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impulse, and be hurried away with us.
He could not withstand
the excitement of my sally of feeling or fancy; and was prone to lend heightening tints to the illusive colouring of youthful anticipation.
Under his guidance, my sisters and myself soon entered upon a more extended range of studies; but while they wandered, with delighted minds, through the wide fields of history and belles-lettres, a nobler walk was opened to my superior intellect.
The mind of Glencoe presented a singular mixture of philosophy and poetry. He was fond of metaphysics, and prone to indulge in abstract speculations, though his metaphysics were somewhat fine spun and fanciful, and his speculations were apt to partake of what my father most irreverently termed “humbug." For my part, I delighted in them, and the more especially, because they set my father to sleep, and completely confounded my sisters. I entered, with my accustomed eagerness, into this new branch of study. Metaphysics were now my passion. My sisters attempted to accompany me, but they soon faltered, and gave up. I, however, went on, exulting in my strength. Glencoe supplied me with books, and I devoured them with appetite, if not digestion. We walked and talked together under the trees before the house, or sat apart like Milton's angels, and held high converse upon themes beyond the grasp of ordinary intellects. Glencoe possessed a kind of philosophic chivalry, in imitation of the old peripatetic sages, and was continually dreaming of romantic enterprises in morals, and splendid systems for the improvement of society. He had a fanciful mode of illustrating abstract subjects, peculiarly to my taste; clothing them with the language of poetry, and throwing round them almost the magic hues of fiction. "How charming," thought I, "is divine philosophy;" not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose,
"But a perpetual feast of nectar'd sweets,
I felt a wonderful self-complacency at being on such excellent terms with a man whom I considered on a parallel with the sages of antiquity, and looked down with a sentiment of pity on the feebler intellects of my sisters, who could comprehend nothing of metaphysics. It is true, when I attempted to study them by myself, I was apt to get in a fog; but when Glencoe came to my aid, every thing was soon as clear to me as day. My ear drank in the beauty of his words; my imagination was dazzled with the splendour of his illustrations. It caught up
the sparkling sands of poetry that glittered through his specu lations, and mistook them for the golden ore of wisdom. Struck with the facility with which I seemed to imbibe and relish the most abstract doctrines, I conceived a still higher opinion of my mental powers, and was convinced that I also was a philosopher.
I was now verging toward man's estate, and though my education had been extremely irregular-following the caprices of my humour, which I mistook for the impulses of my genius -yet I was regarded with wonder and delight by my mother and sisters, who considered me almost as wise and infallible as I considered myself. This high opinion of me was strengthened by a declamatory habit, which made me an oracle and orator at the domestic board. The time was now at hand, however, that was to put my philosophy to the test.
We had passed through a long winter, and the spring at length opened upon us, with unusual sweetness. The soft serenity of the weather; the beauty of the surrounding country; the joyous notes of the birds; the balmy breath of flower and blossom, all combined to fill my bosom with indistinct sensations, and nameless wishes. Amid the soft seductions of the season, I lapsed into a state of utter indolence, both of body and mind.
Philosophy had lost its charms for me. Metaphysicsfaugh! I tried to study; took down volume after volume, ran my eye vacantly over a few pages, and threw them by with distaste. I loitered about the house, with my hands in my pockets, and an air of complete vacancy. Something was necessary to make me happy; but what was that something! I sauntered to the apartments of my sisters, hoping their conversation might amuse me. They had walked out, and the room was vacant. On the table lay a volume which they had been reading. It was a novel. I had never read a novel, having conceived a contempt for works of the kind, from hearing them universally condemned. It is true, I had remarked that they were as universally read; but I considered them beneath the attention of a philosopher, and never would venture to read them, lest I should lessen my mental superiority in the eyes of my sisters. Nay, I had taken up a work of the kind, now and then, when I knew my sisters were observing me, looked into it for a moment, and then laid it down with a slight supercilious smile. On the present occasion, out of mere listlessness, I took up the volume, and turned over a few of the first pages. I thought I heard some one coming, and
laid it down. I was mistaken; no one was near, and what I had read, tempted my curiosity to read a little farther. I leaned against a window-frame, and in a few minutes was completely lost in the story. How long I stood there reading, I know not, but I believe for nearly two hours. Suddenly I heard my sisters on the stairs, when I thrust the book into my bosom, and the two other volumes, which lay near, into my pockets, and hurried out of the house to my beloved woods. Here I remained all day beneath the trees, bewildered, bewitched; devouring the contents of these delicious volumes; and only returned to the house when it was too dark to peruse their pages.
