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or, the Modern Prometheus
by Mary Shelley

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Chapter 11

"It is with considerable difficulty that I remember the original era

of my being; all the events of that period appear confused and indistinct.

A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me, and I saw, felt, heard,

and smelt at the same time; and it was, indeed, a long time

before I learned to distinguish between the operations

of my various senses. By degrees, I remember, a stronger light

pressed upon my nerves, so that I was obliged to shut my eyes.

Darkness then came over me and troubled me, but hardly had I felt this

when, by opening my eyes, as I now suppose, the light poured in

upon me again. I walked and, I believe, descended, but I presently found

a great alteration in my sensations. Before, dark and opaque bodies

had surrounded me, impervious to my touch or sight; but I now found

that I could wander on at liberty, with no obstacles

which I could not either surmount or avoid. The light became

more and more oppressive to me, and the heat wearying me as I walked,

I sought a place where I could receive shade. This was the forest

near Ingolstadt; and here I lay by the side of a brook resting

from my fatigue, until I felt tormented by hunger and thirst.

This roused me from my nearly dormant state, and I ate some berries

which I found hanging on the trees or lying on the ground.

I slaked my thirst at the brook, and then lying down,

was overcome by sleep.

"It was dark when I awoke; I felt cold also, and half frightened,

as it were, instinctively, finding myself so desolate.

Before I had quitted your apartment, on a sensation of cold,

I had covered myself with some clothes, but these were insufficient

to secure me from the dews of night. I was a poor, helpless,

miserable wretch; I knew, and could distinguish, nothing;

but feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept.

"Soon a gentle light stole over the heavens and gave me a sensation

of pleasure. I started up and beheld a radiant form rise

from among the trees.* [*The moon] I gazed with a kind of wonder.

It moved slowly, but it enlightened my path, and I again went out

in search of berries. I was still cold when under one of the trees

I found a huge cloak, with which I covered myself, and sat down

upon the ground. No distinct ideas occupied my mind; all was confused.

I felt light, and hunger, and thirst, and darkness; innumerable sounds

rang in my ears, and on all sides various scents saluted me;

the only object that I could distinguish was the bright moon,

and I fixed my eyes on that with pleasure.

"Several changes of day and night passed, and the orb of night

had greatly lessened, when I began to distinguish my sensations

from each other. I gradually saw plainly the clear stream

that supplied me with drink and the trees that shaded me

with their foliage. I was delighted when I first discovered

that a pleasant sound, which often saluted my ears,

proceeded from the throats of the little winged animals

who had often intercepted the light from my eyes. I began also

to observe, with greater accuracy, the forms that surrounded me

and to perceive the boundaries of the radiant roof of light

which canopied me. Sometimes I tried to imitate the pleasant songs

of the birds but was unable. Sometimes I wished to express my sensations

in my own mode, but the uncouth and inarticulate sounds

which broke from me frightened me into silence again.

"The moon had disappeared from the night, and again, with a lessened form,

showed itself, while I still remained in the forest. My sensations

had by this time become distinct, and my mind received every day

additional ideas. My eyes became accustomed to the light

and to perceive objects in their right forms; I distinguished the insect

from the herb, and by degrees, one herb from another. I found

that the sparrow uttered none but harsh notes, whilst those

of the blackbird and thrush were sweet and enticing.

"One day, when I was oppressed by cold, I found a fire

which had been left by some wandering beggars, and was overcome

with delight at the warmth I experienced from it. In my joy

I thrust my hand into the live embers, but quickly drew it out again

with a cry of pain. How strange, I thought, that the same cause

should produce such opposite effects! I examined the materials

of the fire, and to my joy found it to be composed of wood.

I quickly collected some branches, but they were wet and would not burn.

I was pained at this and sat still watching the operation of the fire.

The wet wood which I had placed near the heat dried and itself

became inflamed. I reflected on this, and by touching

the various branches, I discovered the cause and busied myself

in collecting a great quantity of wood, that I might dry it

and have a plentiful supply of fire. When night came on

and brought sleep with it, I was in the greatest fear lest my fire

should be extinguished. I covered it carefully with dry wood and leaves

and placed wet branches upon it; and then, spreading my cloak,

I lay on the ground and sank into sleep.

"It was morning when I awoke, and my first care was to visit the fire.

I uncovered it, and a gentle breeze quickly fanned it into a flame.

