Nature and Art

Author: Mrs. Inchbald

Chapter XL

The day at length is come on which Agnes shall have a sight of her beloved William! She who has watched for hours near his door, to procure a glimpse of him going out, or returning home; who has walked miles to see his chariot pass: she now will behold him, and he will see her by command of the laws of their country. Those laws, which will deal with rigour towards her, are in this one instance still indulgent.

The time of the assizes, at the county town in which she is imprisoned, is arrived—the prisoners are demanded at the shirehall—the jail doors are opened—they go in sad procession—the trumpet sounds—it speaks the arrival of the judge—and that judge is William!

The day previous to her trial, Agnes had read, in the printed calendar of the prisoners, his name as the learned justice before whom she was to appear. For a moment she forgot her perilous state in the excess of joy which the still unconquerable love she bore to him permitted her to taste even on the brink of the grave! Afterreflection made her check those worldly transports, as unfit for the present solemn occasion. But alas! to her, earth and William were so closely united that, till she forsook the one, she could never cease to think, without the contending passions of hope, of fear, of joy, of love, of shame, and of despair, on the other.

Now fear took place of her first immoderate joy—she feared that, although much changed in person since he had seen her, and her real name now added to many an ALIAS—yet she feared that same well-known glance of the eye, turn of the action, or accent of speech, might recall her to his remembrance; and at that idea shame overcame all her other sensations—for still she retained pride, in respect to HIS opinion, to wish him not to know Agnes was that wretch she felt she was! Once a ray of hope beamed on her, "that if he knew her, he recognised her, he might possibly befriend her cause;" and life bestowed through William’s friendship seemed a precious object! But again, that rigorous honour she had often heard him boast, that firmness to his word, of which she had fatal experience, taught her to know, he would not for any unproper compassion, any unmanly weakness, forfeit his oath of impartial justice.

In meditations such as these she passed the sleepless night. When, in the morning, she was brought to the bar, and her guilty hand held up before the righteous judgment seat of William—imagination could not form two figures, or two situations more incompatible with the existence of former familiarity, than the judge and the culprit—and yet, these very persons had passed together the most blissful moments that either ever tasted! Those hours of tender dalliance were now present to HER mind. HIS thoughts were more nobly employed in his high office; nor could the haggard face, hollow eye, desponding countenance, and meagre person of the poor prisoner, once call to his memory, though her name was uttered among a list of others which she had assumed, his former youthful, lovely Agnes!

She heard herself arraigned with trembling limbs and downcast looks; and many witnesses had appeared against her before she ventured to lift her eyes up to her awful judge. She then gave one fearful glance, and discovered William, unpitying but beloved William, in every feature! It was a face she had been used to look on with delight, and a kind of absent smile of gladness now beamed on her poor wan visage.

When every witness on the part of the prosecutor had been examined, the judge addressed himself to her—"What defence have you to make?"

It was William spoke to Agnes! The sound was sweet; the voice was mild, was soft, compassionate, encouraging! It almost charmed her to a love of life!—not such a voice as when William last addressed her; when he left her undone and pregnant, vowing never to see or speak to her more.

She could have hung upon the present words for ever! She did not call to mind that this gentleness was the effect of practice, the art of his occupation: which, at times, is but a copy, by the unfeeling, from his benevolent brethren of the bench. In the present judge, tenderness was not designed for the consolation of the culprit, but for the approbation of the auditors.

There were no spectators, Agnes, by your side when last he parted from you: if there had, the awful William had been awed to marks of pity.

Stunned with the enchantment of that well-known tongue directed to her, she stood like one just petrified—all vital power seemed suspended.

Again he put the question, and with these additional sentences, tenderly and emphatically delivered—"Recollect yourself. Have you no witnesses? No proof in your behalf?"

A dead silence followed these questions.

He then mildly, but forcibly, added—"What have you to say?"

Here a flood of tears burst from her eyes, which she fixed earnestly upon him, as if pleading for mercy, while she faintly articulated,

"Nothing, my lord."

After a short pause, he asked her, in the same forcible but benevolent tone -

"Have you no one to speak to your character?" The prisoner answered -

A second gush of tears followed this reply, for she called to mind by WHOM her character had first been blasted.

He summed up the evidence; and every time he was compelled to press hard upon the proofs against her she shrunk, and seemed to stagger with the deadly blow; writhed under the weight of HIS minute justice, more than from the prospect of a shameful death.

The jury consulted but a few minutes. The verdict was -


She heard it with composure.

But when William placed the fatal velvet on his head, and rose to pronounce her sentence, she started with a kind of convulsive motion; retreated a step or two back, and, lifting up her hands, with a scream exclaimed -

"Oh! not from YOU!"

The piercing shriek which accompanied these words prevented their being heard by part of the audience; and those who heard them thought little of their meaning, more than that they expressed her fear of dying.

Serene and dignified, as if no such exclamation had been uttered, William delivered the fatal speech, ending with, "Dead, dead, dead."

She fainted as he closed the period, and was carried back to prison in a swoon; while he adjourned the court to go to dinner.


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Chicago: Inchbald, "Chapter XL," Nature and Art, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Evans, Sebastian in Nature and Art Original Sources, accessed May 30, 2023,

MLA: Inchbald. "Chapter XL." Nature and Art, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Evans, Sebastian, in Nature and Art, Original Sources. 30 May. 2023.

Harvard: Inchbald, 'Chapter XL' in Nature and Art, ed. and trans. . cited in , Nature and Art. Original Sources, retrieved 30 May 2023, from