Fiction: Who is Happy?



WHO IS HAPPY? Smith, Harrison [i]Lady's Book (1835-1939);[/i] Apr 1839; American Periodicals pg.157

Written for the Lady's Book.



[left column] A young relation of Mr. De Lacy;s became an orphan, and by the death of his parents was left destitute and homeless. My husband, rigid in his ideas of duty, determined to adopt and provide for his relative. He became an inmate of our family; he was about my age, and was received in the family as a brother. Placed in this character and situation, I treated him with the kindness and frankness such relationship was calculated to inspire. He was not hand some, but he was interesting. He was not distinguished by intelectual endowments, or personal graces, but his extreme tenderness of disposition, and acuteness of sensibility, gave a refinement and delicacy to his manners, which generally is the result of a highly cultivated mind. A tincture of melancholy, added to his natural diffidence, could not fail of exciting a tenderer interest, than a stronger or more self sustained character wold have done. Gratit ude to his benefactor, he felt to a painful de gree; and sought by the most assiduous and unremitting attentions to discharge some portion of the obligations with oppressed him. His relative afforded him few opportunities of evinc ing his grateful feelings; for my husband, suffi cient to himself, seemed as little desirous of receiving, as he was attentive in paying, those small, but kind assiduities, which constitute the language of sentiment; he lived apart from, and I may say above others; and, steadily, loftily, and alone, pursued the path he had chosen, with a mind so fixedd on highter objects, as to be in different to the little pains and pleasures of private life.

It was natural for the young man, thus rep elled by the coldness of his relative, to turn those attentions, prompted by gratitude, to the wife and child of his benefactor. But there was no reflection or calculation in this conduct--it was the instinct of a tender heart, full to over flowing.

Domestic in his habits, pure and simple in his tastes, and naturally fond of children, he was never tempted to look abroad for pleasures, since all he desired were found at home. Even had this not been the bias of his disposition, the governing sentiment of his soul would have prompted him to devote his time to the family into which he had been so generously adopted. At any rate, he could not but love my little Clara. This darling child had now become my inseparable companion--no longer confined to the nursery, but the delight and plaything, and I may say, the pride and ornament of the par lour--for what was there I was so pround of ex hibiting, as by beauteous Clara? Yes, her infantine loveliness made her the admiration, and her good humour and vivacity, the delight of all our visiters.

Even her father used sometimes to be drawn from his abstraction, and would pat her head and kiss her cheek: but, if encouraged by this

[right clolumn] degree of notice, she attempted to climb his knee or prattle, he would gently push her back, saying, "Away, little one, you disturb me."- How could he resist her winning ways?--Ed ward, on the contrary, never entered the room without catching her in his arms, and lavishing on her the fondest caresses. He would play with her for hours together; sugar plubs and toys were always in his pockets, which he taught her to search; I should have grown jea lous of the dear child's excessive fondness for him, had not my maternal love been so much gratified by his devotion to her.

When I walked, Edward walked with me, while the nurse followed with the child. When at home, his own engagements were given up that he might read to me, or play with Clara.

How often during the long twilight of winter evenings--fire-light, I should rather say--have we both sat on the arpet and amused the dear child, or while I played on the piano, he would dance with her; and when the nurse came to take her to bed, to humour the petted darling, he would himself carry her to the nursery door, or at other times walk her to sleep in his arms. Kindness to a child is the readiest way to a mother's heart, and to such an one as mine, it was a short and easy way.

My home was no longer desolate--affection and sympathy were now its inmates. I suffered not from the aching void which had so long gnawed upon my heart, like hunger on the famished wretch; it was now full to overflowing of kind and gracious feelings. I made another happy. Delightful consciousness! The happi ness that beamed from Edward's face, was to my long chilled and darkened soul, like the summer's sun, after a dreary winter.

Every faculty seemed to revive under the animating infuence of cordial symathy. In tellectual pleasures were eagerly pursued, as I ardently desired the improvement of this amia ble young man. I had now a motive for select ing and reading the best and most useful works, and soon felt the beneficial effect on my own mind, though the motive of my choice had only been the improvement of his.

