You ask me, my dear Amanda, to give you the relation of my life. Your request has always the force of a command with me, and I obey you, notwithstanding the affliction the remembrance of my past misfortunes raises in my soul. You know my family is noble. My father added to the advantage of an illustrious extraction a greatness of soul, and regular behavior, which gained him the respect and esteem of all who conversed with him. His father, who was vice-treasurer of Ireland, and commanded a troop of horse in King Charles the IId's reign, died when he was yet an infant; and his eldest brother, being destined for the church, was, in the reign of King William, made chaplain-general and judge-advocate of the fleet.
My father, whose inclinations led him to the army, purchased a commission in a regiment commanded by a near relation; and, some time after, rising to the command of a company, he married a lady of a considerable family in Ireland, with whom he was so passionately in love as to take her without the consent of her relations; by which means he forfeited all right to her fortune, which, however, was far from being considerable.
Of all the children my mother brought into the world, there remained but four; three daughters and a son. As I shall have frequent occasion to speak of my brother and sisters in the course of my history, permit me to give you a short sketch of their characters. My brother, with a nice sense of honor, and a behavior regulated by the exactest probity, discovered a hastiness and impetuosity which very much affected the ease of all about him: yet his fine sense, and inimitable wit, rendered him, notwithstanding the frequent sallies of his temper, the delight as well as ornament of our family. My eldest sister was thought perfectly handsome: she had a vivacity in her words and actions, which, to those who are captivated by external appearances, had a charm beyond the most exalted understanding. She was obliging, affable, and very often sincere: her temper, indeed, was naturally violent, and impatient of contradiction; but, upon the least submission, would subside into a perfect calm. She knew so well how to disguise her disapprobation of the follies of those she conversed with, and to fall in with their different humors and inclinations, that she was generally beloved. Her vanity was excessive; and the constant indulgence of her taste for dress and gay amusements, contributed to keep it alive; yet she was one of the best economists in the world: the management of the family was committed to her care; and she acquitted herself of this office so well, as to merit, in every one's opinion, the partial fondness my mother discovered for her. My sister Fanny, who was a year younger than myself, possessed all those qualities of mind and person, which serve to make one of her sex esteemed and admired. We loved each other with the utmost tenderness, and our friendship surprised the whole family, as it was much superior to what the nearness of blood generally inspires. My brother, finding something in me agreeable to his taste, took incessant pains in the improvement of my mind. I was scarce past my infancy, when I applied myself to reading with such an eager solicitude, as amazed every one who was concerned in my education.
My mother, who thought knowledge a useless acquisition for one of her own sex, beheld my attachment to study with concern. I was not so happy in her affection as the rest of her children; and I believe the bent of my inclinations to intellectual improvements, was the ground of the indifference she always expressed for me. I hardly reached my tenth year when I began to be taken some notice of, and my dawning wit filled my brother with the highest transports. Will you not think me vain, my dear Amanda, in giving you this account of myself? But you have commanded me to be sincere, and I must therefore dispense with any little punctilios that would prevent me from obeying you in this particular. And, indeed, that you may be able to comprehend the reality of those adventures I was engaged in, at an age when others of my sex are hardly observed, it is necessary you should know the advantageous opinion that was conceived of me. I had as yet employed my pen in no other way than by writing to a young lady, for whom I had contracted an extravagant friendship. As my notions of this passion were mightily refined and delicate, my letters were filled with an enthusiastic tenderness, which gave birth to the most lively flights of imagination. I wrote in a kind of poetic prose; but I did not attempt a line in verse, though poetry was my favorite study. But the era of my commencement was at hand: I had a heart so formed to receive tender impressions, that it was impossible I could long remain in a state of insensibility. I became in love, my dear Amanda, in love at eleven years old; and to that inspiring passion my muse first owed its existence. Give me leave to relate this adventure, not so much for its importance, as to give you an example of my early proficiency in gallantry, and enable you to account for the future actions of my life. My sister Fanny and myself had obtained permission to see a play, represented by large figures of wax, which was then reckoned a sort of curiosity. The servant who conducted us, withdrew when we were seated; and a great number of the Westminster-scholars coming in, we immediately formed ourselves to the best advantage, in order to be taken notice of. The desire of pleasing is natural to the sex. I was a child, 'tis true; but I had the latent seeds of coquetry in my heart: and, as Pope has it,
"Ev'n infant cheeks a bidden blush can show, "And little hearts will flutter at a beau."
