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or, the Modern Prometheus
by Mary Shelley

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Chapter 19

London was our present point of rest; we determined to remain

several months in this wonderful and celebrated city. Clerval desired

the intercourse of the men of genius and talent who flourished at this time,

but this was with me a secondary object; I was principally occupied

with the means of obtaining the information necessary for the completion

of my promise and quickly availed myself of the letters of introduction

that I had brought with me, addressed to the most distinguished

natural philosophers.

If this journey had taken place during my days of study and happiness,

it would have afforded me inexpressible pleasure. But a blight

had come over my existence, and I only visited these people

for the sake of the information they might give me on the subject

in which my interest was so terribly profound. Company was irksome to me;

when alone, I could fill my mind with the sights of heaven and earth;

the voice of Henry soothed me, and I could thus cheat myself

into a transitory peace. But busy, uninteresting, joyous faces

brought back despair to my heart. I saw an insurmountable barrier

placed between me and my fellow men; this barrier was sealed

with the blood of William and Justine, and to reflect on the events

connected with those names filled my soul with anguish.

But in Clerval I saw the image of my former self; he was inquisitive

and anxious to gain experience and instruction. The difference of manners

which he observed was to him an inexhaustible source of instruction

and amusement. He was also pursuing an object he had long had in view.

His design was to visit India, in the belief that he had in his knowledge

of its various languages, and in the views he had taken of its society,

the means of materially assisting the progress of European colonization

and trade. In Britain only could he further the execution of his plan.

He was forever busy, and the only check to his enjoyments was my sorrowful

and dejected mind. I tried to conceal this as much as possible,

that I might not debar him from the pleasures natural to one

who was entering on a new scene of life, undisturbed by any care

or bitter recollection. I often refused to accompany him,

alleging another engagement, that I might remain alone. I now also began

to collect the materials necessary for my new creation,

and this was to me like the torture of single drops of water

continually falling on the head. Every thought that was devoted to it

was an extreme anguish, and every word that I spoke in allusion to it

caused my lips to quiver, and my heart to palpitate.

After passing some months in London, we received a letter from a person

in Scotland who had formerly been our visitor at Geneva. He mentioned

the beauties of his native country and asked us if those were not sufficient

allurements to induce us to prolong our journey as far north as Perth,

where he resided. Clerval eagerly desired to accept this invitation,

and I, although I abhorred society, wished to view again mountains

and streams and all the wondrous works with which Nature adorns

her chosen dwelling-places. We had arrived in England at the beginning

of October, and it was now February. We accordingly determined

to commence our journey towards the north at the expiration

of another month. In this expedition we did not intend to follow

the great road to Edinburgh, but to visit Windsor, Oxford, Matlock,

and the Cumberland lakes, resolving to arrive at the completion

of this tour about the end of July. I packed up my chemical instruments

and the materials I had collected, resolving to finish my labours

in some obscure nook in the northern highlands of Scotland.

We quitted London on the 27th of March and remained a few days at Windsor,

rambling in its beautiful forest. This was a new scene to us mountaineers;

the majestic oaks, the quantity of game, and the herds of stately deer

were all novelties to us.

From thence we proceeded to Oxford. As we entered this city

our minds were filled with the remembrance of the events

that had been transacted there more than a century and a half before.

It was here that Charles I had collected his forces. This city

had remained faithful to him, after the whole nation had forsaken his cause

to join the standard of Parliament and liberty. The memory

of that unfortunate king and his companions, the amiable Falkland,

the insolent Goring, his queen, and son, gave a peculiar interest

to every part of the city which they might be supposed to have inhabited.

The spirit of elder days found a dwelling here, and we delighted

to trace its footsteps. If these feelings had not found

an imaginary gratification, the appearance of the city had yet in itself

sufficient beauty to obtain our admiration. The colleges are ancient

and picturesque; the streets are almost magnificent; and the lovely Isis,

which flows beside it through meadows of exquisite verdure,

is spread forth into a placid expanse of waters, which reflects

its majestic assemblage of towers, and spires, and domes,

embosomed among aged trees.