Where were now that lassitude, restlessness, and dissatisfaction, that had made my life a burden heavy to be borne? The awakened activity of thought and feeling gave wings to those hours, that hitherto had crept so wearily along.

Ah, my husband, had I been necessry to [i]your[/i] happiness, there would never have been a deficiency in my [i]own.[/i] The consciousness of pleasing imparts the power to please, whilst a failure so to do, destroys not only the power, but the motive which impelled endeavour. The moral, is like tha material world--warmth es pands--cold contracts. The revivifying effects of spring are not more obvious on the earth which it clothes in verdure and flowers, than

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the benign influence of affection on my dispo sition, which it restored to cheerfulness and activity.

But this renovated felicity was not of long duration. My child was seized with a sudden illness which threatened its life. During five nights and five days, I never closed my eyes, or withdrew them from the face of the precious sufferer.

Every morning before my husband went out, every night before he retired to his chamber, he would come and stand beside her, feel her pulse, inquire what prescriptions had been made, then bidding me good night, advise me to be calm and control my feelings. How strange was the contrast offered by Edward's unwearying solicitude and attention. A spectator, ignorant of the truth, would have taken him for the fa ther of the dear little creature. For hours would he kneel by her bedside and soothe her restlessness—administer her medicine, and smooth her pillow.

During her convalescence, she, like all chil dren, was wayward and fretful. With what gentleness, what patience and kindness, did this amiable friend attend on her. For hours and hours would he carry her in his arms, and caress and amuse her. It was not in human nature to resist the influence of such goodness. It was a brother's love—at least, it was with a sister's purity! I will acknowledge that the comparison of his to my husband's conduct at this period, often forced itself on my mind, greatly to the disadvantage of the latter. I should have controlled my thoughts, and not allowed them to dwell on this painful subject. Such a comparison was worse than useless. It excited too much irritation against one—too grateful a tenderness for the other. I struggled against these feelings and argued against my own convictions. But facts were stronger than arguments, and feelings were stronger than either.

Let no human being, but woman least of all, depend on their own strength of resolution to resist temptation—especially when it comes clothed in the garb of innocence—assuming the form of friendship, and accompanied with qua lities congenial with our own dispositions, or such as we respect and admire. Were vice to appear in its own hideous form, it would never be dangerous. It is, when wearing the sem blance of virtue, that we yield to its allurements. With what specious pretences and seductive motives does the deceitful heart excuse its wan derings from the strait and narrow way of duty. The diverging paths are strewed with such fair flowers that we respect not the snares that lurk beneath.

Of all the petitions contained in the prayer taught us by the blessed Jesus, there is none we should oftener repeat than deliver us from temptation. He knew our nature, and wherein our greatest danger consisted.

Oh, guard against temptation, however sweet its voice, or lovely its form. In avoidance alone is safety. The strongest are sometimes weak— the bravest have quailed before danger—the most determined, at times, have been irreso lute—the most virtuous have erred.

No one knows himself until he is tried.

Peter denied his Lord. With all the fervent zeal, the daring intrepidity, that impelled him to risk his life in his master's defence, he could not resist the imputed shame of being the follower of the insulted and persecuted Jesus. After such an example of frailty, who dare con fide in themselves?

For a long while I suspected not that I or my young friend were in any danger; and when the suspicion was awakened, I felt a pride in braving it, recollecting what I had both heard and read, that no woman could be called virtu ous, until her virtue had been tried. I rejoiced that mind should be put to the test, in order to enjoy the pride of triumph.

Dangerous experiment! Seldom made with impunity, and never without suffering. But I did gain the victory—thanks, most humble thanks to that superintending providence who watched over, and guided me through the perils which I had so rashly dared. Not to me—not to me is the merit due.

In the dreadful conflict between passion and duty, I must have fallen, had not the felt pre sence of a heart-searching and all-seeing God re strained and governed my own secret actions— governed them, when human laws and human motives ad lost their controlling influence.