I first discovered my propensity to gallantry upon this occasion; for I managed my looks with such art, that I soon had the eyes of some of these young gentlemen upon me. Among the rest a youth about fifteen, dressed in deep mourning, considered me attentively. He was lovely, I may say, to a fault; for his beauty had something too sweet and delicate in it for one of his sex. However, I found a secret pleasure in meeting his glances; and could not forbear inquiring of a young lady, who sat next me, and seemed to know him, who he was. She told me he was called Lord S---- . My heart bounded at the knowledge of his quality, and I felt an increase of transport whenever I surprised him gazing on me, which he did almost every moment. His companions, who, for particular reasons, came only with a design to demolish the little theatre, interrupted the soft intercourse of our eyes, by calling upon him to aid their premeditated mischief. The curtain was no sooner drawn up than they flung stones and all sorts of rubbish on the stage with such violence, that the scenes were torn down, the lights almost all extinguished, and the heroes of wax lay mangled on the ground before their time. My sister and I were extremely frighted at the first onset; but we had more reason, when some of the candles falling near the scenes set them on fire, and the stage seemed all in flames. Every one now was concerned for his life: they press with such eager haste to the door, that some had like to be crushed to death in the crowd. Poor Fanny and I never stirred from our places, rather more terrified at the rude multitude that was pressing to get out, than at the flames, which we expected every moment would approach us. The man, who had been sent with us, came to the doors at the cry of fire, but could not get in to assist us. He called us aloud by our names; but we, drowned in tears, sat motionless, without making the least effort to save ourselves. Lord S----, notwithstanding the noise and confusion, observed us heedfully; and coming up to us, with another of his companions, begged I would allow him to conduct us out of that dangerous place. I took the liberty to reproach him a little for the mischief he had engaged in. He expressed the utmost concern for it; but still insisting upon my putting myself under his protection, I suffered him to take me in his arms, while his companion did the same by my sister; and thus freighted, they made their way through the crowd, and brought us safely out. I thanked my young preserver in the most grateful terms; and was preparing to go home immediately with our servant, whom we found at the door, when his lordship insisted upon accompanying us, that he might know (as he said) where to wait on me the next day. During our little walk he entertained me with a thousand encomiums on my person, assuring me I had made an absolute conquest of his heart, and that he should think it an age till to-morrow, when he proposed to make me a visit, and have the pleasure of describing to me the tenderness I had inspired him with. Methinks I see you smile, Amanda, at this gallantry addressed to a girl of eleven years old: however, it was not quite so ridiculous as you may imagine. I was not only very tall of my age, but I had likewise all the coquette inclinations of fifteen; and not only knew the full value of a smile, a sigh, or a blush, but could practice them all upon occasion. My young lover took his leave at the door of our house; and Fanny being impatient to relate our adventure, without regarding my confusion, repeated all that had passed. My thoughts found sufficient employment most part of the night: I spent the hours in recalling to my mind all the words and actions of my young admirer: I compared my adventure with some of those I had read in novels and romances, and found it full as surprising. In short, I was nothing less than a Clelia or Statira. These reflections had such an effect on my looks and air next day, that it was very visible I thought myself of prodigious importance. When the hour approached that I expected his lordship, I felt all those little flutters and perturbations which might have agitated a much older bosom: I looked every moment in the glass, adjusted my hair and dress, and determined in what manner I should behave to him. I was born a coquette, and what would have been art in others, in me was pure nature. My brother and sister, who were resolved to share the visit, received his lordship with many compliments upon the services Fanny and I had received from him. He answered them with a graceful ease; and, after tea, being left to ourselves, we spent the evening in diversions suitable to our age. As soon as he had taken his leave, I wrote to my female friend, whom I called Sylvia; and, in a truly romantic style, related the whole adventure. But, when I came to describe the person of my lover, an involuntary impulse made me throw my thoughts into verse; and this first attempt in poetry was thought so tender and passionate, that it procured me the name of Sappho, a distinction which agreeably soothed my vanity. From this moment I took so much delight in writing, that my mother was extremely offended at it. My brother, however, took my part; he could not bear to check my genius, by restraining it from an amusement, which, under his regulation, was far from corrupting my mind. It is certain, that he lost no opportunity of improving my morals, as well as my understanding: he instilled an early love for virtue into my soul; and, as I grew older, the strength and beauty of his arguments, fixed that principle so deeply in my heart, that no trials, no distresses, nor all the softening power of love, were ever able to erase it.
But, to my infinite regret, he was now preparing to leave us. A thousand pounds had been left him by an uncle, which, through his partiality, was at his own disposal at fifteen. This introduced him to an early acquaintance with the fashionable excesses of the town, in an indulgence to which he spent most of that money, which was designed to establish him in the world; for my father, through a mistaken tenderness, would not suffer him to purchase a commission in the army, for which he had a great inclination: but, in order to have him near him, placed him with a surgeon. My brother, being now out of his apprenticeship, with the remains of his little fortune, determined to go a trading voyage to Jamaica: and it was in vain, that my father and mother, who loved him with an excess of fondness, opposed this resolution. My ardent affection for this dear brother, made me look upon the moment of his departure, as that which brought the end of my life. I hung upon his arms in a speechless agony of grief, and it was with the greatest difficulty he forced himself from me. It was several days before the violence of my transports were abated; he was continually in my thoughts. My pen was now employed in bewailing his absence, and describing the painful fond emotions, with which my soul was agitated upon his account. My father being soon after preferred to a very considerable post in America, acquainted his family with his design of settling there. My eldest sister heard this resolution with grief; but I, as my lover was now sent upon his travels, and I had nothing in England to leave with regret, saw, with a childish pleasure, the preparations that were making for our departure. A man of war was ordered to transport us thither: and several gentlemen, whose affairs called them to that country, procuring a passage in the same ship, we had very agreeable company to soften the fatigues of the voyage.