« AnteriorContinuar »
ART. II. Letters from Elizabeth Sophia de Valiere to her Friend Louifa Hortenfia de Canteleu. By Madam Riccoboni. Tranflated from the French by Mr. Maceuen. 12mo. 2 Vols. Becket. 1772.
HE public has been, for fome years, indebted to this agreeable writer, for feveral ingenious performances, and for none more entertaining than the prefent letters. They are conceived with much art and fenfibility; they abound with excellent observations on manners and life; and they dif cover a penetration which can never be exerted but by thofe who have mixed much in fociety. The characters the draws are fufficiently pointed and diftinguifhed; and the incidents The produces have their foundation in nature, and charm by the furprize they excite. The mind, moved and agitated, is conscious of the impreffions fhe meant to communicate. We experience all the little fufpicions, all the tender anxieties, all the bewitching uneafinefs, attendant on love.
While the conduct and execution of the piece deferve, in general, to be highly commended, there are epifodical or digreffive narratives in it, which are extremely interefting; and of these we may mention the ftory of the Marquis de Monglas, as an example of that delicate fkill and addrefs that are fo rarely exhibited by the novelist.
This nobleman was unexceptionable in his character, but bordered on his fixtieth year. After having devoted a confiderable part of his life to the profeffion of arms, and the fervice, of his King, the idea of enlarging his mind induced him to vifit foreign countries, and he spent eighteen years in his travels. Meanwhile the Count d'Alby, his friend and the partner of his campaigns, had married, and had become the father of feveral children. The eldest of his fons was deftined to fucceed him; the fecond was a Knight of Malta; and the third was intended for the church. He had alfo a daughter, and he had determined to bury her in an abby. It was in vain that fhe had wit, beauty, and every amiable accomplishment; and it was in vain that the difcovered a reluctance to the aufterities of a religious order. This was the ftate of the Count's affairs when the Marquis came to pay him a vifit at his feat
Monf. de Monglas, fays Madam Riccoboni, beheld with grief the management of the Count d'Alby, in regard to his children; he could not fee without indignation, the cruel and unjuk difference, which a father dared to put between creatures entrusted by providence, and the laws of fociety, to his care, under the obligation of the ftricteft impartiality, which Nature herself feems to have planted in the breaft of every parent. He knew mankind too well to wonder at their habitual inconfiftency; he knew how much their manners and principles are at a variance, and that by an odd compound of
wifdom and folly, men who are capable of enacting juft laws, can at the fame time adopt cuftoms in downright violation of them.
• Monf. de Monglas obferved Mademoiselle d'Alby's deep melancholy; and was much affected with it. The liberty ufually allowed in the country giving him frequent opportunities of converfing with her, he discovered great qualities in her, and every day his compat fion for her increased: her youth, the graces of her perfon, the candour of her mind, the noble fimplicity of her expreffions, the confidence the repofed in him, her refpect for her fevere parents, whofe cruelty drew tears from her eyes, and her modeft complaints, every moment augmented the concern which the Marquis began to take in the fortune of an amiable and diftreffed young lady. The natural fenfibility of his temper had often opened his heart to the feducing charms of a paffion, which age and continual application to ftudy, made him then little fufceptible of; but if he no longer followed women upon fenfual motives, he still loved them; preferred their friendship to that of his own fex, and laughed at the idle declamations of thofe four philofophers, who have prefumed to call them the quick fands of wisdom and true happiness,
Tender compaffion was not a tranfient fentiment, fill lefs a fruit, lefs emotion in the generous foul of Monf. de Monglas. Whilft he pitied Mademoiselle d'Alby, he confidered the means of making her Independent and happy: feveral occurred to his thoughts, yet none but what were attended with difficulty in the execution; he feared to offend his friend; the pride of Henrietta's father might stand in the way of his defigns; pride is often an hindrance to beneficence: the Marquis had no relation to propofe for her: as he had been abfent fo many years, he knew nobody whofe addreffes he could promote by fuch arrangements as are calily made by the rich and generous. However the season was falt advancing, and Henrietta must foon return to her convent. As his heart was bent on ferving the young lady, Monf. de Monglas at laft determined on the only project, which but a little before he thought himself fecure he never would have embraced. At first he thought of communicating it to the Count d'Alby, but his delicacy induced him to confult Henrietta: he wanted to be fure of the difpofition of her mind, and to undertake nothing without knowing whether he would approve the fcheme. It was fo advantageous to the family, that a violent and tyrannical father might probably ufe the fame authority to connect her with the world, which he had abufed in order to banish her from it.