Yes, I came off conqueror; but it was a con quest that cost me my peace—my health—al most my life—for I was brought to the very verge of the grave.

And my poor, unhappy friend!—But for me he might have been happy and affluent. His sole dependence was on his benefactor, and in leaving him, he sacrificed all his bright pros pects, and went forth from a sheltering roof, into a cold, unfriendly world. But duty required the sacrifice, and he did not hestitate to make it.

Would that I could deter others from running the same risk I did. To accomplish such a purpose, I would tear open the wounds that time has long since healed—I would describe the restless hours—the wakful nights—the dark purposes—the stormy feelings—the acute anguish I endured. I would, in short, describe the conflicts that distracted me, and compared to which, the state in which I had long lan guished, might have been deemed happiness. Grievances inflicted by the faults of others, are light in comparison with those inflicted by our own errors. Conscious purity and rectitude afford the mind a strong support under the pressure of injustice or unkindness, and diffuse a self-complacency, an inward peace, without which there can be no true enjoyment, however splendid the condition, or luxurious the plea sures, or various the amusements in the world can bestow.

There is a bitterness in guilt that mingles with the sweetest draught she ever administers to her votaries—while in that virtue, there is a sweetness which overpowers the bitterest drop that human sorrow can infuse in the cup of life.

Yea, the indulgence of any dominant passion, though it lead not to actual guilt, is fatal to the bosom's peace. But where there is an accusing

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M. B. Smith "Who is Happy?" Fiction (continued) Left Column: conscience, an internal conviction of error— doubt and dread prevail—a sense of degradation so humiliating and painful, that the esteem and admiration of society afford no relief.

At least such was my experience. My exterior of life was unchanged—I still possessed the esteem and respect of society; not a cloud obscured the sunshine of fortune. But beneath this brilliant surface, all was dark and stormy. Oh, the torture of covering a breaking heart with a smiling face! This could not be long endured. Yet, I did endure it for almost a year, and had I been called to deal with a less generous nature than my friend's, God only knows how the conflict would have ended. We had reached the verge of a precipice—had either of us advanced a step further, it would have been fatal to both. But we loved virtue—we abhorred vice, and at this trying period, on discovering our danger, we recoiled—yes, with horror recoiled from the precipice on which we stood. In plainer language, we separated. I entreated, with tears and sobs entreated him to seek another home. He yielded, and became a self-banished man, a voluntary exile from all he held dear on earth, and left me innocent—but left me wretched.

For many weeks afterwards, I lay, as it were between life and death. The physicians called my disease by twenty different names. They knew nothing about it; and if they had known, it would have been of no avail, they could have administered no remedy for a heart torn like mine.

Youth, and a good constitution triumphed over this severe attack—I recovered. The raging fever left me, but in a state so languid, cold, and lethargic, as to deprive life of all interest and enjoyment. Yet, crowds of friends— visitants, rather—congratulated me on my restoration to a life that was a burden—an almost unbearable burden. Even my child had lost its power over my affections—they were benumbed, insensible, or buried in one absorbing object. Another sad and fatal effect of the tyranny of irregular and ungoverned feelings.

During this period of listlessness and apathy, I was so incapable of discharging the duties of a mother, that my husband, cruelly, as I then thought, but most judiciously as I now think, insisted on sending my daughter from me. He placed her under the care of his aunt, a most excellent and kind woman. I murmured, but I submitted, and sunk into a state of still deeper despondency.

There is a strong analogy between the moral and material world, and when I looked upon a river swollen by torrents—its dark and perturbed waters rushing furiously along, overflowing and ravaging the banks it had once fertilized, I compared my heart to the scene of desolation.

"Those turbid waters," thought I, "will subside and regain their transparency and gentle course; the ensuing season will restore beauty and fertility to its devastated banks;— will the analogy hold throughout? Shall serenity and cheerfulness return to this wasted bosom? Shall hope and joy ever bloom again?"

