"Such was the history of my beloved cottagers. It impressed me deeply. I
learned, from the views of social life which it developed, to admire their
virtues and to deprecate the vices of mankind.
"As yet I looked upon crime as a distant evil, benevolence and generosity were
ever present before me, inciting within me a desire to become an actor in the
busy scene where so many admirable qualities were called forth and displayed.
But in giving an account of the progress of my intellect, I must not omit a
circumstance which occurred in the beginning of the month of August of the
"One night during my accustomed visit to the neighbouring wood where I
collected my own food and brought home firing for my protectors, I found on
the ground a leathern portmanteau containing several articles of dress and
some books. I eagerly seized the prize and returned with it to my hovel.
Fortunately the books were written in the language, the elements of which I
had acquired at the cottage; they consisted of Paradise Lost, a volume of
Plutarch's Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter. The possession of these treasures
gave me extreme delight; I now continually studied and exercised my mind upon
these histories, whilst my friends were employed in their ordinary
"I can hardly describe to you the effect of these books. They produced in me
an infinity of new images and feelings, that sometimes raised me to ecstasy,
but more frequently sunk me into the lowest dejection. In the Sorrows of
Werter, besides the interest of its simple and affecting story, so many
opinions are canvassed and so many lights thrown upon what had hitherto been
to me obscure subjects that I found in it a never-ending source of speculation
and astonishment. The gentle and domestic manners it described, combined with
lofty sentiments and feelings, which had for their object something out of
self, accorded well with my experience among my protectors and with the wants
which were for ever alive in my own bosom. But I thought Werter himself a more
divine being than I had ever beheld or imagined; his character contained no
pretension, but it sank deep. The disquisitions upon death and suicide were
calculated to fill me with wonder. I did not pretend to enter into the merits
of the case, yet I inclined towards the opinions of the hero, whose extinction
I wept, without precisely understanding it.
"As I read, however, I applied much personally to my own feelings and
condition. I found myself similar yet at the same time strangely unlike to the
beings concerning whom I read and to whose conversation I was a listener. I
sympathised with and partly understood them, but I was unformed in mind; I was
dependent on none and related to none. 'The path of my departure was free,'
and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my
stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I
come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was
unable to solve them.
"The volume of Plutarch's Lives which I possessed contained the histories of
the first founders of the ancient republics. This book had a far different
effect upon me from the Sorrows of Werter. I learned from Werter's
imaginations despondency and gloom, but Plutarch taught me high thoughts; he
elevated me above the wretched sphere of my own reflections, to admire and
love the heroes of past ages. Many things I read surpassed my understanding
and experience. I had a very confused knowledge of kingdoms, wide extents of
country, mighty rivers, and boundless seas. But I was perfectly unacquainted
with towns and large assemblages of men. The cottage of my protectors had been
the only school in which I had studied human nature, but this book developed
new and mightier scenes of action. I read of men concerned in public affairs,
governing or massacring their species. I felt the greatest ardour for virtue
rise within me, and abhorrence for vice, as far as I understood the
signification of those terms, relative as they were, as I applied them, to
pleasure and pain alone. Induced by these feelings, I was of course led to
admire peaceable lawgivers, Numa, Solon, and Lycurgus, in preference to
Romulus and Theseus. The patriarchal lives of my protectors caused these
impressions to take a firm hold on my mind; perhaps, if my first introduction
to humanity had been made by a young soldier, burning for glory and slaughter,
I should have been imbued with different sensations.
"But Paradise Lost excited different and far deeper emotions. I read it, as I
had read the other volumes which had fallen into my hands, as a true history.
It moved every feeling of wonder and awe that the picture of an omnipotent God
warring with his creatures was capable of exciting. I often referred the
several situations, as their similarity struck me, to my own. Like Adam, I was
apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state
was far different from mine in every other respect. He had come forth from the
hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial
care of his Creator; he was allowed to converse with and acquire knowledge
from beings of a superior nature, but I was wretched, helpless, and alone.
Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition, for often,
like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy
rose within me.
"Another circumstance strengthened and confirmed these feelings. Soon after my
arrival in the hovel I discovered some papers in the pocket of the dress which
I had taken from your laboratory. At first I had neglected them, but now that
I was able to decipher the characters in which they were written, I began to
study them with diligence. It was your journal of the four months that
preceded my creation. You minutely described in these papers every step you
took in the progress of your work; this history was mingled with accounts of
domestic occurrences. You doubtless recollect these papers. Here they are.
