"First Love"

Title

"First Love"

Subject

Romance, English countryside, courtship

Description

Story about a young woman's passionate first love, her parents' intervention, and her subsequent happy marriage to another man.

Creator

Sedgwick, Catharine Maria
Miss C. M. Sedgwick

Source

Sartain's Union Magazine, Volume IV, No. 2, 81-82.

Date

1849

Contributor

D. Gussman

Relation

Reprinted in The Dewdrop, (Philadelphia, 1852) 43-45.

Language

English

Type

Document

Text

MUCH has been said for and against the first enkindling of this sentiment in the young bosom. All sixteen is for it, much experience, alas! against it. There is certainly something very enchanting in that first love to which all the freshest visions of youth are ministering and subsidiary—which copies its idol in the pure heaven of its own breast without spot or blemish— which fears no change, nor shadow of change— the love, while hope has never been cheated, expectation disappointed, or faith broken—the love that glows in the fire of its own enthusiasm, and is pure as innocence itself, and radiant with "clouds of glory" from our elder home. Most happy—most blessed are those on whose first love the seal of reality has been set, whose summer has developed and ripened the seed sown in spring tone, and who worship through life, at the altar on which the vestal fire was lighted!

Something of this I said to a friend, who, with an equivocal smile, replied, that she would tell me a true story of the first love of a friend of hers. I record it here, as well as I can remember, in her very words, without exaggeration or change of any kind.

It is only necessary to depart from reality so far as to use assumed names. "I was staying," said my friend, (the relator was an English woman,) "at Avonside, with Lady Anne Harvey, during a vacation at our boarding school. She was an intense sixteen. Lady Anne's education was completely, up to fifteen, the English nursery education. At fifteen she was as ignorant and undeveloped in all that relates to the wonderful relations of man and woman, as the children of your country at five or six. Her dear, kind papa, was the type of all grown up men, and her teasing, tormenting, noisy, but still loving brothers, of the younger portion of that species. Boarding school is a hot bed that develops nature very rapidly and unwholesomely. Lady Anne in the course of a few weeks, was born into a new world there. She read, clandestinely, with the rest of us, the romances—they were mere love stories in those days, or the passionate poetry that was smuggled into the institution—an institution of the severest order—of Madame Racine. Her Latin book would lie shut on her lap, and her glowing cheek rest on her French theme, while she listened to highly colored descriptions of charming young men, or heard related in still more glowing language, the real or fanciful love-passages of her young companions. I was two years older than Lady Anne. But time, in enlarging my horizon, had not chastened my imagination. I conceived a most passionate affection for my charming friend. Feeling very humbly about my own personal charms, my young love's young dreams were for Lady Anne. She was my heroine of romance, and all my romantic lore was lavished upon her; so that precious sentiment which, as I now think, should be developed charily, was nourished into most premature and rank growth.

Sir Guy Harvey's park grounds are some of the oldest in England, with long avenues, loving walks, bosky dells, and sparkling waters. There are points of most beautiful view, and many a painter goes there for sketches of that rich, old rural cultivation, characteristic of our country. Lady Anne, at her father's request, rose one morning to show me the rising sun, from a point of view much celebrated, and which Sir Guy thought unrivalled. A winding path by a crisp little brook, overhung with flowery shrubs led to it. It was at the highest point in the park, and crowned with an oak, as old and more beautiful than the royal oak at Boscobel. Under this oak tree were rustic scats, and a table; and as we approached it, we observed a rustling of the high shrubbery that screened the seat from us. Some one was, evidently, hastily retiring from the place, and when we reached it, there were proofs that a real person, and no ghost, had just preceded us. A pencil was dropped by the bench, and on it lay a highly finished sketch of my friend, as she had sat with me, (I was omitted !) the day before near a lovely rosary, trying her maiden fortune, in the fashion of Margaret, in Faust, by picking off the leaves of a rose. Lady Anne blushed as she perceived the unmistakeable resemblance. "How spirited!" she said. "How expressive! how like !" I said. "But who can have done it?" she asked. "Some poor, old artist," I replied, mischievously, "who has run down from London for a breath of fresh air. I have known a hundred in my father's studio, who could do it;" my little friend looked disappointed, and I added, "perhaps it is a young artist—an amateur—it is charmingly done; but then a mere amateur artist might have done it."

"I think it was an amateur artist," Lady Anne said, simply; "do you think it is right for me to keep it?"
"Certainly, it was designed for you, no doubt; and the designer will be very much disappointed if it do not prove an introductory epistle."

