eternal truths, instead of those follies to which my thoughts were exclusively devoted, I should undoubtedly have shewn my displeasure at the first intimation of that contempt of religion which the Count of Rheinswald evidently entertained, and have sought at once to cut off all intercourse with a character from which nothing but profligacy and violence could be expected; I should have expressed my dissatisfaction in some short and emphatic manner, and have allowed him no more of my attention. But while I was hesitating what reply to make, or whether I should let his blasphemous remark pass as if I had not heard it, since it was not addressed particularly to me--the representation commenced, and my attention was wholly drawn towards the stage.
“ The piece was a modern one, but composed after the manner of the ancients; and the scenes represented were such as might have been expected to have taken place in the vicinity of the temple of Apollo. The actors were good, or perhaps I was just in the disposition to think them so; and nothing was wanting, at least to my imagination, of appropriate robe or buskin, of choral song or solemn music, to render the illusion complete.
“During the interval which separated the acts, the Count of Rheinswald took occasion to express his pleasure, or to give his opinion ; his remarks always running in favour of the ancients, and towards the depreciation of the moderns: from which he meant me to infer, as it afterwards appeared, that all taste and genius were lost on earth under the depressing influence of superstition, under which epithet he evidently meant to include the whole system of Christianity. Consider,' said he, with some pomposity, which I at that time thought exceedingly fine, “the poor and low trash which we find in our modern comedies, and the tinselled ornaments of our stage. What are our lower orders to learn from the products of the present degenerate age, in which genius is cramped by priestcraft, and the human mind depressed by the horrors of superstition? But it was not so with the ancients: the unfettered mind of man was then left at liberty to soar to the highest summit of human perfection. Where do we now behold those heroic characters exhibited in the Agamemnon and the Eumenides of Æschylus? or the Antigone and the Electra of Sophocles? Where shall we find, among our modern authors, or where, indeed, among any authors except those of the ancient Greeks and Romans, that exquisite sense of the beautiful, those tender touches of the pathetic, that high estimation of human virtue, that harmony and perfection of versification, or that pure taste for the graceful and the sublime, which characterize their admirable performances ?'
« Such were the remarks with which my new acquaintance filled up every interval of the representation; sometimes apologizing for entertaining me, as a female,
with such subjects; and then, as the memorable Sir Philip Sydney would have expressed himself on a like occasion, chastising his own words, and apologizing for his apologies in not having continually borne in mind that I was no ordinary female, but one who united an understanding and an education which few men could boast, with all the natural charms of the softer sex.
“ It would have been well for me on this occasion if some good friend could have whispered in my ear, that there might be other reasons for a young man wishing to please a lady besides her beauty or accomplishments, and reasons not altogether so flattering to her personal feelings. However, as no judicious friend was near me to suggest this idea, and as my own vanity was not likely to do so, the insinuating address of the count was left to produce all the effects of which it was capable. And although, as soon as the amusement of this classical evening was concluded, my parents took me between them, and brought me back to our apartments in the town, yet I thought of little else till I went to bed but the new acquaintances I had made; and if I dreamed that our villa in the Schwartzwald was converted into the court of the Thunderer on the summit of Olympus, there would be no great occasion for wonder, considering the fantastical nature of thought during those hours in which the heavier parts of our composition are enjoying their necessary repose.
“As I have here given a very circumstantial account of my
first evening at Swetzinghen, I shall not trouble you, my friend, with any very particular detail of the few ensuing days which we passed at this place; all of which were devoted to such amusements as are usual in the vicinity of a princely establishment, and especially on occasions of festivity. Suffice it to say, that, whether walking, riding, dancing, singing, or what not, I was continually attended by the count, and that with so much assiduity, that my father, though by no means of a suspicious temper, yet having heard from report the infidel principles of the young man, began at length to take alarm: and as his own affairs at court were not yet terminated, he conceived the sudden resolution of sending me home with
mother. As my father did not at that time acquaint me with the real cause of this unexpected step, stating only that my mother was suffering much from the fatigue of too public a life, I could not possibly plead any motive for desiring to prolong my stay. I even fancied that my father had not observed the attentions of the count. I therefore obeyed in silence, but departed in an illhumour, that evidently gained strength during the whole of our journey, which was made with considerable expedition.
“ It may be asked, Had I become attached to the count? And I think I may reply that I had not: but he had rendered himself necessary to me by his unwearied attentions; he had soothed my vanity with his honeyed words; and I found a vacancy in my heart, when separated from him, which nothing but religion could have properly filled up: but, alas! I had no religion.
“I have no doubt that I behaved very ill during the whole of our progress: and immediately on our arrival at home, I hastened from the presence of my mother, in order to indulge my wayward sorrow in the solitude of my chamber. It was evening, and the last
of the declining sun scarcely gilded the highest summits of the mountains, leaving their lower parts in a dusky shade. My imagination had wandered back to the gay scenes we had left, and my tears were flowing fast at the recollection of pleasures which I thought might never recur, when my mother entered my room in evident agitation, holding an open letter in her hand. I was alarmed; and on entreating to be told the contents of the letter, she informed me that it was from England, and contained an account of the sudden death of my sister, with the additional information that Mr. Gisborne, with the orphan, would probably be with us in a few weeks.
“ There are perhaps few feelings which can be conceived more painful to a mind of any sensibility, than to be suddenly and violently awakened from the indulgence of imaginary and selfish sorrows by the occurrence of real afflictions. To this moment I retain a lively recollection of the agony and horror with which I received this intelligence. It seemed that death was brought home to me in the person of my sister, who was only eleven years older than myself. And the effect of this
stroke was heightened by my mother's sad exclamations -- Oh!
my poor husband! your poor father! what will he feel when he hears this news, for he loved his daughter, and often spoke not only of seeing her again, but of bringing her and her child home to his house, when her affairs should be properly arranged after the death of the old lady? How will he blame himself for delaying this so long! How will his tender heart be cut! Oh, Ellen! Ellen! how shall we break the news of this melancholy catastrophe to your dear father?'
Wanting comfort myself, and being, therefore, in no condition to console my mother, I remained weeping, till she quitted the room, leaving me to my own sad reflections.
“ While I had been conversing on this melancholy subject, the shades of evening were become deeper, leaving the outlines of the mountains scarcely visible on the horizon, and presenting a just emblem of the darkness which reigned throughout my benighted soul. I now found indeed the fallacy of all those false lights which had been placed before my mind. Whence was any consolation to be derived on the near contemplation of death? for death, as I before said, seemed to have drawn nigh to me in the person of my sister. How, I say, was any.consolation to be derived, when the mind was drawn to the consideration of death, of eternity, of everlasting joy or sorrow, from all those studies which hitherto had wholly and solely occupied my attention? or from those images and sentiments which had hitherto mingled themselves with all my thoughts and actions? Whither were fled all those inspiring passages of ancient poetry which I used to hold up as the standard of real excellence? They seemed now to present to my mind only a dark and confused mass of ideas, not a little resembling the pompous images which sometimes present themselves to the mental eye of him who sleeps under the influence of fever. And not only did the more fanciful passages of the heathen writers assume at this time a perplexing appearance: but when I recalled the heroic and haughty virtues of their most excellent characters, their love of vengeance, their unbending príde, their insolence of speech and cruelty of action, my thoughts became.even still more confused; insomuch that I could