Everything is related in them which bears reference to my accursed origin; the
whole detail of that series of disgusting circumstances which produced it is
set in view; the minutest description of my odious and loathsome person is
given, in language which painted your own horrors and rendered mine indelible.
I sickened as I read. 'Hateful day when I received life!' I exclaimed in
agony. 'Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you
turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring,
after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even
from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire
and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred.'
"These were the reflections of my hours of despondency and solitude; but when
I contemplated the virtues of the cottagers, their amiable and benevolent
dispositions, I persuaded myself that when they should become acquainted with
my admiration of their virtues they would compassionate me and overlook my
personal deformity. Could they turn from their door one, however monstrous,
who solicited their compassion and friendship? I resolved, at least, not to
despair, but in every way to fit myself for an interview with them which would
decide my fate. I postponed this attempt for some months longer, for the
importance attached to its success inspired me with a dread lest I should
fail. Besides, I found that my understanding improved so much with every day's
experience that I was unwilling to commence this undertaking until a few more
months should have added to my sagacity.
"Several changes, in the meantime, took place in the cottage. The presence of
Safie diffused happiness among its inhabitants, and I also found that a
greater degree of plenty reigned there. Felix and Agatha spent more time in
amusement and conversation, and were assisted in their labours by servants.
They did not appear rich, but they were contented and happy; their feelings
were serene and peaceful, while mine became every day more tumultuous.
Increase of knowledge only discovered to me more clearly what a wretched
outcast I was. I cherished hope, it is true, but it vanished when I beheld my
person reflected in water or my shadow in the moonshine, even as that frail
image and that inconstant shade.
"I endeavoured to crush these fears and to fortify myself for the trial which
in a few months I resolved to undergo; and sometimes I allowed my thoughts,
unchecked by reason, to ramble in the fields of Paradise, and dared to fancy
amiable and lovely creatures sympathising with my feelings and cheering my
gloom; their angelic countenances breathed smiles of consolation. But it was
all a dream; no Eve soothed my sorrows nor shared my thoughts; I was alone. I
remembered Adam's supplication to his Creator. But where was mine? He had
abandoned me, and in the bitterness of my heart I cursed him.
"Autumn passed thus. I saw, with surprise and grief, the leaves decay and
fall, and nature again assume the barren and bleak appearance it had worn when
I first beheld the woods and the lovely moon. Yet I did not heed the bleakness
of the weather; I was better fitted by my conformation for the endurance of
cold than heat. But my chief delights were the sight of the flowers, the
birds, and all the gay apparel of summer; when those deserted me, I turned
with more attention towards the cottagers. Their happiness was not decreased
by the absence of summer. They loved and sympathised with one another; and
their joys, depending on each other, were not interrupted by the casualties
that took place around them. The more I saw of them, the greater became my
desire to claim their protection and kindness; my heart yearned to be known
and loved by these amiable creatures; to see their sweet looks directed
towards me with affection was the utmost limit of my ambition. I dared not
think that they would turn them from me with disdain and horror. The poor that
stopped at their door were never driven away. I asked, it is true, for greater
treasures than a little food or rest: I required kindness and sympathy; but I
did not believe myself utterly unworthy of it.
"The winter advanced, and an entire revolution of the seasons had taken place
since I awoke into life. My attention at this time was solely directed towards
my plan of introducing myself into the cottage of my protectors. I revolved
many projects, but that on which I finally fixed was to enter the dwelling
when the blind old man should be alone. I had sagacity enough to discover that
the unnatural hideousness of my person was the chief object of horror with
those who had formerly beheld me. My voice, although harsh, had nothing
terrible in it; I thought, therefore, that if in the absence of his children I
could gain the good will and mediation of the old De Lacey, I might by his
means be tolerated by my younger protectors.
"One day, when the sun shone on the red leaves that strewed the ground and
diffused cheerfulness, although it denied warmth, Safie, Agatha, and Felix
departed on a long country walk, and the old man, at his own desire, was left
alone in the cottage. When his children had departed, he took up his guitar
and played several mournful but sweet airs, more sweet and mournful than I had
ever heard him play before. At first his countenance was illuminated with
pleasure, but as he continued, thoughtfulness and sadness succeeded; at
length, laying aside the instrument, he sat absorbed in reflection.
"My heart beat quick; this was the hour and moment of trial, which would
decide my hopes or realise my fears. The servants were gone to a neighbouring
fair. All was silent in and around the cottage; it was an excellent
opportunity; yet, when I proceeded to execute my plan, my limbs failed me and
I sank to the ground. Again I rose, and exerting all the firmness of which I
was master, removed the planks which I had placed before my hovel to conceal
my retreat. The fresh air revived me, and with renewed determination I
approached the door of their cottage.
