Liber Amoris, or, the New Pygmalion

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Author: William Hazlitt

Letter IX

My dear P----, You have been very kind to me in this business; but I fear even your indulgence for my infirmities is beginning to fail. To what a state am I reduced, and for what? For fancying a little artful vixen to be an angel and a saint, because she affected to look like one, to hide her rank thoughts and deadly purposes. Has she not murdered me under the mask of the tenderest friendship? And why? Because I have loved her with unutterable love, and sought to make her my wife. You say it is my own "outrageous conduct" that has estranged her: nay, I have been TOO GENTLE with her. I ask you first in candour whether the ambiguity of her behaviour with respect to me, sitting and fondling a man (circumstanced as I was) sometimes for half a day together, and then declaring she had no love for him beyond common regard, and professing never to marry, was not enough to excite my suspicions, which the different exposures from the conversations below-stairs were not calculated to allay? I ask you what you yourself would have felt or done, if loving her as I did, you had heard what I did, time after time?
Did not her mother own to one of the grossest charges (which I shall not repeat)—and is such indelicacy to be reconciled with her pretended character (that character with which I fell in love, and to which I MADE LOVE) without supposing her to be the greatest hypocrite in the world? My unpardonable offence has been that I took her at her word, and was willing to believe her the precise little puritanical person she set up for. After exciting her wayward desires by the fondest embraces and the purest kisses, as if she had been "made my wedded wife yestreen," or was to become so to-morrow (for that was always my feeling with respect to her)—I did not proceed to gratify them, or to follow up my advantage by any action which should declare, "I think you a common adventurer, and will see whether you are so or not!" Yet any one but a credulous fool like me would have made the experiment, with whatever violence to himself, as a matter of life and death; for I had every reason to distrust appearances. Her conduct has been of a piece from the beginning. In the midst of her closest and falsest endearments, she has always (with one or two exceptions) disclaimed the natural inference to be drawn from them, and made a verbal reservation, by which she might lead me on in a Fool’s Paradise, and make me the tool of her levity, her avarice, and her love of intrigue as long as she liked, and dismiss me whenever it suited her. This, you see, she has done, because my intentions grew serious, and if complied with, would deprive her of THE PLEASURES OF A SINGLE LIFE! Offer marriage to this "tradesman’s daughter, who has as nice a sense of honour as any one can have;" and like Lady Bellaston in Tom Jones, she CUTS you immediately in a fit of abhorrence and alarm. Yet she seemed to be of a different mind formerly, when struggling from me in the height of our first intimacy, she exclaimed—"However I might agree to my own ruin, I never will consent to bring disgrace upon my family!" That I should have spared the traitress after expressions like this, astonishes me when I look back upon it. Yet if it were all to do over again, I know I should act just the same part. Such is her power over me! I cannot run the least risk of offending her—I love her so. When I look in her face, I cannot doubt her truth! Wretched being that I am! I have thrown away my heart and soul upon an unfeeling girl; and my life (that might have been so happy, had she been what I thought her) will soon follow either voluntarily, or by the force of grief, remorse, and disappointment. I cannot get rid of the reflection for an instant, nor even seek relief from its galling pressure. Ah! what a heart she has lost! All the love and affection of my whole life were centred in her, who alone, I thought, of all women had found out my true character, and knew how to value my tenderness. Alas! alas! that this, the only hope, joy, or comfort I ever had, should turn to a mockery, and hang like an ugly film over the remainder of my days!—I was at Roslin Castle yesterday. It lies low in a rude, but sheltered valley, hid from the vulgar gaze, and powerfully reminds one of the old song. The straggling fragments of the russet ruins, suspended smiling and graceful in the air as if they would linger out another century to please the curious beholder, the green larch-trees trembling between with the blue sky and white silver clouds, the wild mountain plants starting out here and there, the date of the year on an old low door-way, but still more, the beds of flowers in orderly decay, that seem to have no hand to tend them, but keep up a sort of traditional remembrance of civilization in former ages, present altogether a delightful and amiable subject for contemplation. The exquisite beauty of the scene, with the thought of what I should feel, should I ever be restored to her, and have to lead her through such places as my adored, my angelwife, almost drove me beside myself. For this picture, this ecstatic vision, what have I of late instead as the image of the reality? Demoniacal possessions. I see the young witch seated in another’s lap, twining her serpent arms round him, her eye glancing and her cheeks on fire—why does not the hideous thought choke me? Or why do I not go and find out the truth at once? The moonlight streams over the silver waters: the bark is in the bay that might waft me to her, almost with a wish. The mountain-breeze sighs out her name: old ocean with a world of tears murmurs back my woes! Does not my heart yearn to be with her; and shall I not follow its bidding? No, I must wait till I am free; and then I will take my Freedom (a glad prize) and lay it at her feet and tell her my proud love of her that would not brook a rival in her dishonour, and that would have her all or none, and gain her or lose myself for ever!—

You see by this letter the way I am in, and I hope you will excuse it as the picture of a half-disordered mind. The least respite from my uneasiness (such as I had yesterday) only brings the contrary reflection back upon me, like a flood; and by letting me see the happiness I have lost, makes me feel, by contrast, more acutely what I am doomed to bear.

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Chicago: William Hazlitt, "Letter IX," Liber Amoris, or, the New Pygmalion, trans. Garnett, Constance Black, 1862-1946 in Liber Amoris, or, the New Pygmalion (London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1920), Original Sources, accessed February 4, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=952Z1I88L5ZN1CT.

MLA: Hazlitt, William. "Letter IX." Liber Amoris, or, the New Pygmalion, translted by Garnett, Constance Black, 1862-1946, in Liber Amoris, or, the New Pygmalion, London, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1920, Original Sources. 4 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=952Z1I88L5ZN1CT.

Harvard: Hazlitt, W, 'Letter IX' in Liber Amoris, or, the New Pygmalion, trans. . cited in 1920, Liber Amoris, or, the New Pygmalion, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, London. Original Sources, retrieved 4 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=952Z1I88L5ZN1CT.