Read CHAPTER XII of Mathilda, free online book, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, on

As I was perpetually haunted by these ideas, you may imagine that the influence of Woodville’s words was very temporary; and that although I did not again accuse him of unkindness, yet I soon became as unhappy as before.  Soon after this incident we parted.  He heard that his mother was ill, and he hastened to her.  He came to take leave of me, and we walked together on the heath for the last time.  He promised that he would come and see me again; and bade me take cheer, and to encourage what happy thoughts I could, untill time and fortitude should overcome my misery, and I could again mingle in society.

“Above all other admonition on my part,” he said, “cherish and follow this one:  do not despair.  That is the most dangerous gulph on which you perpetually totter; but you must reassure your steps, and take hope to guide you. Hope, and your wounds will be already half healed:  but if you obstinately despair, there never more will be comfort for you.  Believe me, my dearest friend, that there is a joy that the sun and earth and all its beauties can bestow that you will one day feel.  The refreshing bliss of Love will again visit your heart, and undo the spell that binds you to woe, untill you wonder how your eyes could be closed in the long night that burthens you.  I dare not hope that I have inspired you with sufficient interest that the thought of me, and the affection that I shall ever bear you, will soften your melancholy and decrease the bitterness of your tears.  But if my friendship can make you look on life with less disgust, beware how you injure it with suspicion.  Love is a delicate sprite and easily hurt by rough jealousy.  Guard, I entreat you, a firm persuasion of my sincerity in the inmost recesses of your heart out of the reach of the casual winds that may disturb its surface.  Your temper is made unequal by suffering, and the tenor of your mind is, I fear, sometimes shaken by unworthy causes; but let your confidence in my sympathy and love be deeper far, and incapable of being reached by these agitations that come and go, and if they touch not your affections leave you uninjured.”

These were some of Woodville’s last lessons.  I wept as I listened to him; and after we had taken an affectionate farewell, I followed him far with my eyes until they saw the last of my earthly comforter.  I had insisted on accompanying him across the heath towards the town where he dwelt:  the sun was yet high when he left me, and I turned my steps towards my cottage.  It was at the latter end of the month of September when the nights have become chill.  But the weather was serene, and as I walked on I fell into no unpleasing reveries.  I thought of Woodville with gratitude and kindness and did not, I know not why, regret his departure with any bitterness.  It seemed that after one great shock all other change was trivial to me; and I walked on wondering when the time would come when we should all four, my dearest father restored to me, meet in some sweet Paradise[.] I pictured to myself a lovely river such as that on whose banks Dante describes Mathilda gathering flowers, which ever flows

              ­bruna, bruna,
    Sotto l’ombra perpetua, che mai
    Raggiar non lascia sole ivi, ne Luna.

And then I repeated to myself all that lovely passage that relates the entrance of Dante into the terrestrial Paradise; and thought it would be sweet when I wandered on those lovely banks to see the car of light descend with my long lost parent to be restored to me.  As I waited there in expectation of that moment, I thought how, of the lovely flowers that grew there, I would wind myself a chaplet and crown myself for joy:  I would sing sul margine d’un rio, my father’s favourite song, and that my voice gliding through the windless air would announce to him in whatever bower he sat expecting the moment of our union, that his daughter was come.  Then the mark of misery would have faded from my brow, and I should raise my eyes fearlessly to meet his, which ever beamed with the soft lustre of innocent love.  When I reflected on the magic look of those deep eyes I wept, but gently, lest my sobs should disturb the fairy scene.

I was so entirely wrapt in this reverie that I wandered on, taking no heed of my steps until I actually stooped down to gather a flower for my wreath on that bleak plain where no flower grew, when I awoke from my day dream and found myself I knew not where.

The sun had set and the roseate hue which the clouds had caught from him in his descent had nearly died away.  A wind swept across the plain, I looked around me and saw no object that told me where I was; I had lost myself, and in vain attempted to find my path.  I wandered on, and the coming darkness made every trace indistinct by which I might be guided.  At length all was veiled in the deep obscurity of blackest night; I became weary and knowing that my servant was to sleep that night at the neighbouring village, so that my absence would alarm no one; and that I was safe in this wild spot from every intruder, I resolved to spend the night where I was.  Indeed I was too weary to walk further:  the air was chill but I was careless of bodily inconvenience, and I thought that I was well inured to the weather during my two years of solitude, when no change of seasons prevented my perpetual wanderings.

I lay upon the grass surrounded by a darkness which not the slightest beam of light penetrated ­There was no sound for the deep night had laid to sleep the insects, the only creatures that lived on the lone spot where no tree or shrub could afford shelter to aught else ­There was a wondrous silence in the air that calmed my senses yet which enlivened my soul, my mind hurried from image to image and seemed to grasp an eternity.  All in my heart was shadowy yet calm, untill my ideas became confused and at length died away in sleep.

