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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesEugene Aram: A Tale - Book 5 - Chapter 7. The Confession.--And The Fate
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Eugene Aram: A Tale - Book 5 - Chapter 7. The Confession.--And The Fate Post by :ronamo Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2475

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Eugene Aram: A Tale - Book 5 - Chapter 7. The Confession.--And The Fate


"In winter's tedious nights, sit by the fire
With good old folks, and let them tell thee tales
Of woful ages long ago betid:
And ere thou bid good night, to quit their grief,
Tell them the lamentable fall of me."
--Richard II.

"I was born at Ramsgill, a little village in Netherdale. My family had originally been of some rank; they were formerly lords of the town of Aram, on the southern banks of the Tees. But time had humbled these pretensions to consideration; though they were still fondly cherished by the heritors of an ancient name, and idle but haughty recollections. My father resided on a small farm, and was especially skilful in horticulture, a taste I derived from him. When I was about thirteen, the deep and intense Passion that has made the Demon of my life, first stirred palpably within me. I had always been, from my cradle, of a solitary disposition, and inclined to reverie and musing; these traits of character heralded the love that now seized me--the love of knowledge. Opportunity or accident first directed my attention to the abstruser sciences. I poured my soul over that noble study, which is the best foundation of all true discovery; and the success I met with soon turned my pursuits into more alluring channels. History, poetry, the mastery of the past, the spell that admits us into the visionary world, took the place which lines and numbers had done before. I became gradually more and more rapt and solitary in my habits; knowledge assumed a yet more lovely and bewitching character, and every day the passion to attain it increased upon me; I do not, I have not now the heart to do it--enlarge upon what I acquired without assistance, and with labour sweet in proportion to its intensity.

(We learn from a letter of Eugene Aram's, now extant, that his method of acquiring the learned languages, was, to linger over five lines at a time, and never to quit a passage till he thought he had comprehended its meaning.)

The world, the creation, all things that lived, moved, and were, became to me objects contributing to one passionate, and, I fancied, one exalted end. I suffered the lowlier pleasures of life, and the charms of its more common ties, to glide away from me untasted and unfelt. As you read, in the East, of men remaining motionless for days together, with their eyes fixed upon the heavens, my mind, absorbed in the contemplation of the things above its reach, had no sight of what passed around. My parents died, and I was an orphan. I had no home, and no wealth; but wherever the field contained a flower, or the heavens a star, there was matter of thought and food for delight to me. I wandered alone for months together, seldom sleeping but in the open air, and shunning the human form as that part of God's works from which I could learn the least. I came to Knaresbro': the beauty of the country, a facility in acquiring books from a neighbouring library that was open to me, made me resolve to settle there. And now, new desires opened upon me with new stores: I became seized, possessed, haunted with the ambition of enlightening my race. At first, I had loved knowledge solely for itself: I now saw afar an object grander than knowledge. To what end, said I, are these labours? Why do I feed a lamp which consumes itself in a desert place? Why do I heap up riches, without asking who shall gather them? I was restless and discontented. What could I do? I was friendless; I was strange to my kind; I was shut out from all uses by the wall of my own poverty. I saw my desires checked when their aim was at the highest: all that was proud, and aspiring, and ardent in my nature, was cramped and chilled. I exhausted the learning within my reach. Where, with my appetite excited not slaked, was I, destitute and penniless, to search for more? My abilities, by bowing them to the lowliest tasks, but kept me from famine:--was this to be my lot for ever? And all the while, I was thus grinding down my soul in order to satisfy the vile physical wants, what golden hours, what glorious advantages, what openings into new heavens of science, what chances of illumining mankind were for ever lost to me! Sometimes when the young, whom I taught some elementary, all-unheeded, initiations into knowledge, came around me; when they looked me in the face with their laughing eyes; when, for they all loved me, they told me their little pleasures and their petty sorrows, I have wished that I could have gone back again into childhood, and becoming as one of them, enter into that heaven of quiet which was denied me now. Yet more often it was with an indignant and chafed rather than a sorrowful spirit that I looked upon my lot; and if I looked beyond it, what could I see of hope? Dig I could; but was all that thirsted and swelled within to be dried up and stifled, in order that I might gain the sustenance of life? Was I to turn menial to the soil, and forget that knowledge was abroad? Was I to starve my mind, that I might keep alive my body? Beg I could not. Where ever lived the real student, the true minister and priest of knowledge, who was not filled with the lofty sense of the dignity of his calling? Was I to shew the sores of my pride, and strip my heart from its clothing, and ask the dull fools of wealth not to let a scholar starve? Pah!--He whom the vilest poverty ever stooped to this, may be the quack, but never the true disciple, of Learning. Steal, rob--worse--ay, all those I or any of my brethren might do:--beg? never! What did I then? I devoted the lowliest part of my knowledge to the procuring the bare means of life, and the grandest,--the knowledge that pierced to the depths of earth, and numbered the stars of heaven--why, that was valueless, save to the possessor.