I observed this also and contrived a fan of branches, which roused

the embers when they were nearly extinguished. When night came again

I found, with pleasure, that the fire gave light as well as heat

and that the discovery of this element was useful to me in my food,

for I found some of the offals that the travellers had left

had been roasted, and tasted much more savoury than the berries

I gathered from the trees. I tried, therefore, to dress my food

in the same manner, placing it on the live embers. I found

that the berries were spoiled by this operation, and the nuts

and roots much improved.

"Food, however, became scarce, and I often spent the whole day

searching in vain for a few acorns to assuage the pangs of hunger.

When I found this, I resolved to quit the place that I had

hitherto inhabited, to seek for one where the few wants

I experienced would be more easily satisfied. In this emigration

I exceedingly lamented the loss of the fire which I had obtained

through accident and knew not how to reproduce it. I gave several hours

to the serious consideration of this difficulty, but I was obliged

to relinquish all attempt to supply it, and wrapping myself up in my cloak,

I struck across the wood towards the setting sun. I passed three days

in these rambles and at length discovered the open country.

A great fall of snow had taken place the night before, and the fields

were of one uniform white; the appearance was disconsolate,

and I found my feet chilled by the cold damp substance

that covered the ground.

"It was about seven in the morning, and I longed to obtain food

and shelter; at length I perceived a small hut, on a rising ground,

which had doubtless been built for the convenience of some shepherd.

This was a new sight to me, and I examined the structure

with great curiosity. Finding the door open, I entered. An old man

sat in it, near a fire, over which he was preparing his breakfast.

He turned on hearing a noise, and perceiving me, shrieked loudly,

and quitting the hut, ran across the fields with a speed of which

his debilitated form hardly appeared capable. His appearance,

different from any I had ever before seen, and his flight

somewhat surprised me. But I was enchanted by the appearance

of the hut; here the snow and rain could not penetrate;

the ground was dry; and it presented to me then as exquisite

and divine a retreat as Pandemonium appeared to the demons of hell

after their sufferings in the lake of fire. I greedily devoured

the remnants of the shepherd's breakfast, which consisted of bread,

cheese, milk, and wine; the latter, however, I did not like.

Then, overcome by fatigue, I lay down among some straw and fell asleep.

"It was noon when I awoke, and allured by the warmth of the sun,

which shone brightly on the white ground, I determined to recommence

my travels; and, depositing the remains of the peasant's breakfast

in a wallet I found, I proceeded across the fields for several hours,

until at sunset I arrived at a village. How miraculous did this appear!

the huts, the neater cottages, and stately houses engaged my admiration

by turns. The vegetables in the gardens, the milk and cheese

that I saw placed at the windows of some of the cottages,

allured my appetite. One of the best of these I entered,

but I had hardly placed my foot within the door before the children

shrieked, and one of the women fainted. The whole village was roused;

some fled, some attacked me, until, grievously bruised by stones

and many other kinds of missile weapons, I escaped to the open country

and fearfully took refuge in a low hovel, quite bare,

and making a wretched appearance after the palaces I had beheld

in the village. This hovel however, joined a cottage of a neat

and pleasant appearance, but after my late dearly bought experience,

I dared not enter it. My place of refuge was constructed of wood,

but so low that I could with difficulty sit upright in it. No wood,

however, was placed on the earth, which formed the floor, but it was dry;

and although the wind entered it by innumerable chinks, I found it

an agreeable asylum from the snow and rain.

"Here, then, I retreated and lay down happy to have found a shelter,

however miserable, from the inclemency of the season, and still more

from the barbarity of man. As soon as morning dawned I crept

from my kennel, that I might view the adjacent cottage and discover

if I could remain in the habitation I had found. It was situated

against the back of the cottage and surrounded on the sides

which were exposed by a pig sty and a clear pool of water.

One part was open, and by that I had crept in; but now

I covered every crevice by which I might be perceived

with stones and wood, yet in such a manner that I might move them

on occasion to pass out; all the light I enjoyed

came through the sty, and that was sufficient for me.

"Having thus arranged my dwelling and carpeted it with clean straw,

I retired, for I saw the figure of a man at a distance,

and I remembered too well my treatment the night before

to trust myself in his power. I had first, however, provided

for my sustenance for that day by a loaf of coarse bread,

which I purloined, and a cup with which I could drink more conveniently

than from my hand of the pure water which flowed by my retreat.

The floor was a little raised, so that it was kept perfectly dry,

and by its vicinity to the chimney of the cottage it was tolerably warm.