I enjoyed this scene, and yet my enjoyment was embittered

both by the memory of the past and the anticipation of the future.

I was formed for peaceful happiness. During my youthful days

discontent never visited my mind, and if I was ever overcome by ennui,

the sight of what is beautiful in nature or the study of what is excellent

and sublime in the productions of man could always interest my heart

and communicate elasticity to my spirits. But I am a blasted tree;

the bolt has entered my soul; and I felt then that I should survive

to exhibit what I shall soon cease to be--a miserable spectacle

of wrecked humanity, pitiable to others and intolerable to myself.

We passed a considerable period at Oxford, rambling among its environs

and endeavouring to identify every spot which might relate

to the most animating epoch of English history. Our little voyages

of discovery were often prolonged by the successive objects

that presented themselves. We visited the tomb of the illustrious Hampden

and the field on which that patriot fell. For a moment my soul was elevated

from its debasing and miserable fears to contemplate the divine ideas

of liberty and self sacrifice of which these sights were the monuments

and the remembrancers. For an instant I dared to shake off my chains

and look around me with a free and lofty spirit, but the iron

had eaten into my flesh, and I sank again, trembling and hopeless,

into my miserable self.

We left Oxford with regret and proceeded to Matlock, which was

our next place of rest. The country in the neighbourhood

of this village resembled, to a greater degree, the scenery of Switzerland;

but everything is on a lower scale, and the green hills

want the crown of distant white Alps which always attend

on the piny mountains of my native country. We visited the wondrous cave

and the little cabinets of natural history, where the curiosities

are disposed in the same manner as in the collections

at Servox and Chamounix. The latter name made me tremble

when pronounced by Henry, and I hastened to quit Matlock,

with which that terrible scene was thus associated.

From Derby, still journeying northwards, we passed two months

in Cumberland and Westmorland. I could now almost fancy myself

among the Swiss mountains. The little patches of snow

which yet lingered on the northern sides of the mountains, the lakes,

and the dashing of the rocky streams were all familiar

and dear sights to me. Here also we made some acquaintances,

who almost contrived to cheat me into happiness. The delight of Clerval

was proportionably greater than mine; his mind expanded

in the company of men of talent, and he found in his own nature

greater capacities and resources than he could have imagined himself

to have possessed while he associated with his inferiors.

"I could pass my life here," said he to me; "and among these mountains

I should scarcely regret Switzerland and the Rhine."

But he found that a traveller's life is one that includes much pain

amidst its enjoyments. His feelings are forever on the stretch;

and when he begins to sink into repose, he finds himself obliged

to quit that on which he rests in pleasure for something new,

which again engages his attention, and which also he forsakes

for other novelties.

We had scarcely visited the various lakes of Cumberland

and Westmorland and conceived an affection for some of the inhabitants

when the period of our appointment with our Scotch friend approached,

and we left them to travel on. For my own part I was not sorry.

I had now neglected my promise for some time, and I feared the effects

of the daemon's disappointment. He might remain in Switzerland

and wreak his vengeance on my relatives. This idea pursued me

and tormented me at every moment from which I might otherwise

have snatched repose and peace. I waited for my letters

with feverish impatience; if they were delayed I was miserable

and overcome by a thousand fears; and when they arrived

and I saw the superscription of Elizabeth or my father, I hardly dared

to read and ascertain my fate. Sometimes I thought that the fiend

followed me and might expedite my remissness by murdering my companion.

When these thoughts possessed me, I would not quit Henry for a moment,

but followed him as his shadow, to protect him from the fancied rage

of his destroyer. I felt as if I had committed some great crime,

the consciousness of which haunted me. I was guiltless, but I had indeed

drawn down a horrible curse upon my head, as mortal as that of crime.

I visited Edinburgh with languid eyes and mind; and yet that city

might have interested the most unfortunate being. Clerval did not like it

so well as Oxford, for the antiquity of the latter city was more pleasing

to him. But the beauty and regularity of the new town of Edinburgh,

its romantic castle and its environs, the most delightful in the world,

Arthur's Seat, St. Bernard's Well, and the Pentland Hills compensated him

for the change and filled him with cheerfulness and admiration.

