PAUL AND VIRGINIA
by Bernardin de Saint Pierre
With A Memoir Of The Author
In introducing to the Public the present edition of this well known and affecting Tale,—the chef d'oeuvre of its gifted author, the Publishers take occasion to say, that it affords them no little gratification, to apprise the numerous admirers of "Paul and Virginia," that the entire work of St. Pierre is now presented to them. All the previous editions have been disfigured by interpolations, and mutilated by numerous omissions and alterations, which have had the effect of reducing it from the rank of a Philosophical Tale, to the level of a mere story for children.
Of the merits of "Paul and Virginia," it is hardly necessary to utter a word; it tells its own story eloquently and impressively, and in a language simple, natural and true, it touches the common heart of the world. There are but few works that have obtained a greater degree of popularity, none are more deserving it; and the Publishers cannot therefore refrain from expressing a hope that their efforts in thus giving a faithful transcript of the work,—an acknowledged classic by the European world,—may be, in some degree, instrumental in awakening here, at home, a taste for those higher works of Fancy, which, while they seek to elevate and strengthen the understanding, instruct and purify the heart. It is in this character that the Tale of "Paul and Virginia" ranks pre-eminent. [Prepared from an edition published by Porter & Coates, Philadelphia, U.S.A.]
MEMOIR OF BERNARDIN DE ST. PIERRE
Love of Nature, that strong feeling of enthusiasm which leads to profound admiration of the whole works of creation, belongs, it may be presumed, to a certain peculiarity of organization, and has, no doubt, existed in different individuals from the beginning of the world. The old poets and philosophers, romance writers, and troubadours, had all looked upon Nature with observing and admiring eyes. They have most of them given incidentally charming pictures of spring, of the setting sun, of particular spots, and of favourite flowers.
There are few writers of note, of any country, or of any age, from whom quotations might not be made in proof of the love with which they regarded Nature. And this remark applies as much to religious and philosophic writers as to poets,—equally to Plato, St. Francois de Sales, Bacon, and Fenelon, as to Shakespeare, Racine, Calderon, or Burns; for from no really philosophic or religious doctrine can the love of the works of Nature be excluded.
But before the days of Jean Jacques Rousseau, Buffon, and Bernardin de St. Pierre, this love of Nature had not been expressed in all its intensity. Until their day, it had not been written on exclusively. The lovers of Nature were not, till then, as they may perhaps since be considered, a sect apart. Though perfectly sincere in all the adorations they offered, they were less entirely, and certainly less diligently and constantly, her adorers.
It is the great praise of Bernardin de St. Pierre, that coming immediately after Rousseau and Buffon, and being one of the most proficient writers of the same school, he was in no degree their imitator, but perfectly original and new. He intuitively perceived the immensity of the subject he intended to explore, and has told us that no day of his life passed without his collecting some valuable materials for his writings. In the divine works of Nature, he diligently sought to discover her laws. It was his early intention not to begin to write until he had ceased to observe; but he found observation endless, and that he was "like a child who with a shell digs a hole in the sand to receive the waters of the ocean." He elsewhere humbly says, that not only the general history of Nature, but even that of the smallest plant, was far beyond his ability. Before, however, speaking further of him as an author, it will be necessary to recapitulate the chief events of his life.
HENRI-JACQUES BERNARDIN DE ST. PIERRE, was born at Havre in 1737. He always considered himself descended from that Eustache de St. Pierre, who is said by Froissart, (and I believe by Froissart only), to have so generously offered himself as a victim to appease the wrath of Edward the Third against Calais. He, with his companions in virtue, it is also said, was saved by the intercession of Queen Philippa. In one of his smaller works, Bernardin asserts this descent, and it was certainly one of which he might be proud. Many anecdotes are related of his childhood, indicative of the youthful author,—of his strong love of Nature, and his humanity to animals.
That "the child is the father of the man," has been seldom more strongly illustrated. There is a story of a cat, which, when related by him many years afterwards to Rousseau, caused that philosopher to shed tears. At eight years of age, he took the greatest pleasure in the regular culture of his garden; and possibly then stored up some of the ideas which afterwards appeared in the "Fraisier." His sympathy with all living things was extreme.
In "Paul and Virginia," he praises, with evident satisfaction, their meal of milk and eggs, which had not cost any animal its life. It has been remarked, and possibly with truth, that every tenderly disposed heart, deeply imbued with a love of Nature, is at times somewhat Braminical. St. Pierre's certainly was.
When quite young, he advanced with a clenched fist towards a carter who was ill-treating a horse. And when taken for the first time, by his father, to Rouen, having the towers of the cathedral pointed out to him, he exclaimed, "My God! how high they fly." Every one present naturally laughed. Bernardin had only noticed the flight of some swallows who had built their nests there. He thus early revealed those instincts which afterwards became the guidance of his life: the strength of which possibly occasioned his too great indifference to all monuments of art. The love of study and of solitude were also characteristics of his childhood. His temper is said to have been moody, impetuous, and intractable. Whether this faulty temper may not have been produced or rendered worse by mismanagement, cannot not be ascertained. It, undoubtedly became afterwards, to St. Pierre a fruitful source of misfortune and of woe.
The reading of voyages was with him, even in childhood, almost a passion. At twelve years of age, his whole soul was occupied by Robinson Crusoe and his island. His romantic love of adventure seeming to his parents to announce a predilection in favour of the sea, he was sent by them with one of his uncles to Martinique. But St. Pierre had not sufficiently practised the virtue of obedience to submit, as was necessary, to the discipline of a ship. He was afterwards placed with the Jesuits at Caen, with whom he made immense progress in his studies. But, it is to be feared, he did not conform too well to the regulations of the college, for he conceived, from that time, the greatest detestation for places of public education. And this aversion he has frequently testified in his writings. While devoted to his books of travels, he in turn anticipated being a Jesuit, a missionary or a martyr; but his family at length succeeded in establishing him at Rouen, where he completed his studies with brilliant success, in 1757. He soon after obtained a commission as an engineer, with a salary of one hundred louis. In this capacity he was sent (1760) to Dusseldorf, under the command of Count St. Germain. This was a career in which he might have acquired both honour and fortune; but, most unhappily for St. Pierre, he looked upon the useful and necessary etiquettes of life as so many unworthy prejudices. Instead of conforming to them, he sought to trample on them. In addition, he evinced some disposition to rebel against his commander, and was unsocial with his equals. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at, that at this unfortunate period of his existence, he made himself enemies; or that, notwithstanding his great talents, or the coolness he had exhibited in moments of danger, he should have been sent back to France. Unwelcome, under these circumstances, to his family, he was ill received by all.
It is a lesson yet to be learned, that genius gives no charter for the indulgence of error,—a truth yet to be remembered, that only a small portion of the world will look with leniency on the failings of the highly-gifted; and, that from themselves, the consequences of their own actions can never be averted. It is yet, alas! to be added to the convictions of the ardent in mind, that no degree of excellence in science or literature, not even the immortality of a name can exempt its possessor from obedience to moral discipline; or give him happiness, unless "temper's image" be stamped on his daily words and actions. St. Pierre's life was sadly embittered by his own conduct. The adventurous life he led after his return from Dusseldorf, some of the circumstances of which exhibited him in an unfavourable light to others, tended, perhaps, to tinge his imagination with that wild and tender melancholy so prevalent in his writings. A prize in the lottery had just doubled his very slender means of existence, when he obtained the appointment of geographical engineer, and was sent to Malta. The Knights of the Order were at this time expecting to be attacked by the Turks. Having already been in the service, it was singular that St. Pierre should have had the imprudence to sail without his commission. He thus subjected himself to a thousand disagreeables, for the officers would not recognize him as one of themselves. The effects of their neglect on his mind were tremendous; his reason for a time seemed almost disturbed by the mortifications he suffered. After receiving an insufficient indemnity for the expenses of his voyage, St. Pierre returned to France, there to endure fresh misfortunes.
