« PreviousContinue »
with both entitles me to speak confidently, that she bent évery nerve to the task of reclaiming him ; that she sometimes attempted to force, but oftener to soften a way to his heart-that she never forgot to be a wife, because he was not a Christian. "But I have to explain the influence of her conduct upon her husband.
"She had hoped that there was some modification of an ambitious mind, by which it might aspire to an union with God; and that the eye which rejoiced in every vast object, would naturally rest itself upon eternity. But she was deceived. Religion seemed, in his eyes, to degrade every thing which it touched. Although he looked above the world he never looked to Heaven. For some years then he met her arguments and her affection, when employed in the service of religion, with almost equal insensibility. Nor was this all. It was impossible for such a mind as his to be long satisfied with the middle point, and there was therefore scarcely any place for him between an enthusiast and an infidel. In a short time, he found his little belief a burden to him, and became the last.
“I have said, with how lofty a nature he was endowed. His hopes and projects were such as D
might be expected from one thus constituted, and did not accommodate themselves to the dull realities of life. Shall we wonder then, that the visions he sought continually eluded his grasp? This by degrees, however, soured his disposition; and as the space between the opposite extremes is seldom great, the once sanguine N. sat down in sullenness and despair. His love of Caroline was indeed the last anchor which the storm carried away. But as he had not taken the ground of infidelity from a clear and conscientious conviction that it was the best, but had hewn it out as a place of refuge from irresolution and indifference; -the subject. of religion became intolerable to him. Whenever, therefore, her mild language or bright example pressed it upon him, he felt it as a wound, and began to dislike the hand which gave it. It was with himself that he was angry, but he soon vented his spleen upon her. One act of unkindness ever produces another, for men al'ways hate those they have injured.' At the end of six years therefore, when the last sentiment which had lent any grace or polish to the colossal features of his character was worn away, he stood like some shapeless relic from the hand of a great master which we admire only for what it has been.
"At the same time there were many intervals during this period, in which he seemed to start back into himself. I shall mention one. Their only child was our own Emily. As N. had now taken a decided part in his hostilities to religion, Caroline trembled at the influence he might have with her, when her advanced years should throw her more into his society. During the first part of her life, she herself naturally enjoyed the al. most exclusive management of her; and, throughout this period, she watched with all the eagerness of a mother's eye, every avenue by which corruption could enter. She even felt it her duty, painful as was the task to her, to guard her child against the sentiments of its father;-she did more, for she taught her to lift her little hands in supplication to God for mercy upon him.
"It was to a scene of this kind, that N. was accidentally a witness. She had been teaching Emily in what sense God is the Shepherd of his people. The door was not closed, and as he stood there, he saw Madame de N. in the attitude of prayer her eyes lifted upwards, but dim with anguish. Emily knelt beside her, touched by her mother's sufferings, and in childish accents repeating her petition, O thou great Shepherd, bring
back thy lost sheep to the fold.' There was something in the scene which spoke to a heart strung like that of N. He felt it, I believe, deeply.
"It was the same
evening that he stood for
some time musing upon a painting by a celebrated master of the Roman school; in which, whilst a holy family are taking their flight to Heaven, one despairing wretch among them is struck to the ground by its thunders. He seemed greatly agitated-beckoned Caroline in a hurried mannerlaid his finger upon the figure, and rushed out of the room.
"Such lucid intervals (if I may so call them) were however transient, and every day more rare. About the middle of the tenth year of their marriage, the apathy of which I spoke had so completely fixed itself upon him, that it would have almost been as easy to have roused his statue as himself, to any interest in the common circumstances of life.
"There is but one employment (I dare not call it amusement) to which such a state of mind eminently disposes men. It is said, that the ancient Goths, during the time of peace, would doze away whole years in the most senseless sloth, unless called from it to gamble. It was then that their
eyes again lighted up with savage fires, and their bosoms swelled with wonted fury. Thus engaged, they would sit till one or the other party had lost his property, his children, his arms, and even his person; as though they refused to live, except when they could butcher their enemies or ruin themselves. It is a ferocious picture of man; but alas! it is the portrait of N. The first time he took the box in his hand, he seemed to cast the die of his own fate. Having once burst asunder the bands of his lethargy, he seated himself at these tables of ruin, and scarcely ever quitted them. He appeared to take a gloomy delight in the convulsions of mind, which were wrought by the vicissitudes of his new employment; and, so that he could feel, he seemed to care little for the nature of his sensations. The grief of Caroline naturally kept pace with the frenzy of her husband. It was not, however, for herself she grieved, but for him. From the history of other gamesters, and from her intimacy with the mind of N. she borrowed a kind of prophetic light by which she was enabled to look through the shades of his future destiny. She saw that it was impossible for such a man to be a gamester, and not to be undone.