Imagens das páginas

formed another with Mr. Thomas Day, Dr. Darwin, to whom he introduced himself through the medium of some mechanical invention which he had borrowed from the doctor, Mr. Keir, of birmingham, Doctor Small, and some others: but of all these, Day was his intimate, and indeed his bosom friend.

Of persons not actually insane, Day seems to have been one of the most extravagant characters that England, fertile in oddities, has produced. His eccentricities (we use the mildest word) have been made known to the public by a lively account of him in Miss Seward's Life of Dr. Darwin. The chief distinction of his character seems to have been a mixture of 'mauvaise honte' and savage pride. He neither would nor could act like other people. The accomplishments and manners which he did not possess and could not attain, he not only despised but proscribed; and in his indignation against modern female manners, his horror of modern female education, and a certain theory of non-resistance, and passive obedience, which he had laid down for the lady whom he was to honour with his hand, he took two girls out of the Foundling Hospital, intending to educate them as wives for self and friend, in blissful innocence and ignorance, a contempt of folly and finery, and an implicit submission to all his fancies. The one was called Sabrina after the Severn, and Sidney-after Algernon Sidney; the other was Lucretia-we forget what. This fine plan utterly failed, at least so far as regarded poor Mr. Day. Lucretia was turned off for stupidity; but she, it seems, married a decent tradesman, and had talents enough to make a good wife and mother. Sabrina was more docile and more handsome, and, perhaps, Mr. Day might have married her, but he took some disgust at the sleeves of a certain gown which the young lady one day put on, and Sabrina subsequently married Mr. Bicknell, a lawyer, a friend of Day's, and who indeed, Miss Seward says, was a partner in the original venture. Mr. Edgeworth, however, asserts, that Mr. Day took both the girls for his own use, in order to have a better chance of success; though he admits that he discarded all thoughts of marrying Sabrina on account of some toilette error, which Mr. Edgeworth relates with a grave deference to his friend's crack-brained absurdities very amusing and characteristic of both.

Mr. Day had by this time been attached to Sabrina. She had now grown up, and, no longer a child, was entitled by her manners and appearance to the appellation of a young lady. Mr. Day took great pains to cultivate her understanding, and still more to mould her mind and disposition to his own views and pursuits. His letters to me at this period were full of little anecdotes of her progress, temper, and conduct I had not formerly thought, that she was sufficiently cultivated,


or of a sufficiently vigorous understanding, to be his companion. I knew also, that whoever should become the wife of Mr. Day must be content to live in perfect retirement; to give up her taste to his; to discuss every subject of every day's occurrence with logical accuracy, to be totally indifferent to all the luxuries and to some of the comforts of opulent life. To balance these sacrifices, she would find herself united to a man of undeviating morality, sound sense, much knowledge, and much celebrity; a companion never deficient in agreeable or instructive conversation, of unbounded generosity, of great good-nature; a philanthropist in the most extensive, and the most exalted sense of the word: in short, a man who would put it in her power to do good to every body beneath her, provided she could scorn the silly fashions of those above her. Sabrina was, as to many of these circumstances, well suited to Mr Day; but she was too young and too artless, to feel the extent of that importance, which my friend annexed to trifling concessions or resistance to fashion, particularly with respect to female dress. He certainly was never more loved by any woman, than he was by Sabrina ; and I do not think, that he was insensible to the preference, with which she treated him; nor do I believe, that any woman was to him ever personally more agreeable.

From his letters at this time i was persuaded that he would marry her immediately; but a very trifling circumstance changed his intention. He had left Sabrina at the house of a friend under strict injunctions as to some peculiar fancies of his own; in particular, some restrictions as to her dress. She neglected, forgot, or undervalued something, which was not, I believe, clearly defined. She did, or she did not, wear certain long sleeves, and some handkerchief, which had been the subject of his dislike, or of his liking; and he, considering this circumstance as a criterion of her attachment, and as a proof of her want of strength of mind, quitted her for ever! The circumstance of this singular transaction and determination I learned from the gentleman at whose house they happened. Mr. Day, at the moment, wrote me a letter, explaining to me the feelings and reasoning which decided him to give up, from a motive apparently so trifling, a scheme upon which he bad bestowed so much time and labour; a scheme which he had recurred to after every disappointment; and which, at last, from the surprising improvement that hope had wrought in Sabrina's mind and manners, promised him a companion, peculiarly pleasing to him in her person, devoted to him by gratitude and habit, and, I believe, by affection. Mr. Day's reasons for breaking off this attachment proved to my understanding, that, with his peculiarities, he judged well for his own happiness; but I felt, that, in the same situation, I could not have acted as he had done.'-vol. i. pp. 337-340.