"In Knaresbro', at this time, I met a distant relation, Richard Houseman. Sometimes in our walks we encountered each other; for he sought me, and I could not always avoid him. He was a man like myself, born to poverty, yet he had always enjoyed what to him was wealth. This seemed a mystery to me; and when we met, we sometimes conversed upon it. 'You are poor, with all your wisdom,' said he. 'I know nothing; but I am never poor. Why is this? The world is my treasury.--I live upon my kind.--Society is my foe.--Laws order me to starve; but self-preservation is an instinct more sacred than society, and more imperious then laws.'

"The undisguised and bold manner of his discourse impressed while it revolted me. I looked upon him as a study, and I combated, in order to learn, him. He had been a soldier--he had seen the greatest part of Europe--he possessed a strong shrewd sense--he was a villain--but a villain bold--adroit--and not then thoroughly unredeemed. His conversation created dark and perturbed reflections. What was that state of society--was it not at war with its own elements--in which vice prospered more than virtue? Knowledge was my dream, that dream I might realize, not by patient suffering, but by active daring. I might wrest from society, to which I owed nothing, the means to be wise and great. Was it not better and nobler to do this, even at my life's hazard, than lie down in a ditch and die the dog's death? Was it not better than such a doom--ay better for mankind--that I should commit one bold wrong, and by that wrong purchase the power of good? I asked myself that question. It is a fearful question; it opens a labyrinth of reasonings, in which the soul may walk and lose itself for ever.

"One day Houseman met me, accompanied by a stranger who had just visited our town, for what purpose you know already. His name--supposed name--was Clarke. Man, I am about to speak plainly of that stranger--his character and his fate. And yet--yet you are his son! I would fain soften the colouring; but I speak truth of myself, and I must not, unless I would blacken my name yet deeper than it deserves, varnish truth when I speak of others. Houseman joined, and presented to me this person. From the first I felt a dislike creep through me at the stranger, which indeed it was easy to account for. He was of a careless and somewhat insolent manner. His countenance was impressed with the lines and character of a thousand vices: you read in the brow and eye the history of a sordid yet reckless life. His conversation was repellent to me beyond expression. He uttered the meanest sentiments, and he chuckled over them as the maxims of a superior sagacity; he avowed himself a knave upon system, and upon the lowest scale. To overreach, to deceive, to elude, to shuffle, to fawn, and to lie, were the arts that he confessed to with so naked and cold a grossness, that one perceived that in the long habits of debasement he was unconscious of what was not debased. Houseman seemed to draw him out: he told us anecdotes of his rascality, and the distresses to which it had brought him; and he finished by saying: 'Yet you see me now almost rich, and wholly contented. I have always been the luckiest of human beings; no matter what ill-chances to-day, good turns up to-morrow. I confess that I bring on myself the ill, and Providence sends me the good.' We met accidentally more than once, and his conversation was always of the same strain--his luck and his rascality: he had no other theme, and no other boast. And did not this stir into gloomy speculation the depths of my mind? Was it not an ordination that called upon men to take fortune in their own hands, when Fate lavished her rewards on this low and creeping thing, that could only enter even Vice by its sewers and alleys? Was it worth while to be virtuous, and look on, while the bad seized upon the feast of life? This man was instinct with the basest passions, the pettiest desires: he gratified them, and Fate smiled upon his daring. I, who had shut out from my heart the poor temptations of sense--I, who fed only the most glorious visions, the most august desires--I, denied myself their fruition, trembling and spell-bound in the cerements of human laws, without hope, without reward,--losing the very powers of virtue because I would not stray into crime.

"These thoughts fell on me darkly and rapidly; but they led to no result. I saw nothing beyond them. I suffered my indignation to gnaw my heart; and preserved the same calm and serene demeanour which had grown with my growth of mind. Nay, while I upbraided Fate, I did not cease to love mankind. I envied--what? the power to serve them! I had been kind and loving to all things from a boy; there was not a dumb animal that would not single me from a crowd as its protector, (Note: All the authentic anecdotes of Aram corroborate the fact of his natural gentleness to all things. A clergyman (the Rev. Mr. Hinton) said that he used frequently to observe Aram, when walking in the garden, stoop down to remove a snail or worm from the path, to prevent its being destroyed. Mr. Hinton ingeniously conjectured that Aram wished to atone for his crime by shewing mercy to every animal and insect: but the fact is, that there are several anecdotes to shew that he was equally humane before the crime was committed. Such are the strange contradictions of the human heart!) and yet I was doomed--but I must not premeditate my tale. In returning, at night, to my own home, from my long and solitary walks, I often passed the house in which Clarke lodged; and sometimes I met him reeling by the door, insulting all who passed; and yet their resentment was absorbed in their disgust. 'And this loathsome, and grovelling thing,' said I, inly, 'squanders on low excesses, wastes upon outrages to society, that with which I could make my soul as a burning lamp, that should shed a light over the world!"