Yes, the analogy did hold good. Time, with

Right Column its lenient power, restored tranquillity to my mind.

My seclusion from society was attributed to the infirm state of my health, and my languor and dejection to the effects of debility. This repose and retirement, was almost enjoyment, after the storm of contending emotions through which I had passed. But, it was not allowed a long continuance. Every step my husband advanced in the career of ambition, only impelled him onward; he had gained a high ascent, but aimed at a still higher. One mode to effect this purpose was, to mix more with society abroad, and to receive more company at home. I complied with his wishes, as in duty bound, and became a very slave to these new cares and projects. Entertainment followed entertainment—our hitherto select circle was opened to a promiscuous crowd. Our expenses were thus greatly increased without any corresponding enlargement of our income, and my husband was too just a man to live beyond his income: the consequence was a retrenchment of home comforts in order to make the necessary display. Of course, many cares were added to my management of domestic affairs, and much time unpleasantly consumed. None but those who have made the experiment can imagine how harassing, how irksome and wearisome such a life is—a life in perpetual warfare with our taste and inclination.

Had I felt any interest in my husband's views, had I been solicitous for his success, I should have found some satisfaction in making the exertions and sacrifices necessary to attain the desired object. But power and rank and wealth were equally indifferent to me; I had tasted all the pleasures the great world had to bestow; they had lost their power to charm, and I had formed habits in direct opposition to those a public station would require. The restlessness of a dissatisfied mind, had now subsided into a settled melancholy. I desired solitude, and aimed only at tranquillity. The new scheme destroyed both. However, I had not choice. Entertainments were given at home, and attended abroad.

Indifferent himself to what are called the pleasures [italicized] of society, Mr. de Lacy, however, well knew their attractive and conciliating power; and that the frivolities he despised, often proved effective means to further the aims of an ambition, built upon popularity, the only basis on which, in our government, ambition can build.

Good dinners, brilliant parties, flattering attentions, (and all the attentions of persons high in office are flattering,) courteous manners, go much farther than persons remote from the seat of government would imagine, in securing success to a political aspirant. Nor would it more readily be believed, that neglect of the most trifiling civilities, such as an omitted invitation, or morning call unreturned, could change zealous partisans into personal enemies, and that the slightest inattention to wives or daughters is as keely resented, as negligence to themselves. But this is a fact, and the wife of any candidated for office, holds a very responsible place, and may most effectually retard or ad-

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[left column] vance the interests of her husband. And a most miserable and annoying slavery it is, to be subjected from morning to night to the petty cares and assiduities entailed by such a life. Insensible as my husband himself was to any powers of pleasing I possessed, he was not ignorant of their attractive influence on others, and became desirous that my popular [italic] manners, as he termed them, should supply the deficiencies of his own, and unequivocally expressed his wish that I should make his house as agreeable as possible, and his entertainments equal, if not superior to those of his competitors.

I will acknowledge that self-love was not averse to this design. I would have preferred retirement; but, forced again to appear on the stage, I could not but desire to appear to advantage- to act a distinguished, not subordinate part in the great drama, toilsome, and wearisome, and exhausting as it might be.

My dear friend, I am not telling you the story of a life, but making my confessions, and therefore do not conceal the weaknesses and faults of my character. That love of distinction, which in men is called ambition, and in women vanity, a greater or less degree dwels in every bosom. Who is there who feels not the pleasure of pleasing? Yes, even when the higher and stronger eelings of the heart are dead, self-love may sleep, but never dies. It is an all-pervading principle, and governs even the pures and most generous natures. On some occassion when a person reproached Helvetius for asserting, in his great work, the supremacy of this principle, "Nonsense," exclaimed Madame du Deffand, "he only confesses what all others endeavour to conceal." I attempt no such concealment, but candidly confess that my self-love was gratified, and that the task imposed, was in consonance with my natural disposition- to be loved, admired, esteemed. Alone, these desires seemed extinguished, but social intercourse soon rekindled them, and in spite of all the irksome accompaniments, of which I have complained, my new mode of life was not without its attractions, while the novelty lasted. Think not, however, in these efforts to conciliate good will, and win popularity, that the lofty mind of my husband could ever stoop to any thing base or serviledespising, as he himself did, the frivolities and vanities, "the pomp and circumstance" of high life, he was fully aware of their influence on common minds, and made use of them to govern men as we use toys to govern children.