When I awoke it rained: I was already quite wet, and my limbs were stiff and my head giddy with the chill of night.  It was a drizzling, penetrating shower; as my dank hair clung to my neck and partly covered my face, I had hardly strength to part with my fingers, the long strait locks that fell before my eyes.  The darkness was much dissipated and in the east where the clouds were least dense the moon was visible behind the thin grey cloud ­

    The moon is behind, and at the full
    And yet she looks both small and dull.

Its presence gave me a hope that by its means I might find my home.  But I was languid and many hours passed before I could reach the cottage, dragging as I did my slow steps, and often resting on the wet earth unable to proceed.

I particularly mark this night, for it was that which has hurried on the last scene of my tragedy, which else might have dwindled on through long years of listless sorrow.  I was very ill when I arrived and quite incapable of taking off my wet clothes that clung about me.  In the morning, on her return, my servant found me almost lifeless, while possessed by a high fever I was lying on the floor of my room.

I was very ill for a long time, and when I recovered from the immediate danger of fever, every symptom of a rapid consumption declared itself.  I was for some time ignorant of this and thought that my excessive weakness was the consequence of the fever; [sic] But my strength became less and less; as winter came on I had a cough; and my sunken cheek, before pale, burned with a hectic fever.  One by one these symptoms struck me; & I became convinced that the moment I had so much desired was about to arrive and that I was dying.  I was sitting by my fire, the physician who had attended me ever since my fever had just left me, and I looked over his prescription in which digitalis was the prominent médecine.  “Yes,” I said, “I see how this is, and it is strange that I should have deceived myself so long; I am about to die an innocent death, and it will be sweeter even than that which the opium promised.”

I rose and walked slowly to the window; the wide heath was covered by snow which sparkled under the beams of the sun that shone brightly thro’ the pure, frosty air:  a few birds were pecking some crumbs under my window. I smiled with quiet joy; and in my thoughts, which through long habit would for ever connect themselves into one train, as if I shaped them into words, I thus addressed the scene before me: 

“I salute thee, beautiful Sun, and thou, white Earth, fair and cold!  Perhaps I shall never see thee again covered with green, and the sweet flowers of the coming spring will blossom on my grave.  I am about to leave thee; soon this living spirit which is ever busy among strange shapes and ideas, which belong not to thee, soon it will have flown to other regions and this emaciated body will rest insensate on thy bosom

    “Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course
    With rocks, and stones, and trees.

“For it will be the same with thee, who art called our Universal Mother, when I am gone.  I have loved thee; and in my days both of happiness and sorrow I have peopled your solitudes with wild fancies of my own creation.  The woods, and lakes, and mountains which I have loved, have for me a thousand associations; and thou, oh, Sun! hast smiled upon, and borne your part in many imaginations that sprung to life in my soul alone, and which will die with me.  Your solitudes, sweet land, your trees and waters will still exist, moved by your winds, or still beneath the eye of noon, though hat I have felt about ye, and all my dreams which have often strangely deformed thee, will die with me.  You will exist to reflect other images in other minds, and ever will remain the same, although your reflected semblance vary in a thousand ways, changeable as the hearts of those who view thee.  One of these fragile mirrors, that ever doted on thine image, is about to be broken, crumbled to dust.  But everteeming Nature will create another and another, and thou wilt loose nought by my destruction.

“Thou wilt ever be the same.  Recieve then the grateful farewell of a fleeting shadow who is about to disappear, who joyfully leaves thee, yet with a last look of affectionate thankfulness.  Farewell!  Sky, and fields and woods; the lovely flowers that grow on thee; thy mountains & thy rivers; to the balmy air and the strong wind of the north, to all, a last farewell.  I shall shed no more tears for my task is almost fulfilled, and I am about to be rewarded for long and most burthensome suffering.  Bless thy child even even [sic] in death, as I bless thee; and let me sleep at peace in my quiet grave.”

I feel death to be near at hand and I am calm.  I no longer despair, but look on all around me with placid affection.  I find it sweet to watch the progressive decay of my strength, and to repeat to myself, another day and yet another, but again I shall not see the red leaves of autumn; before that time I shall be with my father.  I am glad Woodville is not with me for perhaps he would grieve, and I desire to see smiles alone during the last scene of my life; when I last wrote to him I told him of my ill health but not of its mortal tendency, lest he should conceive it to be his duty to come to me for I fear lest the tears of friendship should destroy the blessed calm of my mind.  I take pleasure in arranging all the little details which will occur when I shall no longer be.  In truth I am in love with death; no maiden ever took more pleasure in the contemplation of her bridal attire than I in fancying my limbs already enwrapt in their shroud:  is it not my marriage dress?  Alone it will unite me to my father when in an eternal mental union we shall never part.

