Book I - Chapter VII
Containing such grave matter, that the reader cannot laugh once through the whole chapter, unless peradventure he should laugh at the author.
When Jenny appeared, Mr Allworthy took her into his study, and spoke to her as follows: "You know, child, it is in my power as a magistrate, to punish you very rigorously for what you have done; and you will, perhaps, be the more apt to fear I should execute that power, because you have in a manner laid your sins at my door.
"But, perhaps, this is one reason which hath determined me to act in a milder manner with you: for, as no private resentment should ever influence a magistrate, I will be so far from considering your having deposited the infant in my house as an aggravation of your offence, that I will suppose, in your favour, this to have proceeded from a natural affection to your child, since you might have some hopes to see it thus better provided for than was in the power of yourself, or its wicked father, to provide for it. I should indeed have been highly offended with you had you exposed the little wretch in the manner of some inhuman mothers, who seem no less to have abandoned their humanity, than to have parted with their chastity. It is the other part of your offence, therefore, upon which I intend to admonish you, I mean the violation of your chastity;--a crime, however lightly it may be treated by debauched persons, very heinous in itself, and very dreadful in its consequences.
"The heinous nature of this offence must be sufficiently apparent to every Christian, inasmuch as it is committed in defiance of the laws of our religion, and of the express commands of Him who founded that religion.
"And here its consequences may well be argued to be dreadful; for what can be more so, than to incur the divine displeasure, by the breach of the divine commands; and that in an instance against which the highest vengeance is specifically denounced?
"But these things, though too little, I am afraid, regarded, are so plain, that mankind, however they may want to be reminded, can never need information on this head. A hint, therefore, to awaken your sense of this matter, shall suffice; for I would inspire you with repentance, and not drive you to desperation.
"There are other consequences, not indeed so dreadful or replete with horror as this; and yet such, as, if attentively considered, must, one would think, deter all of your sex at least from the commission of this crime.
"For by it you are rendered infamous, and driven, like lepers of old, out of society; at least, from the society of all but wicked and reprobate persons; for no others will associate with you.
"If you have fortunes, you are hereby rendered incapable of enjoying them; if you have none, you are disabled from acquiring any, nay almost of procuring your sustenance; for no persons of character will receive you into their houses. Thus you are often driven by necessity itself into a state of shame and misery, which unavoidably ends in the destruction of both body and soul.
"Can any pleasure compensate these evils? Can any temptation have sophistry and delusion strong enough to persuade you to so simple a bargain? Or can any carnal appetite so overpower your reason, or so totally lay it asleep, as to prevent your flying with affright and terror from a crime which carries such punishment always with it?
"How base and mean must that woman be, how void of that dignity of mind, and decent pride, without which we are not worthy the name of human creatures, who can bear to level herself with the lowest animal, and to sacrifice all that is great and noble in her, all her heavenly part, to an appetite which she hath in common with the vilest branch of the creation! For no woman, sure, will plead the passion of love for an excuse. This would be to own herself the mere tool and bubble of the man. Love, however barbarously we may corrupt and pervert its meaning, as it is a laudable, is a rational passion, and can never be violent but when reciprocal; for though the Scripture bids us love our enemies, it means not with that fervent love which we naturally bear towards our friends; much less that we should sacrifice to them our lives, and what ought to be dearer to us, our innocence. Now in what light, but that of an enemy, can a reasonable woman regard the man who solicits her to entail on herself all the misery I have described to you, and who would purchase to himself a short, trivial, contemptible pleasure, so greatly at her expense! For, by the laws of custom, the whole shame, with all its dreadful consequences, falls intirely upon her. Can love, which always seeks the good of its object, attempt to betray a woman into a bargain where she is so greatly to be the loser? If such corrupter, therefore, should have the impudence to pretend a real affection for her, ought not the woman to regard him not only as an enemy, but as the worst of all enemies, a false, designing, treacherous, pretended friend, who intends not only to debauch her body, but her understanding at the same time?"
Here Jenny expressing great concern, Allworthy paused a moment, and then proceeded: "I have talked thus to you, child, not to insult you for what is past and irrevocable, but to caution and strengthen you for the future. Nor should I have taken this trouble, but from some opinion of your good sense, notwithstanding the dreadful slip you have made; and from some hopes of your hearty repentance, which are founded on the openness and sincerity of your confession. If these do not deceive me, I will take care to convey you from this scene of your shame, where you shall, by being unknown, avoid the punishment which, as I have said, is allotted to your crime in this world; and I hope, by repentance, you will avoid the much heavier sentence denounced against it in the other. Be a good girl the rest of your days, and want shall be no motive to your going astray; and, believe me, there is more pleasure, even in this world, in an innocent and virtuous life, than in one debauched and vicious.
"As to your child, let no thoughts concerning it molest you; I will provide for it in a better manner than you can ever hope. And now nothing remains but that you inform me who was the wicked man that seduced you; for my anger against him will be much greater than you have experienced on this occasion."
Jenny now lifted her eyes from the ground, and with a modest look and decent voice thus began:--
"To know you, sir, and not love your goodness, would be an argument of total want of sense or goodness in any one. In me it would amount to the highest ingratitude, not to feel, in the most sensible manner, the great degree of goodness you have been pleased to exert on this occasion. As to my concern for what is past, I know you will spare my blushes the repetition. My future conduct will much better declare my sentiments than any professions I can now make. I beg leave to assure you, sir, that I take your advice much kinder than your generous offer with which you concluded it; for, as you are pleased to say, sir, it is an instance of your opinion of my understanding."--Here her tears flowing apace, she stopped a few moments, and then proceeded thus:--"Indeed, sir, your kindness overcomes me; but I will endeavour to deserve this good opinion: for if I have the understanding you are so kindly pleased to allow me, such advice cannot be thrown away upon me. I thank you, sir, heartily, for your intended kindness to my poor helpless child: he is innocent, and I hope will live to be grateful for all the favours you shall show him. But now, sir, I must on my knees entreat you not to persist in asking me to declare the father of my infant. I promise you faithfully you shall one day know; but I am under the most solemn ties and engagements of honour, as well as the most religious vows and protestations, to conceal his name at this time. And I know you too well, to think you would desire I should sacrifice either my honour or my religion."
Mr Allworthy, whom the least mention of those sacred words was sufficient to stagger, hesitated a moment before he replied, and then told her, she had done wrong to enter into such engagements to a villain; but since she had, he could not insist on her breaking them. He said, it was not from a motive of vain curiosity he had inquired, but in order to punish the fellow; at least, that he might not ignorantly confer favours on the undeserving.
As to these points, Jenny satisfied him by the most solemn assurances, that the man was entirely out of his reach; and was neither subject to his power, nor in any probability of becoming an object of his goodness.
The ingenuity of this behaviour had gained Jenny so much credit with this worthy man, that he easily believed what she told him; for as she had disdained to excuse herself by a lie, and had hazarded his further displeasure in her present situation, rather than she would forfeit her honour or integrity by betraying another, he had but little apprehensions that she would be guilty of falsehood towards himself.
He therefore dismissed her with assurances that he would very soon remove her out of the reach of that obloquy she had incurred; concluding with some additional documents, in which he recommended repentance, saying, "Consider, child, there is one still to reconcile yourself to, whose favour is of much greater importance to you than mine."Next