"I knocked. 'Who is there?' said the old man. 'Come in.'
"I entered. 'Pardon this intrusion,' said I; 'I am a traveller in want of a
little rest; you would greatly oblige me if you would allow me to remain a few
minutes before the fire.'
"'Enter,' said De Lacey, 'and I will try in what manner I can to relieve your
wants; but, unfortunately, my children are from home, and as I am blind, I am
afraid I shall find it difficult to procure food for you.'
"'Do not trouble yourself, my kind host; I have food; it is warmth and rest
only that I need.'
"I sat down, and a silence ensued. I knew that every minute was precious to
me, yet I remained irresolute in what manner to commence the interview, when
the old man addressed me.
'By your language, stranger, I suppose you are my countryman; are you French?'
"'No; but I was educated by a French family and understand that language only.
I am now going to claim the protection of some friends, whom I sincerely love,
and of whose favour I have some hopes.'
"'Are they Germans?'
"'No, they are French. But let us change the subject. I am an unfortunate and
deserted creature, I look around and I have no relation or friend upon earth.
These amiable people to whom I go have never seen me and know little of me. I
am full of fears, for if I fail there, I am an outcast in the world for ever.'
"'Do not despair. To be friendless is indeed to be unfortunate, but the hearts
of men, when unprejudiced by any obvious self-interest, are full of brotherly
love and charity. Rely, therefore, on your hopes; and if these friends are
good and amiable, do not despair.'
"'They are kind--they are the most excellent creatures in the world; but,
unfortunately, they are prejudiced against me. I have good dispositions; my
life has been hitherto harmless and in some degree beneficial; but a fatal
prejudice clouds their eyes, and where they ought to see a feeling and kind
friend, they behold only a detestable monster.'
"'That is indeed unfortunate; but if you are really blameless, cannot you
"'I am about to undertake that task; and it is on that account that I feel so
many overwhelming terrors. I tenderly love these friends; I have, unknown to
them, been for many months in the habits of daily kindness towards them; but
they believe that I wish to injure them, and it is that prejudice which I wish
"'Where do these friends reside?'
"'Near this spot.'
"The old man paused and then continued, 'If you will unreservedly confide to
me the particulars of your tale, I perhaps may be of use in undeceiving them.
I am blind and cannot judge of your countenance, but there is something in
your words which persuades me that you are sincere. I am poor and an exile,
but it will afford me true pleasure to be in any way serviceable to a human
"'Excellent man! I thank you and accept your generous offer. You raise me from
the dust by this kindness; and I trust that, by your aid, I shall not be
driven from the society and sympathy of your fellow creatures.'
"'Heaven forbid! Even if you were really criminal, for that can only drive you
to desperation, and not instigate you to virtue. I also am unfortunate; I and
my family have been condemned, although innocent; judge, therefore, if I do
not feel for your misfortunes.'
"'How can I thank you, my best and only benefactor? From your lips first have
I heard the voice of kindness directed towards me; I shall be for ever
grateful; and your present humanity assures me of success with those friends
whom I am on the point of meeting.'
"'May I know the names and residence of those friends?'
"I paused. This, I thought, was the moment of decision, which was to rob me of
or bestow happiness on me for ever. I struggled vainly for firmness sufficient
to answer him, but the effort destroyed all my remaining strength; I sank on
the chair and sobbed aloud. At that moment I heard the steps of my younger
protectors. I had not a moment to lose, but seizing the hand of the old man, I
cried, 'Now is the time! Save and protect me! You and your family are the
friends whom I seek. Do not you desert me in the hour of trial!'
"'Great God!' exclaimed the old man. 'Who are you?'
"At that instant the cottage door was opened, and Felix, Safie, and Agatha
entered. Who can describe their horror and consternation on beholding me?
Agatha fainted, and Safie, unable to attend to her friend, rushed out of the
cottage. Felix darted forward, and with supernatural force tore me from his
father, to whose knees I clung, in a transport of fury, he dashed me to the
ground and struck me violently with a stick. I could have torn him limb from
limb, as the lion rends the antelope. But my heart sank within me as with
bitter sickness, and I refrained. I saw him on the point of repeating his
blow, when, overcome by pain and anguish, I quitted the cottage, and in the
general tumult escaped unperceived to my hovel."