I will not dwell on the last changes that I feel in the final decay of nature.  It is rapid but without pain:  I feel a strange pleasure in it.  For long years these are the first days of peace that have visited me.  I no longer exhaust my miserable heart by bitter tears and frantic complaints; I no longer the [sic] reproach the sun, the earth, the air, for pain and wretchedness.  I wait in quiet expectation for the closing hours of a life which has been to me most sweet & bitter.  I do not die not having enjoyed life; for sixteen years I was happy:  during the first months of my father’s return I had enjoyed ages of pleasure:  now indeed I am grown old in grief; my steps are feeble like those of age; I have become peevish and unfit for life; so having passed little more than twenty years upon the earth I am more fit for my narrow grave than many are when they reach the natural term of their lives.

Again and again I have passed over in my remembrance the different scenes of my short life:  if the world is a stage and I merely an actor on it my part has been strange, and, alas! tragical.  Almost from infancy I was deprived of all the testimonies of affection which children generally receive; I was thrown entirely upon my own resources, and I enjoyed what I may almost call unnatural pleasures, for they were dreams and not realities.  The earth was to me a magic lantern and I gazer, and a listener but no actor; but then came the transporting and soul-reviving era of my existence:  my father returned and I could pour my warm affections on a human heart; there was a new sun and a new earth created to me; the waters of existence sparkled:  joy! joy! but, alas! what grief!  My bliss was more rapid than the progress of a sunbeam on a mountain, which discloses its glades & woods, and then leaves it dark & blank; to my happiness followed madness and agony, closed by despair.

This was the drama of my life which I have now depicted upon paper.  During three months I have been employed in this task.  The memory of sorrow has brought tears; the memory of happiness a warm glow the lively shadow of that joy.  Now my tears are dried; the glow has faded from my cheeks, and with a few words of farewell to you, Woodville, I close my work:  the last that I shall perform.

Farewell, my only living friend; you are the sole tie that binds me to existence, and now I break it[.] It gives me no pain to leave you; nor can our seperation give you much.  You never regarded me as one of this world, but rather as a being, who for some penance was sent from the Kingdom of Shadows; and she passed a few days weeping on the earth and longing to return to her native soil.  You will weep but they will be tears of gentleness.  I would, if I thought that it would lessen your regret, tell you to smile and congratulate me on my departure from the misery you beheld me endure.  I would say; Woodville, rejoice with your friend, I triumph now and am most happy.  But I check these expressions; these may not be the consolations of the living; they weep for their own misery, and not for that of the being they have lost.  No; shed a few natural tears due to my memory:  and if you ever visit my grave, pluck from thence a flower, and lay it to your heart; for your heart is the only tomb in which my memory will be enterred.

My death is rapidly approaching and you are not near to watch the flitting and vanishing of my spirit.  Do no regret this; for death is a too terrible an [sic] object for the living.  It is one of those adversities which hurt instead of purifying the heart; for it is so intense a misery that it hardens & dulls the feelings.  Dreadful as the time was when I pursued my father towards the ocean, & found their [sic] only his lifeless corpse; yet for my own sake I should prefer that to the watching one by one his senses fade; his pulse weaken ­and sleeplessly as it were devour his life in gazing.  To see life in his limbs & to know that soon life would no longer be there; to see the warm breath issue from his lips and to know they would soon be chill ­I will not continue to trace this frightful picture; you suffered this torture once; I never did. And the remembrance fills your heart sometimes with bitter despair when otherwise your feelings would have melted into soft sorrow.

So day by day I become weaker, and life flickers in my wasting form, as a lamp about to loose it vivifying oil.  I now behold the glad sun of May.  It was May, four years ago, that I first saw my beloved father; it was in May, three years ago that my folly destroyed the only being I was doomed to love.  May is returned, and I die.  Three days ago, the anniversary of our meeting; and, alas! of our eternal seperation, after a day of killing emotion, I caused myself to be led once more to behold the face of nature.  I caused myself to be carried to some meadows some miles distant from my cottage; the grass was being mowed, and there was the scent of hay in the fields; all the earth look[ed] fresh and its inhabitants happy.  Evening approached and I beheld the sun set.  Three years ago and on that day and hour it shone through the branches and leaves of the beech wood and its beams flickered upon the countenance of him whom I then beheld for the last time. I now saw that divine orb, gilding all the clouds with unwonted splendour, sink behind the horizon; it disappeared from a world where he whom I would seek exists not; it approached a world where he exists not[.] Why do I weep so bitterly?  Why my [sic] does my heart heave with vain endeavour to cast aside the bitter anguish that covers it “as the waters cover the sea.”  I go from this world where he is no longer and soon I shall meet him in another.

Farewell, Woodville, the turf will soon be green on my grave; and the violets will bloom on it. There is my hope and my expectation; your’s are in this world; may they be fulfilled.