"There was that in this man's vices which revolted me far more than the villainy of Houseman. The latter had possessed no advantages of education; he descended to no minutiae of sin, he was a plain, blunt, coarse wretch, and his sense threw something respectable around his vices. But in Clarke you saw the traces of happier opportunities of better education; it was in him not the coarseness of manner so much as the sickening, universal canker of vulgarity of mind. Had Houseman money in his purse, he would have paid a debt and relieved a friend from mere indifference; not so the other. Had he been overflowing with wealth, he would have slipped from a creditor, and duped a friend; there was a pitiful and debasing weakness in his nature, which made him regard the lowest meanness as the subtlest wit. His mind too was not only degraded, but broken by his habits of life; a strange, idiotic folly, that made him love laughing at his own littleness, ran through his character. Houseman was young; he might amend; but Clarke had grey hairs and dim eyes; was old in constitution, if not years; and every thing in him was hopeless and confirmed; the leprosy was in the system. Time, in this, has made Houseman what Clarke was then.

"One day, in passing through the street, though it was broad noon, I encountered Clarke in a state of intoxication, and talking to a crowd he had collected around him. I sought to pass in an opposite direction; he would not suffer me; he, whom I sickened to touch, to see, threw himself in my way, and affected gibe and insult, nay even threat. But when he came near, he shrank before the mere glance of my eye, and I passed on unheeding him. The insult galled me; he had taunted my poverty, poverty was a favourite jest with him; it galled me; anger, revenge, no! those passions I had never felt for any man. I could not rouse them for the first time for such a cause; yet I was lowered in my own eyes, I was stung. Poverty! he taunt me! He dream himself, on account of a little yellow dust, my superior! I wandered from the town, and paused by the winding and shagged banks of the river. It was a gloomy winter's day, the waters rolled on black and sullen, and the dry leaves rustled desolately beneath my feet. Who shall tell us that outward nature has no effect upon our mood? All around seemed to frown upon my lot. I read in the face of heaven and earth a confirmation of the curse which man hath set upon poverty. I leant against a tree that overhung the waters, and suffered my thoughts to glide on in the bitter silence of their course. I heard my name uttered--I felt a hand on my arm, I turned, and Houseman was by my side.

"'What, moralizing?' said he, with his rude smile.

"I did not answer him.

"'Look,' said he, pointing to the waters, 'where yonder fish lies waiting his prey, that prey his kind. Come, you have read Nature, is it not so universally?'

"I did not answer him.

"'They who do not as the rest,' he renewed, 'fulfil not the object of their existence; they seek to be wiser than their tribe, and are fools for their pains. Is it not so? I am a plain man, and would learn.'

"Still I did not answer.

"'You are silent,' said he; 'do I offend you?'


"'Now, then,' he continued, 'strange as it may seem, we, so different in mind, are at this moment alike in fortunes. I have not a guinea in the wide world; you, perhaps, are equally destitute. But mark the difference, I, the ignorant man, ere three days have passed, will have filled my purse; you, the wise man, will be still as poor. Come, cast away your wisdom, and do as I do.'


"'Take from the superfluities of others what your necessities crave. My horse, my pistol, a ready hand, a stout heart, these are to me, what coffers are to others. There is the chance of detection and of death; I allow it. But is not this chance better than some certainties?'

"I turned away my face. In the silence of my chamber, and in the solitude of my heart, I had thought, as the robber spoke--there was a strife within me.

"'Will you share the danger and the booty?' renewed Houseman, in a low voice.

"I turned my eyes upon him. 'Speak out,' said I; 'explain your purpose!'

"Houseman's looks brightened.

"'Listen!' said he; 'Clarke, despite his present wealth lawfully gained, is about to purloin more; he has converted his legacy into jewels; he has borrowed other jewels on false pretences; he purposes to make these also his own, and to leave the town in the dead of night; he has confided to me his intention, and asked my aid. He and I, be it known to you, were friends of old; we have shared together other dangers, and other spoils; he has asked my assistance in his flight. Now do you learn my purpose? Let us ease him of his burthen! I offer to you the half; share the enterprise and its fruits.'

"I rose, I walked away, I pressed my hands on my heart; I wished to silence the voice that whispered me within. Houseman saw the conflict; he followed me; he named the value of the prize he proposed to gain; that which he called my share placed all my wished within my reach!--the means of gratifying the one passion of my soul, the food for knowledge, the power of a lone blessed independence upon myself,--and all were in my grasp; no repeated acts of fraud; no continuation of sin, one single act sufficed! I breathed heavily, but I threw not off the emotion that seized my soul; I shut my eyes and shuddered, but the vision still rose before me.

"'Give me your hand,' said Houseman. (Note: Though, in the above part of Aram's confession, it would seem as if Houseman did not allude to more than the robbery of Clarke; it is evident from what follows, that the more heinous crime also was then at least hinted at by Houseman.)