"Being thus provided, I resolved to reside in this hovel

until something should occur which might alter my determination.

It was indeed a paradise compared to the bleak forest,

my former residence, the rain-dropping branches, and dank earth.

I ate my breakfast with pleasure and was about to remove a plank

to procure myself a little water when I heard a step,

and looking through a small chink, I beheld a young creature,

with a pail on her head, passing before my hovel. The girl was young

and of gentle demeanour, unlike what I have since found cottagers

and farmhouse servants to be. Yet she was meanly dressed,

a coarse blue petticoat and a linen jacket being her only garb;

her fair hair was plaited but not adorned: she looked patient yet sad.

I lost sight of her, and in about a quarter of an hour she returned

bearing the pail, which was now partly filled with milk.

As she walked along, seemingly incommoded by the burden,

a young man met her, whose countenance expressed a deeper despondence.

Uttering a few sounds with an air of melancholy, he took the pail

from her head and bore it to the cottage himself. She followed,

and they disappeared. Presently I saw the young man again,

with some tools in his hand, cross the field behind the cottage;

and the girl was also busied, sometimes in the house and sometimes

in the yard.

"On examining my dwelling, I found that one of the windows

of the cottage had formerly occupied a part of it, but the panes

had been filled up with wood. In one of these was a small

and almost imperceptible chink through which the eye

could just penetrate. Through this crevice a small room was visible,

whitewashed and clean but very bare of furniture. In one corner,

near a small fire, sat an old man, leaning his head on his hands

in a disconsolate attitude. The young girl was occupied

in arranging the cottage; but presently she took something

out of a drawer, which employed her hands, and she sat down

beside the old man, who, taking up an instrument, began to play

and to produce sounds sweeter than the voice of the thrush

or the nightingale. It was a lovely sight, even to me, poor wretch

who had never beheld aught beautiful before. The silver hair

and benevolent countenance of the aged cottager won my reverence,

while the gentle manners of the girl enticed my love. He played

a sweet mournful air which I perceived drew tears from the eyes

of his amiable companion, of which the old man took no notice,

until she sobbed audibly; he then pronounced a few sounds,

and the fair creature, leaving her work, knelt at his feet.

He raised her and smiled with such kindness and affection

that I felt sensations of a peculiar and overpowering nature;

they were a mixture of pain and pleasure, such as I had never before

experienced, either from hunger or cold, warmth or food;

and I withdrew from the window, unable to bear these emotions.

"Soon after this the young man returned, bearing on his shoulders

a load of wood. The girl met him at the door, helped to relieve him

of his burden, and taking some of the fuel into the cottage,

placed it on the fire; then she and the youth went apart

into a nook of the cottage, and he showed her a large loaf

and a piece of cheese. She seemed pleased and went into the garden

for some roots and plants, which she placed in water, and then

upon the fire. She afterwards continued her work, whilst the young man

went into the garden and appeared busily employed in digging

and pulling up roots. After he had been employed thus about an hour,

the young woman joined him and they entered the cottage together.

"The old man had, in the meantime, been pensive, but on the appearance

of his companions he assumed a more cheerful air, and they sat down to eat.

The meal was quickly dispatched. The young woman was again occupied

in arranging the cottage, the old man walked before the cottage

in the sun for a few minutes, leaning on the arm of the youth.

Nothing could exceed in beauty the contrast between these two

excellent creatures. One was old, with silver hairs

and a countenance beaming with benevolence and love;

the younger was slight and graceful in his figure,

and his features were moulded with the finest symmetry, yet his eyes

and attitude expressed the utmost sadness and despondency.

The old man returned to the cottage, and the youth,

with tools different from those he had used in the morning,

directed his steps across the fields.

"Night quickly shut in, but to my extreme wonder, I found

that the cottagers had a means of prolonging light by the use of tapers,

and was delighted to find that the setting of the sun did not put an end

to the pleasure I experienced in watching my human neighbours.

In the evening the young girl and her companion were employed

in various occupations which I did not understand; and the old man

again took up the instrument which produced the divine sounds

that had enchanted me in the morning. So soon as he had finished,

the youth began, not to play, but to utter sounds that were monotonous,

and neither resembling the harmony of the old man's instrument

nor the songs of the birds; I since found that he read aloud,

but at that time I knew nothing of the science of words or letters.

"The family, after having been thus occupied for a short time,

extinguished their lights and retired, as I conjectured, to rest."



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