Not being able to obtain any assistance from the ministry or his family, he resolved on giving lessons in the mathematics. But St. Pierre was less adapted than most others for succeeding in the apparently easy, but really ingenious and difficult, art of teaching. When education is better understood, it will be more generally acknowledged, that, to impart instruction with success, a teacher must possess deeper intelligence than is implied by the profoundest skill in any one branch of science or of art. All minds, even to the youngest, require, while being taught, the utmost compliance and consideration; and these qualities can scarcely be properly exercised without a true knowledge of the human heart, united to much practical patience. St. Pierre, at this period of his life, certainly did not possess them. It is probable that Rousseau, when he attempted in his youth to give lessons in music, not knowing any thing whatever of music, was scarcely less fitted for the task of instruction, than St. Pierre with all his mathematical knowledge. The pressure of poverty drove him to Holland. He was well received at Amsterdam, by a French refugee named Mustel, who edited a popular journal there, and who procured him employment, with handsome remuneration. St. Pierre did not, however, remain long satisfied with this quiet mode of existence. Allured by the encouraging reception given by Catherine II. to foreigners, he set out for St. Petersburg. Here, until he obtained the protection of the Marechal de Munich, and the friendship of Duval, he had again to contend with poverty. The latter generously opened to him his purse and by the Marechal he was introduced to Villebois, the Grand Master of Artillery, and by him presented to the Empress. St. Pierre was so handsome, that by some of his friends it was supposed, perhaps, too, hoped, that he would supersede Orloff in the favor of Catherine. But more honourable illusions, though they were but illusions, occupied his own mind. He neither sought nor wished to captivate the Empress. His ambition was to establish a republic on the shores of the lake Aral, of which in imitation of Plato or Rousseau, he was to be the legislator. Pre-occupied with the reformation of despotism, he did not sufficiently look into his own heart, or seek to avoid a repetition of the same errors that had already changed friends into enemies, and been such a terrible barrier to his success in life. His mind was already morbid, and in fancying that others did not understand him, he forgot that he did not understand others. The Empress, with the rank of captain, bestowed on him a grant of fifteen hundred francs; but when General Dubosquet proposed to take him with him to examine the military position of Finland, his only anxiety seemed to be to return to France: still he went to Finland; and his own notes of his occupations and experiments on that expedition prove, that he gave himself up in all diligence to considerations of attack and defence. He, who loved Nature so intently, seems only to have seen in the extensive and majestic forests of the north, a theatre of war. In this instance, he appears to have stifled every emotion of admiration, and to have beheld, alike, cities and countries in his character of military surveyor.
On his return to St. Petersburg, he found his protector Villebois, disgraced. St. Pierre then resolved on espousing the cause of the Poles. He went into Poland with a high reputation,—that of having refused the favours of despotism, to aid the cause of liberty. But it was his private life, rather than his public career, that was affected by his residence in Poland. The Princess Mary fell in love with him, and, forgetful of all considerations, quitted her family to reside with him. Yielding, however, at length, to the entreaties of her mother, she returned to her home. St. Pierre, filled with regret, resorted to Vienna; but, unable to support the sadness which oppressed him, and imagining that sadness to be shared by the Princess, he soon went back to Poland. His return was still more sad than his departure; for he found himself regarded by her who had once loved him, as an intruder. It is to this attachment he alludes so touchingly in one of his letters. "Adieu! friends dearer than the treasures of India! Adieu! forests of the North, that I shall never see again!—tender friendship, and the still dearer sentiment which surpassed it!—days of intoxication and of happiness adeiu! adieu! We live but for a day, to die during a whole life!"
This letter appears to one of St. Pierre's most partial biographers, as if steeped in tears; and he speaks of his romantic and unfortunate adventure in Poland, as the ideal of a poet's love.
"To be," says M. Sainte-Beuve, "a great poet, and loved before he had thought of glory! To exhale the first perfume of a soul of genius, believing himself only a lover! To reveal himself, for the first time, entirely, but in mystery!"
In his enthusiasm, M. Sainte-Beuve loses sight of the melancholy sequel, which must have left so sad a remembrance in St. Pierre's own mind. His suffering, from this circumstance, may perhaps have conduced to his making Virginia so good and true, and so incapable of giving pain.
In 1766, he returned to Havre; but his relations were by this time dead or dispersed, and after six years of exile, he found himself once more in his own country, without employment and destitute of pecuniary resources.
The Baron de Breteuil at length obtained for him a commission as Engineer to the Isle of France, whence he returned in 1771. In this interval, his heart and imagination doubtless received the germs of his immortal works. Many of the events, indeed, of the "Voyage a l'Ile de France," are to be found modified by imagined circumstances in "Paul and Virginia." He returned to Paris poor in purse, but rich in observation and mental resources, and resolved to devote himself to literature. By the Baron de Breteuil he was recommended to D'Alembert, who procured a publisher for his "Voyage," and also introduced him to Mlle. de l'Espinasse. But no one, in spite of his great beauty, was so ill calculated to shine or please in society as St. Pierre. His manners were timid and embarrassed, and, unless to those with whom he was very intimate, he scarcely appeared intelligent.
It is sad to think, that misunderstanding should prevail to such an extent, and heart so seldom really speak to heart, in the intercourse of the world, that the most humane may appear cruel, and the sympathizing indifferent. Judging of Mlle. de l'Espinasse from her letters, and the testimony of her contemporaries, it seems quite impossible that she could have given pain to any one, more particularly to a man possessing St. Pierre's extraordinary talent and profound sensibility. Both she and D'Alembert were capable of appreciating him; but the society in which they moved laughed at his timidity, and the tone of raillery in which they often indulged was not understood by him. It is certain that he withdrew from their circle with wounded and mortified feelings, and, in spite of an explanatory letter from D'Alembert, did not return to it. The inflictors of all this pain, in the meantime, were possibly as unconscious of the meaning attached to their words, as were the birds of old of the augury drawn from their flight.
St. Pierre, in his "Preambule de l'Arcadie," has pathetically and eloquently described the deplorable state of his health and feelings, after frequent humiliating disputes and disappointments had driven him from society; or rather, when, like Rousseau, he was "self-banished" from it.
"I was struck," he says, "with an extraordinary malady. Streams of fire, like lightning, flashed before my eyes; every object appeared to me double, or in motion: like OEdipus, I saw two suns. . . In the finest day of summer, I could not cross the Seine in a boat without experiencing intolerable anxiety. If, in a public garden, I merely passed by a piece of water, I suffered from spasms and a feeling of horror. I could not cross a garden in which many people were collected: if they looked at me, I immediately imagined they were speaking ill of me." It was during this state of suffering, that he devoted himself with ardour to collecting and making use of materials for that work which was to give glory to his name.
It was only by perseverance, and disregarding many rough and discouraging receptions, that he succeeded in making acquaintance with Rousseau, whom he so much resembled. St. Pierre devoted himself to his society with enthusiasm, visiting him frequently and constantly, till Rousseau departed for Ermenonville. It is not unworthy of remark, that both these men, such enthusiastic admirers of Nature and the natural in all things, should have possessed factitious rather than practical virtue, and a wisdom wholly unfitted for the world. St. Pierre asked Rousseau, in one of their frequent rambles, if, in delineating St. Preux, he had not intended to represent himself. "No," replied Rousseau, "St. Preux is not what I have been, but what I wished to be." St. Pierre would most likely have given the same answer, had a similar question been put to him with regard to the Colonel in "Paul and Virginia." This at least, appears the sort of old age he loved to contemplate, and wished to realize.
For six years, he worked at his "Etudes," and with some difficulty found a publisher for them. M. Didot, a celebrated typographer, whose daughter St. Pierre afterwards married, consented to print a manuscript which had been declined by many others. He was well rewarded for the undertaking. The success of the "Etudes de la Nature" surpassed the most sanguine expectation, even of the author. Four years after its publication, St. Pierre gave to the world "Paul and Virginia," which had for some time been lying in his portfolio. He had tried its effect, in manuscript, on persons of different characters and pursuits. They had given it no applause; but all had shed tears at its perusal: and perhaps, few works of a decidedly romantic character have ever been so generally read, or so much approved. Among the great names whose admiration of it is on record, may be mentioned Napoleon and Humboldt.
In 1789, he published "Les Veoeux d'un Solitaire," and "La Suite des Voeux." By the Moniteur of the day, these works were compared to the celebrated pamphlet of Sieyes,—"Qu'est-ce que le tiers etat?" which then absorbed all the public favour. In 1791, "La Chaumiere Indienne" was published: and in the following year, about thirteen days before the celebrated 10th of August, Louis XVI. appointed St. Pierre superintendant of the "Jardin des Plantes." Soon afterwards, the King, on seeing him, complimented him on his writings and told him he was happy to have found a worthy successor to Buffon.
Although deficient in the exact knowledge of the sciences, and knowing little of the world, St. Pierre was, by his simplicity, and the retirement in which he lived, well suited, at that epoch, to the situation. About this time, and when in his fifty-seventh year, he married Mlle. Didot.
In 1795, he became a member of the French Academy, and, as was just, after his acceptance of this honour, he wrote no more against literary societies. On the suppression of his place, he retired to Essonne. It is delightful to follow him there, and to contemplate his quiet existence. His days flowed on peaceably, occupied in the publication of "Les Harmonies de la Nature," the republication of his earlier works, and the composition of some lesser pieces. He himself affectingly regrets an interruption to these occupations. On being appointed Instructor to the Normal School, he says, "I am obliged to hang my harp on the willows of my river, and to accept an employment useful to my family and my country. I am afflicted at having to suspend an occupation which has given me so much happiness."