"'No, no,' I said, breaking away from him. 'I must pause--I must consider--I do not yet refuse, but I will not now decide.'--

"Houseman pressed, but I persevered in my determination;--he would have threatened me, but my nature was haughtier than his, and I subdued him. It was agreed that he should seek me that night and learn my choice--the next night was the one on which the deed was to be done. We parted--I returned an altered man to my home. Fate had woven her mesh around me--a new incident had occurred which strengthened the web: there was a poor girl whom I had been accustomed to see in my walks. She supported her family by her dexterity in making lace,--a quiet, patient-looking, gentle creature. Clarke had, a few days since, under pretence of purchasing lace, decoyed her to his house (when all but himself were from home), where he used the most brutal violence towards her. The extreme poverty of the parents had enabled him easily to persuade them to hush up the matter, but something of the story got abroad; the poor girl was marked out for that gossip and scandal, which among the very lowest classes are as coarse in the expression as malignant in the sentiment; and in the paroxysm of shame and despair, the unfortunate girl had that day destroyed herself. This melancholy event wrung forth from the parents the real story: the event and the story reached my ears in the very hour in which my mind was wavering to and fro. Can you wonder that they fixed it at once, and to a dread end? What was this wretch? aged with vice--forestalling time--tottering on to a dishonoured grave--soiling all that he touched on his way--with grey hairs and filthy lewdness, the rottenness of the heart, not its passion, a nuisance and a curse to the world. What was the deed--that I should rid the earth of a thing at once base and venomous? Was it crime? Was it justice? Within myself I felt the will--the spirit that might bless mankind. I lacked the means to accomplish the will and wing the spirit. One deed supplied me with the means. Had the victim of that deed been a man moderately good--pursuing with even steps the narrow line between vice and virtue--blessing none but offending none,--it might have been yet a question whether mankind would not gain more by the deed than lose. But here was one whose steps stumbled on no good act--whose heart beat to no generous emotion;--there was a blot--a foulness on creation,--nothing but death could wash it out and leave the world fair. The soldier receives his pay, and murthers, and sleeps sound, and men applaud. But you say he smites not for pay, but glory. Granted--though a sophism. But was there no glory to be gained in fields more magnificent than those of war--no glory to be gained in the knowledge which saves and not destroys? Was I not about to strike for that glory, for the means of earning it? Nay, suppose the soldier struck for patriotism, a better feeling than glory, would not my motive be yet larger than patriotism? Did it not body forth a broader circle? Could the world stop the bound of its utilities? Was there a corner of the earth--was there a period in time, which an ardent soul, freed from, not chained as now, by the cares of the body, and given wholly up to wisdom, might not pierce, vivify, illumine? Such were the questions which I asked:--time only answered them.

"Houseman came, punctual to our dark appointment. I gave him my hand in silence. We understood each other. We said no more of the deed itself, but of the manner in which it should be done. The melancholy incident I have described made Clarke yet more eager to leave the town. He had settled with Houseman that he would abscond that very night, not wait for the next, as at first he had intended. His jewels and property were put in a small compass. He had arranged that he would, towards midnight or later, quit his lodging; and about a mile from the town, Houseman had engaged to have a chaise in readiness. For this service Clarke had promised Houseman a reward, with which the latter appeared contented. It was arranged that I should meet Houseman and Clarke at a certain spot in their way from the town, and there--! Houseman appeared at first fearful, lest I should relent and waver in my purpose. It is never so with men whose thoughts are deep and strong. To resolve was the arduous step--once resolved, and I cast not a look behind. Houseman left me for the present. I could not rest in my chamber. I went forth and walked about the town; the night deepened--I saw the lights in each house withdrawn, one by one, and at length all was hushed--Silence and Sleep kept court over the abodes of men. That stillness--that quiet--that sabbath from care and toil--how deeply it sank into my heart! Nature never seemed to me to make so dread a pause. I felt as if I and my intended victim had been left alone in the world. I had wrapped myself above fear into a high and preternatural madness of mind. I looked on the deed I was about to commit as a great and solemn sacrifice to Knowledge, whose Priest I was. The very silence breathed to me of a stern and awful sanctity--the repose, not of the charnel-house, but the altar. I heard the clock strike hour after hour, but I neither faltered nor grew impatient. My mind lay hushed in its design.

"The Moon came out, but with a pale and sickly countenance. Winter was around the earth; the snow, which had been falling towards eve, lay deep upon the ground; and the Frost seemed to lock the Universal Nature into the same calm and deadness which had taken possession of my soul.

"Houseman was to have come to me at midnight, just before Clarke left his house, but it was nearly two hours after that time ere he arrived. I was then walking to and fro before my own door; I saw that he was not alone, but with Clarke. 'Ha!' said he, 'this is fortunate, I see you are just going home. You were engaged, I recollect, at some distance from the town, and have, I suppose, just returned. Will you admit Mr. Clarke and myself for a short time--for to tell you the truth,' said he, in a lower voice--'The watchman is about, and we must not be seen by him! I have told Clarke that he may trust you, we are relatives!'

