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Chapter 2

  • We were brought up together; there was not quite a year difference in ou_ges. I need not say that we were strangers to any species of disunion o_ispute. Harmony was the soul of our companionship, and the diversity an_ontrast that subsisted in our characters drew us nearer together. Elizabet_as of a calmer and more concentrated disposition; but, with all my ardour, _as capable of a more intense application and was more deeply smitten with th_hirst for knowledge. She busied herself with following the aerial creation_f the poets; and in the majestic and wondrous scenes which surrounded ou_wiss home—the sublime shapes of the mountains, the changes of the seasons,
  • tempest and calm, the silence of winter, and the life and turbulence of ou_lpine summers—she found ample scope for admiration and delight. While m_ompanion contemplated with a serious and satisfied spirit the magnificen_ppearances of things, I delighted in investigating their causes. The worl_as to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research t_earn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they wer_nfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember.
  • On the birth of a second son, my junior by seven years, my parents gave u_ntirely their wandering life and fixed themselves in their native country. W_ossessed a house in Geneva, and a campagne on Belrive, the eastern shore o_he lake, at the distance of rather more than a league from the city. W_esided principally in the latter, and the lives of my parents were passed i_onsiderable seclusion. It was my temper to avoid a crowd and to attach mysel_ervently to a few. I was indifferent, therefore, to my school-fellows i_eneral; but I united myself in the bonds of the closest friendship to on_mong them. Henry Clerval was the son of a merchant of Geneva. He was a boy o_ingular talent and fancy. He loved enterprise, hardship, and even danger fo_ts own sake. He was deeply read in books of chivalry and romance. He compose_eroic songs and began to write many a tale of enchantment and knightl_dventure. He tried to make us act plays and to enter into masquerades, i_hich the characters were drawn from the heroes of Roncesvalles, of the Roun_able of King Arthur, and the chivalrous train who shed their blood to redee_he holy sepulchre from the hands of the infidels.
  • No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself. My parent_ere possessed by the very spirit of kindness and indulgence. We felt tha_hey were not the tyrants to rule our lot according to their caprice, but th_gents and creators of all the many delights which we enjoyed. When I mingle_ith other families I distinctly discerned how peculiarly fortunate my lo_as, and gratitude assisted the development of filial love.
  • My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement; but by some law i_y temperature they were turned not towards childish pursuits but to an eage_esire to learn, and not to learn all things indiscriminately. I confess tha_either the structure of languages, nor the code of governments, nor th_olitics of various states possessed attractions for me. It was the secrets o_eaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outwar_ubstance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul o_an that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, o_n it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.
  • Meanwhile Clerval occupied himself, so to speak, with the moral relations o_hings. The busy stage of life, the virtues of heroes, and the actions of me_ere his theme; and his hope and his dream was to become one among those whos_ames are recorded in story as the gallant and adventurous benefactors of ou_pecies. The saintly soul of Elizabeth shone like a shrine-dedicated lamp i_ur peaceful home. Her sympathy was ours; her smile, her soft voice, the swee_lance of her celestial eyes, were ever there to bless and animate us. She wa_he living spirit of love to soften and attract; I might have become sullen i_y study, through the ardour of my nature, but that she was there to subdue m_o a semblance of her own gentleness. And Clerval—could aught ill entrench o_he noble spirit of Clerval? Yet he might not have been so perfectly humane,
  • so thoughtful in his generosity, so full of kindness and tenderness amidst hi_assion for adventurous exploit, had she not unfolded to him the rea_oveliness of beneficence and made the doing good the end and aim of hi_oaring ambition.
  • I feel exquisite pleasure in dwelling on the recollections of childhood,
  • before misfortune had tainted my mind and changed its bright visions o_xtensive usefulness into gloomy and narrow reflections upon self. Besides, i_rawing the picture of my early days, I also record those events which led, b_nsensible steps, to my after tale of misery, for when I would account t_yself for the birth of that passion which afterwards ruled my destiny I fin_t arise, like a mountain river, from ignoble and almost forgotten sources;
  • but, swelling as it proceeded, it became the torrent which, in its course, ha_wept away all my hopes and joys.
  • Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate; I desire,
  • therefore, in this narration, to state those facts which led to m_redilection for that science. When I was thirteen years of age we all went o_ party of pleasure to the baths near Thonon; the inclemency of the weathe_bliged us to remain a day confined to the inn. In this house I chanced t_ind a volume of the works of Cornelius Agrippa. I opened it with apathy; th_heory which he attempts to demonstrate and the wonderful facts which h_elates soon changed this feeling into enthusiasm. A new light seemed to daw_pon my mind, and bounding with joy, I communicated my discovery to my father.
  • My father looked carelessly at the title page of my book and said, "Ah!
  • Cornelius Agrippa! My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sa_rash."
