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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Frankenstein 18
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Chapter 18

Day after day, week after week, passed away on my return to Geneva; and
I could not collect the courage to recommence my work. I feared the
vengeance of the disappointed fiend, yet I was unable to overcome my
repugnance to the task which was enjoined me. I found that I could not
compose a female without again devoting several months to profound
study and laborious disquisition. I had heard of some discoveries
having been made by an English philosopher, the knowledge of which was
material to my success, and I sometimes thought of obtaining my
father's consent to visit England for this purpose; but I clung to
every pretence of delay and shrank from taking the first step in an
undertaking whose immediate necessity began to appear less absolute to
me. A change indeed had taken place in me; my health, which had
hitherto declined, was now much restored; and my spirits, when
unchecked by the memory of my unhappy promise, rose proportionably. My
father saw this change with pleasure, and he turned his thoughts
towards the best method of eradicating the remains of my melancholy,
which every now and then would return by fits, and with a devouring
blackness overcast the approaching sunshine. At these moments I took
refuge in the most perfect solitude. I passed whole days on the lake
alone in a little boat, watching the clouds and listening to the
rippling of the waves, silent and listless. But the fresh air and
bright sun seldom failed to restore me to some degree of composure, and
on my return I met the salutations of my friends with a readier smile
and a more cheerful heart.

It was after my return from one of these rambles that my father,
calling me aside, thus addressed me,

"I am happy to remark, my dear son, that you have resumed your former
pleasures and seem to be returning to yourself. And yet you are still
unhappy and still avoid our society. For some time I was lost in
conjecture as to the cause of this, but yesterday an idea struck me,
and if it is well founded, I conjure you to avow it. Reserve on such a
point would be not only useless, but draw down treble misery on us
all."

I trembled violently at his exordium, and my father continued--"I
confess, my son, that I have always looked forward to your marriage
with our dear Elizabeth as the tie of our domestic comfort and the stay
of my declining years. You were attached to each other from your
earliest infancy; you studied together, and appeared, in dispositions
and tastes, entirely suited to one another. But so blind is the
experience of man that what I conceived to be the best assistants to my
plan may have entirely destroyed it. You, perhaps, regard her as your
sister, without any wish that she might become your wife. Nay, you may
have met with another whom you may love; and considering yourself as
bound in honour to Elizabeth, this struggle may occasion the poignant
misery which you appear to feel."

"My dear father, reassure yourself. I love my cousin tenderly and
sincerely. I never saw any woman who excited, as Elizabeth does, my
warmest admiration and affection. My future hopes and prospects are
entirely bound up in the expectation of our union."

"The expression of your sentiments of this subject, my dear Victor,
gives me more pleasure than I have for some time experienced. If you
feel thus, we shall assuredly be happy, however present events may cast
a gloom over us. But it is this gloom which appears to have taken so
strong a hold of your mind that I wish to dissipate. Tell me,
therefore, whether you object to an immediate solemnization of the
marriage. We have been unfortunate, and recent events have drawn us
from that everyday tranquillity befitting my years and infirmities. You
are younger; yet I do not suppose, possessed as you are of a competent
fortune, that an early marriage would at all interfere with any future
plans of honour and utility that you may have formed. Do not suppose,
however, that I wish to dictate happiness to you or that a delay on
your part would cause me any serious uneasiness. Interpret my words
with candour and answer me, I conjure you, with confidence and
sincerity."

I listened to my father in silence and remained for some time incapable
of offering any reply. I revolved rapidly in my mind a multitude of
thoughts and endeavoured to arrive at some conclusion. Alas! To me
the idea of an immediate union with my Elizabeth was one of horror and
dismay. I was bound by a solemn promise which I had not yet fulfilled
and dared not break, or if I did, what manifold miseries might not
impend over me and my devoted family! Could I enter into a festival
with this deadly weight yet hanging round my neck and bowing me to the
ground? I must perform my engagement and let the monster depart with
his mate before I allowed myself to enjoy the delight of a union from
which I expected peace.