All day we discussed this incident, as girls only can discuss such a trifle. We expected from some one of our many daily visitors, to hear of an artist being in the neighbourhood; but, though we introduced the subject of painting and artist, and every topic connected with them, we obtained no light on our surmises. The next day, on a green bank, by a path we daily frequented, we found another sketch, lying under a stem of lovely roses, of a species that did not grow in Sir Guy's grounds. Here my pretty friend again appeared as she had eat the preceding day, under a tree overhung with flowering vines, while I read to her. The little brook was curling away beyond us, or rather beyond her, for the artist seemed never to take me into his field of vision. Her large black Newfoundland was lying at her feet, and her prettiest of poodles lovingly enfolded in its huge paws. "How very strange!" she exclaimed. "How very pretty!" I said, "but where on the earth, or under the earth, does this conjurer hide himself, that we get not a glance of him, or a suspicion of his presence?"

It was true, that the labyrinthine walk and dark woodlands of the park afforded abundant hiding places, where one might see unseen. For a whole week, each day, these mysterious sketches appeared, each lovelier than the last, each more stimulating to our curiosity, more flattering to my friend's inexperienced vanity.

From the beginning of our recreation, Lady Anne had been learning the art and mystery of driving; and every day, attended by a groom, we took a delicious drive in her mother's pony phaeton, within the park. On the Sunday following the week of our artistic intercourse with her admirer, she had ordered the groom to open the park gate; and, tempted by the beauty of the coming evening, and more by the free spirit of youth, that ever longs to get beyond bounds, we sallied forth. We did not return till the last ray of the long English twilight was fading away. Lady Anne dreaded her father's disapprobation, (she had nothing from that gentle good man more severe to dread,) and she drove rapidly. There was a steep bank, and a sharp turn near the park gate, for which she was too inexperienced to calculate; and in bringing the horses round too swiftly, she overset the carriage, and we were thrown out, and down the bank. As soon as we could rally, for we were not much hurt, but palsied with terror,—we found ourselves, or rather Lady Anne found herself supported and aided by a young man, who had come, Heaven knows whence, to her rescue. The groom was compelled to give his attention to the horses, and the aid of the stranger was indispensable to support the trembling girl to her home. We were met at the door by the father and mother, already apprised of the accident, and amidst exclamations of, "Are you hurt, my child !"—" Nor you, dear Miss ?"—"Thank God!"—"How could you be so indiscreet, Anne?" They did not forget civilities to our cavalier, who, whatever else he might be, was an unquestionable gentleman. He had lodgings at a few miles distance from Avon-side. "You will doubtless," Sir Guy said to him, "take the trouble to come tomorrow, to enquire after these young ladies, to whom you have done such essential kindness; do us the favor to come over to dinner, we dine at six." The stranger accepted, in a manner that proved him familiar with the offices of good breeding, and with a certain modesty that quite won Sir Guy's heart; for, like most persons well advanced in life, he deemed that the quality wanting in the young men of the day.

Of course, as soon as we retired to our own rooms, Lady Anne and I compared notes. The stranger could be none other, than her artist admirer. There was a glowing expression, a tremulousness of voice, that betrayed an interest beyond that of a stranger; and if other proof were wanting, I had not been too much terrified to observe the paraphernalia of an artist, which he dropped, and left on the bank where we were upset. Lady Anne confessed she felt the throbbings of his heart, when she was obliged to lean against him; and she remarked, that the tone of his voice was musical,—or, certainly the most expressive she ever heard. Her aristocratic prepossessions did not, however, forsake her, even at this romantic beginning of her first romantic adventure. She was quite sure, "he was not merely a professional artist, he was well-born, that was evident in his fine aristocratic features, his deportment, his voice, his turn of expression." “It is quite true," said my friend, continuing her relation, "that our English aristocracy have a cast of feature, rarely found among the lower classes; though quite common with yours, who, however, with their straight noses, and thin lips, have an intensely vulgar expression." I, however, laughed at Lady Anne, and told her that I thought the mind inspired the form, and that beauty and grace were the outward signs of the beauty chartered by Heaven alone.