Our house now became the resort of foreigners, statesmen, politicians of all parties, and citizens of all classes. Exclsiveness [italics], once my pride, ws turned out of doors; and the motley crowd admitted. It is a wretched system, but I suppose in a government like ours, an unavoidable one.

I was more sought, more courted and flattered than ever; not because I was admired or esteemed, but because my husband had attained to a higher and more influential place, and might attain the highest; and those who sought to rise with him, and desired his favour, very naturally supposed they would accelerate

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their design by propitiating his wife, from a belief that I had a great influence over him. My pride did not allow me to contradict such an opinion, or to acknowledge to these applicants that the most insignificant among them had more influence than I had. Yes, I was fool enough not to undeceive the multitude who hoped success through my interference. I was besieged with applications of all descriptionsfrom the poor slave who wished emancipation, the unhappy debtor, lying in prison, the condemned criminal, the broken merchant, or ruined spendthrift, seeking petty places, to the proud aspirant after foreign embassies or high office.

I can truly say, that generally I was the greatest sufferer from the disappointment that ensued. My time was wasted and my spirits harassed, by listening to distress I could not relieve, and to my husband this host of applicants was an indescribable annoyance. Patronage!- proud but empty word; - it promises a thousand times more than it gives. It promises friends, but makes enemeies, since where one individual is gratified, hundreds are disappointed, and only patrons know how much louder are the whispers of a hundred, than the acclaim of a solitary individual.

Before one year had passed, I began to weary of this life. I was dazzled awhile by its glare, but the mind, like the eye, becomes soon accustomed to any degree of light. Distinction, power, influence, were gratifying to self-love, but on experiment I found them accompanied by pains and annoyances I had not counted on; the gloss had worn off, and the coarseness of the fabric became visible.

The duties [italics] of society- duties truly!- viz. the the observances of etiquette- the cold conventional forms and ceremonies- the fatigue of visiting and being visited by hundreds, whom we neither know nor care for- the dullness and toil of formal entertainments in which there is as little mind as heart, soon became intolerably irksome; the more so, as my shattered nerves and enfeebled health, suffered extremely from crowds and late hours. To be obliged, sick or well, sad or gray, night after night and day after day, to go into company to which we are more than indifferent- above all, to have the mangement of an income inadequate to one's station, to make a great appearance on small means, to be expected to be liberal and profuse, when it is scarcely possible to be just- these things, surely these things may be classed among the miseries of life. yet with what avidity are such situations sought? with what envy are their possessors looked upon by those ambitious of distinction? Little, ah, little do they know, who repine at being condemned to a humble fireside, and the narrow circle of home comforts, how wearisome and unsatisfactory is the lot they envy.

In truth, it is not all gold that glitters. Could they penetrate into the private hours and private scences of these envied great ones [italics], as they call them, believe me, few would consent to exchange the quiet of a domestic, for the turmoil of a public station.

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[left column] Often have I watched my husband's countenance from thence to learn what was passing within his mind, and asked, "is he a happier man?" If his countenance told the truth, it answered in the negative. The placidity that once dwelt there, was now diplaced by a careworn expression; his manners were more abrupt, betraying an irritability of temper; his looks no longer open and cheerful, but scrutinizing and dark. His conversation no longer frank and animated, but restrained, cautious, cold. In short, he was a changed man, and I decidedly think, a less happy one than he had been before his accession to office.

In conversation with a friend on the object he then had in view, I heard him say, "It is not place [italic], it is power [italic] I desire." The power which place [italic], and talents, and popularity could bestow, he possessed, and yet found himself unable to realize his views and effect his objects, and consequently endured the bitterness of disappointment.