He enjoyed in his old age, a degree of opulence, which, as much as glory, had perhaps been the object of his ambition. In any case, it is gratifying to reflect, that after a life so full of chance and change, he was, in his latter years, surrounded by much that should accompany old age. His day of storms and tempests was closed by an evening of repose and beauty.
Amid many other blessings, the elasticity of his mind was preserved to the last. He died at Eragny sur l'Oise, on the 21st of January, 1814. The stirring events which then occupied France, or rather the whole world, caused his death to be little noticed at the time. The Academy did not, however, neglect to give him the honour due to its members. Mons. Parseval Grand Maison pronounced a deserved eulogium on his talents, and Mons. Aignan, also, the customary tribute, taking his seat as his successor.
Having himself contracted the habit of confiding his griefs and sorrows to the public, the sanctuary of his private life was open alike to the discussion of friends and enemies. The biographer, who wishes to be exact, and yet set down nought in malice, is forced to the contemplation of his errors. The secret of many of these, as well as of his miseries, seems revealed by himself in this sentence: "I experience more pain from a single thorn, than pleasure from a thousand roses." And elsewhere, "The best society seems to me bad, if I find in it one troublesome, wicked, slanderous, envious, or perfidious person." Now, taking into consideration that St. Pierre sometimes imagined persons who were really good, to be deserving of these strong and very contumacious epithets, it would have been difficult indeed to find a society in which he could have been happy. He was, therefore, wise, in seeking retirement, and indulging in solitude. His mistakes,—for they were mistakes,—arose from a too quick perception of evil, united to an exquisite and diffuse sensibility. When he felt wounded by a thorn, he forgot the beauty and perfume of the rose to which it belonged, and from which perhaps it could not be separated. And he was exposed (as often happens) to the very description of trials that were least in harmony with his defects. Few dispositions could have run a career like his, and have remained unscathed. But one less tender than his own would have been less soured by it. For many years, he bore about with him the consciousness of unacknowledged talent. The world cannot be blamed for not appreciating that which had never been revealed. But we know not what the jostling and elbowing of that world, in the meantime, may have been to him—how often he may have felt himself unworthily treated—or how far that treatment may have preyed upon and corroded his heart. Who shall say that with this consciousness there did not mingle a quick and instinctive perception of the hidden motives of action,—that he did not sometimes detect, where others might have been blind, the under-shuffling of the hands, in the by-play of the world?
Through all his writings, and throughout his correspondence, there are beautiful proofs of the tenderness of his feelings,—the most essential quality, perhaps, in any writer. It is at least, one that if not possessed, can never be attained. The familiarity of his imagination with natural objects, when he was living far removed from them, is remarkable, and often affecting.
"I have arranged," he says to Mr. Henin, his friend and patron, "very interesting materials, but it is only with the light of Heaven over me that I can recover my strength. Obtain for me a rabbit's hole, in which I may pass the summer in the country." And again, "With the first violet, I shall come to see you." It is soothing to find, in passages like these, such pleasing and convincing evidence that
"Nature never did betray, The heart that loved her."
In the noise of a great city, in the midst of annoyances of many kinds these images, impressed with quietness and beauty, came back to the mind of St. Pierre, to cheer and animate him.
In alluding to his miseries, it is but fair to quote a passage from his "Voyage," which reveals his fond remembrance of his native land. "I should ever prefer my own country to every other," he says, "not because it was more beautiful, but because I was brought up in it. Happy he, who sees again the places where all was loved, and all was lovely!—the meadows in which he played, and the orchard that he robbed!"
He returned to this country, so fondly loved and deeply cherished in absence, to experience only trouble and difficulty. Away from it, he had yearned to behold it,—to fold it, as it were, once more to his bosom. He returned to feel as if neglected by it, and all his rapturous emotions were changed to bitterness and gall. His hopes had proved delusions—his expectations, mockeries. Oh! who but must look with charity and mercy on all discontent and irritation consequent on such a depth of disappointment: on what must have then appeared to him such unmitigable woe. Under the influence of these saddened feelings, his thoughts flew back to the island he had left, to place all beauty, as well as all happiness, there!
One great proof that he did beautify the distant, may be found in the contrast of some of the descriptions in the "Voyage a l'Ile de France," and those in "Paul and Virginia." That spot, which when peopled by the cherished creatures of his imagination, he described as an enchanting and delightful Eden, he had previously spoken of as a "rugged country covered with rocks,"—"a land of Cyclops blackened by fire." Truth, probably, lies between the two representations; the sadness of exile having darkened the one, and the exuberance of his imagination embellished the other.
St. Pierre's merit as an author has been too long and too universally acknowledged, to make it needful that it should be dwelt on here. A careful review of the circumstances of his life induces the belief, that his writings grew (if it may be permitted so to speak) out of his life. In his most imaginative passages, to whatever height his fancy soared, the starting point seems ever from a fact. The past appears to have been always spread out before him when he wrote, like a beautiful landscape, on which his eye rested with complacency, and from which his mind transferred and idealized some objects, without a servile imitation of any. When at Berlin, he had had it in his power to marry Virginia Tabenheim; and in Russia, Mlle. de la Tour, the niece of General Dubosquet, would have accepted his hand. He was too poor to marry either. A grateful recollection caused him to bestow the names of the two on his most beloved creation. Paul was the name of a friar, with whom he had associated in his childhood, and whose life he wished to imitate. How little had the owners of these names anticipated that they were to become the baptismal appellations of half a generation in France, and to be re-echoed through the world to the end of time!
It was St. Pierre who first discovered the poverty of language with regard to picturesque descriptions. In his earliest work, the often-quoted "Voyages," he complains, that the terms for describing nature are not yet invented. "Endeavour," he says, "to describe a mountain in such a manner that it may be recognised. When you have spoken of its base, its sides, its summit, you will have said all! But what variety there is to be found in those swelling, lengthened, flattened, or cavernous forms! It is only by periphrasis that all this can be expressed. The same difficulty exists for plains and valleys. But if you have a palace to describe, there is no longer any difficulty. Every moulding has its appropriate name."
It was St. Pierre's glory, in some degree, to triumph over this dearth of expression. Few authors ever introduced more new terms into descriptive writing: yet are his innovations ever chastened, and in good taste. His style, in its elegant simplicity, is, indeed, perfection. It is at once sonorous and sweet, and always in harmony with the sentiment he would express, or the subject he would discuss. Chenier might well arm himself with "Paul and Virginia," and the "Chaumiere Indienne," in opposition to those writers, who, as he said, made prose unnatural, by seeking to elevate it into verse.
The "Etudes de la Nature" embraced a thousand different subjects, and contained some new ideas on all. It is to the honour of human nature, that after the uptearing of so many sacred opinions, a production like this, revealing the chain of connection through the works of Creation, and the Creator in his works, should have been hailed, as it was, with enthusiasm.
His motto, from his favourite poet Virgil, "Taught by calamity, I pity the unhappy," won for him, perhaps many readers. And in its touching illusions, the unhappy may have found suspension from the realities of life, as well as encouragement to support its trials. For, throughout, it infuses admiration of the arrangements of Providence, and a desire for virtue. More than one modern poet may be supposed to have drawn a portion of his inspiration, from the "Etudes." As a work of science it contains many errors. These, particularly his theory of the tides,(*) St. Pierre maintained to the last, and so eloquently, that it was said at the time, to be impossible to unite less reason with more logic.
(*) Occasioned, according to St. Pierre, by the melting of the ice at the Poles.
In "Paul and Virginia," he was supremely fortunate in his subject. It was an entirely new creation, uninspired by any previous work; but which gave birth to many others, having furnished the plot to six theatrical pieces. It was a subject to which the author could bring all his excellences as a writer and a man, while his deficiencies and defects were necessarily excluded. In no manner could he incorporate politics, science, or misapprehension of persons, while his sensibility, morals, and wonderful talent for description, were in perfect accordance with, and ornaments to it. Lemontey and Sainte-Beuve both consider success to be inseparable from the happy selection of a story so entirely in harmony with the character of the author; and that the most successful writers might envy him so fortunate a choice. Buonaparte was in the habit of saying, whenever he saw St. Pierre, "M. Bernardin, when do you mean to give us more Pauls and Virginias, and Indian Cottages? You ought to give us some every six months."