Basil Astley, that was the name of our hero, made rapid advances in Sir Guy's favor. Sir Guy was himself an amateur artist. He had portfolios filled with sketches made in Italy and Switzerland, when he was a young man; his walls were adorned with pictures from his own designs. The dear, good man's perceptive powers were not sharp, and in the indulgence of his own innocent little egotisms, he never dreamed of the passionate love to which he was unwarily giving such opportunity of nurture and growth. He invited Astley to become his guest. He walked with him over his lovely place, suggested sketches, which were executed immediately and charmingly. He little dreamed of the episodes that were enacting in the bowery park, and during the moonlight evenings, — he was sand-blind, — for never did I see two young creatures more passionately in love than Anne and Astley. It was like nothing but the love of Romeo and Juliet. He was not more than one and twenty,—and she not seventeen, which to our cold northern blood is not more than the fourteenth year of the girl of Verona. She was Astley's idol, and the idol's love matched his idolatry. No woman's instinct could mistake the bliss that shone in the faces of these young people. The mother saw it, and the father was immediately apprised of her discovery. He had looked upon Anne as a child, and she was now caught in toils that no woman's strength is strong enough to break. What was to be done? The affair must be crushed, and at once. Astley was a poor young artist, of obscure birth. Anne boasted a long line of noble ancestry, and had a fortune in her own right. Justly considered, perhaps, these accidental advantages would have been but a fair offset against Astley's high gifts, and by uniting the two young people the social equilibrium would have been restored; but, in my country, society is cast in an inflexible mould. Lady Anne must be mated with her equal in social advantages. She was destined by her father for the son of a neighbor, the friend of his youth—of his life- time. The young man well born, well educated, well principled, and amiable — the beau ideal, or rather the beau actual of discreet papas, was at that present travelling. Sir Guy, as prudent as Brutus, had not even communicated his secret hope and purpose to his wife. Sir Guy was not the cleverest man in the world, but he had good sense, and what is better even than that, a good, most kind, most affectionate heart. The inspiration of such a heart's instincts is far better than the subtlest policy. Sir Guy at once asked a private interview with Astley. He told him that he was aware of the passion into which youth and opportunity had betrayed both him and his child. He did not reproach him, he did not even express a shade of displeasure,—but only sympathy and tenderness. He treated the continuance of their intercourse as simply impossible. He assured Astley that he had never for a moment doubted his honor,—that he was perfectly certain that he would not for the world, after a half hour's cool reflection, take advantage of the romantic fancies of a child. He expressed great regard for Astley, unbounded confidence in his genius, and hope of his future career; advised to his going immediately to Italy, and concluded by saying that, as Astley already knew, he had been enamoured of art in his youth,—that when he was in Italy, he had been struck with the struggles of his countrymen there, and that when he returned, he had set apart a certain sum for their aid and encouragement. That sum, well husbanded, had now become enough to support a young man for four or five years in Rome; and if Astley would go there, and permit Sir Guy to remit it to him from time to time, he would give him the great pleasure of executing a long cherished project.

To so much reason and kindness there was no answer but acquiescence.

Before they separated, Sir Guy said, "It will be a solace to you both, perhaps, to have a parting interview. As you will feel compelled to leave us to-morrow morning, you can have a last moonlight walk in the Park, where the starry influences will be no longer dangerous." A few more words of the kindest interest were spoken, and they parted. Lady Anne was then summoned to her father's presence. He communicated to her, with the utmost delicacy, the discovery of her love. He did not reason about or discuss it, but to her, as he had done to Astley, he spoke of its indulgence as simply impossible. He did not utter a harsh or a grating word, but was all love and tenderness, as if it were an inevitable sickness of a little child that he was treating. He told her, in conclusion, that Astley was to take his departure in the morning for Italy; and that she would meet him in the park for a parting interview, where he would be at nine o'clock, awaiting her and her friend. Anne left her father, weeping, trembling, heart-broken, but with not the smallest notion of resisting his will,—or rather her destiny, which to her it seemed to be. She came to me, and remained in my arms, with throbbing pulses, sighs, drenching tears, and half uttered sentences of submissive wretchedness, till it drew near nine o'clock. We then went to the park together, and by a sure instinct to the favorite haunt of the lovers, a closely sheltered walk. Astley was awaiting us. I left them, remaining near enough to secure to them the propriety of my proximity. Hour after hour they walked or sat together,—sometimes I heard the murmur of their voices, sometimes intermitted sobs. The day was dawning, and I was obliged to tell them so, to dispel the last shadows of their lovely dream. Ah! I never witnessed such a parting. They both seemed rooted to the ground. "Eternity was in their lips and eyes."—I was at last obliged to take Anne away, and to half drag, half carry her, more dead than alive, to her own apartment. Poor Astley was left lying on the ground. I heard dear Sir Guy still pacing his room, as we passed his door.

This all happened fifteen years ago. Last summer I was passing a week with my friend, Lady Anne, now Mrs. Charles Wyndham. A charming little matron she is, after the most approved models, 'fair and fat,' though not yet forty. She has four or five lively children, and is surrounded by the contentments that are in such perfection in affluent country life in England. We were one day at dinner, when her husband, a sensible, good humored man, and a right minded member of parliament, said, " Anne, my love, I saw in the London Times, this morning, the death of Basil Astley."

"Did you, indeed?" she replied, as she would to the announcement of the death of any other man. I involuntarily turned my eyes to read her soul in her face; but there was no writing there— not the movement of a muscle—not the change of a shade in her color. After one minute, she asked, "A little more soup, Charles?"

The "first love" was forgotten.

Collection

Citation

Sedgwick, Catharine Maria and Miss C. M. Sedgwick, “"First Love",” Sedgwick Stories: The Periodical Writings of Catharine Maria Sedgwick, accessed October 28, 2021, https://sedgwickstories.omeka.net/items/show/3.

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