"Clarke, who seemed strangely credulous and indifferent, considering the character of his associate,--but those whom fate destroys she first blinds, made the same request in a careless tone, assigning the same cause. Unwillingly, I opened the door and admitted them. We went up to my chamber. Clarke spoke with the utmost unconcern of the fraud he purposed, and with a heartlessness that made my veins boil, of the poor victim his brutality had destroyed. All this was as iron bands round my purpose. They stayed for nearly an hour, for the watchman remained some time in that beat--and then Houseman asked me to accompany them a little way out of the town. Clarke seconded the request. We walked forth; the rest--why need I repeat? Houseman lied in the court; my hand struck--but not the death-blow: yet, from that hour, I have never given that right hand in pledge of love or friendship--the curse of memory has clung to it.

"We shared our booty; mine I buried, for the present. Houseman had dealings with a gipsy hag, and through her aid removed his share, at once, to London. And now, mark what poor strugglers we are in the eternal web of destiny! Three days after that deed, a relation who neglected me in life, died, and left me wealth!--wealth at least to me!--Wealth, greater than that for which I had...! The news fell on me as a thunderbolt. Had I waited but three little days! Great God! when they told me,--I thought I heard the devils laugh out at the fool who had boasted wisdom! Tell me not now of our free will--we are but the things of a never-swerving, an everlasting Necessity!--pre-ordered to our doom--bound to a wheel that whirls us on till it touches the point at which we are crushed! Had I waited but three days, three little days!--Had but a dream been sent me, had but my heart cried within me,--'Thou hast suffered long, tarry yet!' (Note: Aram has hitherto been suffered to tell his own tale without comment or interruption. The chain of reasonings, the metaphysical labyrinth of defence and motive, which he wrought around his act, it was, in justice to him, necessary to give at length, in order to throw a clearer light on his character--and lighten, perhaps, in some measure the heinousness of his crime. No moral can be more impressive than that which teaches how man can entangle himself in his own sophisms--that moral is better, viewed aright, than volumes of homilies. But here I must pause for one moment, to bid the reader mark, that that event which confirmed Aram in the bewildering doctrines of his fatalism, ought rather to inculcate the Divine virtue--the foundation of all virtues, Heathen or Christian--that which Epictetus made clear, and Christ sacred--FORTITUDE. The reader will note, that the answer to the reasonings that probably convinced the mind of Aram, and blinded him to his crime, may be found in the change of feelings by which the crime was followed. I must apologize for this interruption--it seemed to me advisable in this place;--though, in general, the moment we begin to inculcate morality as a science, we ought to discard moralizing as a method.) No, it was for this, for the guilt and its penance, for the wasted life and the shameful death--with all my thirst for good, my dreams of glory--that I was born, that I was marked from my first sleep in the cradle!

"The disappearance of Clarke of course created great excitement;--those whom he had over-reached had naturally an interest in discovering him. Some vague surmises that he might have been made away with, were rumoured abroad. Houseman and I, owing to some concurrence of circumstance, were examined,--not that suspicion attached to me before or after the examination. That ceremony ended in nothing. Houseman did not betray himself; and I, who from a boy had mastered my passions, could master also the nerves, which are the passions' puppets: but I read in the face of the woman with whom I lodged, that I was suspected. Houseman told me that she had openly expressed her suspicion to him; nay, he entertained some design against her life, which he naturally abandoned on quitting the town. This he did soon afterwards. I did not linger long behind him. I dug up my jewels,--I concealed them about me, and departed on foot to Scotland. There I converted my booty into money. And now I was above want--was I at rest? Not yet. I felt urged on to wander--Cain's curse descends to Cain's children. I travelled for some considerable time,--I saw men and cities, and I opened a new volume in my kind. It was strange; but before the deed, I was as a child in the ways of the world, and a child, despite my knowledge, might have duped me. The moment after it, a light broke upon me,--it seemed as if my eyes were touched with a charm, and rendered capable of piercing the hearts of men! Yes, it was a charm--a new charm--it was Suspicion! I now practised myself in the use of arms,--they made my sole companions. Peaceful, as I seemed to the world, I felt there was that eternally within me with which the world was at war.