The "Indian Cottage," if not quite equal in interest to "Paul and Virginia," is still a charming production, and does great honour to the genius of its author. It abounds in antique and Eastern gems of thought. Striking and excellent comparisons are scattered through its pages; and it is delightful to reflect, that the following beautiful and solemn answer of the Paria was, with St. Pierre, the results of his own experience:—"Misfortune resembles the Black Mountain of Bember, situated at the extremity of the burning kingdom of Lahore; while you are climbing it, you only see before you barren rocks; but when you have reached its summit, you see heaven above your head, and at your feet the kingdom of Cachemere."
When this passage was written, the rugged, and sterile rock had been climbed by its gifted author. He had reached the summit,—his genius had been rewarded, and he himself saw the heaven he wished to point out to others.
[For the facts contained in this brief Memoir, I am indebted to St. Pierre's own works, to the "Biographie Universelle," to the "Essai sur la Vie et les Ouvrages de Bernardin de St. Pierre," by M. Aime Martin, and to the very excellent and interesting "Notice Historique et Litteraire," of M. Sainte- Beauve.]
PAUL AND VIRGINIA
Situated on the eastern side of the mountain which rises above Port Louis, in the Mauritius, upon a piece of land bearing the marks of former cultivation, are seen the ruins of two small cottages. These ruins are not far from the centre of a valley, formed by immense rocks, and which opens only towards the north. On the left rises the mountain called the Height of Discovery, whence the eye marks the distant sail when it first touches the verge of the horizon, and whence the signal is given when a vessel approaches the island. At the foot of this mountain stands the town of Port Louis. On the right is formed the road which stretches from Port Louis to the Shaddock Grove, where the church bearing that name lifts its head, surrounded by its avenues of bamboo, in the middle of a spacious plain; and the prospect terminates in a forest extending to the furthest bounds of the island. The front view presents the bay, denominated the Bay of the Tomb; a little on the right is seen the Cape of Misfortune; and beyond rolls the expanded ocean, on the surface of which appear a few uninhabited islands; and, among others, the Point of Endeavour, which resembles a bastion built upon the flood.
At the entrance of the valley which presents these various objects, the echoes of the mountain incessantly repeat the hollow murmurs of the winds that shake the neighbouring forests, and the tumultuous dashing of the waves which break at a distance upon the cliffs; but near the ruined cottages all is calm and still, and the only objects which there meet the eye are rude steep rocks, that rise like a surrounding rampart. Large clumps of trees grow at their base, on their rifted sides, and even on their majestic tops, where the clouds seem to repose. The showers, which their bold points attract, often paint the vivid colours of the rainbow on their green and brown declivities, and swell the sources of the little river which flows at their feet, called the river of Fan-Palms. Within this inclosure reigns the most profound silence. The waters, the air, all the elements are at peace. Scarcely does the echo repeat the whispers of the palm-trees spreading their broad leaves, the long points of which are gently agitated by the winds. A soft light illumines the bottom of this deep valley, on which the sun shines only at noon. But, even at the break of day, the rays of light are thrown on the surrounding rocks; and their sharp peaks, rising above the shadows of the mountain, appear like tints of gold and purple gleaming upon the azure sky.
To this scene I loved to resort, as I could here enjoy at once the richness of an unbounded landscape, and the charm of uninterrupted solitude. One day, when I was seated at the foot of the cottages, and contemplating their ruins, a man, advanced in years, passed near the spot. He was dressed in the ancient garb of the island, his feet were bare, and he leaned upon a staff of ebony; his hair was white, and the expression of his countenance was dignified and interesting. I bowed to him with respect; he returned the salutation; and, after looking at me with some earnestness, came and placed himself upon the hillock on which I was seated. Encouraged by this mark of confidence I thus addressed him: "Father, can you tell me to whom those cottages once belonged?"—"My son," replied the old man, "those heaps of rubbish, and that untilled land, were, twenty years ago, the property of two families, who then found happiness in this solitude. Their history is affecting; but what European, pursuing his way to the Indies, will pause one moment to interest himself in the fate of a few obscure individuals? What European can picture happiness to his imagination amidst poverty and neglect? The curiosity of mankind is only attracted by the history of the great, and yet from that knowledge little use can be derived."—"Father," I rejoined, "from your manner and your observations, I perceive that you have acquired much experience of human life. If you have leisure, relate to me, I beseech you, the history of the ancient inhabitants of this desert; and be assured, that even the men who are most perverted by the prejudices of the world, find a soothing pleasure in contemplating that happiness which belongs to simplicity and virtue." The old man, after a short silence, during which he leaned his face upon his hands, as if he were trying to recall the images of the past, thus began his narration:—
Monsieur de la Tour, a young man who was a native of Normandy, after having in vain solicited a commission in the French army, or some support from his own family, at length determined to seek his fortune in this island, where he arrived in 1726. He brought hither a young woman, whom he loved tenderly, and by whom he was no less tenderly beloved. She belonged to a rich and ancient family of the same province: but he had married her secretly and without fortune, and in opposition to the will of her relations, who refused their consent because he was found guilty of being descended from parents who had no claims to nobility. Monsieur de la Tour, leaving his wife at Port Louis, embarked for Madagascar, in order to purchase a few slaves, to assist him in forming a plantation on this island. He landed at Madagascar during that unhealthy season which commences about the middle of October; and soon after his arrival died of the pestilential fever, which prevails in that island six months of the year, and which will forever baffle the attempts of the European nations to form establishments on that fatal soil. His effects were seized upon by the rapacity of strangers, as commonly happens to persons dying in foreign parts; and his wife, who was pregnant, found herself a widow in a country where she had neither credit nor acquaintance, and no earthly possession, or rather support, but one negro woman. Too delicate to solicit protection or relief from any one else after the death of him whom alone she loved, misfortune armed her with courage, and she resolved to cultivate, with her slave, a little spot of ground, and procure for herself the means of subsistence.
Desert as was the island, and the ground left to the choice of the settler, she avoided those spots which were most fertile and most favorable to commerce: seeking some nook of the mountain, some secret asylum where she might live solitary and unknown, she bent her way from the town towards these rocks, where she might conceal herself from observation. All sensitive and suffering creatures, from a sort of common instinct, fly for refuge amidst their pains to haunts the most wild and desolate; as if rocks could form a rampart against misfortune—as if the calm of Nature could hush the tumults of the soul. That Providence, which lends its support when we ask but the supply of our necessary wants, had a blessing in reserve for Madame de la Tour, which neither riches nor greatness can purchase:—this blessing was a friend.
The spot to which Madame de la Tour had fled had already been inhabited for a year by a young woman of a lively, good-natured and affectionate disposition. Margaret (for that was her name) was born in Brittany, of a family of peasants, by whom she was cherished and beloved, and with whom she might have passed through life in simple rustic happiness, if, misled by the weakness of a tender heart, she had not listened to the passion of a gentleman in the neighbourhood, who promised her marriage. He soon abandoned her, and adding inhumanity to seduction, refused to insure a provision for the child of which she was pregnant. Margaret then determined to leave forever her native village, and retire, where her fault might be concealed, to some colony distant from that country where she had lost the only portion of a poor peasant girl—her reputation. With some borrowed money she purchased an old negro slave, with whom she cultivated a little corner of this district.
Madame de la Tour, followed by her negro woman, came to this spot, where she found Margaret engaged in suckling her child. Soothed and charmed by the sight of a person in a situation somewhat similar to her own, Madame de la Tour related, in a few words, her past condition and her present wants. Margaret was deeply affected by the recital; and more anxious to merit confidence than to create esteem, she confessed without disguise, the errors of which she had been guilty. "As for me," said she, "I deserve my fate: but you, madam—you! at once virtuous and unhappy"—and, sobbing, she offered Madame de la Tour both her hut and her friendship. That lady, affected by this tender reception, pressed her in her arms, and exclaimed,—"Ah surely Heaven has put an end to my misfortunes, since it inspires you, to whom I am a stranger, with more goodness towards me than I have ever experienced from my own relations!"
