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a tale




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Our court shall be a little academy.


In an ancient, though not very populous settlement, in
a retired corner of one of the New-England States, arise
the walls of a seminary of learning, which, for the convenience
of a name, shall be entitled `Harley College,'
This institution, though the number of its years is inconsiderable,
compared with the hoar antiquity of its European
sisters, is not without some claims to reverence on
the score of age; for an almost countless multitude of
rivals, by many of which its reputation has been eclipsed,
have sprung up since its foundation. At no time, indeed,
during an existence of nearly a century, has it acquired
a very extensive fame, and circumstances, which
need not be particularized, have of late years involved it
in a deeper obscurity. There are now few candidates
for the degrees that the college is authorized to bestow.
On two of its annual `Commencement days,' there has
been a total deficiency of Baccalaureates; and the lawyers
and divines, on whom Doctorates in their respective


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professions are gratuitously inflicted, are not accustomed
to consider the distinction as an honor. Yet the sons
of this seminary have always maintained their full share
of reputation, in whatever paths of life they trod. Few
of them, perhaps, have been deep and finished scholars;
but the College has supplied—what the emergencies of
the country demanded—a set of men more useful in its
present state, and whose deficiency in theoretical knowledge
has not been found to imply a want of practical

The local situation of the College, so far secluded from
the sight and sound of the busy world, is peculiarly favorable
to the moral, if not to the literary habits of its students;
and this advantage probably caused the founders
to overlook the inconveniences that were inseparably
connected with it. The humble edifices rear themselves
almost at the farthest extremity of a narrow vale, which,
winding through a long extent of hill-country, is well nigh
as inaccessible, except at one point, as the Happy Valley
of Abyssinia. A stream, that farther on becomes a
considerable river, takes its rise at a short distance above
the College, and affords, along its wood-fringed banks,
many shady retreats, where even study is pleasant, and
idleness delicious. The neighborhood of the institution
is not quite a solitude, though the few habitations scarcely
constitute a village. These consist principally of farm-houses,—of
rather an ancient date, for the settlement is
much older than the college,—and of a little inn, which,
even in that secluded spot, does not fail of a moderate
support. Other dwellings are scattered up and down the
valley; but the difficulties of the soil will long avert the
evils of a too dense population. The character of the inhabitants
does not seem—as there was perhaps room to
anticipate—to be in any degree influenced by the atmosphere


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of Harley College. They are a set of rough and
hardy yeomen, much inferior, as respects refinement, to
the corresponding classes in most other parts of our country.
This is the more remarkable, as there is scarcely a
family in the vicinity that has not provided, for at least
one of its sons, the advantages of a `liberal education.'

Having thus described the present state of Harley
College, we must proceed to speak of it as it existed
about eighty years since, when its foundation was recent
and its prospects flattering. At the head of the institution,
at this period, was a learned and orthodox Divine,
whose fame was in all the churches. He was the author
of several works which evinced much erudition and
depth of research; and the public perhaps thought the
more highly of his abilities from a singularity in the purposes
to which he applied them, that added much to the
curiosity of his labors, though little to their usefulness.
But however fanciful might be his private pursuits, Doctor
Melmoth, it was universally allowed, was diligent and
successful in the arts of instruction. The young men of
his charge prospered beneath his eye, and regarded him
with an affection, that was strengthened by the little foibles
which occasionally excited their ridicule. The president
was assisted in the discharge of his duties by two
inferior officers, chosen from the Alumni of the college,
who, while they imparted to others the knowledge they
had already imbibed, pursued the study of Divinity under
the direction of their principal. Under such auspices the
institution grew and flourished. Having at that time but
two rivals in the country (neither of them within a considerable
distance) it became the general resort of the youth
of the province in which it was situated. For several
years in succession, its students amounted to nearly fifty,


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—a number which, relatively to the circumstances of the
country, was very considerable.

