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Chapter VII.

In which if the Reader has not anticipated it, he will find an Explanation of some seeming Inconsistencies in the foregoing Chapter.

The Countess, charm'd with the Wit and good Sense of Arabella, could not conceal her Admiration, but exprest it in Terms the most obligingly imaginable: And Arabella, who was excessively delighted with her, return'd the Compliments she made her with the most respectful Tenderness.

In the midst of these mutual Civilities, Arabella in the Style of Romance, intreated the Countess to favour her with the Recital of her Adventures.

At the Mention of this Request, that Lady convey'd so much Confusion into her Countenance, that Arabella extremely embarrass'd by it, tho' she knew not why, thought it necessary to apologize for the Disturbance she seem'd to have occasion'd in her.

Pardon me, Madam, reply'd the Countess recovering herself, if the uncommoness of your Request made a Moment's Reflexion necessary to convince me that a young Lady of your Sense and Delicacy could mean no Offence to Decorum by making it. The Word Adventures carries in it so free and licentious a Sound in the Apprehensions of People at this Period of Time, that it can hardly with Propriety be apply'd to those few and natural Incidents which compose the History of a Woman of Honour. And when I tell you, pursued she with a Smile, that I was born and christen'd, had a useful and proper Education, receiv'd the Addresses of my Lord -- through the Recommendation of my Parents, and marry'd him with their Consents and my own Inclination; and that since we have liv'd in great Harmony together, I have told you all the material Passages of my Life, which upon Enquiry you will find differ very little from those of other Women of the same Rank, who have a moderate Share of Sense, Prudence and Virtue.

Since you have already, Madam, replied Arabella blushing, excus'd me for the Liberty I took with you, it will be un-necessary to tell you it was grounded upon the Customs of antient Times, when Ladies of the highest Rank and sublimest Virtue, were often expos'd to a Variety of cruel Adventures which they imparted in Confidence to each other, when Chance brought them together.

Custom, said the Countess smiling, changes the very Nature of Things, and what was honourable a thousand Years ago, may probably be look'd upon as infamous now--A Lady in the heroick Age you speak of, would not be thought to possess any great Share of Merit, if she had not been many times carried away by one or other of her insolent Lovers: Whereas a Beauty in this could not pass thro' the Hands of several different Ravishers, without bringing an Imputation on her Chastity.

The same Actions which made a Man a Hero in those Times, would constitute him a Murderer in These--And the same Steps which led him to a Throne Then, would infallibly conduct him to a Scaffold Now. But Custom, Madam, said Arabella, cannot possibly change the Nature of Virtue or Vice: And since Virtue is the chief Characteristick of a Hero, a Hero in the last Age will be a Hero in this--Tho' the Natures of Virtue or Vice cannot be changed, replied the Countess, yet they may be mistaken; and different Principles, Customs, and Education, may probably change their Names, if not their Natures.

Sure, Madam, said Arabella a little moved, you do not intend by this Inference to prove Oroondates, Artaxerxes, Juba, Artaban, and the other Heroes of Antiquity, bad Men? Judging them by the Rules of Christianity, and our present Notions of Honour, Justice, and Humanity, they certainly are, replied the Countess.

Did they not possess all the necessary Qualifications of Heroes, Madam, said Arabella, and each in a superlative Degree? --Was not their Valour invincible, their Generosity unbounded, and their Fidelity inviolable? It cannot be denied, said the Countess, but that their Valour was invincible; and many thousand Men less courageous than themselves, felt the fatal Effects of that invincible Valour, which was perpetually seeking after Occasions to exert itself. Oroondates gave many extraordinary Proofs of that unbounded Generosity so natural to the Heroes of his Time. This Prince being sent by the King his Father, at the Head of an Army, to oppose the Persian Monarch, who had unjustly invaded his Dominions, and was destroying the Lives and Properties of his Subjects; having taken the Wives and Daughters of his Enemy Prisoners, had by these Means an Opportunity to put a Period to a War so destructive to his Country: Yet out of a Generosity truly heroick, he releas'd them immediately without any Conditions; and falling in Love with one of those Princesses, secretly quitted his Father's Court, resided several Years in that of the Enemy of his Father and Country, engag'd himself to his Daughter, and when the War broke out again between the two Kings, fought furiously against an Army in which the King his Father was in Person, and shed the Blood of his future Subjects without Remorse; tho' each of those Subjects, we are told, would have sacrific'd his Life to save that of their Prince, so much was he belov'd. Such are the Actions which immortalize the Heroes of Romance, and are by the Authors of those Books styl'd glorious, godlike, and divine. Yet judging of them as Christians, we shall find them impious and base, and directly opposite to our present Notions of moral and relative Duties.

'Tis certain therefore, Madam, added the Contess with a Smile, that what was Virtue in those Days, is Vice in ours: And to form a Hero according to our Notions of 'em at present, 'tis nessary to give him Qualities very different from Oroondates.

The secret Charm in the Countenance, Voice, and Manner of the Countess, join'd to the Force of her reasoning, could not fail of making some Impression on the Mind of Arabella; but it was such an Impression as came far short of Conviction. She was surpriz'd, embarrass'd, perplex'd, but not convinc'd. Heroism, romantick Heroism, was deeply rooted in her Heart; it was her Habit of thinking, a Principle imbib'd from Education. She could not separate her Ideas of Glory, Virtue, Courage, Generosity, and Honour, from the false Representations of them in the Actions of Oroondates, Juba, Artaxerxes, and the rest of the imaginary Heroes. The Countess's Discourse had rais'd a Kind of Tumult in her Thoughts, which gave an Air of Perplexity to her lovely Face, and made that Lady apprehensive she had gone too far, and lost that Ground in her Esteem, which she had endeavour'd to acquire by a Conformity to some of her Notions and Language. In this however, she was mistaken; Arabella felt a Tenderness for her that had already the Force of a long contracted Friendship, and an Esteem little less than Veneration.

When the Countess took Leave, the Professions of Arabella, tho' deliver'd in the Language of Romance, were very sincere and affecting, and were return'd with an equal Degree of Tenderness by the Countess, who had conceiv'd a more than ordinary Affection for her.

Mr. Glanville who could have almost worship'd the Countess for the generous Design he saw she had entertain'd, took an Opportunity as he handed her to her Chair, to intreat in a Manner as earnestly as polite, that she would continue the Happiness of her Acquaintance to his Cousin; which with a Smile of mingled Dignity and Sweetness she assur'd him of.

Chapter VI. | The Female Quixote | Chapter VIII.