I was acquainted with Margaret: and, although my habitation is a league and a half from hence, in the woods behind that sloping mountain, I considered myself as her neighbour. In the cities of Europe, a street, even a simple wall, frequently prevents members of the same family from meeting for years; but in new colonies we consider those persons as neighbours from whom we are divided only by woods and mountains; and above all at that period, when this island had little intercourse with the Indies, vicinity alone gave a claim to friendship, and hospitality towards strangers seemed less a duty than a pleasure. No sooner was I informed that Margaret had found a companion, than I hastened to her, in the hope of being useful to my neighbour and her guest. I found Madame de la Tour possessed of all those melancholy graces which, by blending sympathy with admiration give to beauty additional power. Her countenance was interesting, expressive at once of dignity and dejection. She appeared to be in the last stage of her pregnancy. I told the two friends that for the future interests of their children, and to prevent the intrusion of any other settler, they had better divide between them the property of this wild, sequestered valley, which is nearly twenty acres in extent. They confided that task to me, and I marked out two equal portions of land. One included the higher part of this enclosure, from the cloudy pinnacle of that rock, whence springs the river of Fan-Palms, to that precipitous cleft which you see on the summit of the mountain, and which, from its resemblance in form to the battlement of a fortress, is called the Embrasure. It is difficult to find a path along this wild portion of the enclosure, the soil of which is encumbered with fragments of rock, or worn into channels formed by torrents; yet it produces noble trees, and innumerable springs and rivulets. The other portion of land comprised the plain extending along the banks of the river of Fan-Palms, to the opening where we are now seated, whence the river takes its course between these two hills, until it falls into the sea. You may still trace the vestiges of some meadow land; and this part of the common is less rugged, but not more valuable than the other; since in the rainy season it becomes marshy, and in dry weather is so hard and unyielding, that it will almost resist the stroke of the pickaxe. When I had thus divided the property, I persuaded my neighbours to draw lots for their respective possessions. The higher portion of land, containing the source of the river of Fan-Palms, became the property of Madame de la Tour; the lower, comprising the plain on the banks of the river, was allotted to Margaret; and each seemed satisfied with her share. They entreated me to place their habitations together, that they might at all times enjoy the soothing intercourse of friendship, and the consolation of mutual kind offices. Margaret's cottage was situated near the centre of the valley, and just on the boundary of her own plantation. Close to that spot I built another cottage for the residence of Madame de la Tour; and thus the two friends, while they possessed all the advantages of neighbourhood lived on their own property. I myself cut palisades from the mountain, and brought leaves of fan-palms from the sea-shore in order to construct those two cottages, of which you can now discern neither the entrance nor the roof. Yet, alas! there still remains but too many traces for my remembrance! Time, which so rapidly destroys the proud monuments of empires, seems in this desert to spare those of friendship, as if to perpetuate my regrets to the last hour of my existence.
As soon as the second cottage was finished, Madame de la Tour was delivered of a girl. I had been the godfather of Margaret's child, who was christened by the name of Paul. Madame de la Tour desired me to perform the same office for her child also, together with her friend, who gave her the name of Virginia. "She will be virtuous," cried Margaret, "and she will be happy. I have only known misfortune by wandering from virtue."
About the time Madame de la Tour recovered, these two little estates had already begun to yield some produce, perhaps in a small degree owing to the care which I occasionally bestowed on their improvement, but far more to the indefatigable labours of the two slaves. Margaret's slave, who was called Domingo, was still healthy and robust, though advanced in years: he possessed some knowledge, and a good natural understanding. He cultivated indiscriminately, on both plantations, the spots of ground that seemed most fertile, and sowed whatever grain he thought most congenial to each particular soil. Where the ground was poor, he strewed maize; where it was most fruitful, he planted wheat; and rice in such spots as were marshy. He threw the seeds of gourds and cucumbers at the foot of the rocks, which they loved to climb and decorate with their luxuriant foliage. In dry spots he cultivated the sweet potatoe; the cotton-tree flourished upon the heights, and the sugar-cane grew in the clayey soil. He reared some plants of coffee on the hills, where the grain, although small, is excellent. His plantain-trees, which spread their grateful shade on the banks of the river, and encircled the cottages, yielded fruit throughout the year. And lastly, Domingo, to soothe his cares, cultivated a few plants of tobacco. Sometimes he was employed in cutting wood for firing from the mountain, sometimes in hewing pieces of rock within the enclosure, in order to level the paths. The zeal which inspired him enabled him to perform all these labours with intelligence and activity. He was much attached to Margaret, and not less to Madame de la Tour, whose negro woman, Mary, he had married on the birth of Virginia; and he was passionately fond of his wife. Mary was born at Madagascar, and had there acquired the knowledge of some useful arts. She could weave baskets, and a sort of stuff, with long grass that grows in the woods. She was active, cleanly, and, above all, faithful. It was her care to prepare their meals, to rear the poultry, and go sometimes to Port Louis, to sell the superfluous produce of these little plantations, which was not however, very considerable. If you add to the personages already mentioned two goats, which were brought up with the children, and a great dog, which kept watch at night, you will have a complete idea of the household, as well as of the productions of these two little farms.
Madame de la Tour and her friend were constantly employed in spinning cotton for the use of their families. Destitute of everything which their own industry could not supply, at home they went bare-footed: shoes were a convenience reserved for Sunday, on which day, at an early hour, they attended mass at the church of the Shaddock Grove, which you see yonder. That church was more distant from their homes than Port Louis; but they seldom visited the town, lest they should be treated with contempt on account of their dress, which consisted simply of the coarse blue linen of Bengal, usually worn by slaves. But is there, in that external deference which fortune commands, a compensation for domestic happiness? If these interesting women had something to suffer from the world, their homes on that very account became more dear to them. No sooner did Mary and Domingo, from this elevated spot, perceive their mistresses on the road of the Shaddock Grove, than they flew to the foot of the mountain in order to help them to ascend. They discerned in the looks of their domestics the joy which their return excited. They found in their retreat neatness, independence, all the blessings which are the recompense of toil, and they received the zealous services which spring from affection. United by the tie of similar wants, and the sympathy of similar misfortunes, they gave each other the tender names of companion, friend, sister. They had but one will, one interest, one table. All their possessions were in common. And if sometimes a passion more ardent than friendship awakened in their hearts the pang of unavailing anguish, a pure religion, united with chaste manners, drew their affections towards another life: as the trembling flame rises towards heaven, when it no longer finds any ailment on earth.
The duties of maternity became a source of additional happiness to these affectionate mothers, whose mutual friendship gained new strength at the sight of their children, equally the offspring of an ill-fated attachment. They delighted in washing their infants together in the same bath, in putting them to rest in the same cradle, and in changing the maternal bosom at which they received nourishment. "My friend," cried Madame de la Tour, "we shall each of us have two children, and each of our children will have two mothers." As two buds which remain on different trees of the same kind, after the tempest has broken all their branches, produce more delicious fruit, if each, separated from the maternal stem, be grafted on the neighbouring tree, so these two infants, deprived of all their other relations, when thus exchanged for nourishment by those who had given them birth, imbibed feelings of affection still more tender than those of son and daughter, brother and sister. While they were yet in their cradles, their mothers talked of their marriage. They soothed their own cares by looking forward to the future happiness of their children; but this contemplation often drew forth their tears. The misfortunes of one mother had arisen from having neglected marriage; those of the other from having submitted to its laws. One had suffered by aiming to rise above her condition, the other by descending from her rank. But they found consolation in reflecting that their more fortunate children, far from the cruel prejudices of Europe, would enjoy at once the pleasures of love and the blessings of equality.
Rarely, indeed, has such an attachment been seen as that which the two children already testified for each other. If Paul complained of anything, his mother pointed to Virginia: at her sight he smiled, and was appeased. If any accident befel Virginia, the cries of Paul gave notice of the disaster; but the dear little creature would suppress her complaints if she found that he was unhappy. When I came hither, I usually found them quite naked, as is the custom of the country, tottering in their walk, and holding each other by the hands and under the arms, as we see represented in the constellation of the Twins. At night these infants often refused to be separated, and were found lying in the same cradle, their cheeks, their bosoms pressed close together, their hands thrown round each other's neck, and sleeping, locked in one another's arms.
When they first began to speak, the first name they learned to give each other were those of brother and sister, and childhood knows no softer appellation. Their education, by directing them ever to consider each other's wants, tended greatly to increase their affection. In a short time, all the household economy, the care of preparing their rural repasts, became the task of Virginia, whose labours were always crowned with the praises and kisses of her brother. As for Paul, always in motion, he dug the garden with Domingo, or followed him with a little hatchet into the woods; and if, in his rambles he espied a beautiful flower, any delicious fruit, or a nest of birds, even at the top of the tree, he would climb up and bring the spoil to his sister. When you met one of these children, you might be sure the other was not far off.
One day as I was coming down that mountain, I saw Virginia at the end of the garden running towards the house with her petticoat thrown over her head, in order to screen herself from a shower of rain. At a distance, I thought she was alone; but as I hastened towards her in order to help her on, I perceived she held Paul by the arm, almost entirely enveloped in the same canopy, and both were laughing heartily at their being sheltered together under an umbrella of their own invention. Those two charming faces in the middle of a swelling petticoat, recalled to my mind the children of Leda, enclosed in the same shell.