From the exterior of the Collegians, an accurate observer
might pretty safely judge how long they had been
inmates of those classic walls. The brown cheeks and
the rustic dress of some would inform him that they had
but recently left the plough, to labor in a not less toilsome
field. The grave look and the intermingling of
garments of a more classic cut, would distinguish those
who had begun to acquire the polish of their new residence;—and
the air of superiority, the paler cheek, the
less robust form, the spectacles of green, and the dress
in general of threadbare black, would designate the highest
class, who were understood to have acquired nearly all
the science their Alma Mater could bestow, and to be on
the point of assuming their stations in the world. There
were, it is true, exceptions to this general description.
A few young men had found their way hither from the
distant sea-ports; and these were the models of fashion
to their rustic companions, over whom they asserted a
superiority in exterior accomplishments, which the fresh
though unpolished intellect of the sons of the forest denied
them in their literary competitions. A third class, differing
widely from both the former, consisted of a few
young descendants of the aborigines, to whom an impracticable
philanthropy was endeavoring to impart the benefits
of civilization.

If this institution did not offer all the advantages of elder
and prouder seminaries, its deficiencies were compensated
to its students by the inculcation of regular habits,
and of a deep and awful sense of religion, which seldom
deserted them in their course through life. The
mild and gentle rule of Doctor Melmoth, like that of a
father over his children, was more destructive to vice


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than a sterner sway; and though youth is never without
its follies, they have seldom been more harmless than
they were here. The students, indeed, ignorant of their
own bliss, sometimes wished to hasten the time of their
entrance on the business of life; but they found, in after
years, that many of their happiest remembrances,—many
of the scenes which they would with least reluctance live
over again,—referred to the seat of their early studies.
The exceptions to this remark were chiefly those whose
vices had drawn down, even from that paternal government,
a weighty retribution.

Doctor Melmoth, at the time when he is to be introduced
to the reader, had borne the matrimonial yoke
(and in his case it was no light burthen) nearly twenty
years. The blessing of children, however, had been denied
him,—a circumstance which he was accustomed to
consider as one of the sorest trials that chequered his
path way; for he was a man of a kind and affectionate
heart, that was continually seeking objects to rest itself
upon. He was inclined to believe, also, that a common
offspring would have exerted a meliorating influence
on the temper of Mrs. Melmoth, the character of whose
domestic government often compelled him to call to mind
such portions of the wisdom of antiquity, as relate to the
proper endurance of the shrewishness of woman. But
domestic comforts, as well as comforts of every other
kind, have their draw-backs; and so long as the balance
is on the side of happiness, a wise man will not murmur.
Such was the opinion of Doctor Melmoth; and with a little
aid from philosophy and more from religion, he journeyed
on contentedly through life. When the storm was
loud by the parlor hearth, he had always a sure and
quiet retreat in his study, and there, in his deep though
not always useful labors, he soon forgot whatever of


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disagreeable nature pertained to his situation. This small
and dark apartment was the only portion of the house, to
which, since one firmly repelled invasion, Mrs. Melmoth's
omnipotence did not extend. Here (to reverse the words
of Queen Elizabeth) there was `but one Master and no
Mistress'; and that man has little right to complain who
possesses so much as one corner in the world, where he
may be happy or miserable, as best suits him. In his
study, then, the Doctor was accustomed to spend most
of the hours that were unoccupied by the duties of his
station. The flight of time was here as swift as the wind,
and noiseless as the snow-flake; and it was a sure proof
of real happiness, that night often came upon the student,
before he knew it was mid-day.

Doctor Melmoth was wearing towards age, having lived
nearly sixty years, when he was called upon to assume
a character, to which he had as yet been a stranger.
He had possessed, in his youth, a very dear friend, with
whom his education had associated him, and who, in his
early manhood, had been his chief intimate. Circumstances,
however, had separated them for nearly thirty years,
half of which had been spent by his friend, who was engaged
in mercantile pursuits, in a foreign country. The
Doctor had nevertheless retained a warm interest in the
welfare of his old associate, though the different nature
of their thoughts and occupations had prevented them
from corresponding. After a silence of so long continuance,
therefore, he was surprised by the receipt of a letter
from his friend, containing a request of a most unexpected

Mr. Langton had married rather late in life, and his
wedded bliss had been but of short continuance. Certain
misfortunes in trade, when he was a Benedict of three
years standing, had deprived him of a large portion of