[ocr errors]

Sabrina had a fair escape; for with such notions of female manners as the above story supposes, and with what his friend Edgeworth calls Mr. Day's deep-rooted prejudices in favour of a savage life,' (p. 198) she would have lived very uncomfortably with him, instead of marrying, as she did, a man of sense and talents,


and becoming an amiable mother of a family, and a useful and respectable member of society.

Though Mr. Edgeworth-speaking of his friend in contrast to himself-represents him as not being of a very amorous turn, yet he appears to have done his best towards getting married; he proposed to Edgeworth's sister; to Miss Honora Sneyd, who was afterwards Mr. Edgeworth's third wife; to Miss Elizabeth Sneyd, afterwards Mr. Edgeworth's fourth wife; to say nothing of Sabrina, Lucretia, and other charmers who may have escaped Mr. Edgeworth's notice ;-and finally he was married, by the prescription of Doctor Small, to Miss Milnes of Yorkshire, who seems to have realized the very beau ideal of Day's fancy. Mr. Edgeworth's account of this couple is not unamusing.


My wife and I went to see the new married couple at Hampstead. It was the depth of winter; the ground was covered with snow, and to our great surprise we found Mrs. Day walking with her husband on the heath, wrapped up in a frieze cloak, and her feet well fortified with thick shoes. We had always heard that Mrs. Day was particularly delicate; but now she gloried in rude health, or rather was proud of having followed her husband's advice about her health-advice which was in this respect undoubtedly excellent.

I never saw any woman so entirely intent upon accommodating herself to the sentiments, and wishes, and will of a husband. Notwithstanding this disposition there still was a never-failing flow of discussion between them. From the deepest political investigation to the most frivolous circumstance of daily life, Mr. Day found something to descant upon; and Mrs. Day was nothing loth to support upon every sub> ject an opinion of her own; thus combining, in an unusual manner, independence of sentiment, and the most complete matrimonial obedience. In all this there may be something at which even a friend might smile; but in the whole of their conduct there was nothing which the most malignant enemy could condemn.

When Day proposed to Miss Elizabeth Sneyd they interchanged projects and counter-projects, nearly in the style, though not quite in the spirit of Millamant and Mirabel-the lady was to wear long petticoats, and submit to divers similar conditions; the gentleman was to learn to dance, and to perform sundry other preliminaries. For this purpose he set out for Paris accompanied by Mr. Edge


We proceeded to Lyons like true English travellers, without stopping on the road to examine what was curious, or worthy of observation. We determined to pass the winter at Lyons, as it was a place where excellent masters of all sorts were to be found; and here Mr. Day put himself to every species of torture, ordinary and extraordinary, to compel his antigallican limbs, in spite of their natural rigidity, to dance, and fence, and manage the great horse. To perform his promise to Miss E. Sneyd honourably, he gave up seven or eight hours of the day to these exercises, for which he had not the slightest taste, and for


which, except horsemanship, he manifested the most sovereign contempt. It was astonishing to behold the energy with which he persevered in these pursuits. I have seen him stand between two boards, which reached from the ground higher than his knees; these boards were adjusted with screws, so as barely to permit him to bend his knees, and to rise up and sink down. By these means M. Huise proposed to force Mr. Day's knees outward; but his screwing was in vain. He succeeded in torturing his patient; but original formation, and inveterate habit, resisted all his endeavours at personal improvement. I could not help pitying my philosophic friend, pent up in durance vile for hours together, with his feet in the stocks, a book in his hand, and contempt in his heart.'-vol. i. pp. 260, 261.