Their sole study was how they could please and assist one another; for of all other things they were ignorant, and indeed could neither read nor write. They were never disturbed by inquiries about past times, nor did their curiosity extend beyond the bounds of their mountain. They believed the world ended at the shores of their own island, and all their ideas and all their affections were confined within its limits. Their mutual tenderness, and that of their mothers, employed all the energies of their minds. Their tears had never been called forth by tedious application to useless sciences. Their minds had never been wearied by lessons of morality, superfluous to bosoms unconscious of ill. They had never been taught not to steal, because every thing with them was in common: or not to be intemperate, because their simple food was left to their own discretion; or not to lie, because they had nothing to conceal. Their young imaginations had never been terrified by the idea that God has punishment in store for ungrateful children, since, with them, filial affection arose naturally from maternal tenderness. All they had been taught of religion was to love it, and if they did not offer up long prayers in the church, wherever they were, in the house, in the fields, in the woods, they raised towards heaven their innocent hands, and hearts purified by virtuous affections.
All their early childhood passed thus, like a beautiful dawn, the prelude of a bright day. Already they assisted their mothers in the duties of the household. As soon as the crowing of the wakeful cock announced the first beam of the morning, Virginia arose, and hastened to draw water from a neighbouring spring: then returning to the house she prepared the breakfast. When the rising sun gilded the points of the rocks which overhang the enclosure in which they lived, Margaret and her child repaired to the dwelling of Madame de la Tour, where they offered up their morning prayer together. This sacrifice of thanksgiving always preceded their first repast, which they often took before the door of the cottage, seated upon the grass, under a canopy of plantain: and while the branches of that delicious tree afforded a grateful shade, its fruit furnished a substantial food ready prepared for them by nature, and its long glossy leaves, spread upon the table, supplied the place of linen. Plentiful and wholesome nourishment gave early growth and vigour to the persons of these children, and their countenances expressed the purity and the peace of their souls. At twelve years of age the figure of Virginia was in some degree formed: a profusion of light hair shaded her face, to which her blue eyes and coral lips gave the most charming brilliancy. Her eyes sparkled with vivacity when she spoke; but when she was silent they were habitually turned upwards, with an expression of extreme sensibility, or rather of tender melancholy. The figure of Paul began already to display the graces of youthful beauty. He was taller than Virginia: his skin was of a darker tint; his nose more aquiline; and his black eyes would have been too piercing, if the long eye-lashes by which they were shaded, had not imparted to them an expression of softness. He was constantly in motion, except when his sister appeared, and then, seated by her side, he became still. Their meals often passed without a word being spoken; and from their silence, the simple elegance of their attitudes, and the beauty of their naked feet, you might have fancied you beheld an antique group of white marble, representing some of the children of Niobe, but for the glances of their eyes, which were constantly seeking to meet, and their mutual soft and tender smiles, which suggested rather the idea of happy celestial spirits, whose nature is love, and who are not obliged to have recourse to words for the expression of their feelings.
In the meantime Madame de la Tour, perceiving every day some unfolding grace, some new beauty, in her daughter, felt her maternal anxiety increase with her tenderness. She often said to me, "If I were to die, what would become of Virginia without fortune?"
Madame de la Tour had an aunt in France, who was a woman of quality, rich, old, and a complete devotee. She had behaved with so much cruelty towards her niece upon her marriage, that Madame de la Tour had determined no extremity of distress should ever compel her to have recourse to her hard-hearted relation. But when she became a mother, the pride of resentment was overcome by the stronger feelings of maternal tenderness. She wrote to her aunt, informing her of the sudden death of her husband, the birth of her daughter, and the difficulties in which she was involved, burthened as she was with an infant, and without means of support. She received no answer; but notwithstanding the high spirit natural to her character, she no longer feared exposing herself to mortification; and, although she knew her aunt would never pardon her for having married a man who was not of noble birth, however estimable, she continued to write to her, with the hope of awakening her compassion for Virginia. Many years, however passed without receiving any token of her remembrance.
At length, in 1738, three years after the arrival of Monsieur de la Bourdonnais in this island, Madame de la Tour was informed that the Governor had a letter to give her from her aunt. She flew to Port Louis; maternal joy raised her mind above all trifling considerations, and she was careless on this occasion of appearing in her homely attire. Monsieur de la Bourdonnais gave her a letter from her aunt, in which she informed her, that she deserved her fate for marrying an adventurer and a libertine: that the passions brought with them their own punishment; that the premature death of her husband was a just visitation from Heaven; that she had done well in going to a distant island, rather than dishonour her family by remaining in France; and that, after all, in the colony where she had taken refuge, none but the idle failed to grow rich. Having thus censured her niece, she concluded by eulogizing herself. To avoid, she said, the almost inevitable evils of marriage, she had determined to remain single. In fact, as she was of a very ambitious disposition she had resolved to marry none but a man of high rank; but although she was very rich, her fortune was not found a sufficient bribe, even at court, to counterbalance the malignant dispositions of her mind, and the disagreeable qualities of her person.
After mature deliberations, she added, in a postscript, that she had strongly recommended her niece to Monsieur de la Bourdonnais. This she had indeed done, but in a manner of late too common which renders a patron perhaps even more to be feared than a declared enemy; for, in order to justify herself for her harshness, she had cruelly slandered her niece, while she affected to pity her misfortunes.
Madame de la Tour, whom no unprejudiced person could have seen without feelings of sympathy and respect, was received with the utmost coolness by Monsieur de la Bourdonnais, biased as he was against her. When she painted to him her own situation and that of her child, he replied in abrupt sentences,—"We shall see what can be done—there are so many to relieve—all in good time—why did you displease your aunt?—you have been much to blame."
Madame de la Tour returned to her cottage, her heart torn with grief, and filled with all the bitterness of disappointment. When she arrived, she threw her aunt's letter on the table, and exclaimed to her friend,—"There is the fruit of eleven years of patient expectation!" Madame de la Tour being the only person in the little circle who could read, she again took up the letter, and read it aloud. Scarcely had she finished, when Margaret exclaimed, "What have we to do with your relations? Has God then forsaken us? He only is our father! Have we not hitherto been happy? Why then this regret? You have no courage." Seeing Madame de la Tour in tears, she threw herself upon her neck, and pressing her in her arms,—"My dear friend!" cried she, "my dear friend!"—but her emotion choked her utterance. At this sight Virginia burst into tears, and pressed her mother's and Margaret's hand alternately to her lips and heart; while Paul, his eyes inflamed with anger, cried, clasped his hands together, and stamped his foot, not knowing whom to blame for this scene of misery. The noise soon brought Domingo and Mary to the spot, and the little habitation resounded with cries of distress,—"Ah, madame!—My good mistress!—My dear mother!—Do not weep!" These tender proofs of affections at length dispelled the grief of Madame de la Tour. She took Paul and Virginia in her arms, and, embracing them, said, "You are the cause of my affliction, my children, but you are also my only source of delight! Yes, my dear children, misfortune has reached me, but only from a distance: here, I am surrounded with happiness." Paul and Virginia did not understand this reflection; but, when they saw that she was calm, they smiled, and continued to caress her. Tranquillity was thus restored in this happy family, and all that had passed was but a storm in the midst of fine weather, which disturbs the serenity of the atmosphere but for a short time, and then passes away.
The amiable disposition of these children unfolded itself daily. One Sunday, at day-break, their mothers having gone to mass at the church of Shaddock Grove, the children perceived a negro woman beneath the plantains which surrounded their habitation. She appeared almost wasted to a skeleton, and had no other garment than a piece of coarse cloth thrown around her. She threw herself at the feet of Virginia, who was preparing the family breakfast, and said, "My good young lady, have pity on a poor runaway slave. For a whole month I have wandered among these mountains, half dead with hunger, and often pursued by the hunters and their dogs. I fled from my master, a rich planter of the Black River, who has used me as you see;" and she showed her body marked with scars from the lashes she had received. She added, "I was going to drown myself, but hearing you lived here, I said to myself, since there are still some good white people in this country, I need not die yet." Virginia answered with emotion,—"Take courage, unfortunate creature! here is something to eat;" and she gave her the breakfast she had been preparing, which the slave in a few minutes devoured. When her hunger was appeased, Virginia said to her,—"Poor woman! I should like to go and ask forgiveness for you of your master. Surely the sight of you will touch him with pity. Will you show me the way?"—"Angel of heaven!" answered the poor negro woman, "I will follow you where you please!" Virginia called her brother, and begged him to accompany her. The slave led the way, by winding and difficult paths, through the woods, over mountains, which they climbed with difficulty, and across rivers, through which they were obliged to wade. At length, about the middle of the day, they reached the foot of a steep descent upon the borders of the Black River. There they perceived a well-built house, surrounded by extensive plantations, and a number of slaves employed in their various labours. Their master was walking among them with a pipe in his mouth, and a switch in his hand. He was a tall thin man, of a brown complexion; his eyes were sunk in his head, and his dark eyebrows were joined in one. Virginia, holding Paul by the hand, drew near, and with much emotion begged him, for the love of God, to pardon his poor slave, who stood trembling a few paces behind. The planter at first paid little attention to the children, who, he saw, were meanly dressed. But when he observed the elegance of Virginia's form, and the profusion of her beautiful light tresses which had escaped from beneath her blue cap; when he heard the soft tone of her voice, which trembled, as well as her whole frame, while she implored his compassion; he took his pipe from his mouth, and lifting up his stick, swore, with a terrible oath, that he pardoned his slave, not for the love of Heaven, but of her who asked his forgiveness. Virginia made a sign to the slave to approach her master; and instantly sprang away followed by Paul.
