Page images

upon them all. I am, perhaps, giving the largest now, by writing out my recollections of my life, but it is in the confident hope that a full meal may make the hungry, lean, clamorous creature quiet at last. Surely, when I have turned myself inside out, and put myself away in the leaves of a notebook, I shall have done with the subject.

Well, I will begin with that day when I first turned my attention from the outside world to that within, and contemplated my individual I, as the Germans would say.

I was reading the other day, in Jean Paul's life, how he, a poet-child, stood one evening at the door of his father's cottage, looking out on broad, solitary fields, bright with their first winter garment of new snow, and listening to the wind sweeping through the pine-forests behind his house; and how, in that hour, a new thought was borne into his mind, filling it with I know not what sensations of reverence and joy :—“I am an I.” Not being a poet, I do not understand why he felt so pleased with the discovery, and certainly my self-consciousness came to me in a much more commonplace and feminine fashion. I was between eight and nine years old, it was the autumn of the year—the late part of the


autumn-a disagreeable season in our house, when the weather (in our father's opinion) was not cold enough to call for fires in the sitting-rooms, but was (in reality) quite cold enough to cause us children to walk about the house with pinched faces and shivering arms. The light, too, to my thinking, failed at an inconvenient hour, not early enough to make it worth while in my mother's opinion) to light the lamps before tea, and yet in time to leave a long, dreary blind-man's holiday, which, to a restless child like myself, was particularly irksome.

On the day I am thinking of, I left my little sister alone in the nursery, and slipped down to the drawing-room, where, owing to the larger size of the windows, daylight lingered for a quarter of an hour longer. I was in the most exciting part of “Evelina" -a volume I had stolen from my mother's dressing

I room—and I held the book close to the window-pane, and strained my eyes till they grew dim before I could bring myself to leave off reading. When, at last, no word could be spelt out, I sat down on the carpet, under the shade of the curtains, and amused myself by contemplating the fantastic pictures which my rapid reading had left on my mind. Very fantastic pictures they were for, of course, I only under

stood a third of the book ; but looking back upon them, I began (for the first time in my life) to try to draw some conclusion from what I had been reading. I thought over the strange actions and sayings of the people whose society I had just left, and made an effort to reconcile them with the manners and opinions of the people among whom I lived. Before long, amid much confusion, one point of difference grew very clear to me-I discovered that my book taught that there was another way of dividing the inhabitants of the world beside that old one of bad and good, to which I had been accustomed. Men and,

, women were not only bad or good, they were also beautiful or ugly; and this distinction, when I had once admitted it, struck me as admitting a breadth of separation to which it was strange I could so long have been blind. To be beautiful was clearly to be happy, admirable, glorious ; to be ugly was not exactly a disgrace—my conscience would not let me think that--but something extremely undesirable and inglorious ; something that a person, somehow or other, ought not to be. I had not thought about myself so far, but I think I must have been on the verge of it, when my attention was called from my

, own reflections by hearing my name spoken ; and

peeping through the curtain, I discovered that my mother, and a neighbour who sometimes came to spend the evening with her, had entered the drawingroom during my reverie, and were talking together.

“ Yes," I heard my mother say, “you are quite right; I am very uneasy about the way in which Janet's teeth are coming. If she had had the best teeth in the world, her mouth would still have looked too large. As it is, I dread to think how she will look.”

"Oh, perhaps her teeth will improve," I heard good-natured Mrs. Wilton answer.

“ Janet is just now at an ugly age; one cannot, at nine years old, say how a girl will look when she is grown up.”

There was a pause, and then my mother sighed. “Oh, my dear Mrs. Wilton, I know quite well how Janet will look when she is grown up. I am not one of those mothers who cannot see their children's imperfections; my anxiety makes me keen-sighted. I see clearly enough that Janet can never be otherwise than very plain; she has not one good feature in her face except her eyes, and her complexion is hopeless."

“ You call it so, because your other children have such beautiful complexions. How exquisitely fair


Ernestine is how lovely she promises to be!—and Charlie, I do think, is the handsomest boy I ever saw in my life."

"Charlie is very well, and Ernestine will, I suppose, be pretty; that makes me the more sorry about Janet. When there are only two sisters, it is a pity they should be so unlike. I shall never know how to dress them."

"Janet is like Hilary."

"Oh, no!" cried my mother; "Hilary's face is far better featured; and besides, in a boy it does not signify."

"No; and after all, dear Mrs. Scott" (I noticed here a change in the voice-more gravity, and less sincerity in its tone)-" after all, what does it signify for any one? Vanity of vanities,' you know."

[ocr errors]

"Yes-yes, of course-of course," my mother interrupted, rather sharply. "I intend to bring up both Janet and Ernestine to think nothing about appearance. I shall tell them, if ever I speak on the subject at all, that it is not of the slightest consequence whether they are pretty or plain. But still, I must confess it is a mortification to me that Janet should not be a little better-looking; and I am very sorry that Mr. Scott set his face so decidedly

« PreviousContinue »