While Mr. Day was thus excruciating himself in vain, Mr. Edgeworth undertook the superintendance of some works for turning the Rhone-his exertions were gratuitous; as indeed they ought to have been; for as well as we can understand his long detail upon this subject, they failed altogether; but whether owing to the want of skill in Mr. Edgeworth, or to the obstinacy of the French in not taking his advice, or from the difficulties of the work itself, does not satisfactorily appear. If he contributed nothing better than the two or three mechanical arrangements which he details with more than sufficient pomp, we cannot much applaud his exertions, and the French engineers must have been miserable creatures to require such assistance. If we were to credit the information which we have received from Lyons on this subject, we should be obliged to pronounce the whole story to be another of the illusions of Mr. Edgeworth's vanity.

But he was recalled from the scene of this and several minor adventures not worth repeating, by the death of his wife (Miss Elers). With this lady, as we have seen, he had not connected himself willingly, and he seems, after he had formed his Lichfield acquaintance, to have treated her with unpardonable neglect, and to have conducted himself when absent from her in a manner which cannot be justified. Dr. Darwin brought him acquainted with the Sewards, and they, with a family of the name of Sneyd, His first appearance in this society, even as told by himself, was not quite consistent with the conduct of a married man of delicate principles.

The next day I was introduced to some literary persons, who then resided at Lichfield, and among the foremost to Miss Seward. How much of my future life has depended upon this visit to Lichfield! How little could I then foresee, that my having examined and understood the Microcosm at Chester should lead me to a place, and into an acquaintance, which would otherwise, in all human probability, have never fallen within my reach! Miss Seward was at this time in the heighth of youth and beauty, of an enthusiastic temper, a votary of the muses,


and of the most eloquent and brilliant conversation. Our mutual acquaintance was soon made, and it continued to be for many years of my life a source of never failing pleasure. It seems that Mrs. Darwin had a little pique against Miss Seward, who had in fact been her rival with the Doctor. These ladies lived upon good terms, but there frequently occurred little competitions, which amused their friends, and enlivened the uniformity, that so often renders a country town insipid. The evening after my arrival, Mrs. Darwin invited Miss Seward, and a very large party of her friends, to supper. I was placed beside Miss Seward, and a number of lively sallies escaped her, that set the table in good humour.

I paid Miss Seward, however, some compliments on her own beautiful tresses, and at that moment the watchful Mrs. Darwin took this opportunity of drinking Mrs. Edgeworth's health. Miss Seward's surprise was manifest.'-vol. i. p. 165-167.

To this society he seems frequently to have returned, leaving his wife in her retirement at Hare Hatch, and here he became acquainted with Miss Honora Sneyd and her sister.

'Honora's person was graceful, her features beautiful, and their expression such as to heighten the eloquence of every thing she said. I was six and twenty; and now, for the first time in my life, I saw a woman that equalled the picture of perfection, which existed in my imagination. I had long suffered much from the want of that cheerfulness in a wife, without which marriage could not be agreeableto a man of such a temper as mine. I had borne this evil, I believe, with patience; but my not being happy at home exposed me to the danger of being too happy elsewhere.

The charms and superior character of Miss Honora Sneyd made an impression on my mind, such as I had never felt before.

When Miss Seward perceived the impression that her young friend had made upon me,-an impression, which I believe she discovered long before I had discovered it myself,-she never shewed any of that mean jealousy,' (of a married man!) which is common among young women, when they find that one of their companions, who had never be fore been thought equal to themselves, is suddenly treated with preemi nence' (Mr. Edgeworth's attention it seems conferred sudden preeminence!), On the contrary, she seemed gratified by the praises bestowed upon her friend, and took every opportunity of placing whatever was said or done by Honora in the most advantageous point of view.'-vol. i. p. 240-242.

It must be confessed that this, and all that must be inferred from this, was not calculated to enliven poor Mrs. Edgeworth's disposition, or to impart that cheerfulness, of the want of which Mr. Edgeworth so pathetically complains. Miss Sneyd was not, however, a person to give hopes to a married man, and Mr. Edgeworth, therefore, seems to have recollected himself just before it was too VOL. XXIII. NO. 46.-Q. R. 67


« AnteriorContinuar »