They climbed up the steep they had descended; and having gained the summit, seated themselves at the foot of a tree, overcome with fatigue, hunger and thirst. They had left their home fasting, and walked five leagues since sunrise. Paul said to Virginia,—"My dear sister, it is past noon, and I am sure you are thirsty and hungry: we shall find no dinner here; let us go down the mountain again, and ask the master of the poor slave for some food."—"Oh, no," answered Virginia, "he frightens me too much. Remember what mamma sometimes says, 'The bread of the wicked is like stones in the mouth.' "—"What shall we do then," said Paul; "these trees produce no fruit fit to eat; and I shall not be able to find even a tamarind or a lemon to refresh you."—"God will take care of us," replied Virginia; "he listens to the cry even of the little birds when they ask him for food." Scarcely had she pronounced these words when they heard the noise of water falling from a neighbouring rock. They ran thither and having quenched their thirst at this crystal spring, they gathered and ate a few cresses which grew on the border of the stream. Soon afterwards while they were wandering backwards and forwards in search of more solid nourishment, Virginia perceived in the thickest part of the forest, a young palm-tree. The kind of cabbage which is found at the top of the palm, enfolded within its leaves, is well adapted for food; but, although the stock of the tree is not thicker than a man's leg, it grows to above sixty feet in height. The wood of the tree, indeed, is composed only of very fine filaments; but the bark is so hard that it turns the edge of the hatchet, and Paul was not furnished even with a knife. At length he thought of setting fire to the palm-tree; but a new difficulty occurred: he had no steel with which to strike fire; and although the whole island is covered with rocks, I do not believe it is possible to find a single flint. Necessity, however, is fertile in expedients, and the most useful inventions have arisen from men placed in the most destitute situations. Paul determined to kindle a fire after the manner of the negroes. With the sharp end of a stone he made a small hole in the branch of a tree that was quite dry, and which he held between his feet: he then, with the edge of the same stone, brought to a point another dry branch of a different sort of wood, and, afterwards, placing the piece of pointed wood in the small hole of the branch which he held with his feet and turning it rapidly between his hands, in a few minutes smoke and sparks of fire issued from the point of contact. Paul then heaped together dried grass and branches, and set fire to the foot of the palm-tree, which soon fell to the ground with a tremendous crash. The fire was further useful to him in stripping off the long, thick, and pointed leaves, within which the cabbage was inclosed. Having thus succeeded in obtaining this fruit, they ate part of it raw, and part dressed upon the ashes, which they found equally palatable. They made this frugal repast with delight, from the remembrances of the benevolent action they had performed in the morning: yet their joy was embittered by the thoughts of the uneasiness which their long absence from home would occasion their mothers. Virginia often recurred to this subject; but Paul, who felt his strength renewed by their meal, assured her, that it would not be long before they reached home, and, by the assurance of their safety, tranquillized the minds of their parents.
After dinner they were much embarrassed by the recollection that they had now no guide, and that they were ignorant of the way. Paul, whose spirit was not subdued by difficulties, said to Virginia,—"The sun shines full upon our huts at noon: we must pass, as we did this morning, over that mountain with its three points, which you see yonder. Come, let us be moving." This mountain was that of the Three Breasts, so called from the form of its three peaks. They then descended the steep bank of the Black River, on the northern side; and arrived, after an hour's walk, on the banks of a large river, which stopped their further progress. This large portion of the island, covered as it is with forests, is even now so little known that many of its rivers and mountains have not yet received a name. The stream, on the banks of which Paul and Virginia were now standing, rolls foaming over a bed of rocks. The noise of the water frightened Virginia, and she was afraid to wade through the current: Paul therefore took her up in his arms, and went thus loaded over the slippery rocks, which formed the bed of the river, careless of the tumultuous noise of its waters. "Do not be afraid," cried he to Virginia; "I feel very strong with you. If that planter at the Black River had refused you the pardon of his slave, I would have fought with him."—"What!" answered Virginia, "with that great wicked man? To what have I exposed you! Gracious heaven! how difficult it is to do good! and yet it is so easy to do wrong."
When Paul had crossed the river, he wished to continue the journey carrying his sister: and he flattered himself that he could ascend in that way the mountain of the Three Breasts, which was still at the distance of half a league; but his strength soon failed, and he was obliged to set down his burthen, and to rest himself by her side. Virginia then said to him, "My dear brother, the sun is going down; you have still some strength left, but mine has quite failed: do leave me here, and return home alone to ease the fears of our mothers."—"Oh no," said Paul, "I will not leave you if night overtakes us in this wood, I will light a fire, and bring down another palm-tree: you shall eat the cabbage, and I will form a covering of the leaves to shelter you." In the meantime, Virginia being a little rested, she gathered from the trunk of an old tree, which overhung the bank of the river, some long leaves of the plant called hart's tongue, which grew near its root. Of these leaves she made a sort of buskin, with which she covered her feet, that were bleeding from the sharpness of the stony paths; for in her eager desire to do good, she had forgotten to put on her shoes. Feeling her feet cooled by the freshness of the leaves, she broke off a branch of bamboo, and continued her walk, leaning with one hand on the staff, and with the other on Paul.
They walked on in this manner slowly through the woods; but from the height of the trees, and the thickness of their foliage, they soon lost sight of the mountain of the Three Breasts, by which they had hitherto directed their course, and also of the sun, which was now setting. At length they wandered, without perceiving it, from the beaten path in which they had hitherto walked, and found themselves in a labyrinth of trees, underwood, and rocks, whence there appeared to be no outlet. Paul made Virginia sit down, while he ran backwards and forwards, half frantic, in search of a path which might lead them out of this thick wood; but he fatigued himself to no purpose. He then climbed to the top of a lofty tree, whence he hoped at least to perceive the mountain of the Three Breasts: but he could discern nothing around him but the tops of trees, some of which were gilded with the last beams of the setting sun. Already the shadows of the mountains were spreading over the forests in the valleys. The wind lulled, as is usually the case at sunset. The most profound silence reigned in those awful solitudes, which was only interrupted by the cry of the deer, who came to their lairs in that unfrequented spot. Paul, in the hope that some hunter would hear his voice, called out as loud as he was able,—"Come, come to the help of Virginia." But the echoes of the forest alone answered his call, and repeated again and again, "Virginia—Virginia."