I remembered also the necessity imposed upon me of either journeying to
England or entering into a long correspondence with those philosophers
of that country whose knowledge and discoveries were of indispensable
use to me in my present undertaking. The latter method of obtaining
the desired intelligence was dilatory and unsatisfactory; besides, I
had an insurmountable aversion to the idea of engaging myself in my
loathsome task in my father's house while in habits of familiar
intercourse with those I loved. I knew that a thousand fearful
accidents might occur, the slightest of which would disclose a tale to
thrill all connected with me with horror. I was aware also that I
should often lose all self-command, all capacity of hiding the
harrowing sensations that would possess me during the progress of my
unearthly occupation. I must absent myself from all I loved while thus
employed. Once commenced, it would quickly be achieved, and I might be
restored to my family in peace and happiness. My promise fulfilled,
the monster would depart forever. Or (so my fond fancy imaged) some
accident might meanwhile occur to destroy him and put an end to my
slavery forever.

These feelings dictated my answer to my father. I expressed a wish to
visit England, but concealing the true reasons of this request, I
clothed my desires under a guise which excited no suspicion, while I
urged my desire with an earnestness that easily induced my father to
comply. After so long a period of an absorbing melancholy that
resembled madness in its intensity and effects, he was glad to find
that I was capable of taking pleasure in the idea of such a journey,
and he hoped that change of scene and varied amusement would, before my
return, have restored me entirely to myself.

The duration of my absence was left to my own choice; a few months, or
at most a year, was the period contemplated. One paternal kind
precaution he had taken to ensure my having a companion. Without
previously communicating with me, he had, in concert with Elizabeth,
arranged that Clerval should join me at Strasbourg. This interfered
with the solitude I coveted for the prosecution of my task; yet at the
commencement of my journey the presence of my friend could in no way be
an impediment, and truly I rejoiced that thus I should be saved many
hours of lonely, maddening reflection. Nay, Henry might stand between
me and the intrusion of my foe. If I were alone, would he not at times
force his abhorred presence on me to remind me of my task or to
contemplate its progress?

To England, therefore, I was bound, and it was understood that my union
with Elizabeth should take place immediately on my return. My father's
age rendered him extremely averse to delay. For myself, there was one
reward I promised myself from my detested toils--one consolation for
my unparalleled sufferings; it was the prospect of that day when,
enfranchised from my miserable slavery, I might claim Elizabeth and
forget the past in my union with her.

I now made arrangements for my journey, but one feeling haunted me
which filled me with fear and agitation. During my absence I should
leave my friends unconscious of the existence of their enemy and
unprotected from his attacks, exasperated as he might be by my
departure. But he had promised to follow me wherever I might go, and
would he not accompany me to England? This imagination was dreadful in
itself, but soothing inasmuch as it supposed the safety of my friends.
I was agonized with the idea of the possibility that the reverse of
this might happen. But through the whole period during which I was the
slave of my creature I allowed myself to be governed by the impulses of
the moment; and my present sensations strongly intimated that the fiend
would follow me and exempt my family from the danger of his
machinations.

It was in the latter end of September that I again quitted my native
country. My journey had been my own suggestion, and Elizabeth
therefore acquiesced, but she was filled with disquiet at the idea of
my suffering, away from her, the inroads of misery and grief. It had
been her care which provided me a companion in Clerval--and yet a man
is blind to a thousand minute circumstances which call forth a woman's
sedulous attention. She longed to bid me hasten my return; a thousand
conflicting emotions rendered her mute as she bade me a tearful, silent
farewell.

I threw myself into the carriage that was to convey me away, hardly
knowing whither I was going, and careless of what was passing around.
I remembered only, and it was with a bitter anguish that I reflected on
it, to order that my chemical instruments should be packed to go with
me. Filled with dreary imaginations, I passed through many beautiful
and majestic scenes, but my eyes were fixed and unobserving. I could
only think of the bourne of my travels and the work which was to occupy
me whilst they endured.

After some days spent in listless indolence, during which I traversed
many leagues, I arrived at Strasbourg, where I waited two days for
Clerval. He came. Alas, how great was the contrast between us! He
was alive to every new scene, joyful when he saw the beauties of the
setting sun, and more happy when he beheld it rise and recommence a new
day. He pointed out to me the shifting colours of the landscape and
the appearances of the sky. "This is what it is to live," he cried;
"how I enjoy existence! But you, my dear Frankenstein, wherefore are
you desponding and sorrowful!" In truth, I was occupied by gloomy
thoughts and neither saw the descent of the evening star nor the golden
sunrise reflected in the Rhine. And you, my friend, would be far more
amused with the journal of Clerval, who observed the scenery with an
eye of feeling and delight, than in listening to my reflections. I, a
miserable wretch, haunted by a curse that shut up every avenue to
enjoyment.