  • If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to m_hat the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded and that a moder_ystem of science had been introduced which possessed much greater powers tha_he ancient, because the powers of the latter were chimerical, while those o_he former were real and practical, under such circumstances I shoul_ertainly have thrown Agrippa aside and have contented my imagination, warme_s it was, by returning with greater ardour to my former studies. It is eve_ossible that the train of my ideas would never have received the fata_mpulse that led to my ruin. But the cursory glance my father had taken of m_olume by no means assured me that he was acquainted with its contents, and _ontinued to read with the greatest avidity.
  • When I returned home my first care was to procure the whole works of thi_uthor, and afterwards of Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus. I read and studie_he wild fancies of these writers with delight; they appeared to me treasure_nown to few besides myself. I have described myself as always having bee_mbued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature. In spite o_he intense labour and wonderful discoveries of modern philosophers, I alway_ame from my studies discontented and unsatisfied. Sir Isaac Newton is said t_ave avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells beside the great an_nexplored ocean of truth. Those of his successors in each branch of natura_hilosophy with whom I was acquainted appeared even to my boy's apprehension_s tyros engaged in the same pursuit.
  • The untaught peasant beheld the elements around him and was acquainted wit_heir practical uses. The most learned philosopher knew little more. He ha_artially unveiled the face of Nature, but her immortal lineaments were stil_ wonder and a mystery. He might dissect, anatomize, and give names; but, no_o speak of a final cause, causes in their secondary and tertiary grades wer_tterly unknown to him. I had gazed upon the fortifications and impediment_hat seemed to keep human beings from entering the citadel of nature, an_ashly and ignorantly I had repined.
  • But here were books, and here were men who had penetrated deeper and kne_ore. I took their word for all that they averred, and I became thei_isciple. It may appear strange that such should arise in the eighteent_entury; but while I followed the routine of education in the schools o_eneva, I was, to a great degree, self-taught with regard to my favourit_tudies. My father was not scientific, and I was left to struggle with _hild's blindness, added to a student's thirst for knowledge. Under th_uidance of my new preceptors I entered with the greatest diligence into th_earch of the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life; but the latter soo_btained my undivided attention. Wealth was an inferior object, but what glor_ould attend the discovery if I could banish disease from the human frame an_ender man invulnerable to any but a violent death!
  • Nor were these my only visions. The raising of ghosts or devils was a promis_iberally accorded by my favourite authors, the fulfillment of which I mos_agerly sought; and if my incantations were always unsuccessful, I attribute_he failure rather to my own inexperience and mistake than to a want of skil_r fidelity in my instructors. And thus for a time I was occupied by explode_ystems, mingling, like an unadept, a thousand contradictory theories an_loundering desperately in a very slough of multifarious knowledge, guided b_n ardent imagination and childish reasoning, till an accident again change_he current of my ideas.
  • When I was about fifteen years old we had retired to our house near Belrive,
  • when we witnessed a most violent and terrible thunderstorm. It advanced fro_ehind the mountains of Jura, and the thunder burst at once with frightfu_oudness from various quarters of the heavens. I remained, while the stor_asted, watching its progress with curiosity and delight. As I stood at th_oor, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautifu_ak which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzlin_ight vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blaste_tump. When we visited it the next morning, we found the tree shattered in _ingular manner. It was not splintered by the shock, but entirely reduced t_hin ribbons of wood. I never beheld anything so utterly destroyed.
  • Before this I was not unacquainted with the more obvious laws of electricity.
  • On this occasion a man of great research in natural philosophy was with us,
  • and excited by this catastrophe, he entered on the explanation of a theor_hich he had formed on the subject of electricity and galvanism, which was a_nce new and astonishing to me. All that he said threw greatly into the shad_ornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, and Paracelsus, the lords of m_magination; but by some fatality the overthrow of these men disinclined me t_ursue my accustomed studies. It seemed to me as if nothing would or coul_ver be known. All that had so long engaged my attention suddenly gre_espicable. By one of those caprices of the mind which we are perhaps mos_ubject to in early youth, I at once gave up my former occupations, set dow_atural history and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation, an_ntertained the greatest disdain for a would-be science which could never eve_tep within the threshold of real knowledge. In this mood of mind I betoo_yself to the mathematics and the branches of study appertaining to tha_cience as being built upon secure foundations, and so worthy of m_onsideration.
  • Thus strangely are our souls constructed, and by such slight ligaments are w_ound to prosperity or ruin. When I look back, it seems to me as if thi_lmost miraculous change of inclination and will was the immediate suggestio_f the guardian angel of my life—the last effort made by the spirit o_reservation to avert the storm that was even then hanging in the stars an_eady to envelop me. Her victory was announced by an unusual tranquillity an_ladness of soul which followed the relinquishing of my ancient and latterl_ormenting studies. It was thus that I was to be taught to associate evil wit_heir prosecution, happiness with their disregard.
  • It was a strong effort of the spirit of good, but it was ineffectual. Destin_as too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terribl_estruction.