But I was impatient to arrive at the termination of my journey.

We left Edinburgh in a week, passing through Coupar, St. Andrew's,

and along the banks of the Tay, to Perth, where our friend expected us.

But I was in no mood to laugh and talk with strangers or enter

into their feelings or plans with the good humour expected from a guest;

and accordingly I told Clerval that I wished to make the tour of Scotland

alone. "Do you," said I, "enjoy yourself, and let this be our rendezvous.

I may be absent a month or two; but do not interfere with my motions,

I entreat you; leave me to peace and solitude for a short time;

and when I return, I hope it will be with a lighter heart,

more congenial to your own temper.

Henry wished to dissuade me, but seeing me bent on this plan,

ceased to remonstrate. He entreated me to write often.

"I had rather be with you," he said, "in your solitary rambles,

than with these Scotch people, whom I do not know; hasten, then,

my dear friend, to return, that I may again feel myself somewhat at home,

which I cannot do in your absence."

Having parted from my friend, I determined to visit some remote spot

of Scotland and finish my work in solitude. I did not doubt

but that the monster followed me and would discover himself to me

when I should have finished, that he might receive his companion.

With this resolution I traversed the northern highlands

and fixed on one of the remotest of the Orkneys as the scene of my labours.

It was a place fitted for such a work, being hardly more than a rock

whose high sides were continually beaten upon by the waves.

The soil was barren, scarcely affording pasture for a few miserable cows,

and oatmeal for its inhabitants, which consisted of five persons,

whose gaunt and scraggy limbs gave tokens of their miserable fare.

Vegetables and bread, when they indulged in such luxuries,

and even fresh water, was to be procured from the mainland,

which was about five miles distant.

On the whole island there were but three miserable huts,

and one of these was vacant when I arrived. This I hired.

It contained but two rooms, and these exhibited all the squalidness

of the most miserable penury. The thatch had fallen in,

the walls were unplastered, and the door was off its hinges.

I ordered it to be repaired, bought some furniture, and took possession,

an incident which would doubtless have occasioned some surprise

had not all the senses of the cottagers been benumbed by want

and squalid poverty. As it was, I lived ungazed at and unmolested,

hardly thanked for the pittance of food and clothes which I gave,

so much does suffering blunt even the coarsest sensations of men.

In this retreat I devoted the morning to labour; but in the evening,

when the weather permitted, I walked on the stony beach of the sea

to listen to the waves as they roared and dashed at my feet.

It was a monotonous yet ever-changing scene. I thought of Switzerland;

it was far different from this desolate and appalling landscape.

Its hills are covered with vines, and its cottages are scattered thickly

in the plains. Its fair lakes reflect a blue and gentle sky,

and when troubled by the winds, their tumult is but as the play

of a lively infant when compared to the roarings of the giant ocean.

In this manner I distributed my occupations when I first arrived,

but as I proceeded in my labour, it became every day more horrible

and irksome to me. Sometimes I could not prevail on myself

to enter my laboratory for several days, and at other times

I toiled day and night in order to complete my work. It was, indeed,

a filthy process in which I was engaged. During my first experiment,

a kind of enthusiastic frenzy had blinded me to the horror of my employment;

my mind was intently fixed on the consummation of my labour, and my eyes

were shut to the horror of my proceedings. But now I went to it

in cold blood, and my heart often sickened at the work of my hands.

Thus situated, employed in the most detestable occupation,

immersed in a solitude where nothing could for an instant call

my attention from the actual scene in which I was engaged,

my spirits became unequal; I grew restless and nervous. Every moment

I feared to meet my persecutor. Sometimes I sat with my eyes

fixed on the ground, fearing to raise them lest they should encounter

the object which I so much dreaded to behold. I feared to wander

from the sight of my fellow creatures lest when alone

he should come to claim his companion.

In the mean time I worked on, and my labour was already

considerably advanced. I looked towards its completion with a tremulous

and eager hope, which I dared not trust myself to question but which

was intermixed with obscure forebodings of evil that made my heart sicken

in my bosom.



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