"I do not deceive you. I did not feel what men call remorse! Having once convinced myself that I had removed from the earth a thing that injured and soiled its tribes,--that I had in crushing one worthless life, but without crushing one virtue--one feeling--one thought that could benefit others, strode to a glorious end;--having once convinced myself of this, I was not weak enough to feel a vague remorse for a deed I would not allow, in my case, to be a crime. I did not feel remorse, but I felt regret. The thought that had I waited three days I might have been saved, not from guilt, but from the chance of shame,--from the degradation of sinking to Houseman's equal--of feeling that man had the power to hurt me--that I was no longer above the reach of human malice, or human curiosity--that I was made a slave to my own secret--that I was no longer lord of my heart, to shew or to conceal it--that at any hour, in the possession of honours, by the hearth of love, I might be dragged forth and proclaimed a murderer--that I held my life, my reputation, at the breath of accident--that in the moment I least dreamed of, the earth might yield its dead, and the gibbet demand its victim;--this could I feel--all this--and not make a spectre of the past:--a spectre that walked by my side--that slept at my bed--that rose from my books--that glided between me and the stars of heaven, that stole along the flowers, and withered their sweet breath--that whispered in my ear, 'Toil, fool, and be wise; the gift of wisdom is to place us above the reach of fortune, but thou art her veriest minion!' Yes; I paused at last from my wanderings, and surrounded myself with books, and knowledge became once more to me what it had been, a thirst; but not what it had been, a reward. I occupied my thoughts--I laid up new hoards within my mind--I looked around, and I saw few whose stores were like my own,--but where, with the passion for wisdom still alive within me--where was that once more ardent desire which had cheated me across so dark a chasm between youth and manhood--between past and present life--the desire of applying that wisdom to the service of mankind? Gone--dead--buried for ever in my bosom, with the thousand dreams that had perished before it! When the deed was done, mankind seemed suddenly to have grown my foes. I looked upon them with other eyes. I knew that I carried within, that secret which, if bared to-day, would make them loath and hate me,--yea, though I coined my future life into one series of benefits on them and their posterity! Was not this thought enough to quell my ardour--to chill activity into rest? The more I might toil, the brighter honours I might win--the greater services I might bestow on the world, the more dread and fearful might be my fall at last! I might be but piling up the scaffold from which I was to be hurled! Possessed by these thoughts, a new view of human affairs succeeded to my old aspirings;--the moment a man feels that an object has ceased to charm, he reconciles himself by reasonings to his loss. 'Why,' said I; 'why flatter myself that I can serve--that I can enlighten mankind? Are we fully sure that individual wisdom has ever, in reality, done so? Are we really better because Newton lived, and happier because Bacon thought?' This dampening and frozen line of reflection pleased the present state of my mind more than the warm and yearning enthusiasm it had formerly nourished. Mere worldly ambition from a boy I had disdained;--the true worth of sceptres and crowns--the inquietude of power--the humiliations of vanity--had never been disguised from my sight. Intellectual ambition had inspired me. I now regarded it equally as a delusion. I coveted light solely for my own soul to bathe in. I would have drawn down the Promethean fire; but I would no longer have given to man what it was in the power of circumstance alone (which I could control not) to make his enlightener or his ruin--his blessing or his curse. Yes, I loved--I love still;--could I live for ever, I should for ever love knowledge! It is a companion--a solace--a pursuit--a Lethe. But, no more!--oh! never more for me was the bright ambition that makes knowledge a means, not end. As, contrary to the vulgar notion, the bee is said to gather her honey unprescient of the winter, labouring without a motive, save the labour, I went on, year after year, hiving all that the earth presented to my toils, and asking not to what use. I had rushed into a dread world, that I might indulge a dream. Lo! the dream was fled; but I could not retrace my steps.

"Rest now became to me the sole to kalon--the sole charm of existence. I grew enamoured of the doctrine of those old mystics, who have placed happiness only in an even and balanced quietude. And where but in utter loneliness was that quietude to be enjoyed? I no longer wondered that men in former times, when consumed by the recollection of some haunting guilt, fled to the desert and became hermits. Tranquillity and Solitude are the only soothers of a memory deeply troubled--light griefs fly to the crowd--fierce thoughts must battle themselves to rest. Many years had flown, and I had made my home in many places. All that was turbulent, if not all that was unquiet, in my recollections, had died away. Time had lulled me into a sense of security. I breathed more freely. I sometimes stole from the past. Since I had quitted Knaresbro' chance had thrown it in my power frequently to serve my brethren--not by wisdom, but by charity or courage--by individual acts that it soothed me to remember. If the grand aim of enlightening a world was gone--if to so enlarged a benevolence had succeeded apathy or despair, still the man, the human man, clung to my heart--still was I as prone to pity--as prompt to defend--as glad to cheer, whenever the vicissitudes of life afforded me the occasion; and to poverty, most of all, my hand never closed. For oh! what a terrible devil creeps into that man's soul, who sees famine at his door! One tender act and how many black designs, struggling into life within, you may crush for ever! He who deems the world his foe, convince him that he has one friend, and it is like snatching a dagger from his hand!

"I came to a beautiful and remote part of the country. Walter Lester, I came to Grassdale!--the enchanting scenery around--the sequestered and deep retirement of the place arrested me at once. 'And among these valleys,' I said, 'will I linger out the rest of my life, and among these quiet graves shall mine be dug, and my secret shall die with me!'

"I rented the lonely house in which I dwelt when you first knew me--thither I transported my books and instruments of science. I formed new projects in the vast empire of wisdom, and a deep quiet, almost amounting to content, fell like a sweet sleep upon my soul!