One evening, when the young Henrietta, from a terras that commanded a view of the fea, was admiring the beauty of the fetting fun, Monf. de Mouglas, after fome converfation about indifferent matters, led her to a distance from her mother's women, and speaking low enough to be heard by her alone: may I prefume, Mademoifelle, faid he, to thew you what a concern I take in your happiness, how much I am affected with your prefent melancholy fituation? I have long thought how to deliver you from a painful restraint, restore you to the world, and to yourself. Why fhould common opinion, custom, and the laws of decorum, oblige me to propose to you a ftate of dependance, when I would with to free you from your prefent one. The propofal I make, I confefs, may not procure you
all the pleafures you may promife yourself from a change in your condition, at your age; but it will be attended with thefe adyantages. You will not be obliged to take the vow of an eternal retreat, and you will have the hopes left you of recovering one day your entire liberty.
The countenance of Mademoiselle d'Alby was overspread with blufhes; fhe appeared furprised, amazed, and caft her eyes on the ground: accustomed to look on her fate, as inevitable, the hardly ventured to give her heart up to this firft ray of hope. But being preffed to anfwer, fhe hcfitated, fighed, and with a fearful and faultering accent, do you imagine, Sir, do you, faid the, imagine you fhall be able to alter my father's refolution?
Yes, Mademoifelle, replied Monf. de Monglas, if mine do not difplease you. My fortune and his friendship affure me of a ready compliance on his part; I would have asked and fhould have ob tained it, but I was in doubt as to yours. But what do I offer you, my dear Henrietta? Your cruel defliny reduces you to the choice of two fituations: one of thefe is terrible, the other little fatisfactory: a gloomy, an eternal retreat, or the hand of an old man, whofe age and temper of mind, keep him at a distance from thofe vain amufements, which youth is fo fond of. Liberty, eafe, and peace, are the only advantages in my power to promife or procure you. A fmall number of men of fenfe, and decent women, will form your fociety; in this narrow but felect circle, free to cultivate the gifts you hold from Nature, and to enlarge your ideas, you will spend thofe years which are commonly devoted to pleasures, in fitting yourfelf for that time of life, when their relish being paft, their former votaries find nothing in themfelves capable of fupplying their lofs, or to fill up those moments they once spent in fearching after them, in fond expectation, but rarely in the full fruition of them.
I am not acquainted with the pleasures you mention, faid Henrietta, but if my father grants me the favour to live in his houfe, the amusements it affords will be fufficient for my happiness; and if I altered my condition, I fhould not wish for any other. Very well, Mademoiselle, replied Monf. de Monglas, I may then flatter myfelf with feeing you happy; it is the moft ardent with of my heart: my conduct will prove to you how difinterested I am. Condefcend to direct my measures, to lay your commands upon me: Shall I fpeak, Mademoiselle? or fhall I leave you time to examine my propofal, to confult yourself, and to determine upon the choice you may think proper to make?
Henrietta's choice was already fixed. Her extreme reluctance to a monaftic life, did not allow her to reflect on the age of the Marquis her education and innocence fhut her eyes to the inconve niencies of fo difproportioned an union and her modeft, but decifive anfwer, affured Monf. de Monglas of her confent and gratitude, That very evening, being called into her father's clofet, he there with joy received orders to prepare herfelf to give her hand to the Marquis the celebration of the marriage was fixed for the beginning of the enfuing week.
Madam de Terville with two more relations of the Count d'Alby, arrived at Chazel the moment whep, he was leading his daughter to
the chapel of the Chateau. Thefe ladies, furprised and delighted with an event which promised a day of diverfion, were very forward to compliment Henrietta, and attended her to the altar. Notwithftanding the difference of their age, Monf. de Monglas and his young spouse made no unbecoming figure in the eyes of the small number of friends prefent at the ceremony.
The Marquis, who was of a good height, and perfectly well made, added to the elegance of his perfon, the mott regular and agreeable features. The evennefs of his temper, his fimple, uniform, and regular way of life, preferved them ftill in all their beauty. His face did not wear the traces of that premature decay of nature, fo early engraven on the countenance of thofe thoughtless young men, who before they are arrived at the time when they might enjoy life, appear already on the decline of their days. The looks of the Marquis, fixed on the amiable girl who was now become his wife, expreffed that pure and lively joy, infpired by the pleasure of obliging. Mademoiselle d'Alby difcovered that affecting air which flows from gratitude. This fentiment caufes the most delicious fenfations in the heart, at that happy age when pride comes not in to file it, or when we have not yet learned to leffen the value of favours received, by humbling reflections, cr by a rigid fcrutiny into the motives of that beneficence which we are become the object of.
