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OR ESSAYS INTERPOSED FOR AMUSEMENT, RETROSPECT,
MISCELLANY THE SECOND.
Etiam à musis si quando animum paulisper abducamus, apud Musas nihilominus feriamur; at reclines quidem, at otiosas, at de his et illis inter se libere colloquentes.
THE SECOND LANDING PLACE.
It were a wantonness, and would demand
I KNOW not how I can better commence my second LandingPlace, as joining on to the section of Politics, than by the following proof of the severe miseries which misgovernment may occasion in a country nominally free. In the homely ballad of the Three Graves* I have attempted to exemplify the effect, which one painful idea, vividly impressed on the mind under unusual circumstances, might have in producing an alienation of the understanding; and in the parts hitherto published, I have endeavored to trace the progress to madness, step by step. But though the main incidents are facts, the detail of the circumstances is of my own invention; that is, not what I knew, but what I conceived likely to have been the case, or at least equivalent to it. In the tale that follows, I present an instance of the same causes acting upon the mind to the production of conduct as wild as that of madness, but without any positive or permanent loss of the reason or the understanding; and this in a real occurrence, real in all its parts and particulars. But in truth this tale overflows with a human interest, and needs no philosophical deduction to make it impressive. The account was published in the city in which the event took place, and in the same year I read it, when I was in Germany, and the impression made on my memory was so deep, that though I relate it in my own language, and with my own feelings, and in reliance on the fidelity of my recollection, I dare vouch for the accuracy of the narration in all important particulars.
* Poet. Works, VII. p. 167.---Ed.
The imperial free towns of Germany are, with only two or three exceptions, enviably distinguished by the virtuous and primitive manners of the citizens, and by the parental character of their several governments. As exceptions, however, I must mention Aix la Chapelle, poisoned by French manners, and the concourse of gamesters and sharpers ; and Nüremberg, the industrious and honest inhabitants of which deserve a better fate than to have their lives and properties under the guardianship of a wolfish and merciless oligarchy, proud from ignorance, and remaining ignorant through pride. It is from the small states of Germany that our writers on political economy might draw their most forcible instances of actually oppressive, and even mortal, taxation, and gain the clearest insight into the causes and circumstances of the injury. One other remark, and I proceed to the story. I well remember, that the event I am about to narrate, called forth, in several of the German periodical publications, the most passionate (and in more than one instance blasphemous) declamations concerning the incomprehensibility of the moral government of the world, and the seeming injustice and cruelty of the dispensations of Providence. But, assuredly, every one of my readers, however deeply he may sympathize with the poor sufferers, will at once answer all such declamations by the simple reflection, that no one of these awful events could possibly have taken place under a wise police and humane government, and that men have no right to complain of Providence for evils which they themselves are competent to remedy by mere common sense, joined with mere common humanity.
MARIA ELEONORA SCHÖNING was the daughter of a Nüremberg wire-drawer. She received her unhappy existence at the price of her mother's life, and at the age of seventeen she followed, as the sole mourner, the bier of her remaining parent. From her thirteenth year she had passed her life at her father's sick-bed, the gout having deprived him of the use of his limbs, and seen
the arch of heaven only when she went to fetch food or medicines. The discharge of her filial duties occupied the whole of her time and all her thoughts. She was his only nurse, and for the last two years they lived without a servant.
She prepared his scanty meal, she bathed his aching limbs, and though weak and delicate from constant confinement and the poison of melancholy thoughts, she had acquired an unusual power in her arms, from the habit of lifting her old and suffering father out of and into his bed of pain. Thus passed away her early youth in sorrow :- she grew up in tears, a stranger to the amusements of youth, and its more delightful schemes and imaginations. She was not, however, unhappy : she attributed, indeed, no merit to herself for her virtues, but for that reason were they the more her, reward. The peace which passeth all understanding disclosed itself in all her looks and movements. It lay on her countenance, like a steady unshadowed moonlight: and her voice, which was naturally at once sweet and subtle, came from her, like the fine flute-tones of a masterly performer, which still floating at some uncertain distance, seem to be created by the player, rather than to proceed from the instrument. If you had listened to it in one of those brief sabbaths of the soul, when the activity and discursiveness of the thoughts are suspended, and the mind quietly eddies round, instead of flowing onward—as at late evening in the spring I have seen a bat wheel in silent circles round and round a fruit-tree in full blossom, in the midst of which, as within a close tent of the purest white, an unseen nightingale was piping its sweetest notes)—in such a mood you might have half-fancied, half-felt, that her voice had a separate being of its own—that it was a living something, the mode of existence of which was for the ear only: so deep was her resignation, so entirely had it become the unconscious habit of her nature, and in all she did or said, so perfectly were both her movements and her utterance without effort, and without the appearance of effort! Her dying father's last words, addressed to the clergyman who attended him, were his grateful testimony, that during his long and sore trial his good Maria had behaved to him like an angel ;-that the most disagreeable offices and the least suited to her age and sex, had never drawn an unwilling look from her, and that whenever his eye had met hers, he had been sure to see in it either the tear of pity or the sudden smile expressive of her affec