"In this state of mind, the most free from memory and from the desire to pierce the future that I had known for twelve years, I first saw Madeline Lester. Even with that first time a sudden and heavenly light seemed to dawn upon me. Her face--its still--its serene--its touching beauty, shone upon me like a vision. My heart warmed as I saw it--my pulse seemed to wake from its even slowness. I was young once more. Young! the youth, the freshness, the ardour--not of the frame only, but of the soul. But I then only saw, or spoke to her--scarce knew her--not loved her--nor was it often that we met. When we did so, I felt haunted, as by a holy spirit, for the rest of the day--an unquiet yet delicious emotion agitated all within--the south wind stirred the dark waters of my mind, but it passed, and all became hushed again. It was not for two years from the time we first saw each other, that accident brought us closely together. I pass over the rest. We loved! Yet oh what struggles were mine during the progress of that love! How unnatural did it seem to me to yield to a passion that united me with my kind; and as I loved her more, how far more urgent grew my fear of the future! That which had almost slept before awoke again to terrible life. The soil that covered the past might be riven, the dead awake, and that ghastly chasm separate me for ever from HER! What a doom, too, might I bring upon that breast which had begun so confidingly to love me! Often--often I resolved to fly--to forsake her--to seek some desert spot in the distant parts of the world, and never to be betrayed again into human emotions! But as the bird flutters in the net, as the hare doubles from its pursuers, I did but wrestle--I did but trifle--with an irresistible doom. Mark how strange are the coincidences of fate--fate that gives us warnings and takes away the power to obey them--the idle prophetess--the juggling fiend! On the same evening that brought me acquainted with Madeline Lester, Houseman, led by schemes of fraud and violence into that part of the country, discovered and sought me! Imagine my feelings, when in the hush of night I opened the door of my lonely home to his summons, and by the light of that moon which had witnessed so never-to-be-forgotten a companionship between us, beheld my accomplice in murder after the lapse of so many years. Time and a course of vice had changed and hardened, and lowered his nature; and in the power, at the will of that nature, I beheld myself abruptly placed. He passed that night under my roof. He was poor. I gave him what was in my hands. He promised to leave that part of England--to seek me no more.

"The next day I could not bear my own thoughts, the revulsion was too sudden, too full of turbulent, fierce, torturing emotions; I fled for a short relief to the house to which Madeline's father had invited me. But in vain I sought, by wine, by converse, by human voices, human kindness, to fly the ghost that had been raised from the grave of time. I soon returned to my own thoughts. I resolved to wrap myself once more in the solitude of my heart. But let me not repeat what I have said before, somewhat prematurely, in my narrative. I resolved--I struggled in vain, Fate had ordained, that the sweet life of Madeline Lester should wither beneath the poison tree of mine. Houseman sought me again, and now came on the humbling part of crime, its low calculations, its poor defence, its paltry trickery, its mean hypocrisy! They made my chiefest penance! I was to evade, to beguile, to buy into silence, this rude and despised ruffian. No matter now to repeat how this task was fulfilled; I surrendered nearly my all, on the condition of his leaving England for ever: not till I thought that condition already fulfilled, till the day had passed on which he should have left England, did I consent to allow Madeline's fate to be irrevocably woven with mine. Fool that I was, as if laws could bind us closer than love had done already.

"How often, when the soul sins, are her loftiest feelings punished through her lowest! To me, lone, rapt, for ever on the wing to unearthly speculation, galling and humbling was it indeed, to be suddenly called from the eminence of thought, to barter, in pounds and pence, for life, and with one like Houseman. These are the curses that deepen the tragedy of life, by grinding down our pride. But I wander back to what I have before said. I was to marry Madeline,--I was once more poor, but want did not rise before me; I had succeeded in obtaining the promise of a competence from one whom you know. For that I had once forced from my kind, I asked now, but not with the spirit of the beggar, but of the just claimant, and in that spirit it was granted. And now I was really happy; Houseman I believed removed for ever from my path; Madeline was about to be mine: I surrendered myself to love, and blind and deluded, I wandered on, and awoke on the brink of that precipice into which I am about to plunge. You know the rest. But oh! what now was my horror! It had not been a mere worthless, isolated unit in creation that I had blotted out of the sum of life. I had shed the blood of his brother whose child was my betrothed! Mysterious avenger--weird and relentless fate! How, when I deemed myself the farthest from her, had I been sinking into her grasp! Mark, young man, there is a moral here that few preachers can teach thee! Mark. Men rarely violate the individual rule in comparison to their violation of general rules. It is in the latter that we deceive by sophisms which seem truths. In the individual instance it was easy for me to deem that I had committed no crime. I had destroyed a man, noxious to the world; with the wealth by which he afflicted society I had been the means of blessing many; in the individual consequences mankind had really gained by my deed; the general consequence I had overlooked till now, and now it flashed upon me. The scales fell from my eyes, and I knew myself for what I was! All my calculations were dashed to the ground at once, for what had been all the good I had proposed to do--the good I had done--compared to the anguish I now inflicted on your house? Was your father my only victim? Madeline, have I not murdered her also? Lester, have I not shaken the sands in his glass? You, too, have I not blasted the prime and glory of your years? How incalculable--how measureless--how viewless the consequences of one crime, even when we think we have weighed them all with scales that would have turned with a hair's weight! Yes; before I had felt no remorse. I felt it now. I had acknowledged no crime, and now crime seemed the essence itself of my soul. The Theban's fate, which had seemed to the men of old the most terrible of human destinies, was mine. The crime--the discovery--the irremediable despair--hear me, as the voice of a man who is on the brink of a world, the awful nature of which Reason cannot pierce--hear me! when your heart tempts to some wandering from the line allotted to the rest of men, and whispers 'This may be crime in others, but is not so in thee'--tremble; cling fast, fast to the path you are lured to leave. Remember me!