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his property, and compelled him, in order to save the remainder,
to leave his own country for what he hoped
would be but a brief residence in another. But though he
was successful in the immediate objects of his voyage, circumstances
occurred to lengthen his stay far beyond the
period which he had assigned to it. It was difficult so to
arrange his extensive concerns, that they could be safely
trusted to the management of others; and when this was
effected, there was another not less powerful obstacle to
his return. His affairs, under his own inspection, were
so prosperous, and his gains so considerable, that, in the
words of the old ballad, `He set his heart to gather
gold,' and to this absorbing passion he sacrificed his
domestic happiness. The death of his wife, about four
years after his departure, undoubtedly contributed to
give him a sort of dread of returning, which it required
a strong effort to overcome. The welfare of his only
child he knew would be little affected by this event; for
she was under the protection of his sister, of whose tenderness
he was well assured. But, after a few more
years, this sister, also, was taken away by death; and
then the father felt that duty imperatively called upon
him to return. He realized, on a sudden, how much of
life he had thrown away in the acquisition of what is only
valuable as it contributes to the happiness of life, and
how short a time was left him for life's true enjoyments.
Still, however, his mercantile habits were too deeply
seated to allow him to hazard his present prosperity by
any hasty measures; nor was Mr. Langton, though capable
of strong affections, naturally liable to manifest them
violently. It was probable, therefore, that many months
might yet elapse, before he would again tread the shores
of his native country.


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But the distant relative, in whose family, since the
death of her aunt, Ellen Langton had remained, had been
long at variance with her father, and had unwillingly assumed
the office of her protector. Mr. Langton's request,
therefore, to Doctor Melmoth, was, that his ancient
friend (one of the few friends that time had left him)
would be as a father to his daughter, till he could himself
relieve him of the charge.

The Doctor, after perusing the epistle of his friend,
lost no time in laying it before Mrs. Melmoth, though
this was, in truth, one of the very few occasions on which
he had determined that his will should be absolute law.
The lady was quick to perceive the firmness of his purpose;
and would not (even had she been particularly
averse to the proposed measure) hazard her usual authority
by a fruitless opposition. But, by long disuse, she
had lost the power of consenting graciously to any wish
of her husband's.

`I see your heart is set upon this matter,' she observed;
`and, in truth, I fear we cannot decently refuse Mr.
Langton's request. I see little good of such a friend,
Doctor, who never lets one know he is alive, till he has a
favor to ask.'

`Nay, but I have received much good at his hand,' replied
Doctor Melmoth; `and if he asked more of me, it
should be done with a willing heart. I remember in my
youth, when my worldly goods were few and ill-managed
(I was a bachelor, then, dearest Sarah, with none to look
after my household) how many times I have been beholden
to him. And see,—in his letter he speaks of presents,
of the produce of the country, which he has sent both to
you and me.'

`If the girl were country-bred,' continued the lady,
`we might give her house-room, and no harm done.


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Nay, she might even be a help to me; for Esther, our
maid-servant, leaves us at the month's end. But I warrant
she knows as little of household matters as you do
yourself, Doctor.'

`My friend's sister was well grounded in the `re familiari,”
answered her husband; `and doubtless she hath
imparted somewhat of her skill to this damsel. Besides,
the child is of tender years, and will profit much by your
instruction and mine.'

`The child is eighteen years of age, Doctor,' observed
Mrs. Melmoth, `and she has cause to be thankful that
she will have better instruction than yours.'

This was a proposition that Doctor Melmoth did not
choose to dispute; though he perhaps thought, that his
long and successful experience in the education of the
other sex might make him an able coadjutor to his wife, in
the care of Ellen Langton. He determined to journey in
person to the seaport, where his young charge resided,
leaving the concerns of Harley College to the direction
of the two tutors. Mrs. Melmoth, who indeed anticipated
with pleasure the arrival of a new subject to her authority,
threw no difficulties in the way of his intention. To
do her justice, her preparations for his journey, and the
minute instructions with which she favored him, were
such as only a woman's true affection could have suggested.
The traveller met with no incidents important to
this tale; and, after an absence of about a fortnight, he
and Ellen Langton alighted from their steeds (for on
horseback had the journey been performed) in safety at
his own door.