We had agreed to descend the Rhine in a boat from Strasbourg to
Rotterdam, whence we might take shipping for London. During this
voyage we passed many willowy islands and saw several beautiful towns.
We stayed a day at Mannheim, and on the fifth from our departure from
Strasbourg, arrived at Mainz. The course of the Rhine below Mainz
becomes much more picturesque. The river descends rapidly and winds
between hills, not high, but steep, and of beautiful forms. We saw
many ruined castles standing on the edges of precipices, surrounded by
black woods, high and inaccessible. This part of the Rhine, indeed,
presents a singularly variegated landscape. In one spot you view
rugged hills, ruined castles overlooking tremendous precipices, with
the dark Rhine rushing beneath; and on the sudden turn of a promontory,
flourishing vineyards with green sloping banks and a meandering river
and populous towns occupy the scene.

We travelled at the time of the vintage and heard the song of the
labourers as we glided down the stream. Even I, depressed in mind, and
my spirits continually agitated by gloomy feelings, even I was
pleased. I lay at the bottom of the boat, and as I gazed on the
cloudless blue sky, I seemed to drink in a tranquillity to which I had
long been a stranger. And if these were my sensations, who can
describe those of Henry? He felt as if he had been transported to
fairy-land and enjoyed a happiness seldom tasted by man. "I have
seen," he said, "the most beautiful scenes of my own country; I have
visited the lakes of Lucerne and Uri, where the snowy mountains descend
almost perpendicularly to the water, casting black and impenetrable
shades, which would cause a gloomy and mournful appearance were it not
for the most verdant islands that believe the eye by their gay
appearance; I have seen this lake agitated by a tempest, when the wind
tore up whirlwinds of water and gave you an idea of what the
water-spout must be on the great ocean; and the waves dash with fury
the base of the mountain, where the priest and his mistress were
overwhelmed by an avalanche and where their dying voices are still said
to be heard amid the pauses of the nightly wind; I have seen the
mountains of La Valais, and the Pays de Vaud; but this country, Victor,
pleases me more than all those wonders. The mountains of Switzerland
are more majestic and strange, but there is a charm in the banks of
this divine river that I never before saw equalled. Look at that
castle which overhangs yon precipice; and that also on the island,
almost concealed amongst the foliage of those lovely trees; and now
that group of labourers coming from among their vines; and that village
half hid in the recess of the mountain. Oh, surely the spirit that
inhabits and guards this place has a soul more in harmony with man than
those who pile the glacier or retire to the inaccessible peaks of the
mountains of our own country." Clerval! Beloved friend! Even now it
delights me to record your words and to dwell on the praise of which
you are so eminently deserving. He was a being formed in the "very
poetry of nature." His wild and enthusiastic imagination was chastened
by the sensibility of his heart. His soul overflowed with ardent
affections, and his friendship was of that devoted and wondrous nature
that the world-minded teach us to look for only in the imagination. But
even human sympathies were not sufficient to satisfy his eager mind.
The scenery of external nature, which others regard only with
admiration, he loved with ardour:--


-----The sounding cataract
Haunted him like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to him
An appetite; a feeling, and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, or any interest
Unborrow'd from the eye.

[Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey".]


And where does he now exist? Is this gentle and lovely being lost
forever? Has this mind, so replete with ideas, imaginations fanciful
and magnificent, which formed a world, whose existence depended on the
life of its creator;--has this mind perished? Does it now only exist
in my memory? No, it is not thus; your form so divinely wrought, and
beaming with beauty, has decayed, but your spirit still visits and
consoles your unhappy friend.

Pardon this gush of sorrow; these ineffectual words are but a slight
tribute to the unexampled worth of Henry, but they soothe my heart,
overflowing with the anguish which his remembrance creates. I will
proceed with my tale.

Beyond Cologne we descended to the plains of Holland; and we resolved
to post the remainder of our way, for the wind was contrary and the
stream of the river was too gentle to aid us. Our journey here lost
the interest arising from beautiful scenery, but we arrived in a few
days at Rotterdam, whence we proceeded by sea to England. It was on a
clear morning, in the latter days of December, that I first saw the
white cliffs of Britain. The banks of the Thames presented a new
scene; they were flat but fertile, and almost every town was marked by
the remembrance of some story. We saw Tilbury Fort and remembered the
Spanish Armada, Gravesend, Woolwich, and Greenwich--places which I had
heard of even in my country.

At length we saw the numerous steeples of London, St. Paul's towering
above all, and the Tower famed in English history.


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