Paul at length descended from the tree, overcome with fatigue and vexation. He looked around in order to make some arrangement for passing the night in that desert; but he could find neither fountain, nor palm-tree, nor even a branch of dry wood fit for kindling a fire. He was then impressed, by experience, with the sense of his own weakness, and began to weep. Virginia said to him,—"Do not weep, my dear brother, or I shall be overwhelmed with grief. I am the cause of all your sorrow, and of all that our mothers are suffering at this moment. I find we ought to do nothing, not even good, without consulting our parents. Oh, I have been very imprudent!"—and she began to shed tears. "Let us pray to God, my dear brother," she again said, "and he will hear us." They had scarcely finished their prayer, when they heard the barking of a dog. "It must be the dog of some hunter," said Paul, "who comes here at night, to lie in wait for the deer." Soon after, the dog began barking again with increased violence. "Surely," said Virginia, "it is Fidele, our own dog: yes,—now I know his bark. Are we then so near home?—at the foot of our own mountain?" A moment after, Fidele was at their feet, barking, howling, moaning, and devouring them with his caresses. Before they could recover from their surprise, they saw Domingo running towards them. At the sight of the good old negro, who wept for joy, they began to weep too, but had not the power to utter a syllable. When Domingo had recovered himself a little,—"Oh, my dear children," said he, "how miserable have you made your mothers! How astonished they were when they returned with me from mass, on not finding you at home. Mary, who was at work at a little distance, could not tell us where you were gone. I ran backwards and forwards in the plantation, not knowing where to look for you. At last I took some of your old clothes, and showing them to Fidele, the poor animal, as if he understood me, immediately began to scent your path; and conducted me, wagging his tail all the while, to the Black River. I there saw a planter, who told me you had brought back a Maroon negro woman, his slave, and that he had pardoned her at your request. But what a pardon! he showed her to me with her feet chained to a block of wood, and an iron collar with three hooks fastened round her neck! After that, Fidele, still on the scent, led me up the steep bank of the Black River, where he again stopped, and barked with all his might. This was on the brink of a spring, near which was a fallen palm-tree, and a fire, still smoking. At last he led me to this very spot. We are now at the foot of the mountain of the Three Breasts, and still a good four leagues from home. Come, eat, and recover your strength." Domingo then presented them with a cake, some fruit, and a large gourd, full of beverage composed of wine, water, lemon-juice, sugar, and nutmeg, which their mothers had prepared to invigorate and refresh them. Virginia sighed at the recollection of the poor slave, and at the uneasiness they had given their mothers. She repeated several times—"Oh, how difficult it is to do good!" While she and Paul were taking refreshment, it being already night, Domingo kindled a fire: and having found among the rocks a particular kind of twisted wood, called bois de ronde, which burns when quite green, and throws out a great blaze, he made a torch of it, which he lighted. But when they prepared to continue their journey, a new difficulty occurred; Paul and Virginia could no longer walk, their feet being violently swollen and inflamed. Domingo knew not what to do; whether to leave them and go in search of help, or remain and pass the night with them on that spot. "There was a time," said he, "when I could carry you both together in my arms! But now you are grown big, and I am grown old." When he was in this perplexity, a troop of Maroon negroes appeared at a short distance from them. The chief of the band, approaching Paul and Virginia, said to them,—"Good little white people, do not be afraid. We saw you pass this morning, with a negro woman of the Black River. You went to ask pardon for her of her wicked master; and we, in return for this, will carry you home upon our shoulders." He then made a sign, and four of the strongest negroes immediately formed a sort of litter with the branches of trees and lianas, and having seated Paul and Virginia on it, carried them upon their shoulders. Domingo marched in front with his lighted torch, and they proceeded amidst the rejoicings of the whole troop, who overwhelmed them with their benedictions. Virginia, affected by this scene, said to Paul, with emotion,—"Oh, my dear brother! God never leaves a good action unrewarded."
It was midnight when they arrived at the foot of their mountain, on the ridges of which several fires were lighted. As soon as they began to ascend, they heard voices exclaiming—"Is it you, my children?" They answered immediately, and the negroes also,—"Yes, yes, it is." A moment after they could distinguish their mothers and Mary coming towards them with lighted sticks in their hands. "Unhappy children," cried Madame de la Tour, "where have you been? What agonies you have made us suffer!"—"We have been," said Virginia, "to the Black River, where we went to ask pardon for a poor Maroon slave, to whom I gave our breakfast this morning, because she seemed dying of hunger; and these Maroon negroes have brought us home." Madame de la Tour embraced her daughter, without being able to speak; and Virginia, who felt her face wet with her mother's tears, exclaimed, "Now I am repaid for all the hardships I have suffered." Margaret, in a transport of delight, pressed Paul in her arms, exclaiming, "And you also, my dear child, you have done a good action." When they reached the cottages with their children, they entertained all the negroes with a plentiful repast, after which the latter returned to the woods, praying Heaven to shower down every description of blessing on those good white people.
Every day was to these families a day of happiness and tranquillity. Neither ambition nor envy disturbed their repose. They did not seek to obtain a useless reputation out of doors, which may be procured by artifice and lost by calumny; but were contented to be the sole witnesses and judges of their own actions. In this island, where, as is the case in most colonies, scandal forms the principal topic of conversation, their virtues, and even their names were unknown. The passer-by on the road to Shaddock Grove, indeed, would sometimes ask the inhabitants of the plain, who lived in the cottages up there? and was always told, even by those who did not know them, "They are good people." The modest violet thus, concealed in thorny places sheds all unseen its delightful fragrance around.
Slander, which, under an appearance of justice, naturally inclines the heart to falsehood or to hatred, was entirely banished from their conversation; for it is impossible not to hate men if we believe them to be wicked, or to live with the wicked without concealing that hatred under a false pretence of good feeling. Slander thus puts us ill at ease with others and with ourselves. In this little circle, therefore, the conduct of individuals was not discussed, but the best manner of doing good to all; and although they had but little in their power, their unceasing good-will and kindness of heart made them constantly ready to do what they could for others. Solitude, far from having blunted these benevolent feelings, had rendered their dispositions even more kindly. Although the petty scandals of the day furnished no subject of conversation to them, yet the contemplation of nature filled their minds with enthusiastic delight. They adored the bounty of that Providence, which, by their instrumentality, had spread abundance and beauty amid these barren rocks, and had enabled them to enjoy those pure and simple pleasures, which are ever grateful and ever new.
Paul, at twelve years of age, was stronger and more intelligent than most European youths are at fifteen; and the plantations, which Domingo merely cultivated, were embellished by him. He would go with the old negro into the neighbouring woods, where he would root up the young plants of lemon, orange, and tamarind trees, the round heads of which are so fresh a green, together with date-palm trees, which produce fruit filled with a sweet cream, possessing the fine perfume of the orange flower. These trees, which had already attained to a considerable size, he planted round their little enclosure. He had also sown the seed of many trees which the second year bear flowers or fruit; such as the agathis, encircled with long clusters of white flowers which hang from it like the crystal pendants of a chandelier; the Persian lilac, which lifts high in air its gray flax-coloured branches; the pappaw tree, the branchless trunk of which forms a column studded with green melons, surmounted by a capital of broad leaves similar to those of the fig-tree.
The seeds and kernels of the gum tree, terminalia, mango, alligator pear, the guava, the bread-fruit tree, and the narrow-leaved rose-apple, were also planted by him with profusion: and the greater number of these trees already afforded their young cultivator both shade and fruit. His industrious hands diffused the riches of nature over even the most barren parts of the plantation. Several species of aloes, the Indian fig, adorned with yellow flowers spotted with red, and the thorny torch thistle, grew upon the dark summits of the rocks, and seemed to aim at reaching the long lianas, which, laden with blue or scarlet flowers, hung scattered over the steepest parts of the mountain.
I loved to trace the ingenuity he had exercised in the arrangement of these trees. He had so disposed them that the whole could be seen at a single glance. In the middle of the hollow he had planted shrubs of the lowest growth; behind grew the more lofty sorts; then trees of the ordinary height; and beyond and above all, the venerable and lofty groves which border the circumference. Thus this extensive enclosure appeared, from its centre, like a verdant amphitheatre decorated with fruits and flowers, containing a variety of vegetables, some strips of meadow land, and fields of rice and corn. But, in arranging these vegetable productions to his own taste, he wandered not too far from the designs of Nature. Guided by her suggestions, he had thrown upon the elevated spots such seeds as the winds would scatter about, and near the borders of the springs those which float upon the water. Every plant thus grew in its proper soil, and every spot seemed decorated by Nature's own hand. The streams which fell from the summits of the rocks formed in some parts of the valley sparkling cascades, and in others were spread into broad mirrors, in which were reflected, set in verdure, the flowering trees, the overhanging rocks, and the azure heavens.
Notwithstanding the great irregularity of the ground, these plantations were, for the most part, easy of access. We had, indeed, all given him our advice and assistance, in order to accomplish this end. He had conducted one path entirely round the valley, and various branches from it led from the circumference to the centre. He had drawn some advantage from the most rugged spots, and had blended, in harmonious union, level walks with the inequalities of the soil, and trees which grow wild with the cultivated varieties. With that immense quantity of large pebbles which now block up these paths, and which are scattered over most of the ground of this island, he formed pyramidal heaps here and there, at the base of which he laid mould, and planted rose-bushes, the Barbadoes flower-fence, and other shrubs which love to climb the rocks. In a short time the dark and shapeless heaps of stones he had constructed were covered with verdure, or with the glowing tints of the most beautiful flowers. Hollow recesses on the borders of the streams shaded by the overhanging boughs of aged trees, formed rural grottoes, impervious to the rays of the sun, in which you might enjoy a refreshing coolness during the mid-day heats. One path led to a clump of forest trees, in the centre of which sheltered from the wind, you found a fruit-tree, laden with produce. Here was a corn-field; there, an orchard; from one avenue you had a view of the cottages; from another, of the inaccessible summit of the mountain. Beneath one tufted bower of gum trees, interwoven with lianas, no object whatever could be perceived: while the point of the adjoining rock, jutting out from the mountain, commanded a view of the whole enclosure, and of the distant ocean, where, occasionally, we could discern the distant sail, arriving from Europe, or bound thither. On this rock the two families frequently met in the evening, and enjoyed in silence the freshness of the flowers, the gentle murmurs of the fountain, and the last blended harmonies of light and shade.