"But in this state of mind I was yet forced to play the hypocrite. Had I been alone in the world--had Madeline and Lester not been to me what they were, I might have avowed my deed and my motives--I might have spoken out to the hearts of men--I might have poured forth the gloomy tale of reasonings and of temptings, in which we lose sense, and become the archfiend's tools! But while their eyes were on me; while their lives and hearts were set on my acquittal, my struggle against truth was less for myself than them. For them I girded up my soul, a villain I was; and for them, a bold, a crafty, a dexterous, villain I became! My defence fulfilled its end: Madeline died without distrusting the innocence of him she loved. Lester, unless you betray me, will die in the same belief. In truth, since the arts of hypocrisy have been commenced, the pride of consistency would have made it sweet to me to leave the world in a like error, or at least in doubt. For you I conquer that desire, the proud man's last frailty. And now my tale is done. From what passes at this instant within my heart, I lift not the veil! Whether beneath, be despair, or hope, or fiery emotions, or one settled and ominous calm, matters not. My last hours shall not belie my life: on the verge of death I will not play the dastard, and tremble at the Dim Unknown. The thirst, the dream, the passion of my youth, yet lives; and burns to learn the sublime and shaded mysteries that are banned Mortality. Perhaps I am not without a hope that the Great and Unseen Spirit, whose emanation within me I have nursed and worshipped, though erringly and in vain, may see in his fallen creature one bewildered by his reason rather than yielding to his vices. The guide I received from Heaven betrayed me, and I was lost; but I have not plunged wittingly from crime to crime. Against one guilty deed, some good, and much suffering may be set: and, dim and afar off from my allotted bourne, I may behold in her glorious home the starred face of her who taught me to love, and who, even there, could scarce be blessed without shedding the light of her divine forgiveness upon me. Enough! ere you break this seal, my doom rests not with man nor earth. The burning desires I have known--the resplendent visions I have nursed--the sublime aspirings that have lifted me so often from sense and clay--these tell me, that, whether for good or ill--I am the thing of an Immortality, and the creature of a God! As men of the old wisdom drew their garments around their face, and sat down collectedly to die, I wrap myself in the settled resignation of a soul firm to the last, and taking not from man's vengeance even the method of its dismissal. The courses of my life I swayed with my own hand: from my own hand shall come the manner and moment of my death!

"Eugene Aram."

On the day after that evening in which Aram had given the above confession to Walter Lester;--on the day of execution, when they entered the condemned cell, they found the prisoner lying on the bed; and when they approached to take off the irons, they found, that he neither stirred nor answered to their call. They attempted to raise him, and he then uttered some words in a faint voice. They perceived that he was covered with blood. He had opened his veins in two places in the arm with a sharp instrument he had some time since concealed. A surgeon was instantly sent for, and by the customary applications the prisoner in some measure was brought to himself. Resolved not to defraud the law of its victim, they bore him, though he appeared unconscious of all around, to the fatal spot. But when he arrived at that dread place, his sense suddenly seemed to return. He looked hastily round the throng that swayed and murmured below, and a faint flush rose to his cheek: he cast his eyes impatiently above, and breathed hard and convulsively. The dire preparations were made, completed; but the prisoner drew back for an instant--was it from mortal fear? He motioned to the Clergyman to approach, as if about to whisper some last request in his ear. The clergyman bowed his head,--there was a minute's awful pause--Aram seemed to struggle as for words, when, suddenly throwing himself back, a bright triumphant smile flashed over his whole face. With that smile, the haughty Spirit passed away, and the law's last indignity was wreaked upon a breathless corpse!

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Eugene Aram: A Tale - Book 5 - Chapter 8. And Last... Eugene Aram: A Tale - Book 5 - Chapter 8. And Last...

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BOOK V CHAPTER VI. THE DEATH.--THE PRISON.--AN INTERVIEW.--ITS RESULT"Lay her i' the earth, And from her fair and unpolluted flesh May violets spring." ........... "See in my heart there was a kind of fighting That would not let me sleep."