This novel finished, I replaced it in my sister's apartment, and looked for others. Their stock was ample, for they had brought home all that were current at that day; but my appetite demanded an immense supply. All this course of reading was carried on clandestinely, for I was a little ashamed of it, and fearful that my wisdom might be called in question; but this very privacy gave it additional zest. It was "bread eaten in secret ;" it had the charm of a private amour.' But think what must have been the effect of such a course of reading, on a youth of my temperament and turn of mind; indulged, too, amidst romantic scenery, and in the romantic season of the year. It seemed as if I had entered upon a new scene of existence. A train of combustible feelings were lighted up in me, and my soul was all tenderness and passion. Never was youth more completely love-sick, though as yet it was a mere general sentiment, and wanted a definite object. Unfortunately, our neighbourhood was particularly deficient in female society, and I languished in vain for some divinity, to whom I might offer up this most uneasy burthen of affection. I was at one time seriously enamoured of a lady whom I saw occasionally in my rides, reading at the window of a country-seat; and actually serenaded her with my flute; when, to my confusion, I discovered that she was old enough to be my grandmother. It was a sad damper to my romance; especially as my father heard of it, and made it the subject of one of those household jokes, which he was apt to serve up at every meal-time.
I soon recovered from this check, however, but it was only to relapse into a state of excitement again. I passed whole days in the fields, and along the brooks; for there is something in the tender passion, that makes us alive to the beauties of nature. A soft sunshine morning infused a sort of rapture
into my breast. The song of the birds melted me to tenderness. I would lie by the side of some rivulet, for hours, and form garlands of the flowers on its banks, and muse on ideal beauties, and sigh from the crowd of undefined emotions that swelled my bosom.
In this state of delirium, I was strolling one morning along a beautiful wild brook, which I had discovered in a glen. There was one place where a small water-fall, leaping from among rocks into a natural basin, made a scene such as a poet might have chosen as the haunt of some shy Naiad. was here I usually retired to banquet on my novels. visiting the place this morning, I traced distinctly, on the margin of the basin, which was of fine clear sand, the prints of a female foot, of the most slender and delicate proportions. This was sufficient for an imagination like mine. Robinson Crusoe himself when he discovered the print of a savage foot on the beach of his lonely island, could not have been more suddenly assailed with thick-coming fancies.
I endeavoured to trace the steps, but they only passed for a few paces along the fine sand, and then were lost among the herbage. I remained gazing in reverie upon this passing trace of loveliness. It evidently was not made by any of my sisters, for they knew nothing of this haunt; beside, the foot was smaller than theirs: it was remarkable for its beautiful delicacy.
My eye accidentally caught two or three half-withered wild flowers, lying on the ground. The unknown nymph had doubtless dropped them from her bosom ! Here was a new document of taste and sentiment. I treasured them up as invaluable relics. The place, too, where I found them, was remarkably picturesque, and the most beautiful part of the brook. It was overhung with a fine elm, entwined with ivyvines. She who could select such a spot, who could delight in wild brooks, and wild flowers, and silent solitudes, must have fancy, and feeling, and tenderness; and with all these quali ties, she must be beautiful!
But who could be this Unknown, that had thus passed by, as in a morning dream, leaving merely flowers and fairy foot. steps, to tell of her loveliness! There was a mystery in it, that bewildered me, It was so vague and disembodied, like those "airy tongues that syllable men's names" in solitude. Every attempt to solve the mystery was vain. I could hear of no being in the neighbourhood to whom this trace could be ascribed. I haunted the spot, and became daily more and
more enamoured. Never, surely, was passion more pure and spiritual, and never lover in more dubious situation. My case could be compared only to that of the prince, in the fairy tale of Cinderella; but he had a glass slipper on which to lavish his tenderness. I, alas! was in love with a footstep!
The imagination is alternately a cheat and a dupe; nay more, it is the more subtle of cheats, for it cheats itself, and becomes the dupe of its own delusion. It conjures up “ airy nothings," gives to them a "local habitation and a name,' and then bows to their control, as implicitly as though they were realities. Such was now my case. The good Numa could not more thoroughly have persuaded himself that the nymph Egeria hovered about her sacred fountain, and communed with him in spirit, than I deceived myself into a kind of visionary intercourse with the airy phantom fabricated in my brain. I constructed a rustic seat at the foot of the tree where I had discovered the footsteps. I made a kind of bower there, where I used to pass my mornings, reading poetry and romances. I carved hearts and darts on the tree, and hung it with garlands. My heart was full to overflowing, and wanted some faithful bosom into which it might relieve itself. What is a lover without a confidante ? I thought at once of my sister Sophy, my early play-mate, the sister of my affections. She was so reasonable, too, and of such correct feelings, always listening to my words as oracular sayings, and admiring my scraps of poetry as the very inspirations of the muse. From such a devoted, such a rational being, what secrets could I have.
I accordingly took her one morning to my favourite retreat. She looked around, with delighted surprise, upon the rustic seat, the bower, the tree carved with emblems of the tender passion. She turned her eyes upon me to inquire the meaning.
"Oh, Sophy," exclaimed I, clasping both her hands in mine, and looking earnestly in her face, "I am in love !" She started with surprise.
"Sit down," said I, "and I will tell you all."
She seated herself upon the rustic bench, and I went into a full history of the footstep, with all the associations of idea that had been conjured up by my imagination.
Sophy was enchanted; it was like a fairy tale : She read of such mysterious visitations in books, and the loves thus conceived were always for beings of superior order, and were always