Popularity! what a seductive phantom it is- how hard to win, how easily lsot; depending on the caprice of a mob, that as eagerly hurl to the ground, as they have raised to the skies, the idol they worshipped.

Yet, it is for such ephemeral arid mutable things that wise men toil. No wonder, then, that weak women are seduced by the specious appearance.

As for me, the dream was over- ambition's spell was broken- my health and sprirts were sinking beneath external splendour and internal misery- my daughter, I longed for my daughter. In search of happiness, I had tried the pleasures of the world, the pride of life, amuse ment, admiration, distinction- all by turns, and found them equally disappointing. Nothing would do without affection [italic], for that I pined, for that I longed. My daughter! But I called for her in vain: I was told, and justly too, that it was more for her advantage to remain at school. We had already been separated for years; if years were added, would not all remembrance of her mother be effaced? A poor man's wife would not have suffered what I did on this score. My daughter!- It was the sole anchor on which hope could sustain herself.

I was still young, a long futurity lay before me- with what objects could I occupy that dreary waste of years? I had lost that elasticity of mind which resits the pressure of care and trouble- I had lost the charm of novelty which can lend to the most common-place things a lustre not their own- I had exhausted the interests of life, and I was still young!

But I weary you, my friend. I would not . so long have protracted this history of my internal life, had it not been to prove, that the condition in whcih we are placed, is of little consequence- high or low, rich or poor, if its duties and pleasures are in consonance with our tastes and inclinations, we are happy- if opposed to them, we are miserable.

In the conclusion of my narrative, this truth will be established- I longed for some change. Little did I imagine how soon a change would take place, an overwhelming one, which strip-

[right column] ped me at once of every worldly advantage, and left me to widowhood and poverty.

After a short illness, my husband was suddenly snatched from life.

I know not how to describe my feelings-they were of so mixed and contradictory kind. The shock was dreadful. The tenderness which I thought extinguished, was rekindled, while I supported his dying head on my bosom, and I wept over his lifeless form in an agony which sincere love only could have excited. Feelings of remorse mingled with those of sorrow- his every deficiency was forgotten, and I blamed myself as the cause of the unhappiness I had endured; his virtues and excellencies rose in strong contrast to my own faults, and I almost detested myself for having prized so little, a man so good and great. I felt unworthy of the blessings I had enjoyed, and thought if he could be restored to life, i should be restored to happiness. Such is the waywardness and inconsistency of human nature.

Yet, after the violence of my first emotions had subsided, I felt like the one who is suddnely released from prison, and the sensation of liberty [italics] one of the most delightful of sensations, soon became the predominant one.

To leave scenes of which I was weary - to leave a crown in which there were few, if any, for whom I cared- to leave a home, where I had nevery known the joys of home - to throw off the trammels of form and ceremony - to return to my aged and beloved parents, to the scenes of my happy childhood- to be re-united to my daughter- oh, these were hopes which vanquished all regret.

In losing my husband, I lost my whole support; for his private fortune had been expended in his long course of public service, and I was left absolutely pennyless.

"What a wreck," exclaimed thsoe around me; "poor woman, she is sadly to be pitied," said one. "She will never be able to survive such an accumulation of misfortunes," said another. "To lose her husband, her fortune, her rank in society, to be obliged to quit a circle where she has so long shone as a star of the first magnitude, and to be buried in solitude and obscurity, she will certainly sink under such a load of misery."

So thought the misjudging world. They had envied and congratulated me when I deserved commiseration and now condoled with me when I was content with my destiny.

Here closes the period of my life, whose surface glittered with the sunshine of prosperity, whilst beneath all was dark and dreary- and here commences that portion whose surface was obscured by the clouds of adversity, but whose interior was bright with renovated hope, elastic with recovered liberty, and glowing with warm affections.

Such is the difference betweeen what we are and what we seem to be. [To be Continued.]

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