If pen could give an adequate idea of Ellen Langton's
loveliness, it would achieve what pencil (the pencils
at least of the Colonial artists who attempted it) never
could; for though the dark eyes might be painted, the


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pure and pleasant thoughts that peeped through them
could only be seen and felt. But descriptions of beauty
are never satisfactory. It must therefore be left to the
imagination of the reader to conceive of something not
more than mortal—nor, indeed, quite the perfection of
mortality,—but charming men the more, because they
felt, that, lovely as she was, she was of like nature to

From the time that Ellen entered Doctor Melmoth's
habitation, the sunny days seemed brighter and the cloudy
ones less gloomy, than he had ever before known them.
He naturally delighted in children; and Ellen, though
her years approached to womanhood, had yet much of
the gaiety and simple happiness, because the innocence,
of a child. She consequently became the very blessing
of his life,—the rich recreation that he promised himself
for hours of literary toil. On one occasion, indeed,
he even made her his companion in the sacred retreat of
his study, with the purpose of entering upon a course of
instruction in the learned languages. This measure,
however, he found inexpedient to repeat; for Ellen, having
discovered an old romance among his heavy folios,
contrived, by the charm of her sweet voice, to engage his
attention therein, till all more important concerns were

With Mrs. Melmoth, Ellen was not, of course, so great
a favorite as with her husband; for women cannot, so
readily as men, bestow upon the offspring of others those
affections that nature intended for their own; and the
Doctor's extraordinary partiality was anything rather than
a pledge of his wife's. But Ellen differed so far from
the idea she had previously formed of her, as a daughter
of one of the principal merchants, who were then, as now,
like nobles in the land, that the stock of dislike which


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Mrs. Melmoth had provided, was found to be totally inapplicable.
The young stranger strove so hard, too, (and
undoubtedly it was a pleasant labor) to win her love, that
she was successful, to a degree of which the lady herself
was not perhaps aware. It was soon seen that her education
had not been neglected in those points which Mrs.
Melmoth deemed most important. The nicer departments
of cookery, after sufficient proof of her skill, were
committed to her care; and the Doctor's table was now
covered with delicacies, simple indeed, but as tempting
on account of their intrinsic excellence as of the small
white hands that made them. By such arts as these—
which in her were no arts, but the dictates of an affectionate
disposition—by making herself useful where it
was possible, and agreeable on all occasions, Ellen gained
the love of every one within the sphere of her influence.

But the maiden's conquests were not confined to the
members of Doctor Melmoth's family. She had numerous
admirers among those, whose situation compelled
them to stand afar off and gaze upon her loveliness; as if
she were a star, whose brightness they saw, but whose
warmth they could not feel. These were the young men
of Harley College, whose chief opportunities of beholding
Ellen were upon the Sabbaths, when she worshipped
with them in the little chapel, which served the purposes
of a church to all the families of the vicinity. There
was, about this period, (and the fact was undoubtedly attributable
to Ellen's influence) a general and very evident
decline in the scholarship of the college,—especially
in regard to the severer studies. The intellectual
powers of the young men seemed to be directed chiefly
to the construction of Latin and Greek verse, many copies
of which, with a characteristic and classic gallantry,


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were strewn in the path where Ellen Langton was accustomed
to walk. They however produced no perceptible
effect; nor were the aspirations of another ambitious
youth, who celebrated her perfections in Hebrew, attended
with their merited success.

But there was one young man, to whom circumstances,
independent of his personal advantages, afforded a superior
opportunity of gaining Ellen's favor. He was nearly
related to Doctor Melmoth, on which account he received
his education at Harley College, rather than at
one of the English Universities, to the expenses of which
his fortune would have been adequate. This connexion
entitled him to a frequent and familiar access to the domestic
hearth of the dignitary,—an advantage of which,
since Ellen Langton became a member of the family, he
very constantly availed himself.

Edward Walcott was certainly much superior, in most
of the particulars of which a lady takes cognizance, to
those of his fellow students who had come under Ellen's
notice. He was tall, and the natural grace of his manners
had been improved (an advantage which few of
his associates could boast) by early intercourse with polished
society. His features, also, were handsome, and
promised to be manly and dignified, when they should
cease to be youthful. His character as a scholar was
more than respectable, though many youthful follies,
sometimes perhaps approaching near to vices, were laid
to his charge. But his occasional derelictions from discipline
were not such as to create any very serious apprehensions
respecting his future welfare; nor were they
greater than perhaps might be expected from a young
man who possessed a considerable command of money,
and who was, besides, the fine gentleman of the little
community of which he was a member,—a character,


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which generally leads its possessor into follies that he
would otherwise have avoided.

With this youth Ellen Langton became familiar, and
even intimate; for he was her only companion, of an age
suited to her own, and the difference of sex did not
occur to her as an objection. He was her constant companion,
on all necessary and allowable occasions, and
drew upon himself, in consequence, the envy of the college.