Part of the day was fpent in gay rural diverfions; but towards the evening, a gloomy melancholy overfpread the countenance of the young Marchionefs. She had been walking out alone, with Madam de Neuillant, one of her father's relations, who arrived that morning this lady was become, within fix months, the widow of an old officer, infirm, tyrannical, of an amorous difpofition, jealous, and capricious: the had purchased the fortune the then enjoyed, by eight years loathing, vexation, and conftraint. More compaffionate than prudent, fhe could not help pitying Madam de Monglas, and difcovering an officious commiferation of her future condition. She roufed the fear and curiofity of the young bride, and was indifcreet enough to add to the one, by fatisfying the other. Her too circumftantial defcriptions alarmed the Marchionefs; all her gay hopes of future happiness vanished in an inftant; a horrid ftate of fubjection, with all its dreadful confequences, continual importunities, unavoidable quarrels, odious fufpicions; no peace, no tranquillity. What a frightful profpect! Why did not the know this before! She repented, wept, afflicted herself immoderately every inftant redoubled her terMadam d'Alby and Madam de Terville could not remove her fears; and when they led her to the nuptial chamber, all their efforts to calm her troubled mind, could only draw from her a promife to govern herself, to conceal her grief, and not offend Monf. de Monglas, by letting him fee her fruitless and difobliging regret.
Madam d'Alby was fcarce gone out, when Henrietta, forgetting the promise fhe had just made her, rofe precipitately, and haftily throwing on her gown, was preparing to quit the room, the inftant Monf. de Monglas entered. She threw herfelf trembling on a couch; he fat down by her, looked on her fome time in filence, and feeing her palenefs, perceiving trouble and fear in her eyes yet moistened with her tears, he took her by the hand, preffed it, kiffed it, and in an ac
cent of tenderness and emotion; take comfort, Madam, faid he, take comfort for ever. You fhall not purchafe by a difagreeabie complaifance, the eafy fituation wherein I have now placed you. In marrying you, I was not urged by the defire of poffeffing a beautiful young woman, but by the defire of making a valuable one happy. Difmifs your fears, I wave my privilege as husband: your happiness and mine require it. The ftruggle is doubtless violent. How hard to reprefs the emotions which this moment raifes! Your charms-an acquired right!-But by yielding to this impulfe I Thould prepare the way to long and bitter repentance. At my years, love is accompanied with reilleffnefs, and with pain! the certainty of not being able to pleafe, carries a cruel reflection to the heart; diftruft walks hand in hand, and frightful jealousy treads upon its heels. Soon, tormented by fad fufpicions, we afflict, we offend the object of our love, and the caufe of our difquiet; we make her as unhappy, and more to be pitied than ourfelves! no, my lovely Henrietta, the title of husband, fo neceflary to give a fanction to my regard for you in the eyes of the world, and to make you partake in my fortune, fhall never induce me to trouble the sweet tranquillity
your days. View in your husband, a tender father, an indulgent friend I have refcued you from oppreffion and tyranny look on my ÷ houfe as a fanctuary, where peace and liberty await you; remember, when you shall come to inhabit it, the difinterested motive which engaged me to make you mistress of it; be it your care to make it agreeable to yourself and to me; condescend to frew fome flowers on the winter of my life; treat with kindness a man capable of preferring you to himself; of fparing you the importunate proofs of tenderness; of refifting the powerful impulfe of his fenfes; of extinguifhing in your prefence, a flame, that glows perhaps with the more ardour, as it draws nearer the period of its extinction. Yes, my dear Henrietta, I facrifice all my defires to you; from this moment, I adopt the fentiments of a father for you, and find myself happy in the confideration that they will make your duty lefs irkfome, your obligations more easy to be difcharged, and for ever remove from both of us the least degree of mifunderstanding or distaste.
The more Madam de Neuillant's imprudent difcourfe had alarmed Henrietta, and the more terrible it had made her husband appear, the more agreeable was the furprife, which this fpeech, fo capable of erafing its fad impreffion, excited.-Tenderness and delight, called forth tears of comfort and joy, which bathed her face and bofom. You, my father! You my friend! You Sir! repeated fhe, throwing herself into the arms of Monf. de Monglas, and preffing him to her breast with transport: Oh! cried fhe, may my affiduities, my attentive friendship, my refpect, my gratitude, convey every moment, into the foul of my generous friend, all that pleafure with which his goodness has filled mine. Monf. de Monglas spent the remaining part of the night in acquainting the Marchionefs with the plan of life he had chalked out for himself. All the amufements confiftent with good breeding, decorum, and family happiness, entered into this plan formed for their common felicity. He made her fenfible, but with caution and delicacy, how much fhe ought to fear the expofing to ridicule, a man who, without the allurement of a tranfient